House of Commons Hansard #98 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crtc.


Customs ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

A recorded division on Motion No. 1 stands deferred.

The recorded division will also apply to Motion No. 2.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, the vote on the motion is automatically deferred until Monday but I believe you would find unanimous consent in the House to further defer the vote until the end of government orders on Tuesday next week.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is that agreed?

Customs ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


Customs ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, I believe you would also find consent in the House to see the clock as 1.30 so that we may proceed to the consideration of private members' business.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is it agreed?

Customs ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


Broadcasting ActPrivate Members' Business

12:45 p.m.


John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

moved that Bill S-7, an act to amend the Broadcasting Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to initiate debate on the bill.The purpose of Bill S-7 is to amend the Broadcasting Act. The summary of the bill states:

This enactment amends the Broadcasting Act in order to enable the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to make regulations establishing criteria for the awarding of costs, and to give the Commission the power to award and tax costs between the parties that appear before it.

Within the context of the bill, I bring the full attention of hon. members to one significant area that requires further elaboration and is the basis for the amendment that I am advancing.

Consider the following. We know that under sections 56 and 57 of the Telecommunications Act, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, has the power to compensate the organizations or individuals appearing before it during proceedings on telecommunications. The act also authorizes the CRTC to establish the refund criteria and to determine to whom costs will be paid and by whom.

Conversely, the Broadcasting Act does not envision such provisions. Consequently, the CRTC has no power to either award costs or establish the criteria of awards under this act. This is an imbalance that causes concern and requires immediate rectification.

Why is it essential to amend the Broadcasting Act?

First, the amendment brings the Broadcasting Act into concordance with the Telecommunications Act, where the rights for cost recovery have existed for years.

Second, convergence and the information highway have created deep interplay between telecommunications and the broadcasting services used by the public, such as news media and the Internet. Often the CRTC has been faced with issues involving both the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act. Regardless of the validity of the arguments presented, the CRTC has been able to award only costs covered under the Telecommunications Act but not under the Broadcasting Act, even though the information provided under both acts has proven pertinent and value added.

Third, the vastness of the funding available to media companies is an outright contrast to the financial limitations faced by consumers and their representative groups. This condition therefore creates imbalances and inequalities that are inconsistent with our democratic system. Substantive and effective participation by consumer organizations representing the interests of citizens is often hampered by financial limitations owing to the fact that detailed research studies and expert assistance are very costly.

Fourth, this much needed amendment brings into symmetry and balances both acts. Thus, consumers will be fairly treated in all proceedings before the commission whether conducted under the Broadcasting Act or the Telecommunications Act.

Fifth, other regulatory agencies in Canada provide for the payment of intervener costs. Many tribunals that regulate public utilities or important public services award costs of public interest interveners to reimburse them for their intervention.

Sixth, this amendment will be extremely beneficial to the Canadian public. Cost awards would allow consumers and public interest groups as well as individuals to develop thorough research and substantial evidence to represent effectively the interest of citizens in broadcasting and cable television policy and regulatory proceedings at the local or national level. Locally, this amendment would permit our constituents to effectively challenge cable TV issues such as rate increases, channel packaging or licensing conditions of local broadcasters.

The issues examined by the commission could have wider repercussions on the population in general. For example, national issues such as television policy or cable television distribution regulations or more specific issues, such as the rate consumers pay for cable television services, could be potentially at stake.

Seventh, consumer groups across Canada strongly support this initiative since they are aware of the importance of equal representation under the Broadcasting Act.

Among the organizations supporting the proposed amendments are: the British Columbia Public Interest Centre, the Public Interest Law Centre, the National Anti-Poverty Organization, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Library Association, the Manitoba chapter of the Consumers' Association of Canada, and the list goes on.

Again I must point out that the high level of citizen participation in telecommunications matters cannot be compared to the level of citizen participation in broadcasting proceedings, for one reason. Simply stated, they have not been able to secure their participation because of financial restraints.

The issue of effective citizen participation has become even more relevant since the bill was first introduced. Over the past several months the CRTC has instituted a number of proceedings relating to convergence, pricing, service and industry consolidation, which are of great interest and relevance to consumers.

