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House of Commons Hansard #171 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cbc.

Topics

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March 21st, 1995 / 10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

moved:

That the House condemn the government for the refusal by the Minister of Canadian Heritage to publish the government's decisions concerning funding for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for the next three years, thus causing an ominous threat to loom over the CBC's French-language network.

Madam Speaker, today's debate will be on the following motion, which I am submitting to this House with the support of my colleague from Mercier:

That the House condemn the government for the refusal by the Minister of Canadian Heritage to publish the government's decisions concerning funding for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for the next three years, thus causing an ominous threat to loom over the CBC's French-language network.

This motion has become necessary because of the Canadian heritage minister's refusal to be open and confirm the information his deputy minister gave the President of the CBC on the day the budget was tabled in this House. According to this information, in the next three years, the CBC will have to absorb some $350 million in cuts, despite this government's formal and oft-repeated commitment to stable multi-year financing for the CBC.

This lack of openness on the part of the minister and this stubborn denial of the facts show contempt for CBC employees. They create a climate of insecurity which can only harm our TV network. That is why our motion today condemns the minister for not disclosing all the cuts planned at the CBC. This course of conduct is also being denounced by the francophone press.

For those who know how to read and listen, the government had made clear commitments to the CBC. On October 4, 1993, the Canadian Conference of the Arts distributed a questionnaire aimed at finding out the main political parties' respective positions on culture and communications. The Liberal Party of Canada responded as follows: "By slashing funding for national institutions like the CBC, the Canada Council, the National Film Board and Telefilm Canada, the Tories have done great harm and shown how little they care about cultural development. Their savage cuts will hurt the next generation of performers, reduce the number of writers, composers, dancers and other creative artists, and undermine our cultural production. The development of our cultural organizations will be stunted. Cultural life outside the major cities will decline. In short, our country will weaken to the point that it will have to fulfil its cultural aspirations with foreign products".

The Liberal Party went on to say: "A Liberal government will be committed to stable multi-year financing for our national institutions".

This was the first firm commitment the Liberal Party made during the election campaign and it was reiterated in the red book, which says: "Canada needs more than ever to commit itself to cultural development. Instead, the Conservative regime has deliberately undermined our national cultural institutions. Funding cuts to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Canada Council, the National Film Board, Telefilm Canada and other institutions illustrate the Tories' failure to appreciate the importance of cultural development".

After this impressive illustration of Tories' failures, the Liberals go on to state in their red book that they "will be committed to stable multiyear financing for national cultural institutions such as the Canada Council and the CBC. This will allow national cultural institutions to plan effectively".

Almost as soon as he took office, the minister claimed to be a friend of the CBC. On February 3, 1994, he announced the appointment of Anthony Manera at the head of the CBC. In a letter to Mr. Manera and in the press release he issued at the

time, he stated his firm intention, as government member, not to impose further cuts to the CBC.

By the end of the fall, the word was that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would not escape the finance minister's bistoury. However, to Mr. Manera everything still appeared to be clear. Testifying before the heritage committee during the hearings on he CBC, Mr. Manera maintained that the Minister of Canadian Heritage had indeed promised him that the CBC would continue to receive multiyear funding. In his mind, the heritage minister's commitment was firm and unequivocal.

On that occasion, the hon. member for Richelieu asked Mr. Manera: "When you took the position, did you have a solemn commitment from the government to maintain that financing on a stable basis for a certain period, which is for five years starting with the 1994-95 budget? Did you have a commitment of that sort, before taking the plunge, with such a vision of the CBC?" And Mr. Manera said, directing his answer to the chairman of our committee: "Mr. Chairman, the answer is yes".

But now it would seem that all of us misunderstood, starting with Mr. Manera.

On January 25, the Minister of Canadian Heritage was reported by the Canadian Press as stating that anyone who understood that there would be no cuts to the CBC misunderstood him.

I am quoting from a Canadian Press article. It says the heritage minister did not rule out further cuts to the CBC, saying that the government had never promised that the corporation would be spared in the upcoming budget. The federal plan announced last year to stabilize CBC finances should not be seen as a pledge to keep the broadcaster's budget at current levels, said Mr. Dupuy. He added, and I quote: "If it was interpreted as freezing the situation, it was the wrong interpretation".

Oh, dear. Then everyone who read the Liberal Party's response to the Canadian Conference of the Arts was mistaken. Then, we all misinterpreted what was written in the red book, the press release and the letter signed by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the last two which were issued to the press on February 4 and in which the minister firmly committed himself to maintaining CBC's funding.

The budget confirmed what the minister had been hinting at. The budget plan tabled in the House on February 27 announced that the CBC's budget for the next fiscal year would be cut by 4 per cent, which translates into $44 million.

The budget plan also stated that, over the next three years, the government would be cutting $676 million from the budget for funding crown corporations which fall under the Department of Canadian Heritage's mandate. The same day, the deputy minister sent the CBC president an information brief on the breakdown of the $676 million in cuts. The table in the brief clearly showed that the CBC would have to absorb $44 million in cuts for 1995-96, $97 million in 1996-97 and $165 million in 1997-98. Unprecedented cuts, even under the Conservatives.

The $15 million which the Department of Foreign Affairs used to pay each year to fund Radio Canada International should also be added to the cuts, because the corporation will now have to pay it. The president had already stated that he would not preside over the crown corporation's demise, so he resigned.

What did the Minister of Canadian Heritage do to support his president? Nothing. He merely said that Mr. Manera was aware of the cuts and even added that Mr. Manera had informed him that he intended to resign a few weeks earlier. One day he stated that the only figures which his deputy had given to Mr. Manera were those contained in the budget; the next, he said the opposite. He admitted that Mr. Manera had obtained documents on program review.

These documents show that the government plans to cut the CBC's budget by more than $300 million over the next three years. Mr. Manera did his homework, he let the public know about it, and then, he resigned.

That was on February 28. On March 15, in the afternoon, it was the turn of the vice president of the French TV network. Meeting first with her staff and then with the press, Mrs. Fortin, in a presentation which was exceptional, I must say, insisted on setting the record straight for her employees. Seven hundred and fifty positions will be abolished on the French television network of the CBC, since it will be losing $60 million over three years as a result of the cuts agreed to by the heritage minister.

What will be the consequences of these cuts? Well, there will be fewer cultural productions, fewer in-house productions, fewer television serials and less Canadian content, and all this in the age of the information highway. However, the heritage minister continues to pussyfoot around. No, there are no other cuts than the ones announced in the budget; no, the CBC did not inform him of any layoffs. In an editorial published in La Presse , editorialist Pierre Gravel talks about the lack of openness on the part of the heritage minister, and I quote: ``Instead of being straightforward and behaving like a minister conscious of the seriousness of the issues, Mr. Dupuy only answered with a metaphor, in very poor taste, about the fact that when you let the ewe out of the barn, it comes and relieves itself on your doorstep''.

Yet, the budget mentions $676 million in cuts to the crown corporations which come under Heritage Canada, namely the CBC, Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board. Mr. Manera did, in fact, receive a letter from the minister, and the minister

now admits that under the program review a plan for cuts was indeed produced. We are now used to the pussyfooting of the Minister of Canadian Heritage. Chantal Hébert, a reporter with La Presse , mentioned it in an article entitled: ``The variable time of Minister Dupuy''. His controversial statements have become his trademark.

