Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-31, an act to amend the Canadian Film Development Corporation. I am rising to voice my opposition to this bill. It will encourage state intervention in what should be a naturally evolving and privately funded industry. I will begin by speaking broadly.
Culture cannot be bought. It is something which exists because people practice it. They live it. They are it. It cannot be artificially created or preserved by the state. All cultures thrive, evolve and change naturally as the wishes and practices of the people change.
Although a young country, Canada has a culture and it is one to be proud of. We need to define what that culture is. Reform has taken a swipe at identifying some components of Canadian culture.
We believe that Canada's identity and vision for the future should be rooted in and inspired by a fresh appreciation of our land and the supreme importance to our well-being of exploring, developing, renewing and conserving our natural resources and physical environment as a part of culture.
We believe the people of Canada are this country's most valuable resource. The nurture and development of human knowledge, skills and relationships are the keys to full participation in the knowledge based service economy of the 21st century.
We believe the creation of wealth and productive jobs for Canadians are best achieved through the operation of a responsible broadly based free enterprise economy in which private property, freedom of contract and the operations of free markets are encouraged and respected.
Furthermore, we believe in the value of enterprise and initiative. Governments have a responsibility to foster and protect an environment in which initiative and enterprise can be exercised by individuals and groups.
Looking at Bill C-31, it reminds me of an old tax incentive program. I believe it was introduced by the Liberals, but maybe it was the past Conservative government; sometimes it is hard to distinguish between them. It was a research and development tax credit scheme. All of us believe in research and development and we want to promote that, but this scheme attracted a number of con artists. It was a fiasco. The design of the program caused the loss of millions and millions of tax dollars because it was not properly handled. It was interfering in what should have been more of a private sector enterprise.
We believe every individual, group, province and region in Canada is entitled to fundamental justice. Fundamental justice entitles the people of each region to benefit equally without discrimination from participation in Confederation and from the programs and expenditures of the Government of Canada. There is some doubt as to whether Bill C-31 in fact would be broadly based across the country and allow equal access by all Canadians.
To repeat what I said, Canada although a young country has a culture, one we should be proud of. It includes peacefulness, fairness, compassion, excellence, tolerance, initiative of spirit, an appreciation of the arts, in spite of government red tape, high taxes and inefficiency.
Any attempt to artificially interfere with the natural progress of Canadian culture is destined to become just one more failed attempt at social engineering. It is certainly not the role of government to dictate what the culture of the population will be nor is it appropriate for the government to interfere on the edges as is the case with C-31.
Much apart from the fundamental issue of state intervention within society, the bill itself has some significant problems. The loan guarantees this bill would provide will diminish the opportunities that would allow new, innovative and evolving cultural enterprises to break into the market.
Under this bill loans would likely be guaranteed to the healthiest existing companies. This will have the dual effects of entrenching the existing players in the market, thereby establishing an elitism within the industry which will hinder change and growth within the industry, and creating an industry that finds itself increasingly out of sync with mainstream Canadians.
Not only would this bill have a detrimental effect on the cultural industry in Canada but there is nothing to suggest that loan guarantees are required. For example, the motion picture industry in Alberta has had a 360 per cent increase in productions over the past few years without federally funded guaranteed loans. The results in B.C. are similar.
These examples prove there is no requirement for guaranteed loans at all. This bill is unlikely to have an impact on regions with fledgling industries like Saskatchewan. It is not that I support this type of funding for regional development purposes, but not even the regional development argument can provide a
pretence of defence for Bill C-31. One might question whether this bill is another of the government's special interest payouts.
Furthermore there has been a trend in Canada for more jointly funded projects involving Canadian and international organizations. Canadian culture can thrive in the private market and has demonstrated it can do so. One such example is the filming of the Clint Eastwood movie "Unforgiven". It was filmed in Fort MacLeod, Alberta. The venture involved many Canadian production companies, one of which won an Academy award for set design.
Many Canadian television programs have gone into syndication as a result of partnerships with international agencies. There is a list of Canadian companies which have prospered without federal loan guarantees through this kind of international co-operation. They include: Alliance Communication Group; Paragon Entertainment Corporation; Accent Entertainment; Astral Communications; Cinar Group Ltd.; Nelvana Ltd.; Atlantis Media Group; Power Pictures Corporation; Post-Production Buzz Inc. These are but a few.