For example, broadcasters and cable companies will be changing the technology they use for broadcasting television signals from analog to digital. This will cost at least several hundred million dollars and change how channels are packaged and sold to consumers. Consumers will also be required to purchase new televisions or rent digital decoders. Who will bear the companies' costs? How will this technological change affect the pricing and choice of programming and channels for consumers?

Another example is the community channel on cable television. Four years ago many community groups lost access or control of their channel through regulatory changes. This year the CRTC initiated a review of this policy as well as new rules for the creation of community based over the air television. Without good legal representation, research and other resources, consumer groups were hard pressed to put forward good evidence and a strong case to strengthen community television at the local level. How can we expect the system to truly change to benefit our constituents without sufficient resources?

Without the ability to recover costs related to the gathering of substantial evidence, consumer participation is limited. While consumers and consumer groups may be able to present short briefs expressing general principles and expectations, they are not able to afford indepth research and testimony. Their meagre efforts crumble under the weight of evidence put forward by the industry.

In our changing communications sector, Canadians deserve answers to these questions. We know how industry and consumer points of view differ and how issues of this magnitude need to be treated in a fair and balanced way for the benefit of all of us.

Who will be funded? Not everyone who appears before the CRTC in a proceeding will automatically qualify for a cost award. With the passage of this amendment, the CRTC will draw the rules of procedure that will be used to determine the criteria for awarding costs under the Broadcasting Act. As with the criteria that already exist in telecommunications rules of procedure for costs, applicants must demonstrate to the commission that they are representative of a group of citizens, that they have participated in the proceedings in a responsible way and that they have contributed substantially to a better understanding of the issues in question. These are rigorous tests.

Who pays for these cost awards? The costs are met by companies that come under the jurisdiction of the CRTC and that took part in the proceedings and will be affected by the outcome. One of the principles of reimbursement is to compensate deserving interveners for the costs incurred by an intervention based on the fair market value of the work performed. Like the costs for company representation, the funds come from the key industry interveners services budget. This procedure will be the same as that already in place under the Telecommunications Act.

In exercising its responsibility under the Broadcasting Act, the CRTC is given decision making powers that are important for and have a great impact on Canadians' association with the promotion of Canadian culture, the setting of rates, the introduction of competition and the resolution of stakeholder disputes.

Under paragraph 3( d )(i) of the Broadcasting Act, the commission is instructed to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada. Therefore, for the process of decision making to be congruent with our Canadian principles of fairness and equity, it is vital that the process be conducted on the basis of openness, impartiality and transparency.

The amendment therefore affords us the opportunity to translate these principles into functional ones so that the results of wise governance may be delivered effectively in these important regulatory hearings.

I would like to remind colleagues that the spirit and intent of the bill rests with the concept that every democratic society should foster active citizen participation in public issues. Modern democratic life requires an active role from the population and needs participation from members of the community. It should no longer be the case that those who are governed act only to elect. They are then governed without any opportunity to interact with the governing institutions.

By increasing the participation of public advocacy groups in CRTC proceedings though Bill S-7 we would render a service to our own institutions, allowing them to make use of valuable information. We would also be making way for more reasoned decisions and a better understanding of the concerns and aspirations of our society, as well as allowing all parties to work in a co-operative fashion toward possible solutions.

In closing I would like to stress that Bill S-7 would allow each and every one of us to empower our constituents to be fairly and equally represented in all matters related to broadcasting and cable TV, both locally and nationally.

Broadcasting ActPrivate Members' Business

12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House again to debate Bill S-7, an act to amend the Broadcasting Act.

The bill was introduced in the Senate and passed in June. Essentially the intent of the bill is to permit the CRTC to establish criteria that would allow the awarding of costs to interveners in broadcasting proceedings. Currently it has the power to award costs in telecommunications cases. The wording of the bill states:

The Commission may award interim or final costs of and incidental to proceedings before it and may fix the amount of the costs or direct that the amount be taxed.

