THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
OTTAWA, Thursday, April 1 st, 2021
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met this day with videoconference at 8 a.m. [ET] to consider Bill S-205, an Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Visual Artist Laureate) and Bill S-223, an Act respecting Kindness Week.
Senator Chantal Petitclerc (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning, honourable senators. I am Chantal Petitclerc, Senator from Quebec, and it is my pleasure and privilege to chair this committee.
Today we are conducting this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology via video conference. Before we begin, I would like to share several helpful suggestions, which will assist you in having an efficient and productive meeting.
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I would like to introduce the members of the committee who are participating in today’s meeting. With us this morning are Senator Omidvar, Senator Moodie, Senator Poirier, Senator Dasko, Senator Kutcher, Senator Black, Senator Mégie, Senator Forest-Niesing, Senator Griffin, Senator Bovey, Senator Frum, Senator Cormier and Senator Munson. I hope I am not forgetting anyone. Thank you all for being here today.
Today, we will review two bills that were referred to the committee. First, we will hear from Senator Bovey on Bill S-205, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Visual Artist Laureate). After her presentation, I will open the floor for questions and comments. Then we will move to clause-by-clause consideration of the bill.
Once we have completed the study of this bill, we will proceed with Bill S-223, An Act respecting Kindness Week. I will ask Senator Munson to speak and then will open the floor for debate and/or questions. We will conclude this meeting with the clause-by-clause review of that bill.
Before we ask Senator Bovey to speak, may I please have someone to move the following motion:
That a list of witnesses who appeared before the committee, along with a list of all briefs, documents and testimony received during the First Session of the Forty-Second Parliament on Bill S-234, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Visual Artist Laureate), by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology be appended to the official minutes of this committee proceeding.
Senator Forest-Niesing: So moved.
The Chair: Thank you. It was moved by Senator Forest-Niesing. All in favour? Carried.
Now we are privileged and happy to have with us Senator Bovey, who will begin today with some opening remarks on the bill that we have in front of us.
The Honourable Patricia Bovey, sponsor of the bill: It is an honour to be here with you.
I’m speaking from the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples and the homeland of Métis Nations. With this bill in mind, I have to say, they are all very, very creative nations in all aspects of cultural endeavours.
I am really honoured to be here again today, and I want to thank you all for hearing me on Bill S-205. My remarks will be very brief. I know you have heard me in the chamber, and this committee has dealt with this bill and passed this bill before. Indeed, as has the Senate.
First, just a little bit of history, if I may. Visual art, for me, is an international non-verbal language. It expresses the soul and substance of who we are as Canadians. The parliamentary visual artist laureate, Bill S-205, enhances the 1999 all-party parliamentary report, A Sense of Place — A Sense of Being, in which they said:
The role of artists is not only to mirror the values of the society in which they live, but also to reflect on the issues that society must address if it is to know itself better.
A parliamentary visual artist laureate will indeed mirror the values that we have on Parliament Hill, and will reflect on the many issues that we in the Senate and the House of Commons address in our deliberations in so many different ways.
Senators and members of Parliament unquestionably have a strong social and societal responsibility; artists do, too. I believe a visual artist laureate will bring those responsibilities together in a concrete, meaningful way by expressing the substance of Parliament’s endeavours in visual form in a whole myriad of materials and disciplines.
This bill began under the leadership of former Senator Moore, who first brought it to the attention of the Senate in 2017. It is a bill, as you know, that amends the Parliament of Canada Act and basically mirrors what has been done with the poet laureate. The bill went through this committee, it went through the Senate, it went to the House of Commons. Alas, for technical reasons, it died there before the 2019 election call.
He then brought it back, and it died again with the 2020 prorogation, so this is not the first time you have heard me talk about this.
But society’s changed since I talked about it last. We are going through the pandemic, there were the horrific murders in Nova Scotia and all the issues around Black Lives Matter. For me, it’s very clear that it’s our artists, in many ways, who have supported society as we have gone through these trials and tribulations. Art keeps us together, and the need for creative expression has been particularly apparent.
I can also say that Canadians are looking for good news, positives, honesty and empowerment in their daily lives, and this bill does that.
When the bill died in Parliament in the House of Commons, I have to say the outcry was huge. You heard it on CTV News and on CBC. It was written up in Canadian Art and in Avis des Arts. There were outcries, and my lines were full.
I have learned in these past few months that if the Senate and the House of Commons pass this bill, the artists will see this as a huge vote of moral confidence in a time when they have given so much, and as a way of recognizing their work.
It’s a two-year appointment, as you know. It’s in the same spirit and reasoning as the poet laureate. It will underline the importance of contemporary democracy, and portray the issues and works of parliamentarians. It will communicate values, perspectives, principles and realities to lifelong and new Canadians, to immigrants and refugees, in this non-verbal language. It will also disseminate the importance of the arts throughout society and encourage people to engage in creative expression.
The incumbents can use any medium, whether it’s painting, printmaking, sculpture, drawing, computer-generated art, video, film, installation or photography, and they will use many materials to do it. It may be paint, dry point, clay or wood. There will be all sorts of materials that they will use. In so doing, it will help address the gap in knowledge of civics in this country, the role of democracy and workings of Parliament, and I hope it will increase the rates of youth voters. They understand this non-verbal language.