In an article published on March 4, Mrs. Hébert said that, in the case we are dealing with, the minister "sent smoke signals in all directions, and gave as many different interpretations of events as there are days in the week. His public declarations contradicted the outgoing president, his top civil servants and what he himself has said unequivocally on the same issue". While the heritage minister is getting ready to drastically cut parliamentary appropriations to CBC-SRC through the back door, the chairman of the Canadian heritage committee, the member for Don Valley West, is appearing on the front porch, ready to talk.

He appeared twice on "Le Point médias", on Radio-Canada; he has appeared on CBC "Prime Time"; he is appearing on any possible forum available to him, more often than not replacing a heritage minister who would rather stay silent. And what is our heritage committee chairman saying on all these forums? He is saying that the future of CBC-SRC lies in a formula somewhat similar to PBS, in the United States, an under-financed public network which, according to Madeleine Poulin, of "Le Point médias", reaches only one per cent of the population.

Of course, he says, somewhat reluctantly-since he is after all a man of culture-, that French television is slightly different from English television because, as he told "Le Point médias", the Quebec environment is not yet a multi-channel one. The member for Don Valley-West was clearly implying that Quebec was slightly behind the rest of Canada, because fewer viewers have cable, but that it is only a matter of time before we are engulfed in the multi-channel universe. After all, he said, we already have TV5, and, to a degree, we are already being invaded by French-speaking European television.

It is not a coincidence if the committee chairman is displaying in such a manner his personal feelings on public broadcasting. We feel that he has been given a mission. He is preparing public opinion for a radical shift in policies regarding Canadian public broadcasting.

In the guise of sharing his personal opinion, the chairman of the committee is revealing to us the views of his government and is preparing us accordingly. Make no mistake: public television for the Liberal government amounts to a Canadian version of PBS.

This vision is perhaps fine for English Canada, which in any event seems to be having quite a bit of difficulty finding a niche in the multi-channel universe, as the committee chairman so eloquently put it. But this vision is completely wrong where French television and Radio-Canada in particular are concerned.

And that, furthermore, is what Radio-Canada, TVA, the Union des artistes, the Guilde des musiciens and the Association des producteurs de films et de télévision du Québec had to say at the information highway hearings now being held by the CRTC. In the present multi-channel universe, French television occupies a generalist niche, and this is not just some theory, but hard reality.

Of the 50 most popular French-language television productions in Canada, 47 are produced here in Quebec, where we are just as exposed to the multi-channel universe as our English-speaking cousins in Toronto. Radio-Canada reached 3.9 million viewers last February 5 with the independently produced made in Québec .

Knowing that French television is under-funded compared to its English counterpart, one wonders what we could achieve if we were on the same financial footing as the English arm of the CBC.

A recent poll by Som-Radio-Québec revealed that 53 per cent of Quebecers opposed cuts to the CBC, and 7 per cent thought there should be an increase in its parliamentary votes. Perhaps the fact that 60 per cent of Quebecers say they like their television network is not enough for English Canadians, who take decisions about the French network without even viewing it.

This is why Michèle Fortin said that the disappearance of Radio-Canada's public television from the generalist niche, where it reaches large audiences never reached by Canadian English-language stations, is collective suicide. Mrs. Fortin quite rightly recalled that, in Quebec, PBS-type public television niches are already occupied by RDI and Radio-Canada, for example.

So, as the CBC French network Vice President, Mrs. Fortin, has also noted, the member for Don Valley West does not watch French television, like others, for that matter, who wish to impose on it a solution that is perhaps better suited to the English network.

The Bloc Quebecois will oppose the loss of CBC French television. We have already lost a lot. Like my fellow citizens from Rimouski, I have witnessed the closure of three local TV broadcasting stations in the lower St. Lawrence in 1990. Acting as it did, the CBC French network deprived the region's inhabitants of the opportunity for debate, for the exercise of democracy.

In the coming debates, the government will try to make us believe that no decisions have yet been taken. Indeed, they have been taken, just not announced, that is the difference. In the coming debates, the government will try to make us believe that

it will replace parliamentary votes by new funding sources to be suggested by the heritage committee.

It is no secret that the member for Don Valley West told "Le Point médias" that the committee's mandate was to study the sex of angels, in other words, to find long term sources of funding for the CBC French network, not just for next year or the year after.

In the coming debates, the government will try to make us believe that the committee of three experts that it will soon set up to study the complementarity of the mandates of Telefilm, the National Film Board, and Radio-Canada as well as of their funding might change the situation for Radio-Canada. The government will get no one on this side of the House to believe such nonsense.

The government might attempt to say that cuts were imposed on Radio-Canada, but it will convince no one. The impact of the $10 million cuts made to Radio-Québec, as difficult as they were, has nothing in common with the $60 million cuts made to the CBC French network.

The government may also try to make English-speaking Canadians think that we do not care about their national television, but that is not true. If we are focusing more on the French CBC today, it is mainly because its vice-president has announced the effects the forthcoming cuts would have on our television.

We would not have the presumption to tell English-speaking Canadians what their television should be like. As for the Reform Party, it will probably say how pleased it is to see that the heritage minister is implementing part of its program.

Indeed, the Reform Party did propose to reduce the CBC's budget by 25 to 30 per cent in the taxpayers' budget it presented a few weeks back. This proposal in no way takes into account the role public television plays in Quebec and in French Canada nor does it meet the expectations of French-speaking Canadians.

I will conclude by quoting the French television spokespersons who appeared before the CRTC: "The policy proposals that will be drafted in the months to come will focus on one major and crucial objective, the promotion and preservation of French-Canadians' identity. Our current broadcasting system requires its partners to make a lot of room for Canadian content, and that has furthered the expression of our cultural identity and has contributed to the growth of audio-visual production in both our official languages. We should not let what we have acquired so far be jeopardized".

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10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the hon. member's speech. Like her, I am a staunch supporter of CBC's French language network and of the CBC.

I listened with great sympathy to what the member opposite had to say. I am a great supporter of both radio and TV as far as the CBC is concerned. That includes Radio Canada International. I like the fact that by radio we can reach out not only to Canadians of both languages but to all those interested in Canada, whether they speak English or French, whether they be in the English speaking world abroad or in la francophonie. I am a great supporter of that.

I like the fact that from coast to coast to coast Radio Canada and the CBC are there in both languages. The northern service of the CBC is a particularly fine example of what is being talked about. It deals with the most remote areas of the country. It spills over into Greenland, which is related to Denmark, and into Alaska. Our voice is heard in both languages throughout the north.

It is partly as a result that French is one of the languages used in simultaneous translation by the legislature of the NWT in Yellowknife. It is one of the eight languages it functions in.

As a member from Ontario, from a riding where less than two per cent of the population speaks French, the French language services are a very special feature of the CBC. In Ontario we have La Chaine, a provincially based French language service and it has great support throughout the province.

The CBC is a billion dollar a year corporation. We know that like large government, large corporations have problems. They have financial problems. They have organizational problems.

Many members here have had experience with the CBC. I am told the CBC is top heavy, and in particular is middle heavy. It is heavy in the middle management area.

It has excellent artistic people on air, on camera who write and produce things. A great deal of the resources go into middle and upper management areas.

Does the member not think any billion dollar corporation in Canada should be examined from the point of view of its efficiency with great detail in these difficult financial times?

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10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. It goes without saying that we must absolutely ensure that-with a budget of one billion dollars-CBC is managed efficiently. We must ask ourselves the right questions but, more importantly, we must get answers.