The Commission may order by whom and to whom any costs are to be paid and by whom they are to be taxed...establishing the criteria for the awarding of costs--

The intent of the bill seems reasonable and it is something that can be studied further in committee. However, the concern on this side of the House is that the timing of the legislation is perhaps a little inappropriate.

The Canadian heritage committee is currently reviewing the Broadcasting Act and will, without a doubt, focus on the CRTC's mandate.

Bill S-7 proposes that the awarding of costs would allow individuals or groups to come together with the opportunity to develop well researched evidence to present to the CRTC hearings. The opportunity to provide the awarding of costs to interveners would, according to the sponsors of the legislation, allow expert advice and testimony at hearings.

For those who sit on a committee and who are involved in parliament, as it is for witnesses who go before a committee, such as witnesses who go before the CRTC, it is imperative to come to conclusions on legislation and on their ideals. We applaud the essence of what the legislation is trying to do.

In May 2001, the government announced the long awaited review of the 1991 Broadcasting Act. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage requested submissions by Internet during the summer. We were hopeful for an early fall commencement of hearings. The Canadian Alliance agrees with the necessity of a review and it is anxious to participate in hearings that will host a wide range of differing opinions. However, at its present rate of speed, the review will not be completed by May 2002.

It must be recognized that technological changes are rushing opportunities of choices for consumers at the speed of light. The committee must be mindful that by the time the recommendations are put to paper, everything may have changed.

This brings me back to the reasons that it is it is not possible to support Bill S-7 at this time.

Legislation respecting the Broadcasting Act, whether it is the CRTC or otherwise, must not be dealt with prior to the completion of the Canadian heritage committee's study of the Broadcasting Act. To put forward legislation on a matter that is still in the process of being reviewed by the committee would be pre-emptive of the process.

I have a copy of a letter from the CRTC deputy commissioner of competition. It was written to the clerk of the committee on September 14, 2001. The letter states:

In general, the Commissioner is interested in examining and reporting upon the extent to which competition and market mechanisms have historically and may, going forward, be relied upon to realize the core objectives of the Broadcasting Act. For this purpose, the Commissioner will examine and make recommendations regarding the broadcasting policy objectives, the current regulatory model and its environment, and proposals for legislative and regulatory change.

The Canadian Alliance believes there cannot be any legislation put forward at this time which would pre-empt the recommendations of the study due to be released next year.

Furthermore, the committee has requested that the chair of the CRTC, David Colville, attend the committee to discuss his understanding of the proper constitutional relationship between parliament, its committees, federal commissions and their respective roles.

There is concern at this time that decisions made by the CRTC during the course of the heritage committee study may require the CRTC to impose regulatory changes on broadcasters and consumers long before the study is completed. Stated clearly, current CRTC decisions must not allow any unfair advantage while the committee is conducting the study.

Throughout the course of the hearings we must ask ourselves if the CRTC continues to be relevant or whether its purpose would be better served in an alternative regulatory body rather than under the arm of the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Department of Industry.

No one is questioning the relevancy of these regulatory bodies. We know there needs to be a regulatory body but as we discuss and study the CRTC and its mandate there are many things that will be brought out regarding its responsibilities.

We know the CRTC has a mandate to license and regulate broadcasters. We also know the CRTC is in charge of telecommunications. Part of telecommunications, especially phone companies and the use of telecommunications in rural Canada, will possibly be discussed at the hearings.

One of the concerns of Canadians is what is happening to rural Canada and agriculture. What the government, the CRTC and different bodies can do is look at what may be viewed as insensitivity toward some of our rural areas in regard to telecommunications.

When we look at some of our large metropolitan cities, all the business of the residents of those communities is carried out in the metropolitan area. One of my frustrations in rural Alberta is that every time we call the neighbouring town down the road where we do much of our business we are calling long distance. Towns in other parts have come together and the local call is broadening out a bit.

One of the things we need to look at is where people are doing business, where children are going to school and where people are carrying out their normal activities. In rural Canada local telephone calls are made not just to the closest small rural town but to many places. They are made to many small locales and little communities.