The work will be inspiring to all, and I hope it opens new doors of understanding, and connects citizens and Canadians in every part of our regions.
I am not going to go on. You know the substance of the bill; we have discussed the bill before. I look forward to questions. You know our former poet laureate, George Elliott Clarke, wrote a poem for me about the importance of the visual artist laureate, and I have quoted it to you before and would be happy to do so again, if you like.
But I honestly believe that this position will help shine a proper light on Canada’s Parliament and on Canadian artists. I do underline how important this bill is to visual artists across this country. Many have told me so. So have artists working in other disciplines, as have musicians and playwrights. They have all expressed to me how important this bill is. So I hope you will join me and vote for this, and in so doing, give a vote of moral support to Canadian creators in this very dark time.
With that, Madam Chair, I’m happy to take questions and comments, and move forward with the discussion.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Bovey, for this and for always being a vote voice for art in the Senate.
Senator Poirier: I do not really have a question; I just wanted to say thank you for the work done on this. It’s really important to get this done and open the door for so many people who need it right now. So, Senator Bovey, thank you for this.
Also, thanks to everybody else who has spoken on this in the past, including all the witnesses. Senator Bovey is right: It is not the first time we have heard this or dealt with it, but hopefully we can say it’s the last time and we get it done. Thank you.
Senator Bovey: Thank you senator.
Senator R. Black: Senator Bovey, Canada is a vast country. While I appreciate the proposed legislation mandates a selection of candidates who reflect the diversity of our nation, how will the visual artist laureate’s work be made available and shared to those who live in rural, Northern and remote communities, as galleries and cultural centres are often scarce in such areas?
Senator Bovey: Thank you, Senator Black. That’s a fantastic question, and I appreciate it very much.
There are many ways. As someone who has spent 50 years working in Canada’s gallery community, working in the North and working with rural communities, I can say there are many ways to get material out. Virtual exhibitions are terrific, and I think they are being used more and more.
We have schools and community centres across the country. We have libraries and arts associations across the country, and they are all used to working together. If I may, Senator Black, I think this is an opportunity, in addition to the virtual connections, for the major galleries and larger institutions across the country to partner with us in getting this material out. In my work with schools recently, particularly rural schools, these are the kinds of questions that come up. It is absolutely accessible.
As I said, the virtual medium is the easiest way to get it out with Zoom and other ways of engaging artists with communities. It’s really important.
I would hope that some of these visual artist laureates over the years to come will indeed be from the North and from rural communities. Canada has amazing artists tucked away in quiet spots of the country.
Senator R. Black: Thank you very much.
Senator Dasko: Senator Bovey, it’s an inspiring and inspired initiative, so thank you so much.
My question is about the prospects for success in the other place; the House of Commons. You alluded to the challenges and all that happened last time with this bill, but I wonder if you could tell us what the plan is going forward with the bill, please. Thank you.
Senator Bovey: Good question. Sometimes being a historian by trade, I will go backward to come forward. What happened last time was that the sponsor was MP Dan Vandal. Once this bill went to the floor of the House of Commons, he spoke to it. Then he was appointed a parliamentary secretary, so he had to give up the sponsorship. Another sponsor was determined, and just before the election call, there was one person who didn’t give consent to change the sponsor midstream, and that just happened at the election call. That’s why I call it a technical issue.
I can tell you, I have had calls from MPs and from ministers. I have had calls from people of all political stripes in the other place who are really interested in this bill. The sponsor is ready to go. Questions are ready to go. I don’t know whether we have a long time or a tight time, but I am forever an optimist.
Let me remind you all that the creators in this country are the third largest employer in Canada and make up the largest percentage of those living and working below the poverty line, so a vote of moral confidence will be very helpful in these dark times.
I think we’re on a good path. I have enjoyed the questions I have had in advance from members of the House of Commons, but I don’t have a crystal ball.
Senator Dasko: Thank you.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Senator Bovey, thank you very much for your devotion to this very inspiring initiative. I fully concur with the positive comments that have already been shared.
As I did not have the opportunity to take part in the debates and in previous committee meetings when the previous bill was being considered, could you remind us why we are specifically talking about visual artists, rather than those who might represent the performing arts, for example?
Senator Bovey: That is an excellent question, Senator. This bill does deal with visual artists.
That’s how the bill was initially framed by former Senator Moore. There are other jurisdictions that have visual artists internationally. There are some in the United States and Britain. Toronto has had various visual artists laureate over the years. Canada has a poet laureate, right? So it was felt that we would focus this on the visual artist laureate. There are precedents. It is a non-verbal, international language. For me, the importance of this bill is to have that engagement with people for whom English and French may not be their languages.
Those of you who were on Parliament Hill a year after the Syrian refugees came, some of you may have seen that really inspiring exhibition by children who were refugees from Syria who had been here for a year. They were expressing their feelings from before and their feelings in Canada visually. My sense is a visual artist laureate will take that understanding of democracy and what we do on Parliament Hill to a broader audience. In my work with schools, kids are looking forward to it. That enhances the question that Senator Black asked.
This one is specific. It is specific, as I said, because of precedents and because of the ease of getting the material out and the internationalism of the non-verbal language. I hope that answers your question.
Senator Forest-Niesing: It does, thank you.
