House of Commons Hansard #39 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Information Commissioner's Report

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I have the honour, pursuant to section 38 of the Access to Information Act, to lay upon the table the report of the Information Commissioner for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2006.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h), this report is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Telecommunications Act
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2) and in accordance with subsection 10(1) of the Telecommunications Act, I have the honour, on behalf of the Minister of Industry, to table in both official languages a proposed order under section 8 of the Telecommunications Act.

This proposed order stands permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

Antipoverty Act
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-322, Antipoverty Act (amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code).

Mr. Speaker, I am introducing this bill, which is made up of four measures: adding “social condition” to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act; establishing a new prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act in cases where financial institutions refuse to provide basic banking services; asking this House to debate poverty for six hours per year; and amending section 347 of the Criminal Code to limit the legal interest rate for lending money in Canada by lowering it from 60% to 35%.

I hope that this bill will be adopted as quickly as possible.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage presented on Wednesday, May 17, 2006, be concurred in.

I thank my colleague from Davenport for seconding the motion for concurrence in this first report of the committee, which was presented in the House on May 17, 2006.

The first report of the committee essentially states that the Minister of Canadian Heritage, before committing herself to the review of the mandate of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation-Société Radio-Canada, CBC-SRC, should comply with the motion that she herself adopted during the 38th Parliament, part of which reads:

“That the government, when establishing this independent task force, do so under the advisement of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage“. Furthermore, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage be offered the opportunity to review and offer modifications to the terms of reference of the CBC-SRC mandate review prior to the commencement of the review.

That in essence is the substance of the first report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Before the minister undertakes, on behalf of the government, a review of the mandate of CBC Radio-Canada, the heritage committee should be offered an opportunity to comment and offer modifications to the terms of reference to whatever structure the minister intends to use for the review of CBC Radio-Canada.

Everyone will recognize that CBC Radio-Canada is one of Canada's significant cultural institutions. It is an invaluable instrument in bringing Canadians together and in communicating Canadian values to Canadians across the globe and in Canada.

CBC Radio-Canada unites Canadians by offering high quality programming that reflects this country, its regions, and all of its creative talent to both regional and national audiences. It is also a powerful mechanism for showcasing Canadian values, artists and culture, both at home and on the world stage.

In 2003, after an exhaustive review of the Canadian broadcasting environment, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage reaffirmed the importance of public broadcasting in Canada in its report entitled “Our Cultural Sovereignty”, otherwise referred to by many as the Lincoln report.

In its follow-up response to the recommendations of the heritage committee, the Liberal government reaffirmed CBC Radio-Canada's role within Canadian society as envisioned by the 1991 Broadcasting Act.

The Broadcasting Act states that:

--(l) The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;

(m) The programming provided by the Corporation should

(i) be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,

(ii) reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,

(iii) actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,

(iv) be in English and in French, reflecting the different needs and circumstances of each official language community, including the particular needs and circumstances of English and French linguistic minorities,

(v) strive to be of equivalent quality in English and in French,

(vi) contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,

(vii) be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and

(viii) reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada--

CBC Radio-Canada delivers on its mandate by offering a comprehensive range of programs and services on 18 different platforms that reflect the interests and aspirations of diverse Canadian communities. It is the only broadcaster delivering high quality radio, television and Internet based services in English and French across the country.

CBC Radio-Canada uses every broadcasting platform available to it, so that it can provide Canadians with information and entertainment in the format and via the medium that is most effective and convenient for them.

In CBC Radio-Canada's latest annual survey monitoring corporate performance, 97% of Canadians said they considered CBC Radio-Canada to be essential.

In the same survey, 82% of anglophone viewers of CBC television stated that they were satisfied with the quality of the programming it offered and 88% of listeners said they were satisfied as well with CBC Radio.

CBC Radio-Canada Télévision also experienced high satisfaction ratings, as would be expected, given its ability to attract over one-fifth of all prime time viewing by francophones and not just francophones in Quebec, incidentally.

