That, in the opinion of this House, the government should restore full multi-year funding to the CBC, sufficient to meet its stated public service goals.
Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to move that this House adopt Motion No. M-432. I am proud to have the opportunity to address the House on a subject which is important to Canadians and to our culture.
It is also timely in the minds of the media, due to the current and impending labour disputes. The need for stable and adequate funding for the CBC is also very close to my heart.
Members on the other side of the House will undoubtedly say that after years of cuts they have made a commitment to stable funding. If they say that, I am afraid they are wrong.
Let us look at what funding for the CBC has been since the Liberals last promised full stable funding in the 1993 election campaign. Then the CBC received almost $1.1 billion to run the largest and best broadcast system in the world. The main estimates from 1998-99, however, show a different story.
In 1998-99 the Liberal government allocated only $745 million to the CBC for operating expenses. Granted the government did throw another $94 million into the pot in the supplementary estimates, but it should be noted that $88 million of that was for employment departure programs. In other words, to get rid of people. In short, the CBC operations have been slashed by this government by about $400 million and this has resulted in the loss of over 3,000 employees. It has also resulted in a drastic loss in service for Canadians.
We have seen the closing of regional TV stations. We have seen the closing of local suppertime news shows and we have seen the closing of foreign bureaus, three of them only last week.
Another result seems to have been the chaos at management level. When $3 million gets lost on the radio side of the corporation something is definitely wrong. But when the manager in charge of that problem then gets a major promotion I would say that something is drastically wrong.
Radio Canada International, Canada's voice in the world, was also almost lost and has been forced to significantly reduce its service.
We have seen cuts to the radio and stereo services as well, now called Radio one and two, meaning that almost one-third of the radio programming, before the current round of labour problems, was made up of repeat broadcasts.
Despite the cuts we have seen valiant efforts by CBC employees to finally Canadianize the prime time television schedule, but a large part of the success has been undercut because they have been forced to sell even more commercials during prime time to make up for the cuts. Thanks to this government Canadians now have to endure endless commercials in the middle of national news.
All evidence shows that the corporation is a shell of its previous self when the Liberal government promised stable funding in 1993. Some promise. Some stability.
Just before the last election the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced that there would again be stable funding. She pointed to a single line buried in an old press release.
The government's commitment to public broadcasting is similar to that kind of promise; something to be buried, to be ignored, to be lost once the votes are counted. The arrogance of this will not be lost on Canadians.
Following up on her stable funding promise the minister has, just in the last two months, presided over a significant reduction in the amount of funds available to the CBC through the Canadian broadcast television fund. She has also expressed approval for a new funding proposal for Canadian feature films which calls for an additional $25 million cut to the CBC.
This kind of treatment, saying that there is stable funding and then taking away more money, is perverse. The government has a choice to make and I call on it to make it. Either support the CBC or have the courage to admit to what is actually happening. It is basically giving it death by a thousand cuts.
Some believe that the CBC's future should be to get out of TV and to move into the new media, with specialty programming for children and news. This would be a logical conclusion if the government policy is to discontinue support, through funding, to public broadcasting. I do not believe that is what Canadians want. It may be what the government wants, but once again it is silent.
Canadians want quality radio programming, not repeats, not reruns and not mismanagement. This government even seems to have acknowledged this by giving an additional $10 million to the CBC just before the last election. Now the election is over and that $10 million is no longer part of the overall allocation. The 1997 promise for stable funding is in the same place as the 1993 promise. It has vanished.
A clear example of how hypocritical the government policy has been is reflected in the current labour dispute. During the last question period in the House the Minister of Labour said that the current labour dispute at the CBC has nothing to do with government funding levels. What an odd thing to say. Is this not a dispute about wages, working conditions and job security? Is the core of all these issues not money?
The CBC gets most of its funding from the government. The government funding cuts have created the financial problems which have resulted in the labour dispute. To suggest otherwise is to say that there is no warmth from the sun or that if you fall in the water you will not get wet.
The new Minister of Labour should know better. I had hoped she would be keeping an eye on crown corporations to prevent the use of replacement workers. I had hoped she would ensure that all crown corporations bargain fairly. That is the job of the Minister of Labour, not standing in the House denying reality.
We have recently seen Treasury Board interfering with the CBC to have it include the Canadian flag in the CBC logo. We have seen a member of the board of directors become a leading fundraiser for the Liberal Party and we have seen the CBC launch an advertising campaign, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, aimed at slandering its workers.
The workers and the programmers at the CBC are the ones who have borne the brunt of the cuts. There are 3,000 fewer employees and those still there have been accepting behind inflation settlements since the early eighties. The fact that there is still good programming on the air is mostly due to the sacrifices of these CBC employees, both in terms of the extra efforts they have made at work and in terms of the opportunities they have forgone to continue doing a job they love. For them to be treated this way by management is outrageous.
The CBC board and management were acquiescent when the Mulroney government cut them. They were totally silent when the Liberal government slashed their funding. Now they are finally speaking up to attack those who have kept them going throughout these cuts. Shame on the board, shame on the management of the CBC and shame on this government.
The Liberal government took a situation already made critical by the Tories and made it one hundred times worse. I guess one could say that the government made it $40 million dollars worse and 3,000 employees short.
Now we have a Minister of Canadian Heritage who believes that providing stable funding means cutting back and that the CBC is an arm's length organization as long as some board members help raise money for her political party. We have a Minister of Labour who believes that $400 million in government cuts to a crown corporation has nothing to do with the monetary issues in collective bargaining. These Liberal ministers should look for a career change. They should be asking for funding from the Canada Council to write fiction, not to be in charge of the greatest gutting of cultural programming in the history of Canada.
The Liberal government promised it was not going to cut the parliamentary allocation to the CBC and it did. It promised it was not going to fill the CBC board with a bunch of political hacks and it did.
The government promised it would defend the validity and the vitality of our world class broadcaster. Instead, it has plunged it into rancour and turmoil. Instead of being the saviour of public broadcasting, it in fact has been bent on destroying it.
I am calling on this government to change its disastrous course, to ditch its boisterous rhetoric about concern for public broadcasting and instead truly recommit in spirit and deed to stable multiyear funding for the CBC.
I am calling on this government to leave as its legacy not just more broken promises but a strong public broadcaster. Canadians want and deserve a confident, courageous and clear voice in this multichannel universe. Give us back our Canadian window on the world, on our communities and on our neighbourhood. Give us back the CBC.