Senator Kutcher: Thank you, Senator Bovey, for bringing forward this very important initiative. It is very much appreciated.
I want to ask about communications about this initiative. You may be aware that the journal Science Advances in January of this year identified the earliest known cave painting from 45,500 years ago in Indonesia. It had been hidden for that long a period of time. It is an amazing piece of art. I would encourage everyone to look at the photographs.
We want to make sure that this initiative isn’t hidden in the bowels of the Canadian government for 45,000 years. Do you know what the communications plan will be to move this forward? If so, which part of government will have the responsibility for making sure we have a robust and effective communications plan?
Senator Bovey: Thank you, senator. That is another really good question. I have spoken to the Parliamentary Librarian about this. The position will fall under her purview. They have the plans for the communications for the poet laureate and they will be similar. However, this one has an added dimension. Part of the selection process that the bill underlines is that on the jury to make the final assessment will be the director of the National Gallery of Canada, either the chair, president or designate of the Canada Council for the Arts. When we had them as witnesses last time, they talked about how excited they were to be working with this bill and with their lines of communications. And also the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts is part of the process.
So already you have a very large group of organizations that are very eager to get this out. As I said, from the practical point of view, it falls under the purview of the Parliamentary Librarian.
Senator Mégie: Thank you for this initiative, Senator Bovey. You were talking about arts in general, and Senator Forest-Niesing went further, mentioning performing arts. I recently learned that a work of digital art had been sold for almost $69 million. Are digital arts included in your definition of art?
Senator Bovey: That is an excellent question, Senator. Thank you very much.
In the bill, I talk about the forms of visual art. You’ll see that we have defined it as drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, design, crafts, photography, videography and filmmaking. Those are the large categories. Within those categories, artists use many media; they mix up media and they use many materials.
For instance, if I can be specific, in drawing they might use pastels, they might use ink, felt pen or pencil. So we have not listed materials on purpose, because we want this to be inclusive, not exclusive. Your question about digital art, that’s often considered as part of printmaking. Computer-generated graphics are part of printmaking.
Painters will sometimes use digital work included in a painting and use other materials on top of it. So yes, it’s absolutely included. I’m going to be my historian self. As we go back, let’s take a look at how many of today’s technologies, like Zoom, the old-fashioned Xerox machine and Skype — all those technical pieces of equipment and technology were first used by artists. By not being too definitive about what materials they can use, we’re going to find that artists will stretch those dimensions and develop and experiment with techniques that we’re going to be using every day in our daily lives.
To answer your question quickly, the answer is yes. That’s where we go. You’re going to see all sorts of new materials and tools for artists to use.
Senator Cormier: Thank you, Senator Bovey, for your tireless commitment to the arts for so many years. I feel very proud to be one of your colleagues.
My question follows Senator Mégie’s question. It’s a matter of clarification. I wonder why the definition of “art” in the bill is not necessarily aligned to the Canada Council for the Arts. When they speak about the field of practice, they are talking about digital arts and media arts, and they distinguish that from visual arts. Since this medium is evolving so much, why is it not included?
If I may ask a second question. Do you believe that the Parliament of Canada deserves to have an official parliamentary musician?
Senator Bovey: That is an excellent question, Senator. As for the first question about the Canada Council for the Arts…
As you know, the Canada Council for the Arts — you have worked in it and I have worked with it — is an arm’s-length agency of the Government of Canada. Parliament is not an arm’s-length agency of the Canada Council for the Arts. As you well know, the criteria for artists making submissions for grants to the Canada Council; those criteria change over time and they have and should change as art-making practices change.
In framing this — and I had discussions with former Senator Moore about this — we tried to take the big fields, Senator Cormier. I would say, using videography and filmmaking in their largest sense, that includes media arts. So does photography. How many dimensions does photography have today?
Our definition was purposefully trying to be bigger than the list of areas where grants can be given from the Canada Council. If, in time — in 3 or 5 or 7 or 10 years — it is wise to change that list, so be it, as artists change their work.
In discussions with Canada Council and in their presentation to this committee the last time, they were very, very supportive of the way this was framed. In my discussions with Simon Brault, likewise. I hope we’re bigger. There are other arts organizations and funders across the country — charitable foundations and corporations and provincial arts councils — which have slightly different definitions. We represent all of Canada. There is my number-one answer.
As for number two, I’m delighted you brought that up. I’ll tell you what; I will support you in a further act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act. Let’s do something with composers, which is another way of writing. In so many ways in our Question Periods, we are the performers, but in terms of creation, having a composer downstream could be really interesting, too. Norway has one.
Senator Cormier: Thank you.
Senator Griffin: I actually don’t have a question, but I do have a comment. That is, Senator Bovey, congratulations for your stick-to-itness on this. As you have already noted, this has been a long haul, but it is an exciting initiative. I gather my colleagues all pretty well feel the same way about that. I agree with you that it’s a positive thing, a good-news story. And we do need good-news stories right now in these pandemic times. So thanks for your efforts.
Senator Bovey: Thank you, senator. I do want to pay tribute to an artist who passed away a couple of months ago. In fact, I talked to him two days before he died. His name is Peter Gough, from Nova Scotia. The initial idea for this bill came from him through former Senator Moore. As we pay tribute to our artists — who sustain our souls and our spirits in good times and in bad — I want to pay tribute to Peter, who became a very good friend. In fact, he and I went to the opening of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery together. I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to Peter with this because it takes a village to raise a child, and I’ll tell you, it takes an army of artists to forward the creative expression of this country. Thank you.