I sit on the heritage committee and its members almost unanimously agree that we are somewhat disturbed by the corporation's lack of transparency when it comes to really telling us how it is managed. There are many things which we do not know about. For example, we do not know the exact cost of

the corporation's head office. Only recently did we find out how much it costs to pay this group of bureaucrats, lawyers, secretaries, specialists or experts-whatever you want to call them. It costs the corporation $15 million just to appear before the CRTC every year. This $15 million is almost money thrown out the window since, after all, the CRTC cannot take away CBC's licence. The corporation is governed by an act. So these positions could be cut.

Sure, there are positions which can be cut. But I am concerned that these cuts might affect artistic workers or creators. If three or four vice-president positions are eliminated, I will not rise in this House to question that decision. It goes without saying that cuts can be made. The head office is useless, but no one can answer that question.

Do we still need a large engineering service, at a time when the information highway is becoming a reality? Unfortunately, we did not take on a leadership role in that regard. There are many questions to be asked. However, the problem is the situation in which we find ourselves; it is the uncertainty in which the minister keeps us. He does not say things the way they should be said. Will cuts be made? Yes, they are mentioned in the red book. The figure is $679 million, but the government continues to claim that it is $44 million. This is the problem.

I read an article in which a minister claimed to be a person of substance. That must be the case only when he is talking to the media, because so far we have no evidence of that when he speaks in this House.

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10:40 a.m.

Reform

Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay East, BC

Madam Speaker, I find it particularly unfortunate today that the Bloc has chosen to bring this issue to the House for a couple of reasons.

We have thousands if not tens of thousands of people who presently cannot get to work or even if they could get to work do not have the materials with which to conduct their jobs. It is estimated the strike by the rail workers which the Bloc is stopping will cost the economy $3 billion to 5 billion. When the Bloc comes to the House to discuss this issue, I find it really unfortunate.

Speaking specifically to the motion of the Bloc, why is it-

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10:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

Order. Your question should be directed to the previous speaker and her comments.

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10:40 a.m.

Reform

Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay East, BC

Madam Speaker, I was coming to that. Why is the Bloc motion dealing only specifically with the issue of Quebec? If it is the official opposition, why is its motion not more encompassing with respect to the question of CBC?

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10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Madam Speaker, I made it clear in my speech that I would talk specifically about the French-language network of the CBC because this is the one I know best and because Mrs. Fortin was the only vice president to make her position known. The vice president of the English-language network probably never thought that there would be cuts because he believed Mr. Manera. So he did not do what he had to do and he still does not know where to cut in the English network. For her part, Mrs. Fortin was ready to adapt to the new situation.

Since my colleague mentioned the train, I will tell him that if the proposals from the official opposition were accepted, we could easily resolve the rail strike. If we could have a little bit more co-operation than confrontation in this House, the problem could be solved in the next three hours.

It is fine to debate our respective points of view, but if we were to stop arguing for the sake of arguing, we could solve the real problems.

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10:45 a.m.

Mississauga East Ontario

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise on behalf of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and speak on a motion from the opposition concerning significant and continuous support of the CBC by this government.

Discussions about the CBC cannot be but emotional, undoubtedly because the CBC is so dear to Canadians.

Each night Canadians tune in to CBC news to keep up to date with the new challenges facing the country and the government. As Canada's first source of public information and as a source of national pride, the CBC is acutely aware of the challenges that must be met for Canada to achieve a sustainable level of prosperity.

The CBC is Canada's largest cultural institution. It is the guardian of the Canadian experience. The voices of Canadians echo through its history and its archives. For most of this century Canadians have sought their reflection, which they found in the CBC.

Since it was founded in 1937 by the then Liberal government,the CBC has been the main instrument of the Canadian broadcasting policy. As a true reflection of our country's growth, the CBC has adjusted to the new realities with the passing decades.

Reflecting the Canadian situation at the time, the 1968 Broadcasting Act conferred a far-reaching mandate to the CBC: to broadcast everything, in fact, so as to please everybody. This

mandate was quite appropriate in 1968, since the CBC, particularly the CBC television network, was the only service many Canadians had access to in a world where broadcasting was still made through waves.

Nowadays, the conditions are drastically different. Apart from technological progress, among them the multichannel broadcasting, Canada can now rely on dynamic and innovative private producers. This means that the CBC does not have to produce all its own programs, particularly its entertainment programs. Thus, the CBC now buys about 46 per cent of its English-speaking and French-speaking programs from independent Canadian producers. These programs complete its in-house programming.

In recent years the CBC has been focusing increasingly on bringing Canadian programming to Canadians. To counter the dominance of U.S. mass culture, the CBC's primary concern has been to attract large audiences to Canadian programming. That is just what the CBC has been doing.

Witness the success of CBC productions like "Road to Avonlea", "La Petite Vie", "North of 60" and "Scoop", to name only a few. CBC programming, especially in drama, has achieved excellence over and over again.

The problems and challenges of the French language network are not those of the English-language network. Indeed, the French-language market is more limited and concentrated than the English-speaking market. This creates conditions and an industrial structure that are quite different than in English Canada. This government recognizes that these two different situations call for different policies.

The French network of the CBC has done an excellent job in Quebec, where it is very important to French-speaking viewers. The province has its own star system and many artists from Quebec are well known in all French-speaking households. The network has been a useful springboard for French-speaking artists and has contributed to the creation of a strong Franco-Canadian identity.

Not since the advent of television has the CBC been asked to accelerate its evolution to the extent that technology and finances are demanding today.

However the public must never be the missing link in the CBC's evolution. Last fall the public joined the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in its journey toward a new future for the CBC that will be more than brave new words. It will be a future that will ensure the survival of the fittest source of Canadian content, the CBC.

The road to CBC's success was paved with new definitions, new ideas and new ways of dealing with the realities of the time. The most recent exercise of this kind dates back to 1991 when one of the elements of the CBC's mandate was reaffirmed: "to contribute to a shared national consciousness and identity".

The funding provided to the CBC accounts for more than 60 per cent of the total federal funding provided to cultural organizations under the Department of Canadian Heritage. The CBC could be compared to an orchestra that provides a showcase for all the cultural instruments.

The CBC has allowed the community of Canadians to develop regionally and nationally while always being in tune with each other's concerns. The CBC can legitimately take credit for being the link that allowed the far flung communities of the second largest territory on earth to define themselves as Canadians. The CBC is the lenscrafter of Canada's vision of itself and the world. It magnifies our cultural sovereignty and helps us see our way clearly through many challenges ahead.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage thinks that the present context, characterized by all these challenges and changes, gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate the role that public broadcasting plays and must continue to play, given the increasing globalization and the existing social and economic situation.

The epicentre of the first tremor of challenge can be found in the realm of technology. Consider the multiplication of television channels which is already considerable and which satellite and digital compression are about to render astronomical.

One may ask what purpose public broadcasting serves when services and choice proliferate and the line between public and private television, once clearly defined, seems to be blurring. The response to that challenge is that the role of the public broadcaster has never been greater, nor the need for it more urgent.

These multiple choices, coming for the most part from outside Canada, will be dictated essentially by the logic of commercial television, which is different from that of public broadcasting.

If public television is to survive it is in its best interest to flaunt the characteristics that distinguish it from commercial television. It is by firming its difference that public television justifies its social values.

Public broadcasting cannot be guided solely by commercial considerations in so far as it has quite a different mission to bear witness to society's progress to affirm our national identity. The true mission and values of the CBC form the source of its appeal to many Canadians.

