Parliament Video: Jenny in the House: Dutch Heritage Day Speech

On January 28, 2019 I had the privilege of being the 1st NDP MP to debate in the new interim House of Commons in West Block while Centre Block undergoes extensive renovations. The debate was on Motion M-207: Dutch Heritage Day:

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege and an honour to stand in this new chamber today, the first member of the New Democratic Party to debate in the House of Commons in West Block. It is also fitting that in this new place, the first order of business is to debate a motion recognizing our past, our heritage and who we are.

The House of Commons, in many ways, is the physical embodiment of our democracy. Following the fire of 1916, the House of Commons in Centre Block heard parliamentarians debate and shape Canada for over 100 years.

With the motion before us, we are teaching this new place those lessons, teaching this new institution how it is that we have come to be who and where we are today. Motion No. 207 would designate May 5 as Dutch heritage day. Doing so would recognize the sacrifices made by Canadians in the liberation of the Netherlands and the past, present and future contributions made to Canada by Canadians of Dutch heritage.

It is a very fitting motion to be the first debated here, and one that I and my New Democratic Party colleagues fully support. I believe that heritage motions present us with an opportunity to not just learn about our past but to find ways to act on those lessons. They also provide us with a chance to see what those connections look like today and what we can continue to learn from those nations and cultures.

The bond Canada and the Netherlands share is a unique one that will forever tie our two nations together. Motion No. 207 would designate May 5, because it is Liberation Day in the Netherlands.

During World War II, from September 1944 to April 1945, the Netherlands were under Nazi occupation. Canadian forces led the allies' effort to liberate the Dutch people. More than 7,600 Canadians gave their lives in that effort and are forever resting in war cemeteries across the Netherlands.

On May 5, 1945, Royal Canadian Regiment General Charles Foulkes accepted the German surrender of the Netherlands. While the winter of 1945 was known as “hunger winter” and saw millions of Dutch people in suffering and starvation, the summer of 1945 was called “Canadian summer”. It was marked by weeks of parties, parades and celebrations.

The efforts and sacrifices made by the Canadian military to liberate the Dutch people is something that neither country will ever forget. However, learning this history also provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the work that still needs to be done to respect and live up to the solemn promise we have made to all our military veterans. My colleagues, the member for Courtenay—Alberni and the member for London—Fanshawe, have been tirelessly pushing the government to treat our veterans with the respect and dignity they deserve. This is something both Liberal and Conservative governments continue to fail on.

I was proud to see the member for Courtenay—Alberni's motion to have lapsed Veterans Affairs department funding reallocated and actually spent on veterans pass in November of 2018. It will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in funding actually used for service provision.

During World War II, Canada also provided refuge to the Dutch royal family, but we did not simply provide a safe haven. In 1943, the maternity ward of the Ottawa Civic Hospital was briefly declared to be extra-territorial by the Canadian government, allowing Crown Princess Juliana's child, Princess Margriet, to be born only a Dutch citizen.

While we could look back on this as just a diplomatic gesture to foreign royalty, I believe it shows much more and provides us with a lesson that becomes more important with each passing day. Across the western world, immigration, and especially refugee resettlement, has become a very divisive debate. Some people, even in this place, seek to misinform Canadians about refugees and label them drains on society that have little to offer Canada. Some even call them illegal.

The Dutch royal family shows us that refugees come from all walks of life, from the poor to royalty. When a family is in immediate danger, it may have no choice but to flee and seek asylum. As we reflect on how Canada can best contribute to finding solutions to the global refugee crisis that now sees over 65 million forcibly displaced persons globally, let us all remember Canada's humanitarian legacy and the lesson the Dutch royal family can teach us: anyone can become a refugee.

Canada can and must do better, not just in providing asylum but in showing refugees the respect and dignity they deserve by ensuring that they have access to the services needed to get on their feet and thrive here.

Our cousins, as the Dutch Prime Minister considered us in his historic address to the House of Commons in the fall, continue to innovate and make contributions to the world. According to the 2016 census, over 500,000 Canadians are of Dutch ethnic origin. The 2006 figures, which include full or partial ancestry, put that number as high as one million. Many Canadians maintain strong ties to the Netherlands. For that reason, it makes sense to look to our Dutch neighbours to see what new lessons can be learned.

Despite promising that 2015 would be the last election under first past the post, our Prime Minister abandoned that promise and refused to work with MPs on electoral reform. In a bizarre excuse for his failure, the Prime Minister suggested that proportional representation could give fringe views the balance of power in our democracy. If only he were more aware of our Dutch counterparts. The 2017 Dutch election showed just the opposite.

The Dutch PR system makes it difficult for a single party to obtain a majority mandate and forces parties to work together and compromise. Despite it winning the second most seats in the 2017 election, no other party is willing to work with the Party for Freedom, a party considered by many to be a far right, anti-immigrant, nationalist party. As a result, this extreme view holds no power, as it is not supported by the majority of Dutch people.

The PR system also helps send more women to parliament, with 36% of seats held by women. That is 10% higher than in Canada. Making every vote count may also very well improve voter turnout. In 2017, over 80% of Dutch voters cast ballots, and turnout typically hovers in the 70% range. In 2015, we saw Canada's highest turnout in over 20 years, but that was only 68.5%.

Last, despite our Prime Minister's lofty rhetoric on the environment, we know much remains to be done to even come close to meeting our Paris targets. We also know that buying a 65-year-old leaky pipeline does not help us hit those targets.

However, what we do know about are ways that will help. For example, we could be making investments in our communities to make our streets safer and more accommodating for cyclists and pedestrians. The Netherlands has long been famous for its embrace of urban cycling culture and has made significant progress in moving away from city planning around the car. This has made its streets safer, greener and more pedestrian and bike friendly.

In 2016, my colleague, the member for Courtenay—Alberni, tabled Bill C-312, an act to establish a national cycling strategy. His bill would see the federal government work collaboratively across departments and with the provinces and territories to develop and implement a national framework for improving urban cycling infrastructure and programs across Canada. I hope parliamentarians can learn from our Dutch counterparts and better embrace urban cycling. Supporting Bill C-312 would be a great first step.

Canadians can be very proud of our country's Dutch heritage and shared history with the Netherlands. I encourage all Canadians to learn more about it. It is very clear to me that we can learn many valuable lessons from this heritage and our continued close relationship. We can learn from the past. We can learn from the present. I have no doubt that there will be lessons we can learn in the future as well."

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