Similarly, la Première Chaîne has experienced a tremendous growth in its listener base over the past several years, achieving a share of 12.5% in the spring of 2004.

The corporation's website, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, is among the most popular online media sites in Canada, attracting more than 3.7 million visitors a month.

In an increasingly culturally diverse nation, it is especially gratifying to see that CBC television ranked first among English Canadian broadcasters in reflecting Canada's ethnic and cultural make-up

All is not well, however. There are some difficulties at CBC Radio-Canada and the heritage committee mentioned some of its concerns about the situation of public broadcasting in the 2003 Lincoln report, which I mentioned earlier. I would like to quote some passages of that report:

The CBC’s audiences have plummeted over the last decade and the public broadcaster spends much of its talent and energy searching for the right formula, the right approach, to ensure its place in Canadian life. The search has been painful and frustrating and the goal distant and elusive.

There is also cause for serious concern about the production and exhibition of English-language drama. Except in Quebec where audiences are entertained and invigorated by original, home-grown dramatic productions, American programming dominates the airwaves to an extent that is largely unknown and unimaginable in any other country outside of the United States itself.

Many critics also argue that its current mandate is simply too broad and unfocused for the resources that successive governments and Parliaments have provided. The federal government must better define the CBC's role and together with the CBC's managers place less emphasis on audience ratings and commercial revenues.

Just last week the public policy forum issued a report on CBC Radio-Canada and its mandate. It was heavily critical of the necessity of the CBC to search out commercial revenue advertising, identifying almost $200 million of the roughly $500 million English television receives as coming from advertising and therefore putting into question the notion of the public aspect of the CBC.

Canadians are now engaged in a debate. The Conservative government intends to look at the CBC's mandate. Committee members recognize that it is the government's prerogative to initiate a review of the CBC's mandate, but before it can be concluded, it will have to come back to Parliament to be addressed because CBC Radio-Canada's mandate is embedded in law.

This is not the issue at all. We recognize the government's authority to initiate such a mandate review in a fashion that it wishes. The committee has asked to have a go at the terms of reference that will be given to whatever structure is chosen and whoever is asked to conduct the CBC Radio-Canada mandate review. This is consistent with what the committee asked for before the change of government and what the present minister asked for when she was in opposition. That is the essence of what the committee recommended, which I believe was approved unanimously.

When the minister appeared a couple of weeks ago before the committee, this matter came up. I asked her if she could tell us when she intended to do this. I want to thank my colleague across the way from Abbotsford because on my first round of questions I did not get an answer from the minister and my colleague acknowledged that I had not received an answer. He also acknowledged that my question was rather straightforward and he asked it again on my behalf.

The minister responded that she was willing to do this, but also indicated that she was caught in a process of the government's making in that she had to first go to cabinet. Rumours are going around that she did indeed go to cabinet but did not get the green light that she had been looking for. In the absence of confirmation of this, I am moving this motion today.

On the second round of questioning I again asked the minister if she would commit herself to allowing the committee to have a look at the terms of reference before the summer break knowing full well, and according to the minister's own statements, that the government intended to proceed with the review of the mandate of CBC Radio-Canada. I will quote a few of the minister's statements further on in my comments.

Recognizing at that time that we had maybe three weeks left before the summer break in the session, I asked if the minister would commit herself to having the terms of reference presented to the committee so it could comment on them before the summer. She answered that she could not.

It is extremely important that this occur in order to give credibility to the process. This is a longstanding issue. The Lincoln report recommended a mandate review of CBC Radio-Canada and the government indicated it would do so. The new minister of heritage has said she intends to review the CBC Radio-Canada mandate and said that she wants to initiate this.

We agree with a review in whatever structure and format the minister wishes to use, assuming it is somewhat reasonable. The committee unanimously told the minister that before she proceeds with the review it have a chance to comment and make suggestions as far as the terms of reference of the mandate review are concerned. The committee reported this to the House and hopefully its report will be adopted today.

