moved that Bill C-204, an act to require that in the advertising and at the opening of a cultural project supported by public money a public acknowledgement of the grant be made, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House to speak on second reading of my private member's Bill C-204 which was introduced in the House on September 25, 1997.
In summary, this enactment requires recipients of grants of public funds for cultural projects to acknowledge that a grant has been made and to specify the amount of the grant at the time the program is announced or advertised or open to the public. Non-compliance may result in the recipient having to repay the grant.
The legislation is significant in that it deals with the very emotional issue of spending in the area of arts and culture with public money. The cultural industry in Canada is run by bureaucrats, financed by subsidies, yet is virtually unaccountable to the government or the taxpayer from which it gets the funding.
This is a well drafted bill which would require little amendment to the present legislation. It simply calls for the acknowledgement at the opening of an event and then the literature associated with that event of the contribution by the federal government.
We are not talking about direct parliamentary appropriations like the CBC. However, it would apply to grants provided through agencies such as, for example, Telefilm, the National Film Board, the Canada Council, the Canada Information Office and the like. It is intended that specific dollar amounts be advertised. For example, Telefilm's contribution of dollars for the film Sweet Hereafter or of the dollars for Telefilm and Canada Council contribution to the film Kissed .
People reading Hansard or watching this on television should be aware, for example, that the film Sweet Hereafter basically had a subtitle or a subtext which really was the entire plot of the film which was around the incestuous relationship between a father and his daughter. The film Kissed is a film specifically about necrophilia. Necrophilia is making love to a dead body. Canadian taxpayers have paid money into this film.
There are those of you who say art must be subsidized in order to survive. The Government of Canada has recently increased the budget of the Canada Council by $25 million a year. The government spends millions of dollars more on cultural projects through various programs operated through the bureaucracy. Taxpayers are subsidizing these projects and they have the right to know where their dollars are spent.
Many projects are funded through a number of government programs. A project may have received Telefilm Canada subsidies, Canada Council subsidies, National Film Board subsidies and then be broadcast on the subsidized CBC. Let us tally up the dollars and report them to the viewing taxpayer.
This legislation is by no means focused on one region of the country. It is clearly a national concern because these funds are provided across Canada for all kinds of events, monuments, films and festivals.
Statistics Canada recently released the amount of dollars spent on culture over the last three years. The federal government allocated $2.92 billion to culture in 1995-96. Let me repeat that. The federal government allocated $2.92 billion to culture in the year 1995-96.
Federal spending on other cultural industries, which include film and video production, book and periodical publishing and the sound recording industry, amounted to $383 million.
I say these figures very slowly because it is hard to imagine the wanton abandon with which the heritage minister seems to throw Canadians' dollars around on these issues. Federal spending on heritage activities including museums, historic sites and nature parks totalled $624 million. Spending on performing arts was up more than 3% to $109 million in 1995-96. We are talking about very substantial money here.
I am confident that few Canadians are aware of the sponsorship provided by their federal tax dollars for events even within their own communities. Clearly this bill would not discriminate in any way against any particular area of the country. As we all know, these dollars are spent on grants for events from coast to coast to coast. Again, this is reinforced by the statistics mentioned previously.
There is currently no government legislative agenda which would meet the requirements of my private member's bill. There is no partisanship involved in this legislation, as it comes under the realm of all political parties concerned with the spending and the accountability for the spending of taxpayer dollars.
I am confident that today's debate on this legislation should generate meaningful, lively non-partisan debate because it covers a number of points.
For example, acknowledgement of the contributions that Canadians are making through their tax dollars is the same as acknowledging a commercial sponsor. We have to ask do Canadians take ownership of these cultural projects that the Canada Council, Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board, the CBC and other granting agencies give to these projects? Are they proud of these programs or events that are put on? Indeed, do Canadians show any commitment to the fact that their dollars are going out for these projects?
Many individuals and groups have complained about the amount of dollars spent on culture. Some say too little, some say too much. Perhaps some of these complaints are attributable to the fact that it is not clearly indicated when the federal government has or for that matter has not funded an event.
The government is very prone to talking about the $42 billion deficit which it inherited from the Conservatives when it took over in 1993. We are looking at the fact that there have been cuts, but the cuts have occurred in areas that directly impact people's lives, ranging from post-secondary education to health issues, all the issues that are so important to Canadians in their lives.
The question is could we during this period of time continue to sponsor many of these events? Much to my chagrin and that of many people who have contacted my office, indeed we have continued to sponsor these at the expense of very vital issues in Canada. Now that we are reaching the point of having a balanced budget and are starting to focus on the very high taxes it has taken in order for us to get to this balanced budget point, can we continue to afford to spend these dollars on some of these cultural projects?
