Mr. Speaker, Bill C-26 entitled an Act to amend the National Library Act proposes to update the provisions in the legislation governing the legal deposit of books with the National Library of Canada.
Consultations with several groups affected by the legislation have led us to conclude that overall, publishers are almost unanimous in recognizing the validity of the legal deposit process.
Furthermore, almost all praised the positive relationship that generally exists between publishers and the National Library of Canada. Finally, all of them acknowledged that a country must take the necessary measures to safeguard its collective memory.
Legal deposit is an important tool, one that ensures the preservation of Canada's heritage and ensures that taxpayers have access to it. Under the current act, a Canadian publisher must send a copy of any book published to the National Library, when the retail value of the book exceeds $50. The National Library of Canada may acquire, at its own discretion, a second copy using money from its purchase fund.
According to our sources, the National Library would have to spend roughly $700,000 each year to acquire second copies of books. Like most government agencies and Crown corporations, the National Library of Canada must operate on a tight budget and it no longer has the financial means to purchase second copies.
As for the crux of the matter, this bill would require publishers to deposit with the National Library two copies of any book published in Canada, regardless of the retail value of the book. Obviously, in this context, "book" is taken in the broad sense of the word. In the current act, a book is defined as follows: "library matter of every kind, nature and description and includes any document, paper, record, tape or other thing published by a publisher, on or in which information is written, recorded, stored or reproduced".
The second amendment concerns the fines that apply when the legislation is contravened. The bill proposes to increase the maximum fine payable from $150 to $25,000, in the case of a corporation, and to $2,000, in the case of an individual.
The office of the critic for National Heritage consulted a number of publishers and I would like to share with you today some of the comments that were made as part of this consultation process.
The government could take the suggestions they made and concerns they expressed at that time into consideration in making the related regulations. Incidentally, I deplore that these regulations could not be tabled at the same time as the bill. They are crucial, in the case of art books among others, but I will come back to that later.
The publishers whom the office of the hon. member for Rimouski-Témiscouata spoke to pointed out of course, as I indicated earlier, the need to be involved in the creation of a collective memory. They also described the statutory requirement under Bill C-26 to deposit two copies of a book instead of one, no matter what the retail price is, as an additional financial
burden on the publishing industry. I repeat: "an additional financial burden on the industry".
Furthermore, this requirement will be particularly demanding on Quebec publishers who already send two copies of their books to the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec and will now have to send two copies of all their publications, whatever their retail value, to the National Library of Canada. The hon. secretary of state referred earlier to consultations between the two libraries. The government's attention should be called to this duplication.
Based on the information provided to us in a departmental briefing session, the National Library of Canada is planning to save $400,000 in so doing. The government is transferring this financial burden onto an industry it is already depriving of substantial revenues through cuts in other programs.
The government could have been more imaginative and looked for an approach that would have allowed publishers to be compensated for the new requirement to deposit two copies of all their publications with the National Library of Canada. The government could have considered, for example, giving them a tax credit equal to the retail price of publications sent to the National Library of Canada. This would have covered the losses incurred by publishers as a result of this bill.
I stress that it is never too late to do some good and that the Minister of Canadian Heritage can still review this measure and have it implemented in the best interest of the industry he claims to be protecting.
One word about art books. These books can be sold for thousands of dollars. I have been informed that their average sales price is $2,000 in Quebec. The number of copies printed is therefore limited. Some of them require the co-operation of master binders, poets and lithographers and are so elaborate that they are referred to as luxury books. For these craftsmen, the legislation is costly, and I hope that the Canadian regulations will take this reality into account.
When the Quebec government reviewed the legal deposit legislation, it chose to restrict the two-copy deposit requirement to books whose total value does not exceed $250. Publishers of books worth more than $5,000 are not required to deposit them at the Quebec national library. That is why we are very disappointed that the regulations accompanying this bill have not been tabled today, thus preventing us from assessing, with full knowledge of the facts, the true extent of this bill.
Microfilm producers are particularly concerned. Production costs of microfilms, weeklies and dailies are high and buyers are few. I have been told that a micropublisher sells two or three copies of his work and that the National Library of Canada used to buy microfilms. From now on, micropublishers will have to provide two free copies of their work for the National Library of Canada and another two copies for the Quebec library.
When one sells one copy of a microfilm and gives two away, it is understandable that the Canadian microfilm society denounces Bill C-26 as a disaster.
In its May 20 letter to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the society wrote: "We want micropublishers to be totally exempted from the legal deposit requirement. Without such an exemption, we will be forced to completely stop microfilming weeklies and dailies and selling the resulting reels of positive prints."
As you can see, this observation and this appeal are very, very serious. Since the regulations are unknown, I would hope that the minister will note the micropublishers' concerns, especially since the heritage minister is well placed to know because the Canadian Microfilm Corporation is now doing very important heritage work. This corporation is the one that microfilms the Courrier de Laval ; the first eleven years of that paper were not microfilmed and were lost in a fire. Without appropriate regulations, all of the Courrier de Laval and our weeklies will disappear from our collective cultural memory because they will not be microfilmed.
On another topic, the government could also have taken the opportunity to combine in one place the documents to be filled in for legal deposit. In the consultations undertaken by the office of the member for Rimouski-Témiscouata, it was mentioned more than once that what irritates publishers is not so much legal deposit in itself but having to complete various forms for legal deposit in Quebec and in Canada and additional forms for copyright and publication notices, to name only these. So I leave this suggestion for the minister to work on and remind him that if he acts on it, he will have the co-operation of the industry, which is fed up with bureaucratic red tape.
I cannot conclude these few remarks without mentioning duplication.
As you probably know, in 1967, Quebec passed a law governing the legal deposit of all Quebec works, and rightly so, since culture is essential and is what defines us.
It seems obvious to me that the federal government should seek to conclude an agreement with the Government of Quebec to turn over to the Quebec National Library the management of all documents collected by the National Library of Canada under the legal deposit provisions. This would be a good way to manage public funds.
Furthermore, such an agreement could include tranferring to Quebec everything from Quebec that the National Library of Canada has acquired over the years. By investing $2.5 million to buy documents in Canada, the federal government is appropriating archives that were made in Quebec and bringing them to Ottawa. I think it is logical for these documentary materials,
which will be used mainly by Quebecers, to stay in Quebec so that they are available in French.
I think that such simple measures would help taxpayers regain confidence in their institutions and show that we take taxpayers' interests to heart and organize for maximum efficiency.