I for one have some grave concerns in terms of what the mandate may or may not include. Some of these concerns were as a result of some comments by members opposite and, in particular, the dissenting opinion that was attached to the Lincoln report. Anyone who has followed this issue will be aware of what I am talking about. I am not castigating the minister's parliamentary secretary. He is entitled to his opinion. Members of the Conservative Party are entitled to their opinion but so are Canadians and so is Parliament.

Parliament has always insisted that it be involved, if only in setting the terms of reference, in the review of the mandate of the CBC Radio-Canada. That is the purpose of the meeting.

It also speaks to democracy and respect of Parliament. I am not suggesting that is not the intent of the minister. However, the adoption of the heritage committee's first report by the House would reinforce the notion that Parliament and its instruments, standing committees, are not to be taken lightly.

The heritage committee, in particular, has over the past years done extremely important work in a very cooperative and collaborative manner. There is every indication that the committee intends to keep addressing issues on a non-partisan basis and in an objective way, such as the way in which we have addressed broadcasting in particular.

Now that the minister has launched, via the CRTC, a quick look into technology, the evolution of technology and its impact on broadcasting at large, not just the CBC, that is one thing. However, another shoe will be dropped at some point and we are asking that the heritage committee, which has looked at this year in and year out, be afforded the opportunity to comment and make suggestions on the terms of reference that will be guiding the review of CBC Radio-Canada's mandate.

The intent and purpose of the debate this morning is that the House reaffirm its will that its standing committee, to which it delegates all these matters, be involved and consulted in the setting of the terms of reference.

I do not sense from the government side that there is much opposition for that. The government indicated that it would support it. What I do sense, however, is that the minister may be caught in a situation where she may run out of time before the end of the session and be pushed or pressured into initiating this without the committee having had a chance.

Depending on the chairman of the committee and other members and depending on whether the minister can consult with the committee on the terms of reference before the end of the session, I would be agreeable to having the committee recalled sometime during the summer to do that. I understand my colleague, the parliamentary secretary who is from western Canada, may think that is a very facile commitment for me because I live here and would not have to travel very far but I would be prepared to meet them in the west to show that there is goodwill in the committee and in the House.

I think, by and large, most parliamentarians in Canada accept that the CBC Radio-Canada is an important institution and one that needs to be supported and protected. If its mandate does need to be adjusted that could be done after consultation with the committee on the terms of reference. However, if I had my way, the terms of reference would provide an opportunity for all Canadians to comment in terms of where they think the CBC Radio-Canada should be headed.

The purpose of moving concurrence in the first report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is to help the minister and the government understand how serious the committee is in asking that it be consulted in setting the terms of reference of whatever mandate review structure will be chosen by the government to review the mandate of CBC Radio-Canada before the mandate is initiated. The key words of that motion are, “before the mandate is initiated”.

All the committee is asking is that the government respect the will of the committee and, hopefully, the will of the House when we vote on this matter, and that the consultation will occur, hopefully, before the session ends, but if not, certainly before the mandate of the review process is launched, whenever and whatever format it takes.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, I am very interested in this concurrence motion. I find it passing strange, notwithstanding the constant, never-ending and ceaseless assertions that I have made on behalf of the minister and of the government that the minister wants to cooperate fully with the committee and is fully apprised of the situation with respect to the committee, that we are debating this concurrence motion.

Although I know this is an important issue, on the other side of the coin the issue has fundamentally been agreed to by the minister and the government, which is why I do not understand why we are in this debate at this time. The member is fully aware that we are coming up to the end of this particular session and leaving on a scheduled break at some point during the month of June. In looking at the order paper I see that the first item of business is to resume debate on the justice minister's motion for seconding reading of an act to amend the Criminal Code, minimum penalties for offences involving firearms and to make a consequential amendment to another act.

