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House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was promise.

Topics

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on Motion No. 1. All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

A recorded division on Motion No. 1 stands deferred.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

moved:

That Bill C-35, in Clause 1, be amended by deleting lines 1 to 8 on page 2.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Reform

Lee Morrison Reform Swift Current—Maple Creek—Assiniboia, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have nothing further to add to what I said earlier.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The mover of the motion is the hon. member Edmonton Southwest and the hon. member for Swift Current-Maple Creek-Assiniboia is the seconder.

Does the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest wish to speak to the motion?

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Swift Current-Maple Creek-Assiniboia spoke eloquently on the substance of this bill during the debate on the motion of the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. We would not further use the time of the House to say what has already been said.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Hillsborough P.E.I.

Liberal

George Proud LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, to conclude this discussion, I want to say that we disagree with the amendment. It would delete 178(3).

The governor in council has the authority to issue an order replacing a provincial minimum wage rate. What we are saying here is that the federal government in a situation which would occur not very often, I would hope, has the power and will retain the power to set a minimum wage for employees under the jurisdiction of the federal government. That is all we want to do. It would not affect provincial employees, it would affect only federal employees. Therefore I cannot support this motion.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on Motion No. 2. All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

An hon. member

On division.

(Motion No. 2 negatived.)

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred divisions on the report stage of the bill.

Call in the members.

Canada Labour CodeGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There is a request from the deputy chief government whip to defer the vote until later today at the end of Government Orders.

Bell Canada ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Richmond B.C.

Liberal

Raymond Chan Liberalfor Minister of Industry

moved that Bill C-57, an act to amend the Bell Canada Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, the legislation before the House to repeal section 7 of the Bell Canada Act is an important step in the federal government's efforts to help Canadian industry compete, innovate and grow in the information economy.

It follows through on commitments we have made to promote and facilitate the development of the Canadian information highway as a foundation for long term economic growth and job creation.

We are now three-quarters through the government's mandate and the foundations for the jobs and growth agenda are firmly in place. Deficit reduction targets have been met and exceeded. Inflation is at its lowest level in 30 years. Statistics Canada reports that the number of persons employed was up 82,000 in August, bringing year to date gains to 153,000 in full time employment.

Building on these accomplishments, the government has highlighted three elements that form the core of the current phase of the jobs and growth agenda: youth, technology and trade. At the heart of the jobs and growth agenda is the information highway which advances all three of these priorities.

In 1994 the government announced its vision for the Canadian information highway as an integral part of that agenda. The government's strategy envisages a low cost, high quality information infrastructure that gives all Canadians access to employment, educational, health care, entertainment, investment and wealth creating opportunities of the information age. We have a coherent government-wide program for the information highway and we have been steadily putting these elements in place.

In 1994 we set up the information highway advisory council to examine key public policy issues related to Canada's transition to an information society and knowledge economy. Also in 1994 the federal government released an order in council outlining its policy on convergence, the merging of formally distinct technologies, industries and activities such as cable and telecommunications technologies. This policy focused on three broad areas: network facilities, Canadian content and competition in facilities, and products and services.

The government asked the CRTC to hold public hearings on how best to implement these policies. The commission received more than 1,000 written submissions and heard 78 oral presentations. The CRTC's report "Competition and Culture on Canada's Information Highway: Managing the Realities of Transition" was referred to the information highway council for its review.

The information highway council's final report, released in September 1995, made more than 300 recommendations. On the issues of convergence both the CRTC and the council supported the move toward greater competition. Both also supported policies and regulations that will allow cable companies to compete in the local switch telephone market and telephone companies to compete in the broadcasting distribution market.

Along with the CRTC report, the council's report provided valuable guidance to the government in formulating its comprehensive plan which was published last May as "Building the Information Society: Moving Canada into the 21st Century". In this report the Minister of Industry and other key federal ministers set out a series of initiatives and milestones for developing Canada's infor-

mation highway. Included among these initiatives was the government's policy on convergence.

Canadians now get a range of broadcasting and telecommunications services from their local telephone and cable television distribution networks. Recent breakthroughs in technology mean that each will soon be able to compete with the other in offering a full range of services.

