House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cbc.

Topics

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

The fact remains that my colleague had the chance to vote here in the House not only to increase the funding of CBC/Radio-Canada, but also to increase funding for culture. Unfortunately he did not do so.

Furthermore, in the economic action plan we work on the fundamentals of the economy, so that the advertising revenue of all the companies engaged in broadcasting will return. In addition, we work to rectify the economic situation. That is the long-term solution, while maintaining stable funding for CBC/Radio-Canada as we are doing.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I was back in my constituency last weekend and attended a number of events. At each event that I attended, without exception, somebody would enter into the debate and ask where we were going with the CBC and then offer their concerns about the loss of CBC services in our area.

As well, my office has received a great number of phone calls and emails with regard to this topic. To begin my remarks, I will share an email with the House from Ian McNeil of East Lake Ainslie.

He talks about the CBC and the fact that it is a vital piece of national infrastructure. He is amazed that a vital piece of national infrastructure is being allowed to decay before our eyes. What is worse, he says, is that this is happening at a time when the federal government talks about investment in infrastructure. He says that the decay has become devastation with the recent announcement of massive layoffs at CBC. He says that nothing unites this country as thoroughly, democratically, economically as the CBC. He says that it lets us talk to each other in both official languages, on radio, television and the Internet and that it holds a mirror up to Canadians every day and questions what we see. He goes on to say that it reflects and explains to Canadians and to the neighbours in the world around us, that it entertains and informs us, that it provides us with a forum for discussion and creativity, which our economy desperately needs right now.

Those are some comments that were sent to my office by Mr. McNeil and they pretty much echo everything we have been hearing about this issue and the recent cuts that were made by the government.

We grew up with the CBC. As a young guy, I remember making sure I had a nap on Saturday afternoon so I could get into my pyjamas that evening and watch Hockey Night in Canada. We only had the two channels in Glace Bay but the highlight of our week was Hockey Night in Canada. In the earlier years, we might have been allowed to stay up to watch Juliet or Gilligan's Island.

We grew up with the Peter Gzowskis and the Vicki Gabereaus and they have had a huge impact on shaping the overall culture of this country. They have allowed us to realize the great country we are. They have helped impact on our global perspective. They have helped us develop a perspective, a Canadian conscience, all those thing that we probably take for granted. I do not think we will understand the significance until we absolutely lose the CBC.

That is where we are today. We are fearful that once the cuts begin, we will be on that slippery slope and we do not know where the cuts will end.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Labrador who will also speak to this because we know the impact it will have on his riding as well.

I want to talk about the impact that it will have locally. I had a discussion with the opposition House leader a little earlier today, the member for Wascana. He talked about the cuts in Saskatchewan and the shutting down of the operation in La Ronge. That station itself in central northern Saskatchewan, which services all the northern communities, many first nations communities, is the well-established voice of the north in Saskatchewan. Tom Robertson was a long-time broadcaster there of legendary proportions. That has just been extracted from those communities. A vital part of communication, a vital part of those communities has just been lost.

It is not dissimilar to my own riding of Cape Breton—Canso. A portion of my riding will continue to be serviced by Halifax. Up by Guysborough, Larrys River and Country Harbour, that area will still be able to access the Halifax station, but in Cape Breton, with the cuts that have been made, it is looking at the loss of maybe six, seven, eight jobs. It was a station that was run on a bare bones staff anyway. There were 22 people to provide the service.

Once we start to lose the journalists, the people who get into the community, who dig up the stories, who share them and who put a human face on a particular issue, we lose the essence of the CBC. We lose what is vital about the CBC if we do not have those people to do that job. The end result is the quality of the program will be impacted. Once that starts to slip, people will believe it does not make a difference if we have the CBC, and then we lose that vital service to our community.

The CBC has meant so much to us in terms of our culture, history and music. I am very fortunate to come from an area like Cape Breton. I look at some of the artists who have contributed not just to the local music scene but nationally and internationally, artists such as Natalie MacMaster, the Rankins, Ashley MacIsaac, Rita MacNeil, the Barra MacNeils, Matt Minglewood and the list goes on. They can go back and speak about their first time being on the radio. When they talk about their first interview and where they learned their chops on the airwaves, they will talk about their interactions with the staff at CBC Sydney.