The second item of business on the order paper is Bill C-14, an act to amend the Citizenship Act, which was proposed by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and it is to be debated for the first time at second reading. When I look farther down the order paper I see the report stage motion of the act introduced by the Minister of Health, the public health agency of Canada act. I see Bill C-16, put forward by the Leader of the Government in House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.

We have many pieces of business that are quite pressing at this particular point. I am having a lot of difficulty trying to understand the member, when he already has agreement, which I have clearly, specifically, explicitly stated that the minister, who I represent, is in agreement to the things the member is asking for. I am sure there is no ill-will on the part of my friend but it just seems to me that there might be those with a more suspicious mind who would think this is something of a waste of time when there are these other bills.

I wonder if the member could enlighten me a bit, considering I have already stated three times and I will say it a fourth, fifth and sixth time, that he has the agreement and the cooperation of the government, the minister and myself as parliamentary secretary, as to why he is wasting the time of the House when we have these other pressing matters.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, for the member to insinuate that this is not in order is totally wrong. The agenda of the House calls for routine proceedings, in which there are motions. As a member of the House, I have every right to move the motion that I have moved. So that we do not provide erroneous impressions with the people who may be listening, I have every right to do what I am doing.

To suggest that I am wasting the time of the House by asking that the government respect the will of the House in terms of having a committee look at the terms of reference to review an institution that is very important to Canadians is a bit of a stretch. I am sure the member was not suggesting that reviewing the mandate of CBC Radio-Canada is a waste of time.

I said throughout my intervention that the minister did not confirm that she could or would consult the committee on the terms of reference of the review before the end of the session. It is also well-known that the government intends to move ahead. The question becomes: Will the House categorically state to the minister by adopting the report that its committee has proposed, which I gather was approved unanimously, that the government not proceed with a review of CBC Radio-Canada's mandate without first having gone to the heritage committee to get some feedback on the terms of reference of that review? That is all that is at stake here.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage has been a member of the heritage committee for a decade now and knows the committee has done excellent work. He was involved for the two years the committee spent reviewing broadcasting, including CBC Radio-Canada and its mandate. It only makes sense that the committee would ask to be consulted in terms of the ongoing nature of this file and the ongoing evolution of technology and broadcasting in Canada.

I am asking the House to confirm that its committee be consulted before we proceed. That is certainly not a waste of time.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will avoid the questions of process and privilege that are going on and speak to the member's obvious commitment and passion for CBC Radio-Canada, its performance in this country and the role that it plays.

However, I have a fundamental question. As someone who represents a rural constituency and having watched, over the last 10 or 15 years, the complete erosion of services and the ability of rural communities to have their own news sources and for small town Canada to generate their own stories and reflect back to Canadians what is happening in their communities, that was under the Liberal government. Year after year we saw budget restraints that caused the CBC to hit a point where in one of the communities in my riding, Prince Rupert, for example, it went from a staff of 17 to a staff of 3 within a four year period.

The CBC was meant to be one of the crown jewels that the government supported year in and year out but when it got to the budget stage and the rubber hit the road, the member's government consistently undermined the ability of the CBC to do its essential job, which is to hold the fabric of this country together.

With this obvious passion, what did his government do when it was in power for all those long, dark years with respect to the CBC other than to consistently undermine its ability to perform its central function, which is to talk to Canadians about their realities and the realities outside of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal?

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, there was a cut to the CBC Radio-Canada budget in 1995. When the Liberal government formed the government in 1993, remember that the Mulroney government had left the country with a $42 billion annual deficit. Our government felt that we could not continue accumulating debt at that rate. In the 1995 budget all the departments save one, and I believe that was Indian affairs, saw a cut in their budgets.

Within three years of that budget the country had eliminated its annual deficit and was on its way to financial stability. As soon as we achieved that, the budgeting for CBC Radio-Canada became a steady matter on a five year forecast. The government also created the television production fund in which it put money to enable CBC and other producers in this country to initiate and re-engage in production.