Public broadcasting is an instrument designed to democratize culture and information and showcase the Canadian contribution on the world stage. That is the public service in public broadcasting and one important reason why it should not be sacrificed entirely to the demands of commercial advertising.

We understand that as a public corporation facing low tide fiscally, the CBC needs to launch itself as a cultural vessel custom built for these leaner times. We are confident that CBC management will be able to navigate through uncharted waters ahead.

In the 1995 budget funding for the CBC was set at 4 per cent below previously scheduled levels. This will amount to a savings of $44 million for the coming year.

As the opposition speculates about the contents of the 1996 budget, the Minister of Canadian Heritage has been hard at work laying the foundations for a stronger CBC.

We already know that important changes are taking place within the broadcasting industry. Fundamental changes beyond budget reductions and advances in technology leading toward greater diversity are expected to translate into more competition, fragmented audiences, a major investment in technology and potentially higher costs for Canadian programming.

In television the advent of digital video compression will make direct broadcast satellite distribution possible and increased capacity for cable undertakings will make the 500-channel universe a reality.

The government must ensure that the private and public Canadian broadcasting system is ready to compete at the national and international level, on the information highway and in all the mega-networks of the future.

The review by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage of the role of the CBC combined with the other supporting initiatives of the government, the information highway advisory council, the examination of the direct home satellite issue, the mandate review of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the National Film Board and Téléfilm represent the comprehensive integrated approach that will result in sound government policy which will take Canada and Canadian cultural products successfully into the information age. The approach will allow Canadian broadcasting and Canadian culture both English and French to thrive.

As the opposition speculates about the contents of the 1996 budget the Minister of Canadian Heritage has been hard at work laying the foundation for a stronger CBC.

According to the Bloc Quebecois, it is a threat that can only be eliminated by the publication of speculative projections for the next two years.

The hon. member's motion refers to some ominous threat looming over the CBC's French language network. The motion wrongly attributes this threat to a decision of the government to publish only the precise funding level of the CBC for the coming fiscal year.

By speculating on the possible number of people that will have to be laid off by the CBC, the opposition does nothing to help the cause of our public broadcasting system and adds to the climate of uncertainty felt by employees affected by the cuts.

I would like to end on a curious note. It seems strange to me that the entire basis of the motion is the hon. member's concern over the contents of the 1996-97 federal budget which should only matter to her after the separatists lose the referendum. Her heated comments are evidence of a referendum campaign gone stone cold.

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10:55 a.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Madam Speaker, the parliamentary secretary indicated that the CBC should be the body involved in defining our identity as Canadians.

I have heard that point before in the House from members opposite. I have had no calls from my constituents asking for anyone to define them as Canadians. I have heard of no calls from my colleagues' constituents to help them define themselves as Canadians. I certainly feel no need personally to have anyone define me as a Canadian. I am a Canadian and I am happy and proud to be one. I do not need anyone to define what a Canadian should be.

Has the hon. member had calls from her constituents for a definition of Canadians? Maybe the hon. member could refer to letters and petitions she may have received as well as calls about the definition of Canadians.

Furthermore, does the member feel that the CBC, a crown corporation, would be the body her constituents would go to for a definition of what a Canadian is? Going to a government organization to get a definition of what we should be as Canadians sounds a little strange to me. I would like the hon. member to respond to those questions.

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11 a.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member asked me if I have had discussions with my constituents about the CBC in recent days. If that is the benchmark the hon. member uses simply to gauge the importance of the CBC, then there is a serious omission, if he will forgive me, in the hon. member's education.

Yes, I have had numerous discussions with my constituents about the CBC. It has been a topic of conversation recently and it has certainly been highlighted in the press. The Reform Party's view of the CBC is really the same view the Spanish trawler has of the last turbot. The Reform fantasy budget would fish the CBC into extinction. The Liberal approach offers the opportunity for the CBC to grow and thrive in a new age of broadcasting.

One reason the Liberal budget has been so well received by so many people throughout the country is that they understand our cuts are not based on some ideological vendetta against cultural communities. They are based on necessity and not on the type of philistine intolerance shown by the Reform Party of our cultural programs. Our budget is driven by a genuine necessity of concern for the programs that Liberals have built and Liberals will continue to build in the next century.

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11 a.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened attentively to my hon. colleague, whom I know very well for we have been working together since the beginning on the heritage committee. But I do feel there are limits to trying to mislead people. Truly, this government seems to be affected by the untruth syndrome. There is no more serum left to cure it because they have exhausted all the supplies available, for they have failed all the tests they underwent throughout their existence.

We are not speculating about the number of positions that will be cut, we are taking the word of the vice-president on it. That is not speculation. We are not only concerned about what will happen, but also sick and tired of hearing the minister telling us lies in the House, not telling us the truth and misleading us from start to finish. People are fed up. That has to stop. We need the real figures because it is imperative for both the francophone and the anglophone networks to know exactly where they are going in order for the CBC to really evolve.

The hon. member stated that the minister, instead of speculating about the years ahead, is laying down the foundations of the CBC. Foundations my eye. He is destroying those foundations. He is not building them up, but demolishing them. So, Madam Speaker, what is the hon. member waiting for to wake up within her government, before there is no more public television left? Everybody knows public television comes with a price tag. Every decent, self-respecting country has a public television network, and that does not prevent private television from existing beside it. We are not asking for a status quo regarding the CBC's finances. We know there is some clean-up to be done. But we are asking the government to stop making these deep cuts and preventing the president of the CBC from getting the corporation back on its feet, on the right track.

What is the hon. member waiting for to stand up-she is the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage-and to wake her minister up so that he will stop destroying this essential cultural tool?

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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East, ON

I fully agree with the hon. member there are limits to misleading people. The motion she just submitted misleads the Canadian public. I think the president of the CBC showed at a sitting of the committee she attended that he understood fiscal realities much better that the official opposition does.

I would like to remind her of what Mr. Manera, former president of the CBC, told us. I will find the quotation because I want you to hear the very wise remarks he made. Here is what he told us: "Mr. Chairman, we of the CBC, acknowledge that the financial situation facing the country is indeed serious and we certainly cannot escape, nor should we intend to escape, the austerity measures that have to be taken in order to bring our finances in order".

As you can see, the former CBC president had a realistic point of view. It is quite clear that, as a government, we will reexamine the role of the CBC, and the standing committee, three members of that committee and the Minister of Canadian Heritage all work very hard on this. I hope the hon. member will be patient enough to wait for the advice of a committee she sits on. Future budgets will provide the CBC with the resources it needs to carry out its redesigned role.

We know what our commitments are. I want to give assurances of that to the hon. member, and I think it is about time that the Bloc woke up.

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11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, when the parliamentary secretary refers to her committee, I hope she is kidding. There are two distinct components in the CBC, the French network and the English network, but the committee which she is a part of comprises a majority of English-speaking people, who are Liberal on top of that. It is therefore pretty difficult to get parity.

It is like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank. Would she please explain to us how she intends to be fair in this committee, where anglophones form the majority, so that the interests of the francophones in the CBC are defended?

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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East, ON

Madam Speaker, I wonder what the member is trying to make me believe. Does he want me to believe that the Bloc members are wasting their time in the committees? Personally, I have a lot of respect for the work of the members of the committee. I do not think we have wasted our time. We will reflect on this and recommendations will be presented at the end of the process for the minister's consideration.