Soon, a range of industries, including telecommunications, cable television, publishing and entertainment, will be able to offer packages of services either in co-operation or in competition with each other. Convergence will change these industries dramatically and will bring businesses and consumers an array of new products and services. It will change the way we work, communicate and entertain ourselves.

On August 6 of this year, the government issued the final text of its convergence policy opening the way for fair and sustainable competition between cable and telephone companies. The policy statement and implementation principles cover three major areas: facilities, content, and competition. They clear the way for cable and telephone companies to compete in each other's core businesses and further advance a series of initiatives aimed at introducing competition to the communications industry.

The policy will allow for fair and sustainable competition between cable and telephone companies. Telephone companies may offer broadcasting services once the regulatory framework and tariffs for competition in local telephone services are in place. Competition could begin as early as the end of 1997.

The policy statement is an important step toward fulfilling the government's commitment to ensure that Canadians can participate fully in the information society. It brings to a close a long process of public consultation and studies. The goal has been to create the conditions needed for fair and sustainable competition, expanded consumer choice and continued support for Canadian culture.

The policy is intended to guide the CRTC as it establishes rules and regulations for broadcasting and telecommunications in the convergence era. It will also provide greater clarity and confidence for broadcasting and telecommunications firms as they enter each other's traditional markets.

The policy statement included a commitment to amend the Bell Canada Act so as to remove the prohibition on Bell Canada and its subsidiaries from holding broadcasting licences. The bill we are discussing today will implement that policy by repealing section 7 of the Bell Canada Act.

Section 7 was put in place in 1968 to prohibit Bell from holding a broadcasting licence. At the time there was a real concern that keeping Bell out of broadcasting and especially cable TV was necessary to prevent Bell from dominating the delivery of broadcasting services and give the fledgling cable industry a chance to develop. However, during the years since, these concerns have been overtaken by a number of technological and market developments which are leading to the convergence of the telephone and cable industries.

I would like to point out here that the convergence policy framework will create more choices for consumers and ensure that Canadian content remains prominent on their screens. While new technologies allow telecommunications and broadcasting companies to offer similar services, the distinction between telecommunications and broadcasting will remain and will continue to be guided by distinct regulatory systems.

For example, when a telecommunications company provides broadcasting services, those services will fall under the Broadcasting Act. Conversely, when a cable company provides telecommunications services, those services will be subject to the Telecommunications Act.

Finally, the telecommunications and broadcasting industries are supportive of the government's goal to foster competition in all matters on the information highway. The Stentor companies, including Bell Canada, have made a commitment to make significant contributions to the Canadian broadcasting system.

Bell Canada is anxious to move ahead with its plans to invest in the Canadian information highway. By amending the Bell Canada Act now, the company can plan for the future with a greater degree of certainty. We cannot afford to delay.

The Clinton administration in the U.S. has launched its national information infrastructure initiative. The European Union has a budget of $3.8 billion U.S. to support the development of a new information infrastructure. In Japan, NTT has plans to wire every school, home and office with fibre optic cables by the year 2015.

If we do not match the efforts of our competitors, they will seize the opportunities for network, product and service development. Failure to build our own information highway will lead to reduced competitiveness and a loss of high growth knowledge industries and high quality jobs.

We will also miss the benefits of the so-called enabling effect cited in the 1992 report of the Information Technology Association of Canada. The report found that the effective implementation of technology not only enabled cost reductions and quality enhancement but also over time led to new products and services to better strategic management and eventually to new ways of doing business and meeting customer needs.

Telecommunications is a pivotal enabling technology and increasingly an integral part of all types of businesses and public sector agencies. Given our many accomplishments in information and communications technologies, the convergence of cable and telephone services offer Canadians many opportunities.

Technologies at which Canadians excel are already creating whole new industries. Knowledge based industries are growing faster than any other sector of the Canadian economy. As one of the most wired countries in the world, Canada has the communications and network infrastructure necessary to take full advantage of information technologies such as electronic commerce.

Technology has already eliminated many of the barriers to convergence. We can help to eliminate the legislative barriers by passing the bill before us. As the Minister of Industry has said, the role of government is not simply to reduce the deficit and then get out of the way. It would be foolish to think that people, businesses or entire industries will be able to take up the challenge of the information revolution without government involvement.