Yes, in 1995 the government of the day did what it had to do in setting the finances of the nation on a proper footing. It included a general belt tightening for everyone, including the CBC. Henceforth from the moment we achieved financial surpluses which we have had since then, CBC Radio-Canada funding has been stable and predictable.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I was unprepared for this debate. The member decided that he was going to move this concurrence motion presumably with the approval of his House leader. I will restate that I consider this debate unfortunate and untimely in that things are moving along and there are so many other issues that we could be discussing. Seeing as the member wants to debate the issue of the CBC, I am prepared to do that.

The intervention from my friend from the NDP was spot on. The Liberals for a long period, 13 years, kept on strangling the CBC, taking away its ability to make any long term plans. The Liberals continued with whatever their vision was of a mandate for the CBC without giving it the ammunition and the resources to do the job. Most of us vividly recall what the CBC was. What it was and what it is today are significantly different.

The Liberals have consistently had a pie in the sky approach to things. They declare they are in favour of status quo but they starved the CBC of resources. They claim that they have a vision of where they want the CBC to go and yet, they never actually brought it to fruition.

It is very interesting that while the current Minister of Canadian Heritage was on the heritage committee in the last Parliament, it was she who actually led the opposition against the then Liberal government with respect to the CBC and many other issues. Whether we are talking about copyright, other broadcast media or whatever, it was she who led the charge to get the kind of changes which the Conservative government now has an opportunity to move forward on.

One of the difficulties is that it was not only the CBC that the federal Liberals ended up imperilling by virtue of their lack of understanding of what was happening within the marketplace, it was the entire broadcast industry. The broadcast industry does not work in a vacuum. Its stakeholders are the people who own the companies, the people who produce the shows, the people who are the creators. Its stakeholders are many, in the tens of thousands literally, but they are completely dependent on those in the marketplace who are looking for entertainment, looking for education, looking for news, looking for public service announcements. Those people now have a broad range of opportunities that simply did not exist as recently as six months ago.

There is an entire generation of people now who likely will never access radio and television the way you and I have, Mr. Speaker. I may have a couple of years on you, Mr. Speaker, I am not really sure, but we are of a generation that is catching up with the idea of time shifting. There is an opportunity through Bell ExpressVu or Star Choice of watching a program that is viewing in this time zone on a Halifax channel. With time shifting and with a VCR, we have discovered this wonderful new way of accessing the information and entertainment that we want.

I have a couple of grandchildren who are of an age that it is unlikely they will even know what a VCR is. With the whole concept of time shifting, why would they need VCRs? There are devices that use the ordinary television signal and people can make choices that simply were not technically available even a matter of months ago.

People are also using the Internet to download things onto their iPods and other devices. I do not know what iPod stands for, I regret to say, but these devices are completely revolutionizing the broadcast industry. They have the ability to completely bypass the ordinary broadcaster. The broadcaster's corporation gets revenue from advertisers which then flows through to the people who are actually providing those services. For television, there are so many eyeballs, and for radio, there are so many ears that the broadcasters want. If they are not getting those eyes or ears, then the advertisers say that they will find another way to reach their target market. That is how the industry supports itself.

If we look at the whole issue of simultaneous substitution as an example, it is very simple and straightforward. In the time zone in which I live, Spokane will broadcast Law & Order. CTV will make sure that Calgary, although it is in a different time zone which is the one I am in, will broadcast Law & Order which is being broadcast out of Spokane, Washington at exactly the same time.

Interestingly, if Law & Order is broadcast on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. Spokane time, it will be on CFCN out of Calgary at 9 p.m. Why? They do that because they know they are going to get half a million eyeballs, whatever the number is, by broadcasting Law & Order in Canada. They buy the rights for that and thereby are able to pay for all of the people and all of the services, all of the technical capacity to continue in business and hopefully for the broadcaster to make a profit at the same time.