Bill S-7 does not and is not intended to answer all the questions of the CRTC. I fully understand that. However it sets the criteria for awarding costs in broadcasting proceedings. It is therefore not possible for the Canadian Alliance to support any legislative changes that would affect either the CRTC or the Broadcasting Act until the committee hearings are complete and recommendations are put forward.

As we have said, the content of the bill is good. The timing of the bill is bad.

Broadcasting ActPrivate Members' Business

1:05 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Madam Speaker, Bill S-7, which I am speaking to today, aims to amend the Broadcasting Act to enable the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to make regulations establishing criteria to determine how the CRTC may authorize the reimbursement of the costs incurred by a party appearing before it.

According to the CRTC, an official designated by the commission would examine the costs and determine their eligibility. The parties covered by Bill S-7 are primarily members of the public and consumer groups. At the moment, the CRTC is empowered to compensate individuals appearing before it regarding any matter under the Telecommunications Act, but it cannot intervene in the same way for matters arising under the Broadcasting Act.

If passed, this bill, introduced by my colleague Sheila Finestone, the former member for Mount Royal, and I recognize the member who has replaced her, now a senator and for whom I have considerable esteem, would harmonize these two laws and broaden the capacity of consumers or consumer groups to better assert their rights in the matter of broadcasting.

As we know, the big broadcasters and telecommunications companies have phenomenal sums available to them. According to the senator, the radio-telecommunications industry has annual revenues of some $20 billion.

Clearly, the situation is very different for consumers, given the cost of collecting data, and paying honoraria for experts to do quality research and the time required for drafting briefs.

The gap between the public and the major industries is measured in light years. Individuals whose rights have been infringed should be able to demonstrate the injustice they have suffered. Obstacles of a technical nature cannot be allowed to prevent them. The right to fair and equitable treatment is a basic principle of our democracy.

Bill S-7 would give consumer groups the right to properly defend their interests with the CRTC when there problems involve the Broadcasting Act. This bill would enable the CRTC to make decisions based on properly documented briefs, since the means for their production would be assured. In addition, the means involved to permit costs should not be excessive, because the regulations must provide criteria for awarding costs.

In other words, the CRTC must ensure that the amount spent on preparing a brief is reasonable, before reimbursing the individual or consumer group appearing before it.

According to Action réseau consommateur, a group which has met with the Bloc Quebecois, the situation is as follows:

The principle for appearance costs is to reimburse qualified interveners for the work associated with an intervention based on market value. The CRTC has always followed this practice, which was confirmed and approved by the Supreme Court in 1986. This means that clearly identified cases and detailed invoices must be prepared by the lawyer, expert witness or analyst working for a group of interveners, for submission to the charges assessor. This estimate is set in accordance with a fee scale which generally reflects the maximum market charge for similar services. It is important to note that the payment is for services rendered by recognized professionals and does not go into the coffers of the organization. Frequently, the intermediary organizations hire experts and consultants who are in private practice. Under these circumstances, the reimbursement is for invoices from these individuals for appearance fees, and the involvement of the intermediary organization is merely administration of that reimbursement. These fees do not constitute income for the public interest organizations; they are merely a reimbursement of the costs incurred in making an intervention in the public interest.

We have seen that this amendment to the Broadcasting Act is supported by citizens and by organizations that represent them.

In May Action réseau consommateur and the Fédération des associations d'économie familiale du Québec appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications in their examination of Bill S-7.

In their brief, these organizations brought up another important point. Beyond re-establishing a balance between corporations and citizens, these two organizations amply highlighted one of the reasons why citizens, or the organizations that represent them, must be able to voice their concerns to the CRTC at a time when the television industry is undergoing a complete makeover.

For several years now, the cost of accessing television has climbed steadily. Since the advent of digital television, cable operators have been selling specialty channels separately.

Despite the fact that consumers do not appear eager to pay more for these channels, the CRTC recently approved operating licenses for 283 new specialty digital channels.

Action réseau consommateur and the Fédération des associations d'économie familiale du Québec asked themselves the following question. Conventional television, which was free of charge, was mandated to serve the public interest. How is the public interest better served today?