Getting that kind of music out gives those artists that first opportunity. Then they can tell the stories back. In their songs and words, the artists can celebrate who we are as a people. It is essential that these regional stations and services are allowed to continue to operate. Hopefully, it would have been to grow, but we are now looking at operating and salvaging. The cuts that have been announced have put them in greater jeopardy.

We have good local radio stations. A number of local radio stations are doing fairly well. However, by and large, it is music for the most part. It is top 40 music, country music or whatever the style or theme of the station is. They will do a broadcast and they can come with the headlines. However, it is very rare that they can go deep on stories. They will play the national playlist. They will support Canadian music off the MapleMusic brand.

It is great that we get an opportunity to listen to Bruce Springsteen and Ashlee Simpson, who I am sure are great people and artists. However, we are concerned about Bruce Guthro and Ashley MacIsaac. We are concerned about giving our own musicians and talent a stage on which they can play their music and get it out to the broader public. By doing so, they have an opportunity to start to build a career. The local CBC stations can do that.

Ron James is a buddy of mine. He lived in Glace Bay in his early years. He is a comedian, a great guy and a huge international success. He got his start at CBC Sydney and the local stations. They were there for the good times and the tough times to tell the stories. They were there when Canada hosted the Olympic Games in 1987. It was a great celebration and they talked about Cape Breton right across the country. Those stories were delivered across the country.

When there was a severe loss of life and tragedy at the Devco mine, No. 26 colliery, CBC was at the pithead, talking to the families and community leaders. It is imperative that we support these regional stations. It is imperative that these stations are allowed to tell those stories. The cutbacks today are going to be devastating to the regional stations.

I call upon the government to do something to ensure that bridge money is implemented so these stations can continue to operate.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Durham
Ontario

Conservative

Bev Oda Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member spoke about people and artists back when they were getting their start on the CBC, but where was he and what does he have to say about the late 1980s and early 1990s, when there were major cutbacks CBC budge?

I was on the CRTC at that time and I had to preside at hearings. The CBC came to us and told us that it was cutting the production centre in the Maritimes. At that time, there was a great outcry because of those severe budget cuts.

Many of the discussions I have heard today are the same discussions we had back then. Where was the opposition party then? Why did it make those cuts? Why did it allow that to happen at the time?

Consequently, where was his party then? Where was the member then? That cut was higher than what the Liberals have asked for in this motion.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, we were in government then. Why did she stop with the cuts that were made to the CBC? Why did she not ask us about the cuts we made in National Defence? Why did she not ask us about the cuts we made in health, transportation, in all areas in 1995?

We sent 45,000 federal employees home, and I can stand beside that. They were tough decisions. Why? Because we had to clean up the mess that was left by the previous Mulroney government. That is a fact. I do not know what kind of mess will be left after those guys get finished.

I remind the minister as well as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs that they were in the opposition, saying that the cuts did not go deep enough. That is the truth.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is a simple one.

We are well aware that the Conservatives have just cut CBC/Radio-Canada's budget. The Liberal Party has today put forward a motion calling for more support for the corporation.

I have twice asked the Liberal members how they would propose to support CBC/Radio-Canada if they were in power. What would they do to make CBC/Radio-Canada a nation-wide broadcaster, and in particular to bring it into all the francophone communities?

We have good programs and a good radio broadcaster, but at present the funding is lacking. Many jobs are being cut. Eight hundred jobs are soon to be cut at the CBC.

How would the Liberals propose to fund CBC/Radio-Canada if they were in power? I am asking the question for the third time.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, as history shows, governments are not forever, so it is how much life is left in the current government.

There is no question that we are in the midst of some very difficult times, globally and certainly nationally. Canadians are feeling it in many sectors. We are seeing record job losses now. The government's revenues are down as are the ad revenues for CBC. We are approaching very difficult and challenging times.

We should be challenging the government to put forward the necessary bridge funding so these cuts would not have to be made. I know comments have been that job losses would occur anyway, but I would hope the bridge funding would be put in place.