Simultaneous substitution is something that has actually created generation of revenue for Canadian corporations that are in the broadcast business delivering entertainment to Canadians. Whether it is that program, Prairie Giant on the CBC, Corner Gas, or whatever the program is, Canadians make the choice of what they want to see by delivering those eyeballs. The broadcasters then collect money so that they can stay in business.

With the advent of satellite about six years ago and my ability as a consumer to time shift, I no longer care. If I want to see Law & Order, I will simply watch it on the Toronto CTV affiliate at the time I choose to watch it. I can shift things around. Therefore, for the advertisers that are paying to advertise on CFCN out of Calgary, I am one pair of eyeballs less, and if my wife is watching the same show, that is two pairs of eyeballs less that are watching the show. That was the thin edge of the wedge.

In spite of the fact that it is through simultaneous substitution that we have been able to create a revenue base for the advertisers, now with personal video recorders, PVRs, people are not only time shifting, but they are able to cut out the commercials. Now people can watch the shows and the eyeballs are on the television screen but it does not make any difference to the advertiser.

We are into a situation where product placement becomes a very important issue. For example, on Law & Order, somebody may be drinking a can of Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola, or whatever the commodity is. We can bet that the confection company will have paid money because the star of the show is drinking Coca-Cola, or driving a Ford, GM or Chrysler, whatever the case may be. It is through all of this that there is a complete change, a complete alteration, to what happens.

Within that context, is the idea of moving forward with a review by the CRTC, which is ideally suited, being an arm's length organization to the government, a review that the government has requested so we can look at where we are now and where we can go in the future.

I mentioned that the Liberals are very famous for desiring to either stay with status quo or believing they can maintain status quo. We are prepared to take a look forward to see where iPods, the Internet, satellites and satellite radios fit. Once we are aware of the potpourri available for Canadians to choose from, in my judgment, it would make sense then to go ahead with a mandate review of the CBC.

It seems to me that there is a sequence here. I have no knowledge of what the timing is on the CBC mandate review, but by doing things in sequence, it makes a whole lot more sense than to do something in a vacuum by itself. As a public broadcaster, the CBC does not exist in a vacuum. The CBC exists in a marketplace. Within that marketplace, people make choices of what they look at, what they see, what news they consume and what entertainment they take in.

The CBC has done an outstanding job of certain public broadcasting events. When I was formerly on the standing committing, I asked if there was a place that was exclusively the CBC's place for us to broadcast the Olympics, for example. What occurred, subsequent to my time on the standing committee, was that CTV ended up outbidding the CBC. My question at that time, and I am on the record so we may as well talk about it, was if it made any sense for a public broadcaster, with almost $1 billion in subsidies from the taxpayer, to get into a bidding war with a private broadcaster, namely CTV. That ended up sorting itself out.

Yesterday I happened to notice on Canada AM that Brian Williams has moved from CBC. He said that it was with regret, and I am sure it was, that after about 30 years with the CBC, he decided to move over to CTV to anchor its Olympics coverage. There is a motion, a movement, within that.

Where does the CBC mandate work with respect to things like professional sports, NHL hockey, the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Olympics and so on? There is a very logical way of looking at what is happening in the marketplace.

The minister committed to hearing the views of the committee on any type of review the CBC may or may not undergo. In response to a question from the member for Ottawa—Orléans, and I think he might recall this, on June 1, the minister said:

--I am looking forward to the fact that this committee is eager to take a very positive and contributory role to our review of looking at this, and the opportunity that CBC will have as a corporation to put before the Canadian public--and to hear from the Canadian public--the role and the mandate they believe the public broadcaster should play in the future.

As you know... through your chair, I have discussed various options on the ways and the means that this committee may participate and provide its input to this government for consideration in a very positive, effective, and time-efficient manner.

Although the member is clearly motivated with respect to the CBC, and I am very pleased he is, as am I and the minister, but, with the greatest respect, are there not other things on the order paper that need to be handled? This issue has already been handled.