Passing the current bill is a necessary step. But once we have established the policy framework and removed legislative and other barriers to competition, it will be up to industry to make the necessary investment and seize the opportunities to provide the services that consumers want.

Bell Canada ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-57 contains only one clause. The bill's purpose is quite simple: it repeals section 7 of the Bell Canada Act, which currently prohibits Bell Canada and any person controlled by Bell Canada from directly or indirectly holding a broadcasting licence or operating a broadcasting undertaking.

In tabling this bill, the Minister of Industry is following up on a recommendation made by the CRTC in its document on the information highway entitled Competition and Culture on Canada's Information Highway: Managing the Realities of Transition . In this document, made public on May 19, 1995, the CRTC wrote, on page 25, and I quote:

Bell Canada is currently prohibited from holding a broadcasting licence pursuant to the Bell Canada Act. Given the Commission's view that Canadian telephone companies have the potential to contribute to the objectives of the Broadcasting Act, and that they should be allowed to do so, the Commission recommends that the Government amend the Bell Canada Act to permit Bell Canada to hold broadcasting licences.

Last August 6, when the Minister of Industry made public his policy on convergence, he announced that this bill would soon be tabled.

As you can see, it fits into the broad and immediate context of the advent of the information highway, and more particularly of the convergence of telephone, telecommunications and broadcasting technologies.

As you know, advances in these technologies now mean that they are converging and must, to all intents and purposes, be able to merge one with the other. Thus, telephone companies and cable distributors, to take one example, will shortly be offering the same services. It is because of this context that the bill is necessary, so that Bell Canada can eventually transmit television signals, since cable distributors, for their part, will be authorized to provide telephone services.

Bell and its partners at Stentor will be able to provide broadcasting services, as soon as the government has regulated competition with respect to local telephone services, including rates, so that cable distributors and other companies will be able to set up competitive local telephone services.

This convergence of technologies prompted the Minister of Industry to state in a press release this past September 19, and I quote: "The real winners are consumers, who will ultimately have a choice in who provides their services." An interesting statement, is it not? Will the public see its quality of life improved as a result?

The advent of the information highway will profoundly affect the lives of individuals in the first part of the next century. Business, information, recreation, entertainment, work, culture, consumerism, will all be linked to information highway technologies.

This is the reason why, although the bill submitted by the government is not really complex, and might be a mere technicality in itself, the Bloc Quebecois feels that it cannot be examined except in conjunction with the entire aspect of the information highway.

When the Minister of Industry states at the drop of a hat that his approach, based on competition at all cost, will ensure individuals and society of quality of life, we believe the minister is being naive at best, and committing a very dangerous error at worst.

Have the federal government's promises about protecting the interests of Quebecers and Canadians in implementing the information highway been kept, or will they be kept? That is the question. In the next few minutes, I shall direct the attention of this House to the pitfalls that are already a threat to us as individuals and as a society, and those that will be a threat in the short and medium term.

The deregulation process in the telecommunications field has been underway for more than ten years, but the key decision dates back to 1992, when the CRTC introduced long distance competi-

tion. This marked the end of a long tradition in the telecommunications industry which has always been a monopoly. According to the Minister of Industry, the decision should benefit all consumers. But does it really?

As shown in the report on long distance savings by the coalition for affordable telephone services, filed in February 1996, most residential subscribers of companies that are members of Stentor had enjoyed no substantial reduction in their long distance bills since the CRTC opened up the area to competition in 1992.

As you know, the coalition is an umbrella organization for more than 60 associations across Canada. It includes organizations that represent consumers, senior citizens, unions and other public interest groups. It is probably the largest coalition of consumers nationwide.

I would like to quote to the House what it says on page 2 of the coalition's report, which reads as follows:

"Last December, the members of the Stentor group convinced the federal government that they should be allowed to keep the increases-we are talking about increases in residential rates-and not have to reduce basic rates. If residential subscribers remain customers of Stentor for long distance services, they will pay not less than $700 million in 1996 and 1997, and over a ten year period up to $4.5 billion, an amount that would go to the telephone companies without giving the subscriber the benefit of discounts on long distance calls they pay for, discounts to which they are entitled".

