Mr. Speaker, as I was saying earlier, perhaps I was a little naive. After all, why should I have believed that the minister was sincere about protecting Canadian culture when she had already abandoned her own principles with regard to the GST?
The minister said that she was determined to rid the country of GST or else she would resign. Now we find her in collaboration with her government colleagues defending the GST as if it was their own initiative. Yes, she did resign and win in a byelection, but is that the whole point of the exercise? Like so many other Canadians, I believe that she opposed the GST as a matter of principle. Obviously she was not as opposed to the GST as we were led to believe.
That begs the question about what exactly this minister stands for. We now know that she does not stand for Canadian culture.
Perhaps I am being a bit hard on the minister. Perhaps she does believe in protecting Canadian culture. Perhaps it is the rest of her cabinet colleagues who have fettered away our Canadian magazine industry just to satisfy American interests.
We must remember that the Minister of Canadian Heritage was purposefully excluded from the final negotiations that were conducted by our Minister for International Trade and his staff with, of course, the direct involvement of the Prime Minister. So determined was the Prime Minister to exclude the Department of Canadian Heritage from the further negotiations with the U.S. he even sent the deputy minister to see greener pastures.
On the surface it would appear that by giving in to American demands we have averted an illegal trade war that could have affected the livelihoods of many Canadians. I say illegal trade war because that is exactly what the U.S. retaliation would amount to.
During question period I specifically asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister for International Trade whether Bill C-55 would respond to international trading obligations. Both of these ministers indicated that this was indeed the case. Therefore it begs the question as to why we would have sacrificed so much of our Canadian magazine industry when in fact we were simply creating legally acceptable legislation that would protect this vital industry.
Did these ministers purposefully mislead the House with their responses or did they suddenly find out that Bill C-55 was in fact a violation of the WTO or NAFTA? Perhaps we have avoided a trade war with the Americans but at what price to our Canadian cultural industries?
For well over 30 years successive governments imposed strict regulations intended to protect Canada's magazine industry. These elected officials recognized the importance of this industry to Canadian culture.
Most recently the former PC government insisted that Canada's cultural industries be excluded from any free trade or NAFTA negotiations. Although the U.S. was very much interested in having Canada's cultural industries brought into the negotiations, the former Progressive Conservative government resisted those overtures. It recognized the importance of maintaining our own distinct culture for generations to come.
The decision to capitulate to the Americans on this issue is going to have long-lasting negative effects for this and any future government that might want to oppose the U.S. during discussions on cultural issues. In future negotiations with the U.S. we can try to insist that we are serious about protecting our culture, however this Liberal government has now set a precedent.
Why would the U.S. or for that matter any other international trading partner take us seriously when we try to convince them that culture is vitally important to Canadians and that it deserves protecting? They will simply look back upon this agreement as an example of how everybody has their price. In this instance the Liberal government's price was $300 million in U.S. or possible U.S. sanctions, a mere one hour of trading between Canada and the U.S.
What exactly is contained in this agreement? No one has adequately explained what was the finally negotiated settlement. Now we know the Minister of Canadian Heritage has insisted that majority Canadian content is a prerequisite to allow foreign investors complete access to Canada's advertising revenue. For their part, the Americans have insisted on a substantial level of original editorial content. What is the definition of substantial? If we have never had any Canadian content in the past, I guess 20% Canadian content would be considered substantial depending on one's point of view.
The minister's office has indicated that the signed agreement between the two countries specifically states that a substantial level of original editorial content will be required. This is a far cry from the minister's insistence of majority content. I was told however that Canadian regulations indicate it is majority Canadian content. Which one is it? Substantial or majority content? If questions or disagreements should arise with regard to the level of Canadian content within a particular magazine, then which definition are we to follow?
The Liberal government is going to compensate Canada's magazine industry by giving it some kind of subsidy. It is too early to predict whether this will have any long term benefits for our industry.
Should Canada's magazine industry feel secure in believing its federal government will continue to provide it with these subsidies well after the furor over Bill C-55 has been forgotten? I certainly would not feel confident with the present government at the helm. After all, it has shown its willingness to sacrifice this industry through its amendments to Bill C-55.
What has this sudden turnaround in our cultural policy meant to our international reputation? We remember that during the MAI debate the Minister of Canadian Heritage stood up with her counterparts from France to denounce any negotiations that would weaken each other's cultural industries.
Last year in Ottawa our heritage minister invited representatives from throughout the world to discuss ways of protecting our cultural heritage. I wonder how these representatives are viewing Canada's capitulation at the hands of the Americans. I would suspect that they are as disappointed as the rest of us because this decision has certainly weakened their position in terms of trying to defend their own cultural policies. How will they defend themselves against the influx of U.S. cultural products when they see that Canada lacked the heart and determination to protect its own?
On the surface the Liberal government's decision to amend Bill C-55 to appease the Americans would appear to be of little consequence when one compares the billions of dollars worth of trade that is exchanged daily between both countries. I think this decision will have a profound influence on all future negotiations with our international trading partners. Canadian culture can no longer be considered sacred in any future negotiations. The Liberal government has told the world that Canadian culture is a commodity like any other and that trying to protect it for future generations is futile.
The U.S. has agreed to 18% access to our advertising revenue before being required to produce any Canadian content. I think it would be naive of us to believe that they will be satisfied with the present arrangement for too many years. Then what? The precedent has already been set.
It is important for all Canadians that we oppose the amendments to Bill C-55. The government may no longer be concerned about the right of our children to read Canadian stories written by Canadian authors, but we are. Therefore, I urge all hon. members to vote against the amendments to Bill C-55.