Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on Bill C-216, the bill to amend the Broadcasting Act, as presented by my colleague from Sarnia-Lambton.
Some members may recall that I voted in favour of this bill at second reading to send it to committee for scrutiny and debate, which is exactly what happened at committee where we started finding out that perhaps there were problems with the bill that had not been self-evident at first reading or second reading. I would like to briefly review some of the effects of the bill.
The purpose of this bill is basically to amend the Broadcasting Act and Canadian broadcasting policy, and more specifically section 3 of the Act. I would like to refer to some of the items in section 3. For instance, in paragraph (b) it says:
The Canadian broadcasting system, operating primarily in the English and French languages-provides-a public service essential to the maintenance and enhancement of national identity and cultural sovereignty.
A little further, in paragraph (c), we read:
English and French language broadcasting, while sharing common aspects, operate under different conditions and may have different requirements.
We also read in paragraph (d), part ( iii ), and I quote:
Through its programming and the employment opportunities arising out of its operations, serve the needs and interests, and reflect the circumstances and aspirations, of Canadian men, women and children, including equal rights, the linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society and the special place of aboriginal peoples within that society.
I quote these excerpts from section 3 of the Broadcasting Act because I want to make a connection with another issue, and it is that successive Canadian governments have resisted repeated attempts by our neighbours to the south, during free trade negotiations for the Canada-U.S. agreement and NAFTA, which now includes Mexico, to include all cultural matters in these agreements.
We realize and accept the fact that in Canada, certain elements of our culture, because of their very nature, require special protection. Successive governments have resisted attempts by our neighbours to the south to include culture and did so for very obvious reasons, which we find in section 3 of the Broadcasting Act.
This bill will significantly amend section 3, without allowing for certain nuances and reflecting the fact that differences exist in our country. What we have here is a steamroller approach.
Instead of keeping the flexibility that section 3 of the Broadcasting Act offered to the government and to the CRTC, we are approaching it with perhaps more of a steamroller approach, a one size cookie cutter fits all approach, where we do not accept that
there might be these nuances and differences that are worthy of protection and development.
That is why successive governments resisted including cultural matters in the Canada-U.S. agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement. With this act we are essentially gutting that section or the ability of the CRTC to use it and have our broadcasting facilities and infrastructure in the country evolve.
Good legislation should not have bad side effects. This is exactly the case we have today. We have a very well intentioned piece of legislation which I supported at second reading because I was one of those consumers. I was riled at my cable distributor for daring to do what it was doing at the time.
We have a good intentioned piece of legislation which has some pretty serious side effects. That is what we as legislators have to be aware of.
When the Speaker rises every morning to start the debate he calls upon la Providence, the Lord, to allows to make wise decisions and good laws. I would urge my colleagues from all parties, front and backbencher, to think seriously about approving a bill that has some unnecessary, unwanted and pretty serious side effects.
For example, I often wonder: If the CBC ever decided to insist the Réseau de l'information, RDI, be mandatory, could the CRTC make it so if this bill became law? The answer to that is far from clear, although most of the time the answer given is no, it could not. There would be a lot of problems, and it would not be possible.
I find it somewhat regrettable that my fellow citizens in P.E.I., for instance, cannot get RDI at this time, although it is funded by all Canadian taxpayers, themselves included, because RDI has not yet asked the CRTC to do this. But if RDI did ask, the CRTC would no longer be able to comply. I find this regrettable, and it is one of the serious consequences I referred to earlier.
My colleague, the hon. member for Sarnia-Lambton, like all those who were involved in the consumer protests in early 1995, is trying to put an end to the marketing ploy of negative optioning. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a worthwhile objective, as I have said before. I again congratulate him on his efforts in this connection. Yet, in order to be successful in those efforts, my colleague has chosen to take away from the CRTC its power to force cable companies to carry certain stations, in order to comply with the provisions in Canada's broadcasting policy, an unforseen serious secondary effect.
Bill C-216 is a bill of national interest, and one that warrants the most serious examination. Let us take all of the time required to address the questions on which the bill focusses. I will be voting against Bill C-216, not because I support the practice of negative billing, which my colleague would like to see eliminated, but rather because I have the feeling that this bill has the potential to deprive the CRTC of its ability to contribute to the growth of this country's French language minority communities.
Canada is a country peopled by two linguistic communities. We have created institutions with the mandate to reflect this reality and we must therefore ensure that, despite any technical and legislative changes we decide to make to these institutions, this reality is preserved.
If the House decides to reject this bill, I hope that the government will still act swiftly to table a bill that would ban negative billing. There is no doubt in my mind, in light of all the discussions I have had with my colleagues in committee, that the House is almost unanimously in favour of banning negative billing. There is no doubt on this side. But if we go ahead, for goodness' sake let us avoid anything that could be harmful to society. It is with this in mind that I urge all my colleagues, especially backbenchers, to think carefully about the issue, and when they vote, in the next little while or later on, to say no to the negative impacts of Bill C-216.