The coalition goes on to say that long distance rates have gone down, but significantly so only in the case of wholesale users, mainly large corporations.

In ruling 94-19 and 94-21, the CRTC announced that it would, among other things, authorize a re-balancing of rates between long distance and local services and would therefore allow three increases of $2 each in the monthly basic service rate over the next three years, each increase being $2.

In exchange, the telecommunications companies would commit themselves to reducing the long distance bills of residential subscribers and small and medium-size businesses by the same amount. However, Bell Canada and seven other telecommunications companies that are members of the Stentor group objected to this restriction and filed a petition with the government asking that the restriction be withdrawn.

Forgetting his promises to consumers, the Minister of Industry approved this application by the Stentor group by maintaining the increase in local service rates-$2 in 1996, $2 in 1997 and a review of the $2 increase in 1998-while allowing market competition to continue to dictate long distance charges.

Worse, as consumers were hit by an increase in local service rates without a reduction in long distance rates, the president of Bell Canada was quoted in the December 21, 1995 edition of Le Devoir as saying that the government's decision would result in a 1 per cent increase in the rate of return of stockholders' equity for the year 1996.

For its part, the Fédération nationale des associations de consommateurs du Québec or FNACQ stated in the same article that, in the next three years, Canadian households would have to pay over $1 billion more for local service so that telephone companies can make as much profit as they want.

An FNACQ analyst, Marie Vallée, added that the CRTC's original decision would have translated into a first substantial reduction for residential low and medium volume users of long distance and for small businesses. Unfortunately, this did not materialize.

There was some hope that consumers would now have some breathing room. Unfortunately, on September 6, Bell Canada submitted a new application regarding residential service to the CRTC. This application has two components. The first component is the modernization of the telephone network for some 490,000 customers in Quebec and Ontario by the end of 1997. That is good news. But there is a hitch. The second component is the proposed compaction of the rate scale from 19 to 11 levels, which would lead to an average increase of $1.11 for 850,000 Quebec households. How will the CRTC rule on this new application for a rate hike? I am afraid to guess.

But that is not all. Let us talk about business customers. Last spring, Bell Canada tabled with the CRTC a proposal to harmonize the rates paid by business customers in small, rural communities. As you may have figured out, we are moving toward a new rate increase. In fact, according to Bell, business customers in small, rural communities will have to pay between $44 and $54 for their lines, compared to between $39 and $44 in major centres. Should this increase be approved by the CRTC, it would take effect in July 1997.

Let us think about this for a minute. When a business wants to modernize its equipment or develop new services, it usually has three ways to raise capital: reinvesting operating profits in its modernization, issuing additional shares or borrowing the money from the banks.

Telephone companies have a better system. Because they operate a monopoly, they can increase their rates as they please, with the government's blessing, thereby increasing their profits.

This means that, at present, those paying for the information highway structure, infrastructure and superstructure are mainly the people taken hostage by the telephone companies. Yet this infrastructure will be the property of private companies. I find that indecent.

The effects are both negative and unacceptable to any modern society. First, basic service will no longer be affordable for low-income individuals and families. In a world where communications and information are becoming the cornerstone of societal relations, those who are excluded will be dramatically marginalized. Is that the kind of society the Minister of Industry has in mind? I hope not.

Another negative effect: higher commercial rates will affect rural businesses than others. As we know, access to communications services has become essential to any business. If these services are reduced in any way, or cost more outside urban centres, the message the Minister of Industry will be sending our local businesses is that they should move to larger urban centres. Of course, this would make no sense.

The Minister of Industry must realize that deregulating left and right as he is currently doing produces ill effects. It is true that it costs Bell Canada more to provide services in rural regions than in urban regions. That is true.

It is therefore only normal that the more lucrative urban market is more attractive to new competitors. The resulting loss of income from urban sources forces Bell Canada to charge amounts closer to its actual costs, which, in turn, penalizes the regions. Give the rules put in place by the Minister of Industry, the telephone companies' reaction is both normal and predictable. But it is also unacceptable, totally unacceptable.

