Evidence of meeting #13 for Industry, Science and Technology in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was satellites.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Daniel Goldberg  President and Chief Executive Officer, Telesat Canada
André Bureau  Chairman of the Board, Astral Media Inc.
Sophie Émond  Vice-President, Regulatory and Government Affairs, Astral Media Inc.

10:50 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you very much, Mr. Goldberg.

Madame Lavallée.

10:50 a.m.


Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

I would just like to point out at this time that I am not a regular member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. I usually sit on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. However, I have been taking part in meetings on the foreign ownership of telecommunications firms. Quebec's cultural community is very concerned about this threat to Quebec and Canadian cultural content.

In the field of telecommunications and broadcasting, the reality is that whomever controls access controls content. While you may disagree with me, Mr. Goldberg, this principle also applies to satellites. We can talk about that more later. Mr. Bureau and Mrs. Émond eloquently described the era of convergence to us. We also live in an era of wireless communications and smartphones. Wireless smartphones, as we have observed, have become broadcasting devices. I could give you several examples, but I will limit myself to one.

Bell, a Canadian company, is currently running an advertisement for 16 free applications and cultural choices, such as access to CBC Radio, Macleans and CBC Hockey. Bell is also offering videos and radio stations through Disney instead of Astral. It could have made the Canadian choice of offering Astral, but instead, opted for the American choice of Disney. And Bell is a Canadian company. Imagine if it were an American company or if Canada did not have control over the situation.

You have to see that expanding foreign ownership of telecommunications poses a real threat to the broadcasting community. Increasingly, telecommunications and broadcasting are becoming one and the same thing. During the course of these hearings, a number of people have told me that even though the discussion has moved away from opening up the field of telecommunications to foreign ownership, we still need to consider solutions to this problem. Increasingly, telecommunications devices are becoming broadcasting devices. As you noted, Mr. Bureau, this issue needs to be discussed within the context of another study.

I'd like to hear your views on this subject. As the former head of the CRTC, I'm sure you are aware that the new head of the commission told committee members that the telecommunications, broadcasting and communications acts should be combined into one piece of legislation. You also said that a communications department should be created. Even without the threat of foreign ownership, should we not be doing an in-depth analysis and proposing some similar solutions?

May 4th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.

Chairman of the Board, Astral Media Inc.

André Bureau

There are three parts to my answer.

First, the advertisement you mentioned targets the English market. Bell also distributes our services. There is no mention of our company is this advertisement, but we are mentioned elsewhere.

Secondly, merging the two acts into a single one, as the head of the CRTC suggested, is one of the options that should be examined by the proposed panel of experts. We need to look at where we are going and at the kind of linkages we have today, or that technology will allow in the future. Then, we need to establish a system, a structure and regulations that will apply to these new mechanisms. We're not here to complicate matters, but rather to remind you that there will be repercussions and that the process is complex. Even Rogers admitted that it was difficult to imagine how the two could be separated in such a way that broadcasting would not be impacted. They are taking a serious look at this issue. We are also doing that and, in light of everything on the horizon, new media and mobility, we believe, without question, that we must adjust our way of doing things. I hope that this study will preserve the principles that make our Canadian system unique. Once we have this assurance, then we can look and see how we can adapt to this new reality.

10:55 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you, Mr. Bureau.

Thank you, Mrs. Lavallée.

I have a question for Mr. Goldberg.

My head is still reeling from this 37,000 kilometres, but I have more of a terrestrial question for you.

In your opening remarks you stated that Telesat is keenly interested in remedying its sub-scale position in certain markets by acquiring other operators and gaining access to additional foreign capital.

If the Government of Canada lifts foreign ownership restrictions in the satellite sector, what assurances can you give this committee that your two shareholders, Canada's Public Sector Pension Investment Board and Loral Space and Communications Inc., won't simply, instead of pursuing acquisitions, sell their shares to one of your three larger foreign competitors as an exit strategy, rather than growing organically or through acquisition?

10:55 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Telesat Canada

Daniel Goldberg

I would say that in many ways actions speak louder than words. These two shareholders have owned our company now for coming on three years; it will be three years at the end of October. They have been extremely supportive of the company concerning green-lighting every new investment opportunity we have come to them with. Rather than looking to find opportunities to take money out of the company, they've been very much supportive in the other direction. Since these shareholders have owned us, we've launched four new satellites and we have two new ones under construction and a third one still.

So the first thing I would emphasize is that these are shareholders who have been extremely supportive of the company and its strategic direction and in wanting the company to grow. That's the first thing I'd say.

Second, over the longer term, PSP as a pension fund has a very long view. At the end of the day, if they did want to sell their shares, that transaction would be reviewed by the Government of Canada. In the absence of somebody's demonstrating that there is a net benefit, the transaction just simply wouldn't be approved.

I'd say look at their past history, look at the tools the government has to make sure that nothing contrary to the public interest takes place, and I think that Canadians would be well served with the change.

11 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Michael Chong

Thank you.

I want to thank our witnesses.

I have some information to pass along to committee members. The Alberta Enterprise Group would like to invite you to attend a series of meetings on Parliament Hill on May 10, 11 and 13. Since these officials are from Alberta, they want to share some information and talk about Alberta's industrial sector with MPs from Ontario, Quebec and eastern Canada.

I told this organization that I would extend an invitation to all members of the committee, especially those members from Quebec, Ontario, and other eastern parts of Canada. They're interested in talking to you to discuss with you issues of concern to Alberta's industrial sectors, including the oil sands sector. You should have received a copy of that invitation, and I encourage you to attend.


This meeting is adjourned.