With the complex issue of analog television channels migrating towards digital, and the resulting rate increases that may ensue, the constant increase in the number of American channels on the Canadian market and all of the questions closely linked to these changes, it seems more than clear to me that the bill currently before the House will allow us, to some extent, to better cope with these challenges, thereby ensuring that consumers' rights are respected.

The Bloc Quebecois will therefore support Bill S-7, since it contributes to encouraging consumer groups in their efforts with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Broadcasting ActPrivate Members' Business

1:15 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of Bill S-7, both on behalf of our party and more specifically with the full support of the member for Dartmouth who is responsible for the bill and our position on it, and who is wholeheartedly in support of it.

Other than the argument we have heard that perhaps it is not the best time to be doing this, it seems to me that there is universal support in the House for the need for this type of amendment to the Broadcasting Act.

As a lawyer in private practice and a litigation lawyer, one who has worked on various occasions for groups who needed this type of support to provide themselves with the resources to act as interveners, it is obvious to me that this bill should be approved by all members of the House.

It is particularly important if one looks at what is happening to our media, to our regulation of it and to the overhaul which I think all parties agree is going on at this time and will continue for some time in the future. From a democracy standpoint, we simply and absolutely require the assistance that consumers and other interest groups will bring to the debate around the overhaul of the industry.

There are some changes being suggested that are quite frankly scary. There are some changes that have already occurred. One cannot help but think that, if we had had greater intervention from these groups, we would have had a better system for both public and private broadcasting.

If one is serious about democracy, one must support the bill.

I will raise a couple of issues that already have been addressed. The whole debate continues around the convergence of the print media with the electronic media, and the mergers of those systems, so that in many respects we now are faced with public opinion being formulated through the media by a smaller and smaller group of editors and producers. That cannot be healthy for democracy. It limits debate and the issues raised. As democrats, we must be concerned about that.

The other issue that caused a great deal of anger was the issue of negative billing. One cannot help but think that if the issue had been addressed at an earlier stage by interveners, it never would have got to the point that it did and it would not have caused so many people grief, including the providers of the service. This type of a bill and the resulting support it would provide to the interveners would really help head off that kind of a problem at a much earlier stage.

There are any number of other areas in the processing and enforcing of legislation and regulations. One cannot help but think that the government would be serving the Canadian public much better if it followed the example in the bill.

Again, I reiterate the need for the bill. Senator Finestone is to be commended for her work in the Senate with regard to it. I also want to acknowledge the speech by the member for Charleswood St. James--Assiniboia. His words were particularly forceful and eloquent at times on the need to have this type of legislation in place and to provide that type of support for the intervening groups who want to provide assistance to the democratic process.

Broadcasting ActPrivate Members' Business

1:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to join the debate this afternoon on behalf of members of the opposition coalition. I will pick up where my colleague left off in congratulating Senator Finestone, one of our former colleagues in this House, for her good work on the bill. I would like to also congratulate our colleague from Charleswood St. James--Assiniboia for his hard work on this initiative as well.

I would also agree somewhat with my colleague from Crowfoot on the point that perhaps, given the fact that there is an upcoming review of the Broadcasting Act that will be undertaken by the heritage committee, this may be the framework that this amendment is placed into, seeing as there will be a review of the entire legislation. Nevertheless, members of the coalition are generally supportive of the amendment.

I would like to focus my comments on some of the points that were made earlier by some of my colleagues.

Sections 56 and 57 of the Telecommunications Act give the CRTC the power to order intervener costs that compensate individuals and organizations for their participation, research and testimony during telecommunications procedures that appear in front of the commission. There are rules that guide the CRTC on this.

This is not the same case for the Broadcasting Act. The CRTC has no power to award intervener costs. I would agree with the points made by my colleagues that we have a discrepancy between the two bills. The amendment would seek to fix that point by harmonizing these two pieces of legislation.

I would like to focus my comments at this point on the purpose and the meaning of intervener funding.