The minister certainly cannot believe nor say that consumers and our businesses will benefit from this competition. The facts prove just the opposite. Instead of using their own money to invest in modernization, communication companies pass most of the cost on to the consumers. Worse yet, the poorest consumers and those living outside large urban centres are the hardest hit. The Minister of Industry can no longer afford not to be involved.

Are there solutions? Let me draw the attention of this House to the solutions proposed by the Fédération nationale des associations de consommateurs du Québec, or FNACQ, the National Anti-Poverty Organization, and the Canadian Seniors Network. These groups propose, based on measures successfully implemented in California, to first set a monthly rate ceiling of $15 for the basic service provided to households that have confirmed, through a self-certification process, that their income is below the poverty line.

The shortfall suffered by telephone companies affected would be compensated with moneys from a universal telecommunications access fund. These moneys would come from a supplement charged to the ultimate user of telecommunications services. The providers of telecommunications services would be responsible for collecting these moneys and transferring them to the fund. In return, the fund would compensate the companies providing the service to the poor.

In the case of businesses located in the regions, the purpose of the fund would be to ensure a sharing of access and maintenance costs, which are, of course, higher in the regions than in urban areas. The fund would be financed through a contribution paid by the companies providing the telecommunications services.

The proposals of these organizations were made following CRTC's public notice 95-49, which sought to develop the means to ensure that telecommunications services continue to be universally accessible at affordable rates. CRTC's decision in this regard should be known in the next few days. Let us hope it is the right one.

Public notice 95-49, tabled by the CRTC on November 22, 1995, that is before the government's rejection of rulings 94-19 and 95-21, states, among other things, that the CRTC feels local rate increases, over and above the ones that would result from the rate rebalancing referred to in ruling 95-21, raise concerns about the maintaining and affordability of local services. This should convince the industry minister to rethink his all-around competition policy.

The concerns of the Bloc Quebecois regarding consumers' interests are not limited to wire telecommunications. We are also worried about the consequences, for the public, of implementing new wireless infrastructures, such as personal telecommunications services, multimedia services via satellites, direct broadcast satellites, and broadcasters digitizing.

In fact, beyond the financial consequences for the consumer, the Minister of Industry has not yet told us where he stands with respect to the protection of personal information, copyright and privacy, or with respect to offensive content, child pornography, production of francophone content, affordability, accessibility and universality of these services.

We must look at this bill in the larger context of the information highway. The federal strategy with respect to the information highway is unfortunately being doled out bit by bit by the Minister of Industry, despite extensive, in-depth studies by various organizations. Thus, despite the CRTC report on competition and culture on Canada's information highway tabled a good year and a half ago, despite the final report by the information highway advisory council tabled over a year ago, despite the many departmental committees on which numerous public servants toil away and, finally, despite the Minister of Industry's constant reminders of the need for urgent action, the minister has still only intervened in the infrastructure sectors. By intervene, all we really mean is leaving the field wide open for private enterprise.

I would also point out that the information highway is not really being looked at by any standing committee of the House, although it is an issue of paramount importance for the future of Canada and of Quebec.

I will, if I may, give you an example of how pitifully little has been done. There is the document published by the Minister of Industry last May 23 entitled: Moving Canada into the 21st Century . Everyone was expecting the government to come up with an action plan for the information highway. But all we got was a progress report on implementation of the information highway. The Bloc Quebecois reacted vigorously when this so-called strategy was tabled.

The minister's report made no mention at all of important factors linked to the development of the information highway. Although the minister wants to encourage virtual transactions with the public, he does not say how he will ensure that everyone, every single citizen in this country, will have affordable access to the information highway.

Furthermore, although electronic marketing will create a new economy that under existing rules may be able to evade taxes and even threaten the rights of consumers, the minister makes no mention at all of this issue. Copyright, offensive content and foreign transactions are given very superficial treatment.

In fact, the minister mentions only those problems we already know, without suggesting innovative solutions. Even worse, the minister's document as well ignored Quebec culture, lumping it together with Canadian multicultural culture. Furthermore, the document indicates a willingness to intrude on provincial jurisdictions.

Finally, the Minister of Industry informs us in this report that the policy on convergence would be tabled later. It was released on August 6 by the ministers of industry and Canadian heritage. I may point out that once again, the announcement was made during the parliamentary recess, so that the government would not have to face the usual barrage of questions and criticism.