Senator Omidvar: I was not going to have a question because we’ve been through this exercise before, but I also wanted to thank Senator Bovey for her steadfastness. A question has occurred to me. Senator Bovey, in terms of the visual laureate, you mentioned Norway. Can you tell us which other jurisdictions have a visual laureate, and are we leaders or are we laggards?
Senator Bovey: Excellent question. May I answer it by saying we are both. Artists are treated in different ways in different countries. Some have a visual artist laureate. The City of Toronto has a visual photographer laureate. The City of Victoria, for the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Canada, appointed two visual artists laureate, one being Indigenous and one being non-Indigenous, to be able to portray that history.
There are a number of states in the United States that have a visual artist laureate. In other work of mine, I’ve been speaking with the former chair of the NEA, the National Endowment for the Arts, in the United States. He wishes the U.S. had one for the country, but California has them and a number of states have them.
The one I really like is in Britain. They had somebody at one point who was a comic laureate, who each morning would put online a drawing of something that was relevant to what was going on in the country at the time, but aimed at children. Kids would get up in the morning, take a look at that drawing, and it increased the early readership levels.
So with creativity, countries are doing different things. I think we’ll be a leader having a national visual artist laureate. We are not a leader in the way we treat our artists. Japan has National Living Treasures. I would love Canada to have artists of different disciplines as Living Treasures. Norway, for their major artists over the age of 50, gives a pension and a house. For the composers; I met with a composer at one point from Norway, and he said to me: Pat, all we need to do, if the government asks us, is compose one piece a year; if they don’t ask us, we don’t have to do it.
There are different ways of handling this, senator, and I think we are a leader, but a laggard in the way that we honour our artists.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you, Senator Bovey, for that answer. I look forward to hearing more about the Living Treasures. I think that’s a wonderful idea. Good luck.
Senator Bovey: Thank you. We’ll try.
The Chair: Thank you for all those comments and replies. My thanks to my colleagues.
We are now ready to move to clause-by-clause consideration of this Bill. I would like to remind you that, to indicate your agreement, we are asking you to raise your “yes” hand in this way. Things will then be simpler for us all.
Is it agreed, honourable senators, that the committee proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill S-205, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Visual Artist Laureate).
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the title stand postponed? Agreed.
Shall clause 1 carry?
Shall clause 2 carry? Carried.
Shall the title carry? Carried.
Shall the Bill carry? Carried.
Is it agreed that the observation distributed to you be appended to the report? Carried.
Is it agreed that I report this bill as amended with observation to the Senate? Carried.
Thanks very much to all of you.
Honourable senators, we will now proceed with Bill S-223, An Act respecting Kindness Week. Before I recognize Senator Munson, may I please have someone to move the following motion:
That a list of witnesses who appeared before the committee, along with a list of all briefs, documents and testimony received during the 1st session of the 42nd Parliament on Bill S-244, An Act respecting Kindness Week, by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology be appended to the official minutes of this committee proceeding.
Senator R. Black: So moved.
The Chair: It was moved by Senator Black.
Honourable senators, is it agreed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: The motion is agreed to.
Senator Munson, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
I will give you the opportunity to make some remarks.
Hon. Jim Munson, Senator, Senate of Canada: First of all, I have some breaking news. I’ve asked for the Constitution to be tweaked just a wee bit for three or four months so I can stay in the Senate beyond the age of 75. I retire on July 14. April Fool’s, sorry.
Anyway, I’m very happy to be here with you on the unceded territory of the Algonquin and the Anishinabek people. I always think it’s kindly and important to say, living here in Ottawa this morning, to say that and say that each and every time.
As a former journalist, eight o’clock in the morning or 8:30 is really the middle of the night because your deadlines are the night before and you don’t go to bed for a long time, but it’s good to be up early in the morning to talk about this. I’m glad to see all your smiling faces because it’s good to smile, isn’t it, in the morning, and to start the day with a smile.
I thought the comic reference; maybe we should have a humour week. I know that when I lived in Beijing, they had older people who were in front of Tiananmen Square every day who had a laughing exercise. I tried to do a news story on this laughing exercise with this group of elderly people who would walk across the square in happier times, and they would start to laugh all the way across the square to each other, and it would release such beautiful, as they would say in today’s society, “good vibes.” Maybe we should have that.
But today, it’s about kindness. You know I’ve been here before, and I’ve said it once and it’s worth repeating: I think every day should be a kindness day and every week should be a kindness week.
As you might recall, senators, from my op-ed in the Citizen, Kindness Week has been a local initiative here in Ottawa since 2007. From there, it grew provincially to Kindness Week in Ontario. The time is now for kindness week to go nationwide.
The last time your Social Affairs Committee met and studied kindness week, I spoke to the committee alongside Rabbi Reuven Bulka. This time it’s different — the rabbi is fighting for his life. His entire career has been dedicated to improving the human condition. His testimony was heartfelt, optimistic and convincing. I would like to repeat a portion of his testimony last time, as he cannot be here with us virtually today, but we can still hear his words:
Kindness in mega doses can snuff out not only bullying. It can snuff out hate, an issue that is front and centre for all of us, especially now.