Any government going forward, if it wants to be serious about some kind of national plan on this, has to make a commitment to a national broadcaster. I would hope that party would do it in an upcoming platform.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is important to acknowledge that the CBC, especially in border communities like ours, also reaches Canadians in the United States. Without it, we cannot tell stories such as the Navistar truck plant announcement in which the government decided to send $200 million worth of work to Texas instead of Chatham, where those vehicles could have been produced. Therefore, we are losing that voice not only domestically but internationally.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, that goes both ways. Border communities like Windsor have some of the best stations to help Canadian artists. We have a certain market for our artists in Canada, but to get into the American market, Canadian bands, such as the Tragically Hip, are given the opportunity to play at these—

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will have to stop the hon. member there.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Labrador.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Cape Breton—Canso for sharing his time with me today and for his passionate and emotional plea that the government help the CBC.

I would also like to thank the hon. member for Honoré-Mercier for bringing this motion forward. I know his passion about this issue and his strong support for the work that CBC Radio-Canada does throughout the country, including in his own province of Quebec.

I would like to speak about the importance of CBC's work in my part of the country, namely Labrador, and also about the impact this round of cuts will have on my riding and the CBC audience our local bureau serves.

Unfortunately, Labrador has seen this story before. It was under the Mulroney Conservatives in 1990 that we lost our CBC television station in Goose Bay. The journalists who lost their jobs and the community leaders predicted that it would diminish Labrador's voice on the provincial and national scene. Sadly, they were right.

We had, and have, no other alternative for local TV production besides the CBC. There is no CTV, no Global. The same is true for radio where Labrador has virtually no presence of private commercial networks. We have community stations, but our only network connection is via the CBC.

In fact, we have long argued for increasing CBC's presence in Labrador. In particular many Labradorians have called for a pan-Labrador radio signal so that people in southern Labrador could get the Goose Bay radio signal directly. Instead of increasing the presence, it is now being cut back.

These latest cuts are a case of history repeating itself. It is a trend. Conservatives are elected and they cut the CBC. It is an ideological bent on the part of the Conservatives.

Labradorians have been loyal CBC listeners for generation after generation. Our local team of producers and reporters and the entire CBC radio staff do an outstanding job on an already shoestring budget. They bring Labrador news and views to a wide audience. Many of their segments are picked up regionally and nationally. They are also the eyes and ears of Canada when news of national importance breaks in our region. Good news or bad, the CBC is there to explain to local and national audiences the whats, whens and hows of the story. The CBC fills the gap that other networks have never even tried to fill.

To give the House some sense of the work that CBC Labrador does in bringing together our region, I will mention some of the topics covered in just the past few days by its flagship show, Labrador Morning.

There has been extensive coverage of the controversial hunt on the Joir River caribou herd, a story which spans two provinces, ours and Quebec. The CBC has done panel discussions on the local impact of the provincial budget. It has covered a workshop on food security and the nutritional value of traditional wild foods. It has reported on plans to improve Route 389 which links Quebec and Labrador. Again, this is a local story of great interprovincial, and even national, importance. It has covered cutbacks at one of our local airlines. There is the ongoing and very popular Jigs and Reels, a series which regularly checks in on news and happenings in each and every one of Labrador's towns and communities.

Unfortunately, in the past week, CBC Labrador has had to report on the impact of the cutbacks to its own service and the people it serves throughout Labrador.

This is not a matter of nostalgia. This is a bread and butter issue. This is literally about how we share and communicate with one another. It is about our music. It is about our stories. It really is about ourselves.

I have already heard from many groups and concerned individuals who are angry and upset at the cuts that are coming. The town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay issued a strong statement this morning in which Mayor Leo Abbass said, “CBC Labrador Morning is a vital link for our communities across Labrador. It is the only comprehensive radio show devoted to the geographic, cultural and political issues that affect all Labradorians”.

A resident of Nain in northern Labrador said, “Please make sure CBC is not allowed to wither on the vine”.

Another email stated, “In the name of fairness to a territory that already feels disconnected, left out and ignored, I implore you, do not do this to Labrador”.

Another is from North West River which stated, “CBC is the glue that holds us together as a country and reflects our culture”.

A resident of the Lake Melville area said, “Maybe some of those decision makers should come and stay for a winter in one of our towns. We depend on this information for our daily living”.

I echo these statements and the personal attachment that many have to the CBC. I expect to hear more from many more. I hope that the Conservative government is hearing from them, too. Perhaps it will convince the Conservatives to change their minds about the decision to cut the CBC.