In a press release, the Bloc Quebecois expressed its reservations about the government's policy statement. So the ministers of Canadian heritage and industry seem to have forgotten that the big players in the telecommunications and cable industries will look after their own interests first, and that the law of the jungle will prevail. The policy statement on convergence has created a climate of complete uncertainty as to the future of telecommunications and broadcasting services in this context.

The bill now before the House comes as a result of this policy statement. Let us see what it says.

First of all, by allowing telephone and cable companies to provide the full range of communications and broadcasting services, the policy statement on convergence makes vertical integration of services inevitable.

Consequently, despite the ministers' guarantees to the contrary, it is obvious that all of the companies involved will see joint financing as an interesting way to ensure a competitive edge. With number crunching, they will find it easier than ever to ensure that no legal stone is left unturned. Major clients will be attracted by price reductions, which will be inaccessible to the general consumer, who will still unfortunately be a prisoner of his monthly bill. This is what the Bloc Quebecois predicted last August, and now we see it happening.

In this battle between the giants of industry, they will no doubt be able to guarantee their risks and their profits, by joining forces through the creation of new structurally distinct companies in which they will be co-shareholders. Already several American companies have joined forces with Canadian ones and have a strong presence in both regular and cell phone service.

Under the guise of healthy and durable competition, the government is moving convergence into the jungle of world competition, where there have already been many, far too many, victims.

You will understand that I regret the federal Minister of Industry's decision to allow market forces to dictate the physical and technical implementation of the information highway. And yet, consumers finance most of it through significant hikes in their monthly bills. I also deplore the fact that the minister is neglecting one of the main stakes in the information highway, namely content development and distribution, whether in the areas of entertainment, professional services or teleshopping.

And yet, it is a consumer market worth tens of billions of dollars. What positions will Canadians and Quebecers take in this market? The answer to this question lies to a large extent in the way issues regarding copyright, tax legislation enforcement, consumer protection, security, privacy, the respect of cultural, moral or civil values will be dealt with at the national and international levels. Unfortunately, these unavoidable issues are being ignored by the industry minister.

And what about the accessibility issue, the danger of a two tier society, one made up of those who are connected and those who are not; those who know how to use it and those who are unable to. I believe that the minister should without delay allow the House to have an input in the analysis and resolution of the critical stakes in the information revolution.

You will agree that this information revolution is going to completely reshape, for better or for worse, social, cultural and economic relationships within society for the next century. So far, the Bloc Quebecois is the only voice to raise this issue in the

House. We urge the ministers of industry and heritage to do the same.

In conclusion, I inform the House that the Bloc Quebecois will support Bill C-57. Our position reflects the fact that the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of healthy and ongoing competition within the telecommunications sector resulting in profitable and competent telecommunications companies.

However, I must emphasize that the Bloc Quebecois will never let the federal government get away with neglecting its duty to prevent them from competing at consumers' expense.

Bell Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Reform

Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to make a few remarks today with respect to Bill C-57, the amendment to the Bell Canada Act.

Right off the top it is clear that this legislation is a housekeeping amendment and Reform supports its speedy passage. Bill C-57 simply removes the restriction preventing Bell Canada from holding a broadcasting licence, thereby allowing it to get into the cable business at some point down the road.

Bill C-57 flows from the government's convergence policy announced in August. Convergence has become one of those words that is bandied about a lot. People sometimes use it to sound impressive, but convergence simply means the coming together of different technologies and industries into a new competitive environment. In this case we are talking about cable companies getting into the business of providing telephone services and telephone companies becoming cable providers, both in direct competition with each other.

As the process of convergence pertains to this bill, we are referring to Bell Canada being allowed to hold a broadcast licence. In the late 1960s the Bell Canada Act was amended to prevent Bell from getting into the cable business in order to protect the fledgling cable industry.

Today with the likes of Rogers and Shaw, companies which have grown enormously since their beginning in the protected marketplace they have had, now the playing field is a bit more level. So this is really an administrative prelude to the more difficult and challenging task of actually getting convergence and the prospective competitors up and running.

