Mr. Speaker, I am sure it is of absolutely no surprise to the members opposite that CBC is a rather unique institution. It is an arm's length institution. It has institutional bodies that guide it, that set its priorities.
I am really pleased that there is a debate on CBC North. It is the public broadcaster for Canada's north. CBC North has the mandate to serve all Canadians living in the north regardless of language, culture or locality. It was created in 1958. CBC North brings public broadcasting services to remote and isolated communities which are not economically viable for commercial broadcasters.
Indeed we do have a very unique relationship with CBC. In fact it would be safe for me to say that northerners have a visceral attachment to that public broadcaster. It has made their reality more real to the rest of the world, to the rest of Canada for sure. It has brought in a sense to some of the remotest regions the world news, world events and those in the rest of Canada. It has been a unifying force in this country politically, culturally, economically. I would say that northerners have a unique relationship and a very deep attachment to that public broadcaster.
I do not believe for one moment that I have remained silent or mum on this issue. I may not be broadcasting my views as such for political purposes because I feel that there has been real pain. Really difficulty decisions have been made. Those are difficult things. I think in a sense to go out there and parade around politically on this issue would not be wise.
I am trying to be very careful in picking my words because I do not want to offend my colleagues. I know that they have an equal
attachment and respect for the people who work in the north in that public broadcasting institution.
CBC's northern service is part of the corporation's public mandate as reflected in the Broadcasting Act to reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences and to contribute to shared national consciousness and identity. All that to say CBC North currently produces 220 hours of radio programming per week in 10 different languages. It serves a total audience of over 100,000 Canadians from across the north in radio production centres in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Inuvik, Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Montreal.
CBC North gathers and exchanges the news of daily life in northern Canada. Regional, national and international news is presented every day. It is drawn from CBC's extensive news gathering sources.
Radio truly is a lifeline service for northern Canadians. Mr. Speaker, if you have ever had a Delta experience in the north, for example in my riding where I come from, you will know about sitting in a fish camp and being able to get very important messages about the changing weather, about transportation, about medical services or about any such necessities that are there for the people who live on the land. You will know that CBC is a very real and big part of northern people's lives.
Having said that, on television CBC North produces four weekly current affairs programs in seven languages. Television production centres in Yellowknife, Iqaluit and Montreal present multilingual coverage of major events.
The CBC recently announced decisions to address budget reduction measures. We must get our fiscal house in order, and that means reductions in government expenditures. No federal department or agency has been immune. Everyone has had to tighten their belts. Ministries have cut, departments have cut, crown agencies have also had to cut. The CBC recognizes that it must do its part in this exercise.
In reference to the comments of my colleague from Yukon, this does not make it easy for me to say that it has been easy, that it has been draconian or Machiavellian, that it was easy to do. It was not easy to do. I am not here as a government apologist. I am here to say that there are circumstances beyond the individual, beyond this government.
Yes, we could make our forays to the Minister of Finance, to the minister of heritage, to any minister in this government, but we must remember that the CBC is an independent agency. Its board of directors and senior management are responsible for making decisions on how best to manage its operations within its resource allocation.
On the resource allocation, yes the government has cut programs all across the board. Agencies and departments have cut. That is true. Yes, we wear that. Yes, we assume the responsibility. But the CBC is an independent agency that sets its own priorities.
Government also sets fiscal targets and it is the CBC's responsibility to determine how best to meet those goals. The CBC is guaranteed journalistic, creative and programming independence under the Broadcasting Act, and Parliament must respect and uphold that relationship. The CBC will decide the appropriate budget for the northern service in the context of its public mandate, overall operations and resource allocation.
The hon. member opposite would be the first to complain if we were to interfere with the journalistic integrity of the CBC. The member would be the very first, I am sure. I would understand that. To be quite honest, the CBC would not tolerate having the government's fingerprints all over its priorities and planning. It would not appreciate that. It would not accept that and the member opposite knows that it would protest vehemently. I would also understand that.
The president of the CBC announced decisions in September with the details of implementation and what it means in terms of layoffs still to be determined in some places. No CBC service is exempt. There will be reductions in both staff and programming in English and French radio and English and French television. However, CBC is not abandoning its public mandate to serve Canadians. In fact, it is returning to its roots as being as Canadian as possible and offering a truly public broadcasting service. It will continue to tell the story to Canada and to present a world seen through Canadian eyes.
New avenues have also opened up. Let me say that I am saddened and unabashed about the sadness and the feeling that I have. I do not perhaps share the priorities that put CBC North in its present position. I would have liked it to be different. I feel there has been a disproportionate cut.
I know the north and I understand the remoteness and the people who work there. The north is a small place. Both my colleague and I know intimately people who work there. So it is not a matter of not caring, it is the reality of the fact that the CBC is an independent agency. It has to set its own priorities.
Yes, we as government officials are responsible for the overall fiscal restraint we operate under and the goals that we set as a government. However, we do not interfere at the departmental or agency level or with the crown corporations that set their own specific priorities.
I feel the north is a priority. I believe it provides a unique service. I would like to continue to work with the people who have the authority, but that would be protested. It would be interfering. I am not allowed to do that.
We have heard the issues raised in the House when ministers of the cabinet have interfered with quasi-judiciary bodies. It is not tolerated. In that sense my hands are tied.
I can only tell northerners how important we feel the work that the broadcasting corporation has offered to us over the years. We cannot thank it enough for that work. We must recognize that the CBC has made a valuable contribution to the north and for the unity of the country and for Arctic sovereignty. Over a whole range of issues it has been a unifying force, a cultural promoter. It is a wonderful institution that should be supported.
I support the CBC but there are realities which are beyond my capacity. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this issue.