And we have seen it.
On a lesser level, kindness can minimize the incidence of road rage among other not-so-social manifestations.
We know from our experience in Ottawa that Kindness Week embraced by leadership at all levels has made a difference. We know, too, that it has made a difference at the provincial level.
We are convinced that establishing kindness week on a national level will have an enormous impact on our country.
Rabbi Bulka’s words also weigh heavily on kindness, and he is right. Establishing kindness week on a national level will have an enormous impact on our country.
The research backs kindness up, too, and I’m sure that Senator Kutcher gets this. When a person acts kindly, there is a release of oxytocin and the production of serotonin in the brain. Kindness helps with symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and can lower blood pressure. Do we ever need that some days in the Senate.
Researchers have also noticed that kindness is contagious. The positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of everyone who witnesses the act, serving to improve their mood and making them more likely to pay it forward. For example, when someone is kind to us, we are more likely to be kind to someone else, spreading kindness many times over. Kindness becomes a domino effect that can improve the day of dozens of people. You can see less bullying in the results of kindness.
I can see this bill becoming law, and I can see schools and universities across the country having programs dealing with the simple acts of kindness. You know this as well as anyone, colleagues.
Several senators generously, the last time, contributed to the debates in the Senate chamber, and I want to thank Senator Yonah Martin for her speech and, of course, Senator Coyle and Senator Manning in the past when we tried to push this through, but an election got in the way. These elections get in the way of kindness. They spoke of kindness-inspired initiatives happening in little pockets across the country, but I also think they’re happening in big pockets across this country. People shouldn’t need a reason to help each other, but it was clear from their remarks that kindness campaigns encourage people to act. Kindness week in Canada will encourage people to act.
In closing, now more than ever, we can all benefit from a little kindness during these very trying pandemic times. In closing again, I hope the committee will once again support kindness week so that it is swiftly passed through Parliament and Rabbi Bulka can see his vision realized. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Senator Munson, for your work on that bill and for bringing the words of Rabbi Bulka. Those who were there at the time remember him fondly and remember his convincing testimony on this bill. Of course, our thoughts are with him, and we send him strength and courage. We do have questions for you.
Senator Omidvar: I have two questions. Perhaps I can go on the second round with my second question.
Senator Munson, thank you so much for your contribution to the national character of our country — kindness. Canadians are famous for being polite, and I think politeness is a form of kindness, but not necessarily. I think of the joy that you always bring to proceedings, and I will certainly miss your joyfulness when you retire.
I’m thinking about kindness week and where I think a level of unkindness exists in our society that is tantamount to harassment and bullying, and that is on social media. It’s anonymous, but it’s pervasive. Can you share with me how you think, in this kindness week, which institutions may well embrace acts of kindness or protocols of kindness even, let’s say, on social media?
Senator Munson: Thank you, senator, for your question. I think first, on an individual basis, that in social media we have to become, respectfully, more responsible. For example, on Twitter, it’s sometimes difficult as a senator to hear some of the criticisms that I can accept, but it’s the way it’s worded, because words hurt and words do matter.
I think we have to be respectful of each other as we go about our business. I’ve tried to use, for example, my Twitter account in a very objective way to promote things I’m doing, what the Senate is doing, and the organizations I represent and what they’re doing. I think that’s the responsible way to use social media instead of out, as they would say, “trolling” and making life very uncomfortable.
We do live in a very public environment and we have to live that way. But on an institutional level, obviously schools, government departments, you name it. For example, kindness has shown its light in various schools in Ottawa, as I mentioned in my speech the last time. I tell you, to get letters from Grade 7 and Grade 6 students to show what they’re doing in raising funds for others and helping, all came about because of Kindness Week in Ottawa. Those are the kinds of places that — I know that teachers would like to lead more if there was more direction, even a general direction in talking and doing these, as some people would say, “random acts of kindness.” But you can put it into a basket where many institutions and corporate Canada can be involved.
We do see examples of that in corporate Canada, but I think we can see more of it, of sharing stories and just sitting around and not feeling threatened within a corporate environment. So I think each institution and every organization and every corporate entity has a responsibility.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you, Senator Munson. This is a supplementary comment and not a question: I certainly hope when kindness week becomes law that we have a wave of kind social media as one example of importance of your initiative.
Senator Munson: Thank you.
Senator Bovey: Thank you, Senator Munson. I want to applaud your tenacity in bringing this forward and your vision. I don’t really have a question. It’s more of a comment, building on Senator Omidvar’s question and your response. I’m going to suggest that perhaps it’s our children who are going to lead the kindness initiatives, because I think our young people get it. If we can empower them to be the leaders of kindness and create those changes, we’ll find a much richer society. I really appreciate your work, your work with the schools, and I want to honour those kids who have picked up the torch before it became law, and let’s let them be our leaders when it is law because I believe they can teach corporate Canada, governing Canada and adults in this world a great deal, so I thank you.
Senator Munson: Thank you.
Senator R. Black: Senator Munson, I believe, like you, kindness is an especially important attribute to communicate to youth across this country, especially as many face difficulties in dealing with bullying. Do you think that a kindness week could be or should be built into the Canadian education system as a sort of collaboration between governments and schools across the country, to engage with and encourage youth to be kind? I know we can encourage it, but is there opportunity down the road to marry the opportunity for kindness week in schools, in the curriculum?
