OTTAWA - Canada's 150th birthday is less than five years away — high time to start planning the bash, says a House of Commons committee.
MPs of all political stripes on the Canadian Heritage committee spent months studying the festive question of what to do about the anniversary of Confederation in 2017.
They concluded in a report Monday that the federal government needs to begin consulting with the provinces, territories, municipalities and private sector "as soon as possible" and start coming up with a framework for getting Canadians in the spirit.
The committee also recommended that cabinet consider forming an independent body to oversee the organization. They noted that former prime minister John Diefenbaker began planning Canada's centennial in 1967 eight years earlier. And Parliament voted to create the Centennial Commission in 1963 to encourage participation and oversee programs.
Witnesses who appeared before the committee described the centennial as a resounding success — a year that saw such major infrastructure projects as the National Arts Centre and the National Library and Archives built in Ottawa. Roughly $743.6 million in 2012 dollars was spent.
A youth travel program saw 12,000 students visit another province or territory.
"For Canadians in 1967, it didn't matter if your way of celebrating was to build a UFO pad in St. Paul, Alberta — just in case — or to stage a bathtub race in Nanaimo, B.C. ... The point was the people were taking charge," consultant Peter MacLeod told the committee last November.
By contrast, Ottawa only began seriously planning for the 125th anniversary a couple of years beforehand and the results have been described as mediocre. The government spent $65 million in 2012 dollars, 10 per cent less than envisioned.
"Canada 125 was done like a nine-alarm drill. It only started months before the actual year and, as a result, we were playing catch-up ball from the get-go," said Paul LaBarge, secretary of Canada 125.
While MPs aren't necessarily suggesting any big infrastructure projects for 2017, they did recommend that communities and donors be encouraged to help complete the Trans Canada Trail. They also put great emphasis on promoting museums and their activities.
The committee heard from several witnesses who pointed out how much Canada has changed demographically since 1967. It recommended the government consult with aboriginal peoples, ethnocultural communities, official language minority groups and others on the birthday activities.