The CRTC, which Terence Corcoran of the Globe and Mail has called the Canadian roadblock to telecommunications competition, is currently holding hearings with stakeholders on how best to proceed with the nuts and bolts of the government's convergence policy. I certainly do not envy it that task. Much of it will be concerned with the arcane technical details that must be worked out in order to make sure that any new system functions smoothly for both the providers of the service and for consumers alike.

What is certain however is that convergence will benefit the consumer. It is for that reason that Reform urges the government to push ahead as swiftly as possible in its implementation. Witness long distance competition as an example of consumer benefit.

In 1992 the CRTC permitted resellers to enter the long distance phone market. Competition in other words. To begin with there were many players, some big, many small. Those consumers who switched early will recall dialling multiple access codes and passwords in order to be able to call long distance with their newly chosen provider.

Slamming, or the practice of moving a consumer from one long distance provider to another without their consent, was rife. Many small companies fell by the wayside under the strength of the larger firms.

Along came 1994 and the ease of access provisions. Then we could simply pick up the phone and our long distance call was billed to the chosen company.

During all of this, intense marketing was taking place. Door to door campaigns and multimillion dollar TV blitzes with Hollywood stars were launched in order to woo our patronage. People switched because they saw that prices actually had dropped right across the board. Even the Stentor companies that own the networks were forced to become competitive, all without the due interference of the prodding CRTC. Wonder of wonders: private sector competition in an area of former monopoly control and the consumer benefits.

Well, it will be the same with competition in local phone service as well as in cable. Pricing and service packages will become more attractive and competition will keep the choices interesting. New entrants into monopoly fields will shake up the old ways of thinking and marketing and operating. Stodginess and complacency will thankfully become things of the past.

The convergence of phone and cable, which we have come to be so familiar with, will open doors to new types of service simply due to the inherent properties of the technologies. But there are new technologies coming on line by the time convergence gets up and running that will further stimulate and spur competition. I refer to PCS, personal communications service, the next generation of cellular based telephones, and LMCS, local multipoint communications system, or wireless cable.

Instead of having an 18-inch dish outside your house for direct to home satellite service, assuming it ever gets up and running that is, how about an 8-inch dish on top of your television delivering high

quality digital TV and audio services and high speed Internet access as well? It is just a couple of years away.

Industry Canada is going through the process of granting the first batch of licences right now and PCS is already hitting the market. New technologies make it a more secure and a far more flexible form of wireless telephone service than current analogue or even digital cellular. The types of things it can do make it more akin to land line phone service than anything yet available.

I recently heard an interesting quote. It said that nowadays one should not invest in companies that still employ professional ditch diggers. The inference is that wireless is the way of the future. The once mighty cable and phone companies have more to worry about than just each other with these new technologies coming on the scene. The issue is not without politics either, as if anything in this place ever is without politics.

British Columbia's telephone company, B.C. Tel, was to have been barred from entry into the cable business based upon a historical reality. That reality is the fact that 75 years or so ago, there was not enough interested Canadian capital available to build B.C. Tel's initial infrastructure so it went south of the border for the money to build the system. This was before the cultural engineers in Ottawa decided that foreign capital was a bad thing in a business like a phone company.

As a result of being 51 per cent or so foreign owned by GTE Inc. of the U.S., B.C. Tel apparently violates all sorts of culturally sensitive rules made by the Ottawa bureaucrats. In its questionable wisdom, the CRTC recommended in its convergence report in 1995 that B.C. Tel be denied entry into the cable business due to this foreign content. Let me say that much consternation ensued in B.C. and the Liberals felt some of the heat that might come if B.C. Tel's future in the cable industry was denied.

In its wisdom and in an apparent victory for the industry minister over the heritage minister and her protectionist ways, the cabinet in approving the convergence policy has decided to let B.C. Tel into the cable business after all. Perhaps the thought of a hoard of angry British Columbians was not all that appealing.

We have a bright future for Canada's telecommunications sector. We lag behind in some technologies like direct to home satellites and PCS but we are ahead in others like cable Internet access and LMCS.

Large numbers of jobs will flow from convergence, high tech jobs, and that certainly is good news. In this first legislative round over convergence, I am glad the Liberals have finally come to their senses but I also wish to urge them to move toward turning policy into reality just as quickly as they can. The benefits are simply too great to permit much delay.