Senator Munson: Thank you, senator. And why not? Especially in kindergarten, at the beginning, and Grade 1, 2, 3, to set the base, to set the tone and to keep it going. When you talk about things that can change in schools, can you imagine what our discussion would be like today if I, in Grades 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, in northern New Brunswick, was actually taught about my Indigenous neighbours next door? Nothing, absolutely nothing, and you grow up with prejudice. You grow up not knowing how a group of people live; our First Peoples.
If we had had that during my generation, I believe I would be a better person and a kinder person for it, understanding what takes place in this country. As a nation, we have let down our students by not teaching about Indigenous rights, about other rights, minority rights. We didn’t get much of that. I know I sound old, and I am older now, but I accept that. You need acceptance.
So in schools, absolutely. I know that teachers — I talk to many teachers — are looking towards a curriculum that could deal with this, and then move it not only from the schoolyard, but to bring it back home and into the other yard, which is parks and playgrounds, and just how you deal with people.
Yes, I think this initiative could go a long way in our education system to create a kinder country.
Senator R. Black: Thank you, senator. I’m familiar with agriculture in the classroom. Can you just imagine kindness in the classroom curriculum?
Senator Munson: I was just thinking as well that the 4-H clubs of this country that you’re involved in — the whole premise is about kindness. You could export that notion as well.
Senator Cormier: Senator Munson, first, I want to thank you for your kindness. I had the privilege to travel with you in Africa and I had a real occasion to see how kind you are to people you know and you don’t know. You show by example, so that’s great.
You also said that words hurt and words do matter. You know sometimes kindness is often identified with superficiality and weakness, especially for boys and men. Many of us have been bullied sometimes, perhaps because of our kindness.
How can we make sure that this kindness week is not only a symbolic event, but it can be a real call for action? You spoke on that before, but do you have something to add on that? I ask because it is my preoccupation and it is a real call for action.
Senator Munson: The call for action can come from many forms.
By the way, on the trip to Africa, in one of the villages where Canada is making a difference in terms of medical care, the villagers asked us to dance a welcome dance. If you ever want to see a person who can dance well, as opposed to me, it’s my Acadian friend Senator Cormier. That added to the trip as well because it was a moment of joy. If you can imagine, you’re in Rwanda, high up in the hills and it’s a most spectacular, beautiful, but poor place. Taking place there was a thank you to Canada and, at the same time, an appreciation of seeing how people live, simple faces, a child smiling at you kindly, accepting of who and what you are. We were there showing the faces of our nation and the children of that village were showing their faces and there were no questions. There is just simple acceptance.
On another practical level, where I come from, in northern New Brunswick, there is a vibrant Acadian community. Senator Cormier is a part of that. I was a member and still am in my heart when I get home, if I can ever get home again and go back to New Brunswick, and part of the English community. Many times, we have shown each other acts of kindness, as two peoples, Canadians, living in the same place with our First Peoples. But we have also shown times when we have mistrust of who or what we are, even in terms of our religion way back when. So we need to take that further step. The further step is simply called acceptance of who you are, what you are, where you are. We shouldn’t judge. It shouldn’t be about judging. That’s the lesson that I’m talking about this morning.
Senator Cormier: Thank you, senator. We will miss you after July. Thank you.
Senator Forest-Niesing: I have to admit that I have never smiled as much during a meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. It’s very pleasant today to be able to discuss two bills that are so positive, particularly at the time when we need that so much. So thank you for this initiative, Senator Munson. Of course, my intention is to support the bill.
This is not really a question because the question has basically already been asked. In my opinion, the contagious effects of kindness must be developed as much as possible and I’m delighted to find out that the example of Kindness Week in Ottawa shows how schools are participating in the project and creating programs for children. Children have an innate kindness that must be encouraged. I really hope that the contagious effects of kindness that will be instilled in them will also spread to adults, who, too often, must unfortunately be reminded about the importance of kindness.
I will stop there.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Senator Forest-Niesing.
Senator Munson, do you want to comment?
Senator Munson: I was just going to say that I appreciate those words. I have ideas about doing more things with kindness in schools and so on. It happens from time to time where children and senior citizens, those who are in long-term care and in retirement residences, can play in the same park and be together, and the contagious aspect of it all. What a wonderful thing it would be if we saw more children — because I have seen it. Grades 1, 2, 3 or 4, whatever the case may be, being at a seniors home, for example, where my mother was here in Ottawa once. To see the exchange between a 6-year-old and a 96-year-old is something to behold. Stories are being told. You can see the children, in their eyes — they are learning through the experience of others.
I also feel that the contagious aspect of this, after spending a number of years around the retirement residence with my mother, that every life has meaning and every life matters, in the sense that a life that was lived was lived somewhere. The doors are closed to a lot of these homes, to the residents. Why can’t we have a program where there is a biography of these residents, a story of what that person did? And within that residence, why can’t we all see what so-and-so did in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s? Why can’t we see it being told to all of the little children, that there was life before 2020?
Those are the kinds of things — sharing the stage — that I think would go a long way to adding to the contagious aspect of kindness.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Munson.
