Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to rise before the House to address the motion put forward by the hon. member from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Essentially it calls upon this government to restore adequate multi-year funding to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation so it can fulfill the mandate that was entrusted to it by the Government of Canada so many years ago.
Over the years the CBC has played an essential role in helping Canadians to develop a better understanding of themselves as a people, and of the different culture enclaves that together have helped make up this great country of ours.
The CBC was established on November 2, 1936 by an act of parliament. This new agency succeeded the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission which was first created in 1932 to help regulate a still relatively new broadcasting industry.
Canadian interest in broadcasting has existed since the beginning of this century. In 1918 the first experimental broadcasting licence was issued to the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Montreal by the department of naval service under the authority of the Radiotelegraph Act of 1913. Two years later public broadcasting was well under way in Canada.
By 1928 the number of Canadians who had access to radio broadcasting had jumped to over 400,000 and already the alarm bells were ringing about the undue influence U.S. broadcasts were having on Canadian listeners. Studies conducted back then indicated that Canadian listeners preferred U.S. broadcasting over Canadian broadcasting. These findings were largely due to inadequate coverage provided by Canadian transmitters and a superior quality of programming being offered by the U.S. industry.
The Canadian government of the day under Progressive Conservative Prime Minister R.B. Bennett recognized the danger increased U.S. programming posed to our Canadian culture and immediately set out to find ways to help bolster our broadcasting industry. The government was concerned that our culture would be engulfed by our powerful neighbours in the south and therefore it sought ways of maintaining and promoting our own distinct culture. It had the fortitude and the insight to recognize that Canadian culture is something we should be proud of and that it is something worth preserving.
In 1929 the Aird commission recommended that some form of public broadcaster be created, operated and controlled by Canadians so Canadians could be exposed to Canadian programs. Prime Minister R.B. Bennett appointed a parliamentary committee to further review the Aird commission's recommendations. In 1932 the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act became law creating the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission.
Fortunately, the Reform Party was not in existence in the 1920s for I am certain it would have fought tooth and nail against the need for encouraging any Canadian broadcasting, particularly when our airwaves were already saturated with U.S. programming.
I believe the decision to create a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has paid huge dividends over the years as Canadians from coast to coast have developed a better understanding and a greater appreciation for the different challenges facing Canadians across this great nation. Over the years the CBC has been the vital link that has helped bond this country together in both good times and bad.
There is no denying the fact that the CBC has helped shape the cultural fabric of this country. Who can question the impact the great Foster Hewitt had on Canadian hockey and on Canadian nationalism? Foster Hewitt's riveting broadcast of the 1972 Canada-Russia series brought Canadians to their feet helping create a fervour for Canadian nationalism that had not been seen or felt in years.
The CBC has helped launch the careers of so many successful Canadian performers. I think all maritimers in the late 1960s and early 1970s recognized the enormous talents of a wonderful singer from Springhill, Nova Scotia as she springboarded from CBC's Don Messer show to international stardom. Obviously I am referring to the internationally renowned recording star Anne Murray, one of my personal favourites.
What would a Friday night have been without Canadians sitting around television sets watching Canada's longest running variety show with the host the great Mr. Tommy Hunter? I could go on with many others: La Soirée canadienne , Hockey Night in Canada , Wayne and Shuster .
I do not think one can deny the importance the CBC has played in helping Canadian artists achieve their goals and success in both Canadian and international markets. The CBC helped open the doors for today's performers who, if the Grammy awards are any indication, are making a lasting impression on audiences throughout the world.
There is no questioning the importance of the CBC to the promotion of Canadian culture. Unfortunately over the past number of years the CBC has been victimized by substantial government cuts.
Despite Liberal promises in 1993 to provide stable multi-year financing for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the CBC has instead witnessed this government cut its funding by $414 million between 1994-95 and 1997-98. These drastic cuts have resulted in a reduction in services and permanent layoffs of thousands of employees.
These cuts were considered so drastic, even possibly threatening the future of the CBC, that its president, Anthony Manera, resigned in March 1995 in protest. This comes from a government that preaches the importance of protecting and promoting Canadian culture.
In February 1997 the Canadian heritage minister attempted to deflect some of the criticism being levelled against her government over broken red book promises by announcing $10 million for CBC Radio and stable funding for five years after 1998. This stop-gap measure was widely criticized, as expressed in a February 12, 1997 article in the Globe and Mail which stated, “It's half baked and it's neither here nor there. All it does is acknowledge that they made a mistake”.
Canada's broadcasting industry is in a state of flux. Canadians can likely expect many changes in the upcoming years as the CRTC recently held public hearings to review such things as Canadian content criteria, new specialty TV services, a review of the policy on Canadian TV programming, and a review of Canada's radio policy, just to name a few. As well, for the first time in seven years the CRTC will completely review all of the CBC's licences. These reviews will undoubtedly result in changes in how Canada's broadcasters conduct their everyday business.
The CBC itself is in a state of transition. CBC president Mr. Perrin Beatty has confirmed that he was not offered a second term by this Liberal government and that he will resign come October of this year. It has been widely rumoured that relations were strained between the corporation's chairperson and the president over their vision of the future role of the CBC in this ever-evolving technological world we live in.
By offering the chairperson another five year appointment to the CBC board, it appears that her vision will likely prevail in years to come which would not appear to bode well for the existing structure of the CBC.
The CBC operates independently of government. As such, the federal government has no legislative authority to intervene directly in the corporation's management of its resources and its operations. However, if recent Liberal government actions are any indication, the CBC's independence will soon be brought into question.
The proposed changes contained within Bill C-44 that would have effectively changed how the CBC board members, including the president, are appointed from serving in good behaviour to serving at pleasure of the government were only withdrawn after public protest forced the government to withdraw these proposals. This subtle little change could have effectively compromised the integrity and independence of the CBC.
It is no secret that the Prime Minister maintains a personal dislike for the CBC.
For these reasons it is important that all Canadians remain vigilant against further dismantling of a Canadian institution that has served the Canadian interests so well over these past 67 years.
If Canada is to have an identity and a culture separate from that of our southern neighbours, it is crucial that the CBC network continue to exist and prosper so Canadians separated by distance can remain bonded through technology.
I want to congratulate the member for Dartmouth for having put forth this motion that is obviously in defence of Canadian culture as well as the CBC. I am not certain that it is the appropriate time to introduce such a motion. It might be more prudent if we were to wait and see the direction the new CBC president will propose for our public broadcaster.
It would also be beneficial if we had some indication from the CRTC as to changes in the rules and regulations broadcasters will be forced to abide by in the future. Regardless of the decisions taken here today, it is vital that we maintain an effective Canadian public broadcaster so we can continue to promote Canadian culture and continue to deliver Canadian talent. Part of making this work would be for the government to sit down and put some serious offers on the table for the negotiations in the ongoing dispute.