Bell Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Liberal York North, ON

Madam Speaker, the bill we are debating today is one of the shortest allowed by the rules of debate of this House. It deals with one of Canada's oldest institutions, Bell Canada, which was incorporated as long ago as 1880.

Neither the length nor the legal wording of the bill can do justice to the sweeping changes which have marked and will continue to mark this company's evolution. We really have to read between the few lines of this particular piece of legislation to see the numerous advantages it offers consumers. This is why I personally welcome the opportunity to speak today to discuss how these few lines of text will affect the lives of Canadians living in the region served by Bell Canada, that is, Ontario and Quebec.

Bell Canada has acquired a world class reputation in the field of telephone services and technology development. This bill will enable the company to put its reputation for excellence at stake in the field of broadcasting, including cable TV operations. It will allow Bell to offer a range of services based on new technologies that are coming into the market.

It is extremely important for legislation that is presented in this House to reflect the changing nature of the world in which we live.

Broadcasting and particularly telecommunications have always been really the two solitudes of Canada's communications system. From the beginning these two fields have been divided by laws, regulation and technology. Technology in particular was a barrier to convergence of the two industries. Now those technological barriers are indeed fading. We are essentially living in an era where time and space are being redefined.

The technological revolution makes it possible for the two solitudes I was talking about earlier to unite and to complement each other. The truth is we now need to change our laws and our regulatory environment to facilitate our entry into this new era of technology.

In 1968 this House prohibited Bell Canada and its subsidiaries from holding a broadcasting licence. At that time the purpose of this restriction was very noble indeed: to prevent Bell Canada from dominating the delivery of broadcasting services and to protect the fledgling cable industry. However since that time, as Canadians are well aware, these concerns have been overtaken by a number of technological and market developments that are leading to the convergence of the telephone and cable industries.

In the future, broadcasting and telecommunications will stake their claim on the same territories. Cable distributors will be found in the area of telephone services, and telephone companies will be at work in the area of broadcasting. This new competition between the two great branches of Canada's communications system will

stimulate investment and innovation. Above all it will give consumers the benefit of an even wider variety of services.

Mention of Bell Canada often conjures up images of a great untouchable monopoly. This is no longer the case as competition has opened up several areas of the telecommunications market, including long distance services. Now Bell Canada will have to face competition from cable distributors and new entrants in the local telephone service market.

The new wireless technologies will provide alternatives to the traditional cable and wire services. For example, wireless broadband or local multi-point communication systems technologies will offer everything from TV programming to Internet access, from multi-media applications to telephone services. Satellite services are another competitive alternative to wire and cable based distribution systems in rural and remote areas. Consumers will be able to select the type of local telephone services they want on the basis of choice, quality and price.

In this new environment, it is only fair that Bell Canada should be able to meet head to head with its competitors in their respective fields. Now that cable companies are well established and about to take on the telephone services market, Bell Canada will have the opportunity to take on the cable distribution market.

Bell Canada's extensive telecommunications distribution network will be able to carry all the products and services which up until now were only offered by cable companies and all the new products that will be introduced as soon as cable companies are able to offer telephone services.

The convergence policy statement and principles released on August 6 will give consumers more choices and will help ensure that Canadian content prevails. Even smaller specialty service providers will be able to access large distribution networks like Bell Canada's and carve out profitable niches for themselves.

Regardless of whether they subscribe to Bell Canada's network, a cable network or new wireless networks, the emerging information highway will provide consumers with access to a range of new employment, health care, educational and entertainment opportunities.

Canadians, regardless of where they live, will be able to open links from their homes to training institutions, educators and distance education. They will be able to access many government services 24 hours a day. Telecommuting will enable many Canadians to work at home through a network which allows them to be in contact with their employers, colleagues and clients. This new work scheme will also cut the costs traditionally associated with working.

When this short bill becomes law it will have a far-reaching impact on the development of Canada's information highway. It sets the stage for true competition between what until now has been the two solitudes in Canada's communication industry. This competition will lead to new innovations in products and services that drive the growth of the information highway and open up an new era of opportunity for confident producers and consumers.

For these reasons I urge all members of the House to support the bill.