I find the Bloc's interest in the CBC ironic and I often wonder what lies behind this passionate interest in an entirely Canadian cultural institution. Why does the Bloc reject the country which has created an institution it admires?

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11:10 a.m.

Reform

Hugh Hanrahan Reform Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, the Reform members will be splitting their time today.

It gives me great pleasure to rise today to discuss this motion which has been put forward by my hon. colleague from the Bloc Quebecois.

It is important to note that it seems a little particular that we are debating this issue in the House when this exact issue is before the heritage committee. We as a committee have been reviewing the CBC for quite some time, focusing primarily on the issue of the role of the CBC in a 500 channel universe.

When the committee began this endeavour in September of last year, our mandate also included how to fund the CBC and report to the finance minister with recommendations for budgetary cuts in this year's budget. That timetable was postponed. We then set a new tentative date to conclude and make our recommendations to the House as a whole by the beginning of March. It is obvious the committee did not meet that timetable.

Presently we are still reviewing the CBC. No action plan or recommendations are in place. Therefore perhaps it is appropriate that the Bloc has introduced this motion to debate this issue on the CBC.

It is also abundantly clear to me and to most Canadians that this government is unwilling to deal with the fundamental issues such as the CBC and its financing. Since our arrival in Ottawa this government has introduced discussion paper after discussion paper while ignoring the pleas of Canadians for action.

If we look at the Liberals' latest budget, we see they have begun to sing from the same songbook as the Reform Party. Canada's national debt and deficit have moved from the back burner to the mid-range burner. These notorious tax and spend Liberals are beginning to see the flaws in such a policy, yet they are still attempting to hold onto all government entrenched programs through an ever decreasing amount of resources.

The fact is however that Canada does not have a revenue problem but a spending problem. This spending problem is perpetuated by the fact that the federal government continually spends billions of dollars on programs that could be done by the private sector at no cost to the taxpayer. This would ensure that the necessary funding would be available for priority departments such as health, education, defence and veterans affairs.

In terms of privatization, this government has taken a step in the right direction, however it has not gone far enough. Every ministry has one or more areas in which the government is providing a service which is in competition with the private sector or could be done more effectively by the private sector.

We as a government must balance our books which means all areas of public financing must be evaluated for efficiency, cost and effectiveness. It is for these reasons we are looking at the financing of the CBC.

The CBC's primary mandate should be the provision of distinctive culture specific information and drama programming. In an increasing multichannel environment the current mandate to provide a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains is too broad.

It is also clear that the mandate of the CBC is to provide Canadians with predominantly Canadian programming. What Canadians are being subjected to is extremely questionable in terms of meeting this prescribed mandate.

The issue is no longer whether the CBC has adequate funding. That has passed long ago. Rather, it is the structure of the CBC. In particular, the CBC has not adjusted to the realities of the marketplace. It is outdated, highly centralized and expensive.

We must constantly remind ourselves that the Canadian broadcasting environment has changed radically since the original conception of the CBC.

New technologies and new services change viewing tastes and fundamental changes in advertising behaviours have transformed the broadcasting environment. Do not forget that in a world where the CBC is no longer the only national service, does it make sense to use scarce public funds to subsidize the provision of commercial television programming?

In this new world of broadcasting, consisting of many more options to television viewers, public broadcasting cannot effectively maintain the objective that it is all things to all people.

It is therefore essential for survival in this multichannel universe that the public broadcaster be willing to reinvent itself. It is quite evident the corporation is unwilling to do that.

The president and the former president of the CBC stated revenues were not their mission. We must therefore as parliamentarians address this area for them. Since revenues are not the mission of the CBC, what is?

How can a private company such as CTV make revenues its mission while still adhering to Canadian content regulations? CTV last year spent $488 million while the CBC spent $561 million on Canadian content programming. This is not a huge difference considering we spent over $1 billion for the operation of the CBC and nothing on CTV.

CTV spends close to the same as CBC on Canadian productions. The difference is that one is government owned and one is privately owned. One is a drain on the public purse, the other adds to the public coffers through taxation of profits.

Had this government privatized the CBC it could have saved the taxpayer approximately $800 million and this number does not include revenues that would have been generated from the sale of approximately $1.5 billion in assets, which the CBC currently holds.

The sceptics will rise and say that if we privatize the CBC, Canadian culture will perish, Canadian culture cannot survive without government intervention. Surely they jest. Canadians are extremely talented. They produce, write, paint, create. They do this not because the government says it is okay, but rather because they want to create. The fruits of their labour will sell if it is quality, and it will not if it is not.

Art and culture should be created not because government thinks it is so, but because the artist wants to do it. The more government gets involved, the more things seem to go awry.

I would like to make a comparison between the privatization of Air Canada, Petro-Canada and the possibility of similar action being taken with regard to the CBC but I see my time is running out.

I would like to amend the motion of the Bloc. I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word "years".

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11:20 a.m.

Mississauga East Ontario

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, if I understood the main thrust of the hon. member's comments, he certainly encourages the government to privatize the CBC.

I noticed in the Reform fantasy budget it mentioned cutbacks of some $360 million. I wonder if the hon. member could delineate what the Reform game plan would be for the CBC.

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11:20 a.m.

Reform

Hugh Hanrahan Reform Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the opportunity to deal with the question.

What I would recommend very clearly is that we look at a number of possible options with respect to the privatization of the CBC. The first option would be an outright sale to the highest bidder.

While I recognize the beginning of a trend to cut the CBC's budget, what concerns me is that we are going to continue to cut the CBC and have it die the death of a thousand cuts. There will be nothing left at the end of it. If it is going to be viable, saleable, I recommend we sell it while it still has strength.

Another possibly would be a simple public share issue which would divest the government of the entire company. A third option, although I do not particularly favour it over the other two, is mixed ownership involving public and private investors, as we have done with other companies.

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11:20 a.m.

Reform

Bob Ringma Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, in addressing the motion on funding for the CBC brought forward by our honourable Bloc colleague, it is passing strange that this motion on a supply day should take place when we have almost a national crisis on our hands with the rail strike. I do not see how talking about the CBC is of any import alongside that problem. Nevertheless, here we are faced with it today.

I will paraphrase the hon. member for Rimouski-Témiscouata when she addressed a Reform motion on the CBC last June. She said although the Reform Party may disagree emphatically with the way certain situations are dealt with at the CBC, it does not support the motion presented by the Bloc member for Rimouski-Témiscouata.

If we look at the history of the CBC we see it was the genesis of the Aird commission in 1929, although it did not officially become the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation until Mackenzie King's Liberals rewrote the Broadcasting Act in 1936. The last revision of the Broadcasting Act came in 1991 under Brian Mulroney's Tories.

However, over that time the mandate of both French and English CBC has remained relatively unchanged. Is it possible for a mandate nearly 60 years old to still be valid, particularly in an age of technological change such as we have now?

The forerunner of the CBC, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, suffered from underfunding, an uncertain mandate and inappropriate administrative arrangements. The same is true in part of the CBC today.

If we look at these problems separately, we must first address the issue of underfunding. We know Canadian taxpayers cannot afford to increase the roughly $1 billion in subsidies the CBC already enjoys. The Liberals' answer was to pass legislation for the CBC to borrow money. This is certainly not the answer, as it only increases Canada's already enormous debt load.

The Liberals have also considered taxes on things like video rentals and movie tickets to fund the CBC. This is also unacceptable, as Canadians are already overtaxed. Therefore the only solution would appear to be privatization to allow the corporation to become competitive and raise funds through the private sector by means such as increased advertising. There is no reason the CBC does not have the capacity to compete commercially.

