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 cuts.

Topics

Oral Questions
Point of Order
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I will take the hon. members' comments concerning this point of order into consideration and I will get back to the House soon with a ruling on it.

The hon. minister of state is rising on another point of order.

Oral Questions
Point of Order
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Minister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, I just want to correct the record. The member for Etobicoke Centre was misrepresenting the facts. The visa requirement that was lifted was done by the citizenship and immigration minister of the Conservative government and the many stakeholders who worked very hard on that issue. It was not due to a press release sent out by that member's office.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before question period, the hon. member for Ahuntsic had the floor. There are five minutes left for questions and comments in response to the speech by the hon. member for Ahuntsic.

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

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

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier today there was quite a good discussion about the unique role of the CBC and Radio-Canada with respect to the services for Canadians and particularly for French Canadians. This unique role to provide these important unifying services to Canadians means that the services have to be across Canada because there are many francophones who live outside of Quebec.

The hypothesis is that in order to provide these services across all of Canada, CBC Radio-Canada has to operate at a disadvantage to other private broadcasters who can thrive on purchasing high profile U.S. programming and therefore attract the advertising revenues. CBC Radio-Canada is at a disadvantage simply because it is meeting its mandate.

The question is whether or not there is a real justification for assisting the CBC, so that programming presently offered does not suffer and may be lost, and to mitigate the chance that the programming, if cut, will never be able to return. I wonder if the member has a comment.

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

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. I think it is crucial that the crown corporation be strengthened, not undermined, especially since services must be maintained in both rural and urban areas. I would like to give an example. In Montreal alone, these cuts will result in the loss of 150 jobs and 85 jobs in news. In Quebec City, hours of programming will be cancelled. For instance, about 15 jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts, and the local noon program will disappear altogether. I could go on and on.

We think these cuts are completely unjustified. Instead, this corporation should be strengthened. Furthermore, the $171 million should be allocated to it, since no one really knows how the government plans to invest the famous $3 million.

There is no doubt about it. A report was prepared after hearing witnesses and written submissions, all clearly demonstrating that not only should CBC/Radio-Canada funding be maintained, but it should be increased. The Bloc Québécois is talking about $40 per capita. That funding is much higher in other countries, such as Great Britain and France.

I think it is unfortunate that this motion does not contain any of the report's recommendations. In a way, those recommendations would maintain the funding. I would remind the House that, under the Liberals, unfortunately, the corporation also faced cuts. I want to believe in my colleague's good faith and that of other members of the Liberal Party, but I cannot help but wonder about this motion, although it will no doubt pass.

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

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague represents a Montreal riding with a much more urban population than that of my central Quebec and Eastern Townships riding, where populations are both urban and rural. Nevertheless, we both represent people for whom CBC/Radio-Canada is their connection to relevant regional news.

The Conservative government's propensity for cutting cultural funding is having a devastating impact on people in general, whether they live in rural or urban communities.

I would like my colleague to comment on the negative consequences of the Conservative government's decision to cut funding, and on the Bloc Québécois' proposals to counter the government's medieval attitude.

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

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The member for Ahuntsic with a short answer.

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

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. These cuts will have an impact on the news. I gave a few examples involving Quebec City, but similar examples can be found in other regions of the province where some programs will be cut and others, such as Le Téléjournal, will have their broadcast hours reduced.

In Quebec City, the 6 p.m. broadcast of Le Téléjournal Québec will be shortened by half an hour from June 29 to September 4, when it will be reinstated in its one-hour format. There will be less broadcasting. The worst part is that we know Quebeckers and francophones living outside of Quebec are among the most avid Radio-Canada listeners, whereas English-speaking Canadians tend to prefer American programs to those on the CBC. Moreover—

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

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I apologize for interrupting the hon. member for Ahuntsic, but her time has long since run out.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's.

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

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Newton—North Delta.

I rise today to speak in support of my colleague's motion with respect to the indispensable role of Radio-Canada in providing national, regional and local programming.

As a former journalist with the CBC, I think it is fair to say that I can speak with some knowledge about the corporation and what it offers Canadians. What it offers Canadians is the opportunity to learn from each other, from coast to coast to coast.

CBC has been referred to as the home of Canadian content. It offers services in English and French in five time zones. It provides coverage in eight aboriginal languages. It provides coverage in eight international languages for new and aspiring Canadians, and nine languages via the CBC's worldwide network.

Some people might ask why we are spending taxpayers' money on offering programs in languages other than our two official languages, English and French. It is because that is who we are in this country, a mosiac of people from throughout the world, many of whom chose Canada because of our reputation as a caring people and country.