I look forward to the fact that the committee is eager to take a very positive and contributory role in our review of CBC. I look forward to it going before the Canadian public to hear what they believe the role and mandate of the public broadcaster should be in the future. I regrettably do not comprehend what part of yes the member is having difficulty understanding. It is only three letters, y-e-s. Yes, we are ready to go. When the time is right, the minister has committed that the committee will be involved. What is left to talk about?

Our government is taking a look at this entire issue in a sequential manner. We are looking at the fact that the CBC does not operate or exist within a vacuum. While a debate on the CBC, Canada's national broadcaster, is a very worthy topic for the House, perhaps there might be a more efficient use of our time than discussing it at this particular point.

I refer again to my friend from the NDP. He talked about service in remote areas. One of the challenges the CBC is faced with at this point is what will it do with respect to high definition television. Countless billions of dollars will be required to completely upgrade broadcast antennae. That is not only for the CBC, it is also for the other broadcasters. When we take a look at that, is there a more creative way that we could make use of satellite broadcasting? The fact is signals are presently covered on the two transponders in outer space. Is there a more efficient way doing that and is there some way of engaging the existing satellite signal providers?

I cite that as an example of all the possible questions. Taking a look at things in sequence and taking a look at the CBC mandate review within that sequence, once we have the table set, is undoubtedly what my minister has in mind.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to what the minister's parliamentary secretary had to say. I think I can use his words to illustrate the difference of approach vis-à-vis CBC Radio-Canada.

Some of us on this side of the House are not comfortable with where the government may wish to take the CBC. I say may because there have been some reports, such as the Lincoln, where the facts do not support the claim that the CBC is essential.

The member for Peterborough last week recommended that the CBC increase its ability to sell commercials. We have had the recommendation that CBC English television be commercialized. There is a contradictory direction, where one would see more commercial revenues and more commercialization of CBC television and others would like to see less. As I said, last week the public policy forum put out a report.

We all know that the crafting of the terms of reference of a review is extremely important. In the crafting of them direction can be given. That is why the committee has asked to be involved in the crafting of those terms of reference. We will not set them, and I understand that. We respect the government's prerogative to do things.

The government should respect our wish to be consulted in giving advice and recommendations as to the terms of reference. For instance, we want the terms of reference to ensure they include a funding formula. That is the key to the future of the CBC. We want to ensure they include the technology and how it can adapt to technology. We also want to ensure that the commercialization aspect is dealt with in the terms of reference.

These are the issues that are “qui sont sous-jacentes”, that underline this debate. It is the future direction of CBC. Whereas some on the government side may want to see it commercialized or have more commercial revenues, some on this side of the House want to see less of it. We want to see the terms of reference, not give a direction that is not wanted.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, again, I have listened to the member and I still have difficulty understanding the urgency is of this debate. It has taken us off Bill C-10, an act to amend the Criminal. Code, minimum penalties for offences involving firearms, particularly considering the situation we ran into last summer and even during the fall with respect to guns. It has taken us off the bill of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration on adoption.

Many of these issues can occur only in this chamber as a result of the fact that we are charged with the responsibility for debating these laws and bringing them into effect.

Although I have done it already twice, I will not repeat the precise words of the minister, except to say that the minister is fully aware of what the committee would like to do. There is no problem there. However, it gives me an opportunity to put very clearly and specifically on the record that the Conservative Party is fully supportive of CBC Radio-Canada, which is more than I can say for the Liberals who were constantly starving it to death in terms of resources.