The purpose of intervener costs is to ensure that individuals or groups of individuals who are or may be directly affected by a project under review by the CRTC have a reasonable opportunity to review information submitted by the applicant and other parties, that they have a reasonable opportunity to provide evidence relevant to the application and when appropriate an opportunity to cross-examine persons submitting information relevant to the application and that they have an opportunity to make arguments before the CRTC regarding the project.

It is important that the CRTC hear different points of view on an important decision it will make. Often the voice of individuals without the access to funds or the ability to be involved in the hearing is not heard. The amendment seeks to remedy that.

Why might we put this amendment in place? As I said earlier, it would harmonize the language between the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act, and that is an important thing to do. It would give the CRTC the power to award costs and to establish the rules to award these costs in the broadcasting field as they are presently in existence under the Telecommunications Act.

The details of these rules already exists in the rules of procedure for the Telecommunications Act and will remain the same should they be applied to this act as well. The procedure for cost award is already in existence in the Telecommunications Act and this would also be contained in this act if we went ahead with this amendment.

It is important to note also that this would result in asymmetry of legislation of both rules and procedures and would be fair to consumers. It would allow the full participation of consumers or consumer organizations in CRTC hearings. These people would be able to provide informed opinions which could be beneficial to both the consumer and the CRTC.

The amendment would be extremely beneficial to the Canadian public. Cost awards would allow consumers and public interest groups, as well as individuals, to develop thorough research and substantial evidence to represent effectively the interests of citizens in broadcasting and cable television policy and regulatory proceedings.

There are many other reasons why we should be supportive of this amendment. Many of those points have been brought up by my colleagues throughout this debate. Perhaps the most important one, which has been echoed in this place, is that it opens up a fairness opportunity for Canadians. Canada is a big country in which it is often hard to get from one place to another, but it is important that voices be heard in important decisions and that people have the access to those opportunities to have their voices heard so that good decisions can be made that are reflective of both sides of an issue or of many sides of an issue.

The amendment would allow a greater opportunity for that to happen. Of course individuals would still have to take the initiative to be involved in the process and we would encourage individuals and groups to do that. The amendment would encourage more individuals to get involved in that process and would bring together the two bills, the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act, in terms of harmonizing the procedures for both. It seems a bit unfair that there is one procedure that allows for intervener costs in the Telecommunications Act but not in the Broadcasting Act. We have heard in debate today that most members would agree with that.

Again, we commend our former colleague from this place, now Senator Finestone, and our colleague from Charleswood St. James--Assiniboia for his good work on this issue and for bringing it forward for us to consider.

Broadcasting ActPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill.

Indeed, we would like to compliment Senator Sheila Finestone, who has done an excellent job on this matter, as well as the member for Charleswood St. James--Assiniboia.

I also want to mention another colleague, Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, who has also done a lot of work on the bill.

Bill S-7, which would provide compensation for witnesses to plead their cases in front of the CRTC, is a good bill and we certainly support it given the current situation in the country. I emphasize that phrase, given the current situation, for a particular reason. I think we ought to ask ourselves why we even have a CRTC in its current form.

In this era of the Internet, of greater freedom of speech and of greater freedom in movement of information, why do we have a CRTC that is, in my view, overblown? It is an organization that has influenced and put forth numerous rules and regulations that restrict the ability of the broadcast media to be the best that they can be.

I remember a group of people in my riding that tried to set up an ethnic broadcasting station and the incredible hoops those people had to jump through in order to do that. Why did they have to go through all those hoops and regulations in order to broadcast messages to ethnic communities in western Canada?

If ours is a country that is supposedly a democracy, that promotes freedom of speech and that believes in the ability to communicate between peoples, a right that enables us to live in a secure, peaceful country, then why do we have a CRTC that is putting out more and more rules and regulations every year? Does this not impede the right of Canadians to access information? Does it not impede the freedoms of writers, broadcasters, reporters and editorial boards across the country, their freedom to pursue and write stories and have them heard? Does it not impede artisans, actors and actresses in their ability to use their craft and broadcast their voices across the country? I think it does.

I think the CRTC has become overblown. Limited rules and regulations are required, to be sure, but what is happening now is beyond the pale. If we take a closer look at what the CRTC has become we see a small group of individuals controlling the rules and regulations through which we receive information. They decide what we can hear. They decide what we can listen to. They decide what information we get and what programs we watch.

