Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today and speak in the House, as it always is.
I will begin by saying that the New Democratic Party supports Bill C-18, the act to amend Telefilm.
We have come a long way since Telefilm was formed in the 1960s. I think there is a recognition out there of the convergence of new media and the need to adapt to respond to new media and to continue in our fundamental obligation as government to work in cultural industries to promote our identity.
These amendments to change the act of course also came from recommendations from the Auditor General. I think they are very well put forward.
The discussion we are having today comes at a time of a fundamental watershed in Canadian cultural identity. We see ourselves as having built a very successful entertainment export industry. In fact, I would say that our number one export in the world is our artists. We have been very successful at that. We have had a somewhat more mixed success in terms of our ability to compete internationally in our film and television, particularly because we are so close to the United States.
I think there has always been a sort of false discussion about bad U.S. content and good Canada content. The fact is that in the United States we have seen the development of massive industries of entertainment. Over the last number of years a vertical integration has happened in these various media outlets from Hollywood and in music and television, such that it is making it incredibly difficult for other voices to be heard regionally across the United States, for example, but right across Canada.
I will give an example that I read about in Benjamin Barber's book Jihad Vs. McWorld . He describes the impact of the global U.S. entertainment culture. He says that this SpongeBob culture we are seeing is of a depth of only about three or four inches, like water, and it runs on a smooth plane, right across the community. If we look across the community we will still see the church steeples, we will still see the municipal buildings and the schools, and we will ask what kind of effect this mass popular culture has.
But what he concludes with is that children can drown in even six inches of water and we are looking at the spread of this thin layer of what we call popular culture coming out of Hollywood and other massive entertainment industries. Thus we have to ask ourselves, “Where is the room for our story?” A fundamental of any country is its ability to tell its own story. And it is not just to entertain, because we have come to see culture as entertainment; culture is how people group together. It is how they understand themselves. It is how they tell their history. It is how they can reflect their politics. It is how they can see where to go forward. We have to view culture as a multi-dimensional aspect of life. It is not simply our legends. It is not simply our songs. It is a whole fabric of the way a community interprets who it is.
In which case, I would bring us to where we are with the Telefilm discussion. Telefilm has been one of Canada's great success stories. We need to find ways to start improving the tools that we Canadians have in our cultural industries. What we are looking at with Telefilm is being able to move into the new mediums that they are already having to deal with, because, again, it is not just film and it is not just television. Our new mediums go from the web to PC games; there is a whole variety. That is where Canadians are moving. We need our institutions to have the tools to do that.
I fully support where we are going in terms of the Telefilm direction. To give an example of what we are looking at, we are talking about $85 million that would be going to film; $95 million to $100 million to television; $8 million to $9 million to sound recordings; and $9 million to new media, which could be websites or video games and other new technologies. On that front, I think we are definitely moving in a very positive direction.
However, I am very concerned that what we are doing is not nearly enough. I would not want to have anyone come out of today's debate thinking that the New Democratic Party thinks we are fully on the right road in terms of where we are going with our television and our film industries, because what we have seen over the last number of years is the continual downsizing of our government's support for these industries.
These industries need our support first of all because we are going up against such powerful and sometimes almost predatory heavyweights. It is almost impossible for a small film or television company to be able to even get the access to compete against the U.S. giants. We need to support our artists.
Second, there is an economic component. We can see that the money that goes into arts and film has created thousands of jobs and has built some fantastic industries right across the country, but these industries are now in crisis and we cannot avoid that fact. We are seeing a major crisis right across the country, from Halifax to Vancouver, in terms of the power that our film and television industries have. We have to make some very clear decisions as a country and as a government about where we are going in terms of our support of our cultural entertainment industries.
There has been a real destabilizing that has gone on in the last 10 years under this Liberal government. There have been major cuts to arts, which have destabilized numerous of our grassroots, the incubators of culture. We are looking now at our upcoming estimates for future cutbacks: cutbacks to Telefilm, cutbacks to the National Film Board and cutbacks to CBC. On the one hand we are saying we support culture, but on the other hand arts groups and film people across the country are saying, “We cannot even make the fundamental decisions in order to make even basic movements forward because we have been so undermined”.
When we talk about telling our story, it is almost like kitschy Canadiana in terms of how we like to talk about ourselves, like the roller piano from the Klondike and the happy lumberjack story. But the fact is that a lot of Canadian stories are not being told because there is not the needed funding in the areas where these stories are coming up.
For example, I bring up what happened to CBC. We saw devastating cuts to our regional programming. As someone who lives in an area of Ontario that is very distinct from southern Ontario and has a population the size of Saskatchewan, let me say that we do not have even a single television transmitter in our area of northern Ontario to speak to any of the issues that come out of CBC. We have no ability to even be heard on the national scale. We do not have the reporters up there to do that.
We are looking at undermining the distinct voices right across the country. We have to engage the government. In fact, the parliamentary secretary to the minister said it was the job of the opposition parties to make the case. It is unfortunate, but I seem to agree that it has become the job of the opposition parties to articulate the need for the government to commit to restoring the money that has been cut out of fundamental areas, such as, for example, the Canada Council, where we are seeing major cuts being planned on top of the cuts that have already been made. These are cuts which will come directly out of artists.
It is all fine and well for our government to say it loves artists. Well, I love little children and I like baseball too, but that is not really relevant to the matter. What is relevant is whether the government will put back the money to support these organizations so they can continue their job.
It is particularly distressing when we have such major industries as film, television and the Canadian book publishing industry now three and a half or maybe four months away from the new fiscal year and looking at zero in front of all their budget lines because they are being told there is no money. Is there no money? Maybe there is money, because the hon. minister loves arts; so maybe there will be money, but maybe there will not be. The months are ticking down to the new fiscal year and nobody is being hired, tours are not being planned, books are not being published and films are not being made.
So we can talk about a housekeeping bill, which this is, but the house is in terrible disrepair. I support the efforts to take the broom to the front door and clean up around the door, but I really think the roof needs fixing, because there is water pouring in on all levels of our house.
I would also like to say that I brought forward an amendment and it was shot down, unfortunately, but I think it is very important to raise in terms of Telefilm. We are talking about our support for the artists and we are talking about how much we value them. Yet when these bills come forward and we are talking about who sits on these boards, who sits on Telefilm, who sits on CBC, who sits on CRTC, we have no ability to guarantee that people who are committed to the arts community, people who are committed to arts and know the grassroots issues, the front line issues, have any representation on these boards.
Maybe the Telefilm bill is a housekeeping bill, but it would have been a nice foundational structural change to this housekeeping bill if we had said that someone from the arts community, someone who is involved in the day to day business of making a living and helping create culture, was sitting on that board, but that was shot down. It disturbs me greatly, because again it undermines, I believe, Canadians' confidence in our cultural institutions if we do not know why people are being appointed to these boards and who is making the decisions about appointing them.
I brought that forward as a potential amendment and it was not supported by any of the other parties. It is unfortunate, but I think it should be put on the record that we need to say that if we are going to support our artists it is more than rhetoric. Once again, we all love our artists, do we not? But until we start making some firm commitments as Canadians, we are going to continue to see an undermining of our export industries. We are going to see a continued loss of the jobs that have previously helped many of our urban areas. And we are going to see a continual erosion of what we like to call our story. I think that would be a national travesty.
I will conclude by saying that the NDP will support this bill going forward, but we believe the government has to do more. This government has to commit to coming up very soon with some honest answers about where it is going in terms of its funding for the arts, for film and for Canada's book industry. It has to let these people know so that they can get down to the business of doing what they do well, which is creating culture, creating jobs and creating export investments for us as a nation.