Before we decide on resources, we have to take a look at the mandate. We support CBC Radio, English and French, RDI, Newsworld. I suppose the big questions are around the issue of CBC Television English and to a lesser extent CBC Television French. These are good debates for us to have to ensure that we respond and react to Canadians with respect to their requirements and their desires as far as CBC is concerned.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party definitely has been supporting a review of CBC for some time, because we have to be honest when we are discussing CBC and we have to say that it is not working nearly as well as it could. There have been years of underfunding. It has had problems in terms of a loss of regional programming and a loss of markets that CBC once had and no longer has. There has been a problem with the governance structure of CBC. It is broken. It is an embarrassment. We need to end the patronage system at CBC. The NDP has been pushing for that.

A mandate review of CBC is something that we in the NDP support. We would be willing to work with the government on ensuring that the new ideas are brought forward to make CBC function in the 21st century.

I would like to bring up the issue the member raised earlier when he said that CBC does not exist in a vacuum. I agree with him. We are now in a situation where there are numerous issues facing broadcast and television. There are questions about maintaining Canadian content regulations and foreign ownership restrictions on broadcast. There are questions about new media, how that is going to implicate existing television markets, and how that works.

I suggest that one of the important functions of the heritage committee is to be able to look at the composite whole. How do CBC and regional programming play in with new media and private broadcasters? I would imagine that this is beyond the mandate review of the proposed CBC panel being put forward by the minister.

I would say it is very important that we first have input into the terms of reference so that the work already done in the heritage committee, in looking at the problems of the CBC and in needing a direction for it, is carried on so that this new panel is not reinventing the wheel. At the same time, we must look to the heritage committee for a larger overview of issues in terms of television and private broadcast, where the CRTC is going, and how all these pieces fit together.

I ask the hon. member if he would be interested in working with us at committee, in conjunction with the CBC review being carried out by the government, to do a larger review of television, new media and how it all fits together.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would say off the top of my head probably not. The reason why, very simply, is that the minister announced in Banff that the CRTC is going to be doing exactly that job. I do not understand what expertise the committee would be able to bring to those questions that the CRTC is not capable of.

I am also reminded that the committee is responsible for things like museums, art galleries and archives. It is responsible for all sorts of things other than the CBC and broadcasting. I have found the fixation on the CBC and broadcasting to be really unfortunate considering the number of other responsibilities there are within the Department of Canadian Heritage. It is, after all, a $4 billion department, and I think it would do well for members to broaden their scope past the CBC and past broadcasting per se.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member mentioned transponders because it gives me a chance to bring up an issue that is very important in my riding. A former speaker of our house, Don Taylor, has been on a great crusade to expand the strength of CBC out of the town of Watson Lake in Yukon. Sometimes CBC is the only media and it is very important for weather news, which could relate to life and death situations. I certainly hope the parliamentary secretary would support the expansion of the signal.

On the urgency of debating this now or getting back to Bill C-10, I do not think it is all that urgent in that all the statistics have shown that crime is going down and that the proposals in Bill C-10 would not work. That is not a particularly urgent bill.

On funding, though, the point he made about criticizing other parties related to the funding of CBC was a bit disingenuous when last week his party voted against a motion that would have maintained funding for CBC.

I have a question for the member. There are other bills I would like to get back to, and if this is so urgent, why did it take the member 10 minutes just to say yes, this was a good idea?

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have said yes. I have said yes repeatedly to my friend across the way. I do not know if he is having difficulty understanding the word yes. I just thought that maybe if I were to repeat yes enough times he might get the message.

However, with respect to his question about Yukon, I think that we have to be very careful as parliamentarians not to become involved in micromanaging the CBC. The CBC is an arm's-length corporation with people with management skills who work for its directors. These people are fully capable of making good management decisions with respect to where the various transponders or transmitters would be, could be and should be.

I have the same kinds of difficulties in my constituency. My constituency is probably not as big as Yukon, but it is very large. There are groupings of 50, 200, 300 or 1,700 people and we have to be concerned about the antennas and things of that nature. I do make suggestions to the CBC through the appropriate channels, but I always make it very clear that it is a management decision. It is indeed our responsibility as parliamentarians to look at the mandate and find out the best way to ensure that Canadians have the service they all want from the CBC.