We care enough to make sure they have every opportunity to learn about their new home, including via the country's public broadcaster. In fact section 27 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states, “This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians”. The recognition in the charter of the multicultural heritage of Canadians speaks to the importance of ensuring there is a forum for all Canadians to express their views no matter what their heritage. The CBC has been helpful in fulfilling this role.

By reducing funding to the CBC, are we not compromising that opportunity? When the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism refers to the CBC as a bloated crown corporation, does he not realize how valuable the CBC is to our multicultural population?

Without the CBC, I think it is fair to say that Canadians born in this country would not have the opportunity to learn about every region of the country. Many do not have the opportunity to travel and they welcome the chance, through the CBC, to discover information about Canada and other Canadians.

One example of a great program hosted by a fellow Newfoundlander, Rex Murphy, is Cross Country Checkup, Canada's only national open-line radio program broadcast live across the country every Sunday. Anyone who has listened to Cross Country Checkup knows Rex initiates a lively discussion on issues of national importance that Canadians are only too eager to speak about, and to share their thoughts and opinions.

I mention Cross Country Checkup because when I see comments from the Prime Minister where he refers to the CBC as a government-sponsored loser, how can he not see the value in programs produced by the CBC where the emphasis is on Canada and Canadians?

In Newfoundland and Labrador, a local radio program called The Fisheries Broadcast is the radio program to tune into for information about anything to do with the fishery, a vital industry in the province, one that continues to provide a living for many despite the collapse of the ground fishery. Whenever I get a chance to listen to The Fisheries Broadcast, it is obvious just how much those involved in the industry use it and appreciate it.

Since its inception in 1951, The Fisheries Broadcast has covered stories about the fishing industry, reflecting the people and the communities that depend on the sea for their livelihood. The program provides basic survival information to fish harvesters, such as marine weather forecasts, meeting announcements and the opening and closing times of the various fisheries. For more than half a century The Fisheries Broadcast has been considered a trusted, essential communication service provided by the CBC.

Unfortunately, with the Prime Minister's view of CBC as a government-sponsored loser, programs like The Fisheries Broadcast could one day be on the chopping block. That would be a tragedy.

When one reduces spending to a crown corporation, like the CBC in this case, and leaves those in charge no choice but to make decisions taking into account the funding cuts, anything and everything is up for consideration.

In Newfoundland and Labrador invaluable programs such as Radio Noon will be cut to one hour, and a program called Living Newfoundland and Labrador has been cancelled. Living Newfoundland and Labrador has been an interesting program, not only for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, but it has also aired in other Atlantic provinces, just as similar programs from other Atlantic provinces have been carried in Newfoundland and Labrador by the CBC.

Canadians learning about Canadians instead of watching American produced programming is not a bad thing and should be encouraged.

I recall watching an episode of the Rick Mercer Report in which he interviewed people in the United States. He asked them questions about Canada. Their lack of knowledge about Canada and Canadians was appalling. Rick Mercer was doing his part to educate Americans about Canada, even if he was taking a shot at them while doing so. By the way, Rick Mercer is a fellow Newfoundlander as well.

The government's latest funding cuts could result in as many as 20 jobs eliminated in Newfoundland and Labrador. While we talk about the loss of programming and the seriousness of these cuts at the CBC, the personal side is something that tends to get lost.

I know of a cameraman who has lost his job, a father of three whose wife is a stay-at-home mom. In this economy, finding a job for either the husband or the wife will not be easy, even if possible. It is possible that this man will end up on EI, trying to provide for a family of five. He will go from one government funded job where he was a productive member of society to trying to make ends meet on EI, a fund administered by the government.

A poll conducted by the Truro Daily News in Nova Scotia asked readers if the government should have provided the funding to ensure that the CBC did not have to axe hundreds of full-time jobs across the country. It was clear in the responses that CBC is considered to provide a valuable service. I am sure the response would have been the same throughout the country. Why then, at a time when hundreds of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast to coast are losing their jobs, did the Conservatives decide to play a major role in seeing the loss of hundreds of more jobs? The Minister of Industry is on record asking, “Do we need the CBC, in its current format, when there are so many private broadcasting channels available?” Unfortunately, such a comment shows the absence of any understanding of the mandate of the CBC and the important role it plays in the country.

It should not be seen as one or the other. Both have a role to play and both do it well. The difference is that in many small rural communities throughout the country, the only presence is the CBC. It serves as the voice of Canadians who live in those communities. In my riding of Random—Burin—St. George's, there are over 200 communities. In fact, it takes nine hours to drive from one end of my riding to another. There are eight isolated communities in my riding. Indeed, the CBC is the voice of Canadians. Residents and constituents of my riding listen to the CBC.