The second problem of an uncertain mandate can best be illustrated by looking at how Canadian politicians view the role of the CBC. Last June in the House the Prime Minister said: "The law says in defining the mandate of the CBC that it must inform people on the advantages Canada represents. This is the reason for the creation of the corporation".

One day later on CBC radio the Deputy Prime Minister stated the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has a responsibility to acknowledge that one of its responsibilities is to promote Canadian unity.

Neither of these interpretations reflects the reality of the CBC mandate which is to provide a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains, and to reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences while serving the special needs of those regions.

While this example points to part of the problem with the uncertainty with the CBC's mandate, it also illustrates the way a public broadcasting service can become politicized and even manipulated by its political masters. I believe privatization could address this problem as market forces would quickly force the CBC to find its niche while still promoting Canadian culture. It would also remove the potential for political interference.

The final problem that existed with the CRBC 60 years ago and is still relevant for today's CBC is inappropriate administrative arrangements. The CBC receives more than $1 billion in taxpayers' money to operate yet still has a deficit of $45 million in its operating budget. In the last year about 2,000 jobs have been cut at the CBC in an effort to become more competitive. Despite these drastic cuts to the staffing budget, CBC's deficit continues to grow. There is simply no incentive at the administrative level to ensure a healthy bottom line.

Privatization appears to be the only acceptable method of dragging the mother corp into the fiscal realities of the 1990s and beyond.

Let us look specifically at the CBC French operations of Radio-Canada. A recent news report suggests that up to 750 of the 2,500 employees at SRC may be cut as a result of funding cuts. The vice-president of French television, Michèle Fortin, admitted in the same article: "Those who will suffer most from probable cuts are not viewers. We can supply to the public programs of the same quality and content if we purchase them from private producers or other networks".

If that is truly the case, and we have no reason to doubt Mr. Fortin, then what is this ominous threat looming over the CBC's French language network which my hon. Bloc colleagues are so concerned about?

We should also look at an independent survey conducted by the CROP polling firm in October of last year. In that survey, French speaking Quebecers stated that the quality of programming on privately operated TVA was equal to that of government funded Radio-Canada. In fact, in all areas the respondents rated the two stations equal.

However, when asked if: "Because Radio-Canada is subsidized and the other networks are not, that creates unfair competition", 56 per cent of French speaking Quebecers agreed while only 39 per cent said no.

Similarly, when French speaking Quebecers, many of whom we might presume are Bloc supporters, were asked if Radio-Canada's public funding should be cut because of the federal government's deficit problems, 55 per cent said yes while only 37 per cent disagreed. They are roughly the same percentages.

The same arguments I presented for the privatization of English language CBC are relevant to French CBC. The only way to ensure a viable Radio-Canada into the 21st century is to make the operation responsive to market forces and to take advantage of modern satellite technology.

For example, CBUF-FM, the CBC's French language FM radio station in Vancouver, has a staff of 25 and an annual budget of $2.2 million. Its average audience in any given quarter hour over its entire broadcast area is 100 people. That is according to the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement.

The same is true of Edmonton's French language station CHFA which has a staff of 32 and an annual budget of $2.4 million. Again, according to BBM figures, the station is fortunate if its audience tops 600.

In just these two examples we see how $4.6 million in tax dollars are being spent to service 700 people. That is almost $6,600 per listener. This is not very efficient.

If these services were privatized and forced to depend on local advertising it is quite likely they would be forced to close. However, with the advent of modern satellite technology it is quite possible to maintain a small staff of reporters in both markets that would provide local stories and features via satel-

lite to be included in regional and national programming. This would not only save taxpayers millions of dollars but would also allow Radio-Canada to fulfil its mandate and get out to the people of a minority language where it is needed.

The time for bleeding heart motions such as the one before us today is over. We must address today's situations based on today's realities, not some teary eyed, romanticized vision based on the way we did things in the good old days. Times have changed.

Today's fiscal realities will undoubtedly mean restraint and government downsizing. However, tomorrow's technology means we have an opportunity to provide government services and information in ways politicians of even 15 years ago never dreamed.

For this reason I urge the House to vote against this near-sighted motion of yesteryear and leap into the 21st century by listening closely to the ideas my Reform colleagues and I have and will present during the course of the debate.

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11:30 a.m.

Broadview—Greenwood Ontario

Liberal

Dennis Mills LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, I listened to the member's remarks and I share a different view of the CBC. The Liberal Party founded the CBC in 1934. I have always believed that it was one of the great instruments that held the country together.

I believe also that in remote regions of our country where the private sector would not necessarily make the investment and take the risk, that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is there to make sure that every part of the country is interconnected and we can all feel as one.

A lot of things have been developed in Canada that have defied economic logic or to use business terms, earnings per share per quarter. We are not running a business here. We are building a nation. The criteria that one uses when building a nation and developing a set of values and a character for a nation are totally different from the value system used when running or building a business.

I would like to think that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is something that should be looked at in terms of building a nation and not just as a stand alone profit centre.

I regret that the Minister of Finance and the government have had to make the cuts in the budget to the CBC. Many people at the CBC are constituents of mine. I spent many a long hour having a glass of cranberry juice with Larry Zolf on the Danforth where he would reminisce about the contributions various artists have made and how some have grown through their exposure on the CBC. Right now all of these things are being jeopardized because the international bond markets, the people who control the real flow of capital, are holding the gun to our brain. I regret that and I know most members do.

Can the member not see that perhaps when we get our fiscal house in a little better order over the next few years that as a galvanizing agent we would go a long way to find something better? Would he not then, once our fiscal house is in better order, see that the CBC is something we should reinvigorate and make sure that it continues to build on that long history of pulling the country together?

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11:35 a.m.

Reform

Bob Ringma Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

In response, Madam Speaker, I have to say first that we have a long road ahead of us before we get our fiscal house in order.

We are well aware of the situation. We are still $560 billion in debt. The deficit reduction program introduced in the latest budget is inadequate to cope with the situation. We are paying more and ever more money into servicing that debt. In two to three years time with the Minister of Finance rolling the moving target, we are still going to be in deep trouble if in fact we have not hit the wall before then.

I have to negate the argument "in time". I do not know when that time is going to come.

My second point in response would be that essentially the hon. member is living in the past. I concede that the CBC in times gone by has furnished part of the glue that has held the country together.

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11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

Order. I am sorry, the hon. member's time has expired.

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11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to second the motion presented by my colleague, the member for Rimouski-Témiscouata. The motion reads as follows:

That the House condemn the government for the refusal by the Minister of Canadian Heritage to publish the government's decisions concerning funding for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for the next three years, thus causing an ominous threat to loom over the CBC's French language network.

First, I will give a brief background. Then, I will describe the present situation and analyze its impact on the French-speaking community of Quebec and Canada.

Before starting, however, I would like to point out that, unlike the government, I will use both terms, that is SRC and CBC, to refer to the two sectors of our public television instead of SRC in the French version of documents and CBC in the English version. For greater clarity, the term SRC will refer only to the French network and the term CBC, to the English network. You will see later the importance of this distinction.

Under the precedent Conservative regime, many cuts were made. In 1990, certain services were abolished, 1,100 jobs were cut, three local television stations were closed, eight stations were transformed into information production offices. These cuts resulted in savings of $108 million.