Senator Poirier: No, not a question, just more of a comment. I just want to, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, Senator Munson, for this initiative. I think it’s extremely important. We all know we live in a world where there is sometimes not enough kindness that goes on, but I learned a long time ago that what goes around comes around; you give kindness and it all comes back and spreads out.
You’ll probably remember, like some of my other colleagues specifically in the New Brunswick area, about a young lady called Becca. She was up in the Moncton Riverview area. Becca has passed away. She was a young lady who had cancer. She started a movement called #BeccaToldMeTo, so everybody was going around the province — it really expanded even beyond the province — helping and giving kindness from one to another. The movement that we saw from that is such a good example of what we can do with something like a kindness week if we put it out there and keep talking about it.
I do totally agree that sometimes just taking the time to be kind to somebody, to listen to them, can make their day and make such a difference in life. I want to congratulate you on that. I really hope that we can get this done, and that from here things will continue and that we’ll only see good things come out of this. I’m positive that’s what will happen. Thank you, Senator Munson.
Senator Munson: Thank you. The motivation comes from the least expected places. Speaking of using social media, with Becca, that’s how I used social media. When she told her story, it was in New Brunswick. New Brunswick is my home and my heart. But I took that to social media and tweeted it, and thousands and thousands of people were taking it. Kids in other schools were listening to Becca, so she left with a very positive message.
When you talk about moving it forward, since I have this forum for a few minutes this morning, I want to look directly wherever the camera is on these Surface Pros and say to the Prime Minister and to members of Parliament that soon this bill will be out of the Senate — I assume it will pass committee this morning — and will get into third reading. It should be out of the Senate on April 20. Then it goes to the House again. That’s where it was before in terms of the last election.
With these private members’ bills, I know it’s a process, but literally when private members’ bills go over to the House of Commons, they are in a stack and somebody has to grab them, physically take them. The clerk has to know about it and pick it up to take that bill and sponsor it on the other side.
We are currently looking for sponsors for this bill. We are looking for somebody who will kindly move this bill as quickly as possible, because whether an election is held in May or June or in the fall, there is still time to get this through. This is the second time at it. It would be a shame to have come this far again and not get there.
So to the Prime Minister, to the Leader of the Opposition, to the other opposition leaders, to all members of Parliament; this is an opportunity for a shared purpose, and I encourage you all — them — to take a look at the faces at this committee this morning and have a shared responsibility in enacting a kindness week. That’s my political message for the day.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Munson. I do hope that the message will be heard. We have time for a second round.
Senator Omidvar: Senator Munson, kindness week falls in February, and February is also Black History Month. How do you think kindness week will support Black History Month?
Senator Munson: Well, it’s the same story that I told moments ago — thank you, senator — about not knowing enough and not understanding enough about Indigenous rights and identity, growing up way back when, in the 1950s in Campbellton, New Brunswick. The same thing holds true when it comes to Black lives.
I saw yesterday in the Globe and Mail — I couldn’t believe it — this incredible story on the history of Blacks in New Brunswick. I don’t know if anybody else read it, but it’s extensive. It on the front page and it continues.
I had a little idea, not really very much of an idea, of what went on in New Brunswick in terms of the Loyalists. I know all about the Loyalists, but when it comes to those who fled the United States and what they did in contributing to the building of the province of New Brunswick; here we are in 2021 and I’m only finding out about that now. Why is that story happening now? It is because of Black Lives Matter and a new appreciation of Black lives. That is out there.
So with a kindness week — by the way, being in and around Valentine’s Day, it’s an appropriate time to do it — we can put both of those together to come up with projects that will talk about Black history and how we share it, because it has been a shame that we don’t know our history well enough. Imagine yesterday picking up the Globe and Mail and finding out a whole bunch of things about these little villages in New Brunswick. That’s just touching the surface.
So if a kindness week is part of that next year, to direct children in a school in New Brunswick to look at this, to bring somebody in to talk to them and find out about others, and see who we really are as a nation, I think that’s a great thing, and I thank you for the question.
Senator Omidvar: I have a third question. I’ll wait my turn.
Senator R. Black: Senator Munson, Kind Ottawa began as a grassroots organization that sought to highlight kindness across the city here in Ottawa by hosting a week-long event. You’ve told us about that.
Just to get it on the record for the folks watching, will the federal government be responsible for organizing events in recognition of kindness week across the country if this bill passes? Or will it be delegated to other jurisdictions or other government levels? Is there a cost to taxpayers associated with kindness week, please?
Senator Munson: It costs nothing to be kind. It costs absolutely nothing to be kind.
I do know that my autism awareness bill, which took some time; I know other senators have private members’ bills. If you can be patient, which is very difficult, it could and should be passed, every one of your bills. I think that’s important to say.
I know that with my autism awareness bill, it became more than simply saying this is a day, let’s celebrate it and so on. There are now programs in schools and flag-raising ceremonies in this province and other provinces. They raise the flag for autism and speak about it. What does that do? It brings acceptance in the school for John or Jane, who may act a little different than others. Once again, instead of judging, accepting who they are. This has become part of Autism Awareness Day, and in terms of programs and money, that has flowed.
The federal government would have a responsibility, through each department, to be innovative and creative — not necessarily delegating but showing through action what can be done. If they want to pick out something each year, that would be wonderful too. There is certainly a federal responsibility. After all, we sometimes forget what this is. This would be the law of the country. It’s a law. Inside that law, if you look at the preamble to the bill, there are things for federal governments to do, working with provincial and territorial governments, to get to a better place.