These companies are testament to the fact that Canadians can compete and thrive in the entertainment industry without government interference. It is these kinds of ventures that are going to drive the industry and also be most in sync with mainstream Canadian culture.
Art and culture for its own sake as an industry has its place in generating economic growth, but it is not the kind of thing we should be looking at to lead an economic recovery and end unemployment woes for Canadians. This government is constantly telling us, the media, the public, and anyone else who will listen that its priority is jobs. This bill will have no effect on unemployment. It may make job creation more difficult if the government has to shell out money to cover defaulted loans.
Some people may be looking to make political mileage by smearing our position on Bill C-31 and will say that there is a Reform bias against culture. That is clearly not the case. We want to remove all government barriers to the promotion and growth of Canadian culture. We do oppose government handouts to business, even the business of culture.
We take the same line with cultural organizations as we do with all businesses and special interest groups; that is, you cannot expect to get grants, loan guarantees and tax holidays from the government indefinitely. All special interest groups should raise money from the people they claim to represent or they should have a project that is viable enough that the bankers will lend them the money.
There are many examples of where we would reduce funding for these groups in the spending plan we published during the last election campaign. Our zero in three package outlined very clearly that business and special interest groups of all kinds would have to expect less from government in the way of grants, loans and loan guarantees.
There are some significant omissions in this bill, especially where issues of loan criteria and repayment details are concerned. Many people in the industry have very grave concerns that nepotism is rampant within some of these organizations. Many projects are funded on the basis of who knows who and family relationships rather than on artistic merit and economic potential.
The bill omits all explanation of repayment terms. If the government is backing 85 per cent of the loan and the loan defaults after partial repayment, is the government portion considered to be paid off first? Is the government liable for any of the interest on the loans when it backs over 50 per cent of the value? If not, what is the incentive for the banks to ever accept any less than 15 per cent of the risk?
It appears this bill was thrown together in a hurry, probably at the request of special interests, without completely thinking through the implications of such loan guarantees. I guess the details will be supplied later, but it does make us question the wisdom of supporting such a bill.
Voting for this bill and many others like it would be like co-signing on a loan when one's account is $520 billion in the red. I would not like to be considered as an accomplice to that crime against our future generations.
Another concern is that this program will encourage the government to underwrite those projects that would not ordinarily have been considered as an acceptable risk. That means the default rate is likely to be significantly higher than the current one which, by the way, is very low. If this happened, it would seriously hurt the reputation of the industry which has been steadily improving over recent years. As it stands, only those projects considered viable receive funding. That seems to be a reasonable place to set the standard for funding.
I said it once and I will say it again: You cannot buy culture. All you will get for trying to do so is a whole lot of debt. If the original idea behind this bill was to build a cultural future for the next generation, it will succeed in a small way. It will help to build a culture of high taxes and crippling debt. It will contribute to a society that strips away most of a family income to pay interest on a debt the previous generation ran up. It will create a culture that exists with no government services, no safety nets or social programs because most government revenue will be going to debt financing. This will be a country with massive
unemployment since no investment capital will be forthcoming to a nation in such a financial mess.
This culture of debt and poverty is not the kind of Canada I want to create for the next generation of Canadians. That is why I must oppose this bill and all bills like it. The accumulation of many bills which spend tax dollars unwisely is the reason we have accumulated such a huge debt to this point in our history.
It is time for government to carry out its most pressing responsibility and let the private sector do the same in its area of expertise, namely the marketplace. This bill encourages rather than discourages state participation in the marketplace. It is likely to increase rather than decrease government spending. It is likely to discourage rather than encourage new, innovative and emerging firms from entering the industry. It perpetuates the idea that a nation's culture can be designed by a select few and artificially preserved by the state.
As a final concern, this bill was only tabled in the House on May 26. Without adequate time, it has been brought forward for debate on second reading. Over one weekend our caucus has had a limited amount of time to study this bill, to discern its implications. As we look into it initially, we have some grave concerns about the wiseness of supporting such a bill. We will be reviewing this bill in detail in our caucus.
We are trying to slow down debate on this bill to give it some some second thought so that this House can make wise decisions in the way we are putting the taxpayers' dollars on the line in loan guarantees. After all, it is the taxpayers we represent and in the final account they are paying the bills we run up.