What right do these individuals have to tell Canadians what we should be watching? They do not. Certainly the original purpose of the CRTC was and remains a good one, but over the years the CRTC has become overblown, like many pseudo-government organizations. It has widened its grip and influence and in so doing is actually violating one of the basic tenets and principles upon which the country was built, the right of freedom of speech.

In this examination of the CRTC that is taking place today, I think we, the CRTC and the public need to take a very close look at how much of a CRTC we need. Of the many rules and regulations the CRTC currently supports or requires, how many should we keep and how many should we remove? That is the larger question.

While Bill S-7 is a good bill given our current context, and we will support it, we certainly believe that on the larger issue we need to take a very close, cold, hard look at the CRTC and what powers it currently has. I would submit that on close examination we would see that the CRTC's powers, rules and regulations that it has manufactured for itself need to be removed. Canadians, broadcasters, artisans and the public do not need a small group of individuals telling us what we should be hearing.

Clearly that violates the basic principles of democracy in the country. Efforts have been made by good people to have broadcasting rights in Canada that would educate and inform Canadians and make Canada a better and safer place. It is bizarre that they have to go through all these rules and regulations and jump through hoops, at great length and expense, to accomplish this goal.

Let us also not forget that this organization uses the taxpayer money. In effect, the CRTC uses this money toward having a small group of individuals restrict the right that Canadians have to information. Does that not seem passing strange? Does it not seem odd that we even established this organization and allowed it to balloon to what it is today, with these expansive powers?

We have been asleep at the wheel. I do not think we have taken a very close look at this organization, which acts not as a facilitator, but as a barrier to the dissemination of information which could benefit Canadians.

Let us look at the CBC. It has a number of very superb programs, be it Ideas on CBC radio or some of the documentaries which it has produced. It also has some programs that are terrible. However, what it clearly needs to have is the right and the power to sell and export those great programs so it can make money and by doing so, it would rejuvenate its editorial boards, its writers and broadcasters. It would also create jobs and perhaps expand and put itself on a firm fiscal footing.

When I travel abroad, I find it heartwarming to see Canadian programs being shown half a world away because of bilateral arrangements.

I think everyone in this House has listened to Ideas on CBC Radio and have been riveted by the extraordinary programming on CBC Radio. Imagine if those programs could be sold to other parts of the world, such as south of the border, Europe and other far away places. Imagine how that could educate people about Canada.

When I travel to other parts of the world, I find the quality of some of the programming quite sad. If some of our Canadian programs were exported and sold, what a benefit it would be to these countries. That would be extraordinary.

The CRTC acts as a bulwark to prevent that from happening. That organization prevents the CBC from exporting this information. It prevents broadcasters and people of extraordinary broadcasting abilities to get their programs out there for us to see. The CRTC prevents that because broadcasters have to go through it.

As I said in my earlier remarks, in this era of the Internet, of open borders and of supposedly greater freedoms, which in fact we have, we have an organization that does the opposite. It retards and compromises our freedoms as Canadians.

I can only stress to the minister responsible, the minister of heritage, that this could be an extraordinary legacy for her if she informed the CRTC that her department would be doing an indepth examination of the rules, regulations which govern the role of the CRTC. If she does that and limits the powers of the CRTC, then Canadian broadcasters, editors, reporters, writers and all Canadians would be better off and we would have a freer country.

Broadcasting ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Serge Marcil Liberal Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, as was explained earlier, the House is considering Bill S-7, an act to amend the Broadcasting Act, which would enable the CRTC to make regulations concerning the awarding of costs. It would in fact allow the commission to award and tax costs between the parties that appear before it.

It is important to remind the House that there is support for the principles of fairness and balance behind Bill S-7. It is also important to harmonize the rules governing the participation of witnesses to the CRTC hearings dealing with either broadcasting or telecommunications. We also need to harmonize the rules for stakeholders and broadcasters who appear before the CRTC. For all these reasons, we think Bill S-7 should be passed at second reading and referred to the appropriate committee for a more in-depth review.

