Madam Speaker, I will preface my comments on the motion before us by the following preliminary remarks because I want to make myself perfectly clear.
First, I have the profound conviction that there is a need in our country for a national public broadcaster. I am convinced that this broadcaster is essential to our cohesion and the development of our culture, as both francophones and anglophones. After listening to a fair number of my colleagues opposite, I am happy to see that they support the position I have always defended. Inasmuch as they continue to support this position I just heard our colleague mention, I am very pleased with their contribution. We are working together to ensure that Radio-Canada remains a large corporation and continues to contribute to the development of the francophone culture in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.
My second introductory observation concerns the relationship between the government and Radio-Canada. I think that there is no ambiguity there either. There has been much talk about this issue. The government, and the Minister of Canadian Heritage in particular, always made it clear that we respect Radio-Canada's autonomy, as essential to this great institution but also to freedom of press, which we wholeheartedly support.
So, what is the government's involvement? Well, Radio-Canada belongs to all Canadians and the government is responsible to ensure that this public property is managed properly and well run. That responsibility takes a specific form with budgeting, in so far as budgetary appropriations are part of CBC's budget, and I will get back to this, and with appointments to the board of directors and, of course, to the executive level of the corporation.
The government can express opinions, as I just did, on general issues related to CBC's position in the world of communications. We can express such opinions. We state our general policy, so that CBC's managers can develop their plans and their management strategy in compliance with the federal government's vision and main policies.
The third point is that the review and the decisions made concerning CBC are part of a larger initiative, namely the development of what is called the information highway. The information highway will, of course, provide information, but it will also contain numerous and significant cultural elements. There is no ambiguity here. As spokesman of the Canadian government, I keep saying that we hope that Canadian content will be prevalent on that information highway. As I said earlier, and opposition members support that position, it is important that the information highway helps promote Canadian culture, which includes the French-speaking Canadian and Quebec culture.
What should we do now? There are three basic institutions which belong to Canada and which can help create this Canadian content. The largest one of is CBC, of course, but there are also the National Film Board and Telefilm Canada. These agencies are in the sound and picture business and, to be sure, very important decisions will be made this year, in 1995, regarding the creation of sound and pictures by Canadian producers.
Numerous studies commissioned by the Minister of Industry and myself are currently being conducted regarding this issue. There is a reference to the CRTC, an advisory committee on the information highway, as well as several other committees at work. All this will lead us to make fundamental decisions a little later on this year, when the consultation process will have brought together all the elements we need to elaborate our policies, the architecture of the information highway and the traffic regulations for this highway.
I think it is important to say these things, because it is within this context that the CBC and the two other agencies I mentioned must make their contribution. It is only natural to address this issue and to consider the way the CBC will be able to play its part.
This brings me to the decisions announced in the Budget which will especially affect the CBC. There are three of them. Nothing complicated, only three decisions. First, the government will undertake a fundamental review of its support, and the mandates of, the three agencies I mentioned.
Of course, the object of this review is to ensure that these three agencies are in the best position possible to play their roles on the information highway. When I talk about the mandates of these agencies, I use the expression in the large sense. I do not mean only a sentence in a piece of legislation. I think it would be wise, while we are examining all our communications, to review this particular aspect of the mandates. This was the first decision that was announced. I will have the pleasure, very soon, to announce the members of the group that will carry out this review and the very specific terms of their mandate.
The second decision announced in the budget was the transfer of Radio Canada International back to the CBC. This decision was made because it was found that the CBC should again assume the responsibility for this agency. I know this will have repercussions on the budget but the conditions and budgetary aspects of this transfer can be the subject of various discussions between the CBC and the government.
Finally, there is the parliamentary appropriation for the coming fiscal year. This appropriation provides for a 4 per cent reduction in the CBC's base budget as far as the parliamentary appropriation for this fiscal year ending soon is concerned. So, why were so many questions asked, since these decisions are clear?
We were asked why the parliamentary appropriations for a second and third fiscal years were not announced at the same time. The answer is simple. If we are serious with our review of the mandates and our study, it would be wise to wait for the results of this examination and for the recommendations that will follow before deciding on the CBC's budget for the second and third years.
To drive from Ottawa to Montreal, one does not need as much gas as if he or she would be to go to Quebec City. Thus, there is a link between the mandate and the budget, as the CBC's chairman indicated many times publicly. Thus, we answered that question and we will have mandates redefined when preparing for the next budget, for next year's budget.
Another thing we have to take into account is the work of the House heritage committee. This is a review of the CBC and it includes, as indicated by the reference, or it will include, I hope, a review on other possible sources of funding the CBC could have access to. That report is not the only document that mentions possible new funding sources for the CBC.
How could we set future budgets permanently when basic elements of the fiscal situation of the CBC are not yet known?
To conclude, I would like to say that I agree with a view that has been expressed by members on both sides of the House: It is important that radio and television programming by our public and private broadcasters provide the bulk of what is transmitted over our information highway.
A few weeks ago, I was in Brussels for a meeting of the G-7 communications ministers. It turned out that I was the only minister who was also in charge of cultural matters. The message I had was essentially what I just said. We cannot discuss setting up an infrastructure without first discussing the content it will carry.
After my remarks, there was no more talk of a comprehensive information infrastructure; all of the talk was about a new information society. That is very important in my view. I got unanimous support, including from the American delegation, when I said that the content that will be carried over those international information highways should reflect different cultures and languages instead of a standardized content that would not be positive for creative artists around the world.
That will conclude my remarks. We are in the process of developing important policies. I know this is a difficult period. We cannot ignore the present fiscal limitations that everybody understands. We have decided that we should all contribute to bringing down the deficit. We should not fool ourselves: this government has a tough fiscal policy, but that policy is supported by 70 per cent of Canadians. I am pleased to add that all agencies that report through me told me that they understood the fiscal situation of the government and that they were ready to co-operate, so that we can eliminate a deficit that makes it so difficult to govern this country.