Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-216.
I congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Sarnia-Lambton for bringing forward this private member's bill. He did so in response to consumer reaction as a result of the negative billing by cable companies in January 1995.
The bill in its initial stages was widely supported and went to committee and now we have the amended version before us. It seems a lot has happened over the summer and some people are expressing concerns. My colleague for Ottawa-Vanier outlined some of those concerns and I really have to ask why.
First, let us look at some facts. In committee on May 30, 1996 the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage moved an amendment to Bill C-216. The amendment was adopted by the committee and the bill was reported back to the House as amended. The bill now includes a reference to cable companies serving 2,000 or more subscribers. This was added to address concerns from certain small time cable operators who claimed that for technical reasons they would be unable to comply with the bill as originally drafted.
The phrase "non-mandatory pay or speciality service" was added to address concerns expressed by the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier who argued that the bill as originally drafted would somehow prevent the CRTC from requiring certain special-
ity services to be carried as part of the basic service offered to all cable subscribers.
Finally, a change was made to allow for the substitution or addition of a new channel when there is no change in the price charged to the consumer.
Bill C-216 applies only to non-mandatory pay or speciality TV services. The CRTC will continue to decide if a channel is mandatory or not. This bill does not affect existing channels such as RDI, CBC, CTV, TSN or MuchMusic. Small cable companies of less than 2,000 subscribers, which are mostly in rural areas, have been exempted from this bill. This bill does not prevent cable companies from substituting one channel for another provided the price does not increase. The facts speak for themselves. This bill should be supported.
My colleague for Ottawa-Vanier talked about the side effects, the debate of lots of discussion this weekend, the side effects and the need for flexibility. An article in the Globe and Mail on the weekend talked a considerable bit about what those perceived side effects might be:
Leading the charge against the bill is André Bureau, a former chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and now president of Astral Communications Inc. of Montreal.
Mr. Bureau argues that passage of the bill would effectively kill the chances for success of any new French language speciality service.
Astral has a stake in two speciality channels that were approved this month by the CRTC.
Those comments by Mr. Bureau are not exactly coming from a non-biased observer. That individual has a special interest in terms of maintaining the power they have at the moment.
I want to outline that on that point of flexibility and concern for the speciality channels, especially in the area of language, it is not a concern that I have ruled out of hand. I have thought seriously about it over the weekend. I agree with many others that there is a need for those speciality channels. There is a need for those issues to be cabled into the livingrooms of people so that they can see, listen, debate and learn more from those kinds of channels.
After serious thought I believe that concern can be addressed in other ways. There is still room for flexibility as a result of Bill C-216. I have only thought about it for a couple of days but one such way would be by offering a package inclusive of that speciality channel that may be required by the country. A package could be offered, the package could be priced and that channel could be part of the package. That way that service could be provided.
I am suggesting that the facts speak for themselves. The concern raised by the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier in terms of flexibility is not a legitimate concern. I encourage all members of the House to protect the consumers' interests and support Bill C-216.