If passed, Bill S-7 will guarantee equal opportunity for all Canadians who wish to take part in the decision-making process concerning the future of our broadcasting system, as is currently done for our telecommunications system.

The transition to a new and innovative economy, from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, does have an impact on what Canadians expect from the government and on the role of the government.

Therefore, in a democratic society, it is perfectly logical to encourage citizens to act in accordance with the decisions by CRTC advisers and businesses that appear before the CRTC to participate in the process and react to it. After all, the broadcasting system uses a public resource and, through its programming, it helps Canadians establish links with one another and get to know their history and country better.

Convergence is an ever-present reality within the communications industry. The convergence of technologies is a key element. The regulatory issues and concerns that the CRTC must face are increasingly connected to the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, and they affect a broader segment of Canadians.

In an increasingly more complex communications sector, the rational approach would be to invite citizens to take part in the decisions that affect them. While the commission is dealing with these issues, one way to promote informed decisions regarding the protection of the public's interest would be to help pay the costs incurred by stakeholders who appear before broadcasting authorities.

If Bill S-7 were passed, the CRTC would have to take into consideration the different nature and character of radio-broadcasting and telecommunications hearings. The former are held frequently: they deal with a wide variety of issues and attract a variety of stakeholders, who are interested in making their points of view known.

Allow me to clarify.

Telecommunications hearings are generally official in nature and take place less frequently. Stakeholders who appear before the commission are usually specialists presenting technical details and economic analyses regarding rates and their impact on consumers. There is normally a cross-examination and no licence hearing takes place. Accordingly, the number of interested stakeholders is relatively limited.

Radio-broadcasting hearings, on the other hand, are frequent, almost regular. Numerous participants, who hold licences, reflect the many facets of the radio-broadcasting system: radio, television, cable, traditional and digital services, pay-per-view television, satellite and direct distribution services, and multichannel/multipoint distribution services.

These hearings tend to be unofficial. More particularly, the number of stakeholders interested in attending radio-broadcasting hearings is not surprising, given that the cultural media have a close impact on the daily lives of Canadians, shaping their identities and how they see the world.

Accordingly, it is easier for an informed and well-spoken citizen to present his observations without necessarily backing them up with economic or technical analyses.

In addition, radio-broadcasting hearings do not include cross-examination, and the hearings deal with matters of policy and whether or not to grant, renew or amend licences.

As for radio-broadcasting hearings, the commission must make its rulings after taking into account competing and varied issues having to do with society, culture, language, ethnic origin and the economy. As a result, the number of stakeholders and areas of interest is much broader.

Convergence has resulted in differences between telecommunications and radio-broadcasting, formerly separate industries. The time has come to standardize the rules for awarding costs.

In the past, when the CRTC held proceedings under the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act, including hearings on the new media, it awarded costs only for representations dealing with one of the telecommunications aspects. With increasing technological integration that will blur the differences between the various communications industries, it will become more and more difficult to assess the contribution of representations made in relation to their impact on telecommunications or broadcasting.

As I said earlier, the objectives of Bill S-7 are laudable in principle, but they will be difficult to achieve. In view of the large number of broadcasting licence renewal proceedings, the CRTC should probably tailor its criteria for awarding costs related to broadcasting to the circumstances and even set a limit in that regard.

The CRTC said it was in favour of harmonizing the rules with regard to the awarding of costs to the parties that appear before it and that it was ready to set things in motion to bring about the necessary changes through a public hearing. In fact, the CRTC wants the public and the industry to be involved in determining what the criteria for the new system would be. Bill S-7 provides for the harmonization of these rules.

The challenge facing the CRTC is to determine what will entitle the parties making representations to an award of costs. According to the rules of procedure in telecommunications, the parties must have an interest in the outcome of the proceedings, take part in the proceedings in a reasonable manner and help the CRTC to better understand the issues.

Broadcasting ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I would like to inform the member that he will have two minutes left out of the ten minutes normally allotted to him when debate on this bill is resumed in the House.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 1.45 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 1.45 p.m.)