The president and chief executive officer of the CBC, Hubert T. Lacroix, said that the corporation brings Canadians programming when, where and how they want it on 29 services and multiple platforms: television, radio, the Internet, satellite radio, digital audio and a recording label. According to Mr. Lacroix, only the CBC provides 21 hours of Canadian programming in regular prime time. In the last four years, CBC increased by 38% its investment in Canadian dramas and comedies. CBC created a made-in-Canada reality segment. CBC commissions more developmental, commercial free, child focused programming than anyone else in Canada. CBC has increased its focus on original current affairs programming, highlighting Canadian issues and international events from a Canadian perspective.

While Mr. Lacroix likes to boast about what the CBC has been doing, and rightfully so, my take on it is that the CBC has been fulfilling its mandate and, if given the opportunity to do so, would continue down that path.

What I thought really interesting in Mr. Lacroix's remarks is that Canadians, through their tax dollars, contribute $34 a year to the CBC, which is less than a dime a day. In Britain, each person contributes $124 a year toward that country's public broadcaster, the BBC. In France, each person contributes $65 a year and that will rise to $77 a year under the French government's plan to disallow advertising on its public broadcaster.

How is it that the Conservative government does not have the same appreciation for Canada's public broadcaster? Could it have anything to do with the Prime Minister's remarks on March 12 of this year, just a little over two weeks ago, when he said:

Never forget--you would forget this sometimes listening to the CBC--that it was Conservatives that created our federation, one of the most lasting political democratic arrangements in history.

Could the decision to let our national broadcaster die a death of a thousand cuts stem from the Prime Minister's dissatisfaction over some remarks made by some announcer, journalist or program producer? Certainly that cannot be the case. Canadians support the CBC and so should the Conservative government.

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

3:30 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I realize that the member is new to this House, so perhaps she has not had an opportunity to read the Broadcasting Act. She would realize, if she took the time to do so, that the CBC is totally independent of this House, of the Prime Minister and of the government of the day, according to the terms laid out in the Broadcasting Act. Perhaps with a lack of information, I find her comments quite regrettable.

I would like to engage her in a debate about her assertion, which is a totally false assertion. She said that we, the government, are reducing the funding to the CBC. In fact, if she were to do a modicum of research, she would come to the realization that in fact our government has increased the funding to the CBC over the last four budgets continuously to the tune of $100 million.

If she is looking for a government that wanted to cut the CBC, it would be her government under Jean Chrétien and finance minister Paul Martin that removed between $400 million and $500 million from the funding envelope for the CBC. This created a major crisis in the CBC, caused the unfortunate loss of 4,000 jobs and the resignation of the president of the CBC at the time.

I would like to give the member the opportunity either to do some research or, at the very least, to correct the record and admit that her comment that this government is reducing funding to the CBC is without any basis of fact whatsoever.

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

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, clearly, the member is, as we would say, out to lunch, in terms of the question itself and the information that he is providing here in the House of Commons to the public via the airwaves.

We clearly know, and the CBC has admitted this, that the government did not provide the bridge funding as was requested by the CBC. All it was asking for was funding to allow it to continue its mandate.

As I said, I am very familiar with the mandate of the CBC, being a former employee of the corporation. The CBC wants to do what it was mandated to do. Unfortunately, the government is not allowing the CBC to do that, whether it is through not providing the bridge funding or not continuing with the budget it already has, which is in fact being cut. It was cut the last two years by the Conservative government. This year it is being cut by $62 million. If the hon. member does not believe that, all he has to do is look at the CBC's own financial statements.

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

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her obvious support for the CBC. I share her enthusiasm.

In the 1990s when the Liberals were slicing and dicing the CBC, I was living in the Yukon and relying immeasurably upon the CBC to inform me on what was happening in the rest of the country.

I have had the opportunity of living across the country and overseas and in all circumstances I have appreciated being able to find out what is going on in Canada through the CBC.

I find it a bit incredulous that the member's party supported a budget that gave money to multinational corporations to test out pollution control technologies, which has obviously left the budget shortchanged, and yet she is now complaining there is not enough money for the CBC. I wonder if she could please explain her rationale.

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

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am not saying that one precludes the other. It is important for all of us to recognize the importance of the CBC to Canadians and to the country. I do not think we need to talk about doing one and not the other in terms of the environment. It is important for us to recognize that we need to take care of the environment and, at the same time, take care of something as important to all of us as the CBC.