These measures were vigorously denounced by the Liberals. The famous red book put it this way: "Funding cuts to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Canada Council, the National Film Board, Telefilm Canada, and other institutions illustrate the Tories' failure to appreciate the importance of cultural and industrial development". Those are the words of the Liberals in their red book.

And it went on: "A Liberal government will be committed to stable multiyear financing for national cultural institutions such as the Canada Council and the CBC. This will allow national cultural institutions to plan effectively". It would be difficult to find better intentions concerning culture and the SRC.

What is the situation today, following the tabling of the budget in February? On that famous day, February 27, 1995, we learned the extent of the budget cuts which would affect the Department of Canadian Heritage. We learned that this department's budget would be cut by $676 million over the next three years, in other words, 23 per cent of its global budget.

These cuts would affect the budgets of the CBC, Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board, which would be reduced by 4, 4 and 5 per cent respectively. In the case of the CBC, depending on how you understand the figures, it means a minimum cut of $44 million for the 1995-96 fiscal year. Furthermore, the day after the budget, the government decided to transfer Radio Canada International to the CBC and that accounted for an additional amount of approximately $12 million.

At the same time, the minister announced that the government would review thoroughly the terms of reference of the CBC, the NFB and Telefilm Canada. The CBC mandate would be examined, according to him, within a framework similar to that of the study being done by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on the role of the CBC in a multichannel environment.

We must remember that, before the budget was introduced, the CBC already had to support a loss of revenue of $180 million because of the cuts previously made by the Tory government and a decrease in commercial revenues. The former president, Mr. Anthony Manera, was already worried that these cuts could kill public television for good.

Nevertheless, the Liberal government, in spite of the rhetoric of the red book, will not be impressed by so little, and certainly not if it is the Minister of Canadian Heritage talking.

And the saga goes on. Right after the budget was tabled, on February 28, it was announced that Mr. Manera would talk to the employees to explain the financial situation of the CBC. The explanations remain vague because figures can be seen differently by different persons. Yet, everybody agrees that in April 1995, the CBC will have to cut between $40 and $50 million to offset this loss of revenue, also called the structural deficit.

On the same day, Mr. Manera announced his resignation as chief executive officer of the CBC, when his mandate was supposed to end in February 1999, that is in four years. Talk about an early retirement!

In support of his decision, Mr. Manera alleged personal reasons, which the Minister of Heritage hurried to repeat using these words: "Mr. Manera has resigned for personal reasons; everything else has been totally invented".

By "everything else", the minister was referring, among other things, to the scenario of a $300 million reduction in the budgets of the CBC over the next three years. I would recall that, on his appointment to his position, in November 1993, Mr. Manera had demanded assurances from the minister that no huge cuts would be applied to the CBC. At that time, the same minister had made a commitment to give the CBC multi-year financing. He even went so far as to promise Mr. Manera that there would not be any more budget reductions at the CBC. He had dared describe himself as a "friend of the house", meaning the CBC, when he had been appointed as the Minister of Heritage. That is too much!

We must realize that we are not talking about ancient history here. We are talking about November 1993, just 18 months ago. We are talking about assurances that were given by a minister to one of the most important departments of his government. How sad and shameful.

Mr. Manera, who seems to have been somewhat more lucid than his minister, came back by setting the record straight: it was a cut of not only $44 million that the CBC would suffer, but of $350 million by 1997-98. The government was getting ready to reduce the total budget by 23 per cent over three years. All this after the minister had confirmed to his president that there would be no more cuts.

How did the minister respond to his president's statement? First, as I said earlier, he repeated that Mr. Manera had resigned for personal reasons. According to the minister, there was no relation between this resignation and the budgetary cuts announced. He said he knew that Mr. Manera was going to resign and that his resignation was for personal reasons. Somehow, Mr. Manera made it clear in his speech to the employees that he was resigning because of the budget cuts. This is quite a lack of communication. This minister is no doubt fully proficient in the

area of communications. He went on to say the same thing again on March 16 in similar circumstances.

In Montreal, the vice-president of the CBC French network, Mrs. Michelle Fortin, could already foresee the impact the announced cuts would have on the operations of her organization. On March 15 and 16, she called a meeting of her employees to take stock of the situation. According to her, the organization in Montreal would suffer cuts of about $60 million and there would be a downsizing of some 750 jobs over the next three years.

In answer to a question asked in this House in that regard, the minister said he knew nothing about the downsizing and tried to justify his position by saying that the CBC, his "official source" of information, had made no official decision. Need we remind you that the president and chief executive officer had already resigned and declared that he had no intention of presiding over the implementation of the new budget.

I would like to go back briefly to the minister's statements, in the order in which he made them. We saw that when he received Mr. Manera's resignation on February 28, the minister said it was for personal reasons. The day after, on March 1, he only mentioned again the figures contained in the budget. On March 2, we learned that Mr. Manera recognized he had received from the deputy minister of Heritage a secret document outlining the scope of the cuts for the three following years. The members of this House were treated to blatant nonsense.

While the opposition had that document in hand and was quoting it, the minister refused to admit that the figures were right. According to him, this document is based on assumptions which are part of a program review undertaken by another minister. All this when we know that the cuts depend on Cabinet's decisions. Where was the hon. minister? Is he not a member of the Cabinet? It seems that Radio-Canada employees and executives are better informed than the minister about the situation that is prevailing in this organization. In fact, on March 18, the Gazette published the information that Mr. Alain Pineau of the CBC had announced that the regional stations were threatened by the budgeraty cuts.

For the time being, it is more than appropriate to wonder what the minister has to gain by hiding the truth, since evidence points in that direction. We also have to wonder if further cuts are not going to be announced soon. We have to wonder what major initiatives the minister intends to put forward within the national television, and what political implications they will have.

It is interesting to look at the public opinion about these cuts in the French network. A recent SOM poll released last week by La Presse showed that 60 per cent of respondents want the subsidies allocated to the CBC maintained or increased. It seems the public can only praise CBC-SRC for the way it does inform Canadians and increase their general knowledge. In Quebec, the results are even more impressive since one Quebecer out of three are opposed to the cuts Radio-Canada is facing.

That raises a completely different issue: the gap in the audience ratings between Canada and Quebec. Quebecers listen a lot to national television whereas only 12 per cent of their English-speaking counterparts watch it. This is a big difference which should, in theory, have an impact on the subsidies allotted the two networks. Up until now, however, viewer ratings were not among the criteria used to determine budget allocations. We pay more attention to the production costs of the programs, which are higher in English Canada than in Quebec. This is a vicious circle in which we have been trapped for a long time and which has been raising questions for many years.

Let us turn to the announcement made by the minister with regard to the CBC mandate review. For the French network, this announcement raises a lot of concerns. Indeed, we know that English Canada is generally not happy with the CBC, as far as its cost-quality ratio is concerned. For $1 billion, many people think that we could get more for our money. As I said, this vision is not shared in Quebec where people are satisfied with the performance of Radio-Canada which is reaching, on average, 35 per cent of the viewers. Once again, we are faced with the dilemma of the two solitudes.

Once again, these two solitudes have different needs and tendencies. Could the government decide it woud be politically correct to invest more in the French network, which has good ratings, than in the English network that is not very popular? Can we imagine that the Canadian federalism could be flexible enough to allow for the government to be very generous with the French network, while reducing drastically the subsidies allotted to the English network? This question has not been debated yet. We must also ask ourselves what would be the consequences of the budgetary cuts.