I cite by way of example an unrelated issue except in terms of comparison. There is a $400,000 expenditure happening, and let me qualify that it does not involve government money, within my own constituency that would see the expansion of recreational trails. And on the other side of the coin there are communities within my constituencies that are just begging for $200,000, $300,000 or $400,000 to put in natural gas because we are dependent on either electricity or wood in the Canadian Rockies for heating.
There are always these points of comparison and in this instance what we are saying is that when the heritage minister says it is only a cup of coffee a day when it comes to the flag program and it is only another cup of coffee a day when it comes to the Canada unity office and only five cups of coffee a day when it comes to the Canada culture grants, I think our stomachs would burn out from a bit too much coffee when it is only one cup of coffee a day for these various programs.
I believe what is important is the potential for this to assist in the unity issue by raising the level of awareness of residents of the province of Quebec. For example, the contribution that the federal government makes to their culture is very much. For example, the Just for Laughs festival is a highly successful annual event in Montreal funded by the Canadian taxpayer. Why not advertise that fact?
As mentioned, many short feature films funded by Telefilm would not have been made without taxpayer dollars. As a matter of fact, of the total number of films funded by Telefilm, over half the total number of films have been sponsored in the French language specifically with Quebec content. So why not advertise not only the government funding but the amount that the taxpayer has provided? Give credit where credit is due, to the taxpayer.
Furthermore, this could well raise the awareness in the province of Quebec to the dollar contribution provided by all Canadian taxpayers to Quebec's language and culture.
This bill is also about accountability. Because of the extended visibility of the grant as a result of this advertising it will make the adjudicators, whether it be the Canada Council or Telefilm or any of the others, more conscious of the reaction of Canadians to the choices they are making. If the choices are good, they will receive positive applause and if not, Canadians will come down on them.
I was sent to this Chamber to be accountable to the people in my constituency, indeed to all the people in Canada, for the intelligent use and the intelligent spending of taxpayer dollars.
When I took this issue to the artists at the finance standing committee in its prebudget hearing, I said that if I did not want to be a critic, how could we possibly have accountability for this?
The artists' answer was that fundamentally they would be the judge, that they would judge whether this was money well spent or not, that they would judge whether this has artistic credibility or not.
I then took it to the minister because that answer was obviously unacceptable. I would like to read in part some of the dialogue, some of the testimony that occurred between the minister and me.
I read from the proceedings of the committee. I said: “We have on a weekly basis, without any solicitation whatsoever, at least a dozen letters from people who express a tremendous concern about some of the projects that are sponsored by the Canada Council. In a letter by Andrew McDermott, one of your senior policy advisers to my colleague, when he drew to your attention the particular publication that was called Neurotic Erotica the letter said—”. The minister ended up making very light of this letter. Obviously this is a rather unusual title. In fact, the content in my humble judgment of this particular book is clearly obscene.
I went on to say, however: “I am not the censor. I do not want to become the censor as a politician or to be a censor for Canada, but I do ask the question how in the world can Canadians who are writing to me and who are writing to many of our colleagues to express extreme distaste toward some of this material, how can they hold you, the minister, accountable for the expenditure of these dollars on the production of some of this vile material?”
The minister answered: “I think you have to separate the two issues. First of all, you say you do not want to be a censor. Surely you do not want me to read every book that is funded by the Canada Council”.
She went on to say that if someone goes to the O Canada exhibit, it does a whole analysis of how the Group of Seven was treated in 1920. They were treated as artistic pariahs. Then she went on to compare today's pornographers to the Group of Seven. This is the minister of heritage. I could not believe my ears when I heard her actually say this.
The point of this is that we have today a minister who correctly boasts that the government is taking action against abominable activities such as female genital mutilation. Yet by the same token and under the Canada Council grants it is sponsoring programs about tearing off women's nipples.
This is absolutely unspeakable and uncalled for. It gets worse, but for the benefit of the members of this House and people reading this transcript or watching on television, I will simply say the problem is that some of the material is so vile, some of the material is so bad that there is no way that I would demean myself to repeat what it is all about. Yet the Canadian taxpayer is paying for it.
What this bill would do is hold the people who make these decisions accountable to the will and the position of the Canadian public at large. That is what this bill is about because at the end of the day, the Canadian taxpayer must know that this House is going to be holding the people in this House accountable for the expenditures of those dollars.
With that in mind and because of the importance of this, Mr. Speaker, I wonder if you would see if there is unanimous consent to make this bill votable.