Senator R. Black: Thank you.
Senator Omidvar: Senator Munson, you have been a senator for a very long time. I want to turn the lens of kindness on the Senate itself, as you and we have experienced. The Senate can sometimes be far less than kind; it can be unkind. As you reflect on your career in the Senate, with your retirement pending in July, what words of wisdom would you leave us, in terms of being kind to each other as parliamentarians?
Senator Munson: First of all, senator, we need to lower the tone. I’ll say directly that some senators need to lower their tone a bit, and understand, as I said at the beginning, that words really matter. There are ways of getting your point across. I think it’s extremely important to be a little more gentle with each other.
I have been in the Senate 17.5 years. Mr. Chrétien would tell me, “Jimmy, you’ve been around since a long time.” I’ve been around since a long time. When I first came to the Senate, can you imagine I thought they were all fuddy-duddies? They were 74 or 75, and now I’m almost 75. They said to me, “Don’t think that just because you’ve been a reporter with CTV News and you worked for a prime minister, that you’re somebody here. You just keep your mouth shut for a year and you’ll get along.” I almost stayed quiet for a year, which is almost impossible for me.
I was intimidated when I walked into the Senate. I’m telling you, there were certainly a lot of men there at the time. That has changed. Thank goodness for that. It could be an intimidating environment, but there were a lot of people who were accepting.
At the same time, with the various groups we now have in caucuses, I think we have a greater opportunity to share the knowledge we have with each other. I think that’s very important.
The Senate has come a long way. We are truly a chamber where we really think about things, and we should be allowed to breathe more in thinking about various issues, and in coming to a decision to accept somebody’s view. You don’t necessarily have to agree with it, but you can accept it. At the same time, somebody can vote a different way, but there’s nothing personal about that. That’s all it is; you just voted that way.
As we move along in our lives, we can be more accepting of each other. I do see positive signs from every group. Every senator is a good senator. Every senator wants to do good. I see this from every level. From our prisms, we look at and listen to each other.
We are sitting in a very special place in the Senate. I know and understand more about what is going on in Newfoundland and Labrador. I understand and know more about what is going on in the North. I understand a whole lot more about what is going on in Manitoba. Across this country, we have a very special place in which to live and work. As a collective, we know that at the end of the day what we’re trying to do is amend or be part of new laws that help the country, or to have studies that create new programs. It is not about us. It’s about what we say and do and how it affects others that really matters at the end of the day. With a kindness week, we could reflect on that at that particular time. We can have even more outreach with kindness week.
The Senate is a good place with good people. I have appreciated almost every minute of being in the Senate — not at midnight when the bell is ringing — but I approach each day with optimism. I end the day pretty well satisfied that I tried to do what I set out to do that day, and I think every other senator has done the same thing.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you so much, Senator Munson. I echo some of the comments in saying that your kindness is definitely contagious. The first time around, and again today, you have demonstrated not only how important it is to have reflection and awareness of the importance of kindness, but I think you demonstrate the snowball effect that something like kindness week can and hopefully will have.
On those words, thank you, everybody. It has been so inspiring to listen to the questions and comments today.
Senator Munson: Chair, if I could offer one small word that I was just thinking about. We all come from families and have had parents and others who have been instrumental in our lives. I’ll tell you a little secret in the Senate. When I have to give an important speech — I need to have a little humour this morning — I wear my father’s shoes, for two reasons. One is that I’m a product of the United Church of Canada. I’m the son of a United Church minister. I was a rabble-rousing minister’s son, let me assure you. The members of the church, who are very serious, always said, “You’ll never fill your father’s shoes.”
I knew I would never fill my father’s shoes because he was 5 foot 10 and I’m only 5 foot 4. I still put his shoes on from time to time when I gave a speech in the Senate because I felt firm, solid and comfortable in his shoes.
To my dad, this is about you and shoes. I may not have filled them, but I wore them. I have tried my best. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you again, Senator Munson. I do want to make sure we go to clause by clause of your bill.
Colleagues, raise your physical hand if you agree.
Is it agreed, honourable senators, that the committee proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill S-223, An Act respecting Kindness Week? Agreed.
Shall the title stand postponed? Agreed.
Shall the preamble stand postponed? Agreed.
Shall clause 1, which contains the short title, stand postponed? Carried.
Shall clause 2 carry? Carried.
Shall clause 1, which contains the short title, carry? Carried.
Shall the preamble carry? Carried.
Shall the title carry? Carried.
Shall the bill carry? Carried.
Is it agreed that the observations distributed to you be appended to the report? Agreed.
Is it agreed that I report this Bill to the Senate with observations? Agreed.
Colleagues, if you have a question, please raise your hand. If there are no further questions, we come to the end of the meeting.
Senator Bovey, do you have a question or a comment?
Senator Bovey: I have a comment, Madam Chair. My thanks to everyone for this discussion and for the decisions that have been made this morning. It was wonderful and I thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Bovey. Thank you, Senator Munson.
It’s a pleasure and a privilege to have you both with us today answering these questions and proceeding with these bills this morning. Thank you for that and for being here.
Honourable senators, if there is no other business, this meeting is adjourned.