Unfortunately, there are too many Conservatives on that side of the House who agree with the sentiments of the industry minister who is on record as saying, “Do we need the CBC, in its current format, when there are so many private broadcasting channels available?” I challenge him to come to Labrador and say that to the residents directly.

In fact, the latest round of cuts targets many rural and northern parts of the country, many areas with large aboriginal populations, such as Labrador, northern Manitoba, northern Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. There are substantial cuts in Newfoundland and in two of the three maritime provinces. Of the thirteen bureaus and stations closed or cut, eight are in Atlantic Canada.

The Broadcasting Act states that CBC Radio-Canada has the mandate to reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences while serving the special needs of those regions, to contribute to shared national consciousness and identity, and be predominantly and distinctively Canadian.

The journalists at CBC Labrador strive to achieve those goals. They do an admirable job with the resources they have available, but now, due to the failure of the Conservative government to provide CBC with the resources it needs, that mandate is in jeopardy. The Labrador staff face a 40% cut. The impact on our region cannot be measured solely in dollars and cents. Labrador will be poorer for it, and all of Canada will be poorer for it.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's experiences of the CBC are representative of a place very similar to mine in northwest British Columbia.

For some urban members of the House, the importance of what we are talking about today cannot be underestimated in terms of being able to tell that national story, to tell the regional stories and connecting us as a nation.

It may be much easier for the member and his party to talk about how important the CBC is when debating this motion, and the New Democrats will support this motion, but these very cuts were contained in the budget that was recently passed. The member in his speech very rightly proclaimed what our national broadcaster does, which is to tell those stories that connect our regions. The undermining of that broadcaster is contained in the budget, and that is more important than the opposition day motion which we have before us today.

At any moment when the Liberals were negotiating with the Conservatives was this issue brought up? Is the member aware of any time when the Liberals said that in order to garner their support for the Conservatives' budget, they asked that the CBC be fully and properly funded to avoid the very things that he is talking about?

As we negotiate between parties and try to make Parliament work, there are moments and opportunities available for all of us to push the things that we care about most. I do not doubt that my hon. colleague cares about the CBC and recognizes its importance, but caring and doing can be two different things.

Was there any moment when this was actually decided and promoted in those negotiations with the Conservatives?

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to share with the member a personal story about growing up on the coast of Labrador.

I am only 42 for all of those who thought I was much younger, but when I was growing up, we had no electricity. Generators were shared by two or three households. That was only in the nighttime. In the daytime, we operated a lot of things by battery.

We used to watch television which was operated by battery. The only station we had was the CBC. It was such a big part of our lives as kids growing up and certainly for my parents. That was television. I can remember how upset we would be when the reception would shrink because the battery was losing power. The radio was like our toast and tea in the morning. It was what we listened to. It was what connected us.

I have a very deep personal connection to the CBC and the service it provides to all Canadians. We have been strong supporters of the CBC over and over again in the Liberal Party. We are asking the government to listen to the will of the House of Commons, fund the CBC adequately and provide the revenue it needs to do its work and meet its mandate.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the hon. member's remarks. The hon. member is aware of the statements that have been made over the years by a number of members who sit on the opposite side of the House about the CBC. I would say they are denigrating remarks. Others might wish to qualify those remarks differently.

How can we trust a government when it says that it is not singling out the CBC to weaken the CBC? How can we trust the government that has made so many negative statements about the broadcaster over the years, including the Prime Minister himself, who said, “If we look at the Canadian television industry we see two private national broadcasters that both manage to make a profit most years. Then we have the CBC which is mortgaged to the hilt and costs over $1 billion a year. The major reason two are winners and one is a loser is based on incentives or lack of them. Reform Party policy”--

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, order. I apologize to the hon. member but there are only 20 seconds left in the time slot, so I will have to give them to the hon. member for Labrador to make a brief reply.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-Canada
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I certainly understand the question and there is no doubt there is an ideological bent on the part of the Conservative government. It has wanted to cut the CBC. It is cutting the CBC. It has done this time and time again. When it is in power, it cuts the CBC. It does not believe in it as a public broadcaster. It does not believe in the mandate and its value.