In his brief to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, the CBC spokespersons mentioned the possible impact of the reduction of its budgets. They said that the CBC would have no choice but to put thousands of people out of work. They added that their services would have to be drastically reduced and that no part of the mandate of the CBC would be left untouched.

The Minister of Finance said recently that any important reduction of the CBC budget would require a review of its current mandate. The citizens, the corporation employees and this House have the right to know where the minister and his government are going with the CBC. The Canadian public will not tolerate any longer the mysteries and the balderdash of the minister. Therefore, tell us what to do.

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11:55 a.m.

Broadview—Greenwood Ontario

Liberal

Dennis Mills LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, as I listened to the member for Quebec talk about national institutions and our commitment to national institutions I did not understand where she was coming from. That party is committed to dismantling national institutions; that is its whole mission here. Have the Bloc members suddenly had some kind of a conversion they have not declared in public? Are they trying to figure out a way to recommit themselves to Canada by pushing the CBC? I cannot figure them out.

The member also talked about our commitment to stable, multi-year budgets. The member is absolutely right. It does say that in the red book.

One of the difficulties we have and which all Canadians should know is that we are trying to rebuild an economy that was literally on its knees. Our recovery is fragile. We are starting to get a little steam, but what does the Bloc Quebecois do this week? It refuses to let us table our back to work legislation so we can get our national transportation system going. This causes a ripple effect beyond imagination.

For an example I will use a sector that I had some association with, the automotive sector. It is not just the assembly plants that are brought to their knees, it is all of the small and medium size auto parts manufacturers that ship to these plants. The Bloc Quebecois right now is hurting the chances for a renewal of this country's economy even more so by shutting down our ability to rebuild this economy by keeping our transportation system in order.

The best hope and the best long term chance the CBC in all of its facets has in terms of restoring itself to the funding and renewed strength we would all like to see is by the Bloc members committing themselves to rebuilding the economy of all of Canada rather than thinking about their own parochial interests. Does the member not see that?

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11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his questions and remind him of the commitments the Liberals made on multi-year financing to allow the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to make a balance sheet for several years instead of operating on a piecemeal basis, as it is the case now.

When it sat in the opposition and during the election campaign, this government made promises that I do not think it can keep now. My colleague seems to be particularly concerned about the economic situation and he would like the Bloc to bring forward solutions to deal with some economic problems and the economic recovery.

I have here some figures. For instance, defence spending, which amounted to $11 billion, will be cut by 4.97 per cent, the budget for the advancement of women will be cut by 30 per cent and the budget for culture and communication will be cut by 23 per cent. Those figures show where the priorities of this government are: cutting by 23 per cent the budget for culture, which amounted only to $1 billion, and the budget for the advancement of women, which amounted only to $10 million, while defence spending is only reduced by 4.97 per cent. What about your priorities for economic recovery? We wonder.

In answer to another question that the hon. member asked about the railway problem, the opposition proposed some alternatives and I think that if the government had listened to them, perhaps we would have reached a decision very quickly.

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Noon

St. Boniface Manitoba

Liberal

Ronald J. Duhamel LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board

Madam Speaker, since its beginnings, la Société Radio-Canada-The French language counterpart of the CBC-has been the voice of Canada's francophone population and the mirror of our culture.

Sociologists will tell you just how closely the birth of the Québécois identity is linked to the cultural programming that Radio-Canada broadcast into our living rooms. Thanks to Radio-Canada, francophones in all parts of Canada have seen and recognized themselves. The network has offered shared experiences to all and, through its programs, opened up a window on the world. In more recent years, Radio-Canada has allowed the world to learn about our culture, our way of life, and our values.

We are all proud of Radio-Canada's achievements. We are proud because they are closely linked to the success of our broadcasting policy. This policy, which is set out in the Broadcasting Act, ensures high calibre programming in French. The Act stipulates that "English and French language broadcasting, while sharing common aspects, operate under different conditions and may have different requirements".

And in fact, la Société Radio-Canada has managed to give us quite unique programming, programming that has been highly successful and is even the envy of some on the English-language CBC side.

Thanks to this broadcasting policy, French-language programming obtains unbelievably high audience ratings, year after year. Nineteen of the twenty most popular French-language shows, and forty-seven of the fifty most popular French-language shows are produced in Canada. Yes, they are produced in Canada. And these programs are popular because they are good, their quality is universally recognized. This explains why a series like "Les filles de Caleb" has been sold in over forty countries.

Some people will say that this series owes its success to those who made it, which is true. We are indeed lucky to be able to count on such talented artists. Some of them have had their talents recognized abroad and have decided to work there. Gifted though they may be, however, not many of them could have reached such heights without the help of government policies and support to the cultural community.

Among the federal institutions which contributed in this way, I should mention Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board and the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission.

Not only has Radio-Canada played a leading role in the process of cultural affirmation, it has also played an incalculable role with regard to linguistic affirmation. As explained by the Authors of the report of the Task Force on Broadcasting Policy, also known as the Sauvageau-Caplan Committee: "Francophones are well aware of the importance of radio and television in strengthening the language. The best known example is the sports vocabulary, which was almost completely anglicized, even in France. Two Radio-Canada announcers, Michel Normandin and René Lecavalier, had to develop new terms to describe the games they were announcing and the French equivalents they developed were adopted so wholeheartedly that competing private broadcasters, print media and sports fans gradually began to use them, and they eventually became an accepted part of the language."

However, not only do francophones benefit from good quality programming, they are also able to receive broadcasting signals from a variety of sources. In the first place, there are the conventional television services: Télé-Métropole and Télévision Quatre Saisons, as well as two French-language educational networks: Radio-Québec and TVOntario's La Chaîne.

In addition to these, there are a number of specialized services: Réseau des sports, Météomédia, Canal Famille, TV5, Musique Plus and, just recently, Réseau de l'information, RDI. This last service addresses a need that had been identified within the Canadian broadcasting system. I hasten to add that the Bloc Quebecois itself had demanded that such a service be established. RDI went on the air January 1, 1995, and since then it has been doing an admirable job of covering events in Canada and elsewhere.

All these services provide a range of programming more varied than that available in any other francophone country.

Furthermore through TV 5 the federal government has been able to ensure that the influence of Canada's francophone culture spreads to the four corners of the earth. TV 5 broadcasts in Europe, Africa, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. We anticipate that its signal will soon be picked up in Asia. In all these parts of the world a Canadian traveller staying in a place with the necessary receiving equipment will be able to watch Bernard Derome and numerous other broadcasts produced in Canada.

One cannot speak of Radio-Canada without mentioning its regional presence, particularly outside Quebec where its programming had considerable impact in communities such as my own in St. Boniface which until recently had the impression that mass media were inevitably anglophone. Collective identities in minority communities began to emerge thanks to Radio-Canada.

There is no doubt that the review of the corporation's mandate and the budget cuts the government had to impose will require some realignment. However the need for realignment had become unavoidable because of the 500-channel universe and the information highway.

The reality is that we are going through a period when certainties will be tested, when change will be the only constant, when our creativity will be our chief resource and unfortunately when public funds will continue to be in limited supply.

This does not mean that we are giving up. We must find common solutions to ensure the continued vitality of French language culture and to ensure the relevance of our national institutions based less on the resources allocated to them and more on the imagination we are capable of showing. The committee on heritage has already taken steps in this direction. We must continue our deliberations and come up with innovative solutions.

Radio-Canada will measure up to the challenges. It will be able to fulfil its present mandate as well as any other mandate that it might be given. Its past accomplishments has secured it a promising future.