That, in view of the ratification by Canada of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the House insist that the government, its departments and agencies maintain the program policies and regulations in support of Canada's artistic sector and cultural industries, in particular, by maintaining or enhancing: (a) existing Canadian cultural content requirements; (b) current restrictions on foreign ownership in the cultural sector; and (c) financial support for public broadcasting in both official languages.
Mr. Speaker, first of all, it is important to remind the House what the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions is and how it was created.
Last fall, on October 20, 2005, to be precise, a very large majority, more than 100 of the eligible countries present, voted to adopt that convention. Only two countries voted against it, namely, the United States and Israel. All other countries present, including Canada, voted in favour of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
As I was saying, on October 20, 2005, the convention was adopted by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The convention recognizes the dual nature of cultural goods and services that have both economic and social value. It underscores the right of governments to take measures to support the diversity of cultural expressions. The convention is on an equal footing with other international treaties—and that is very important.
Before going any further, I would like to thank and congratulate certain individuals for their hard work over a number of years.
I want to refer in particular to the past member of Parliament, Sheila Copps, former member for Hamilton East, when she was Minister of Canadian Heritage. She undertook this formidable task of creating or bringing together nations to create a convention, a new international instrument.
I remember when Madam Copps invited a number of countries to Ottawa in 1999. They met at the National Arts Centre. There were about 20 countries at the time. I remember that Greece and Mexico participated actively because the following meetings were held in those countries respectively.
To the credit of Madam Copps, she saw, and the government at the time saw, the necessity for such an instrument. The world is embarking more and more on international treaties for the liberalization of trade, for free trade areas such as NAFTA, the WTO, and the current rounds of negotiations on a number of fronts. At the time, the cultural and artistic milieu or industries were being threatened as well. There was a recognition that their economic and social importance was indeed missing.
After a number of meetings and years it came to be that the nations of the world indeed recognized the dual nature of cultural industries. They are important economically, as we will see, but they are also very important socially.
Following Madam Copps we had other ministers of heritage also supporting this, in particular Madam Liza Frulla. She was the one who actually helped bring it to fruition in October 2005.
I would be remiss if I did not recognize the active and very important participation of the Quebec ministers of culture, who have always supported the efforts made. There has been considerable reciprocity between the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec in this regard.
There has been a great deal of support and collaboration. The arts community has definitely been involved. Coalitions for cultural diversity have been established and have been very active, with support from the Quebec and Canadian governments and from their own communities. Their approach is very constructive and they wish to ensure the survival of cultural industries in Canada and throughout the world.
Congratulations and thanks must be extended to these people for their perseverance and also for having discerned the needs and the instrument required. In Canada this instrument, the convention, was ratified on November 23.
Canada was the first country to ratify this international convention, and we are waiting for a number of other countries to do the same. Indeed one of the questions the government may wish to address, and which I would hope it would address in this debate today is what exactly the government is doing to encourage other nations to ratify this very important convention.
The convention recognizes the dual nature of cultural industries, on the one hand the economic impact and the importance of the initiatives of these industries and on the other, the social impact.
Let us look at the economic impact. I will give an example from this area which is not the hotbed of television production. We would find more television production in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver for instance. In national capital region, I am aware of three companies. They are Sound Venture Productions with Neil Bregman, Knight Enterprises with Chris Knight, and Les Productions R. Charbonneau with Robert Charbonneau.
In the past few years those companies have grown. They have become more important to the local economy. They have hired a number of graduates from Algonquin College, la Cité collégiale, the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. They have studied in this environment. They have produced television shows and are looking into the production of movies as well. Some productions have been broadcast on our public television network. Some have been broadcast on privately owned specialty channels and some have been broadcast on educational networks that are owned by the provinces. Most of the productions have been sold abroad.
This very active industry is having a significant impact economically in terms of job creation, investments and exports. This can be applied one hundredfold when we look into the television and film production that occurs in the Toronto area and the television and film production that occurs in other parts of the country from coast to coast.
Montreal should not be discounted. It is a very active centre for television and film production.
The same thing applies in other cultural industries. Book publishing is one. Canada has a very good reputation in book publishing. We have worked at it. We have worked through the granting program of the Canada Council and through programs in the Department of Canadian Heritage to support publishing, to support artists, to support authors, to support the export of books. We have managed to build ourselves a great inventory of authors but also an industry that can actually thrive in this environment. The same thing applies in other areas of cultural industries, whether it be magazines or the theatre.
This is also the case for the visual and performing arts. These are all industries that provide jobs, boost the economy and gross domestic product, if I may call it that.
We must recognize that in terms of national importance, cultural industries hold a place of honour, just like the other industries, such as the forestry, automobile, fishing or agricultural sectors. Taken together, the cultural industries are a very important component of Canadian industry.
That, however, represents only part of the importance of these industries, as the international convention recognizes. The other aspect of their importance is the social and cultural aspect, the aspect that defines us as a nation, as citizens and as individuals. This other aspect adds to the value of everyday life. In a way it is what makes life worth living, when we can sample cultural expressions, such as literature, one of Canada's art galleries, a film, a television series or dance or theatre. These are activities in which we can become involved, either as active participant in presenting the event or as spectator, the passive participant appreciating the creative work of artists. They are of equal value. You cannot have one without the other. Together they give life its meaning.
We can see that the more a country develops its cultural industries, its artistic areas and communities, the richer its society. This is what the convention recognizes.
We have a situation where governments now have the right, and I would argue the duty, to protect cultural industries and to do so on an even keel in terms of other international instruments, be it the World Trade Organization or free trade instruments such as NAFTA. The situation now is that a convention has been ratified overwhelmingly. Canada has ratified that convention as well. Hopefully other countries are in the process of doing the same so that it will have force very soon.
Before anyone jumps on the anti-Americanism bandwagon, let me assure the House that is not what is driving this. It is absolutely not. Let us look at the situation in Canada. Movies are possibly the most extreme. Of cinema screen time, we see Canadian movies 1.2% of the time. If anyone were to argue that we are trying to restrict access into Canada of American made films or films made in other countries, that is not the case. There is ample access. There is hardly any room on our screens right now for Canadian made movies. The same does not apply in Quebec and in francophone Canada.
Quebec's film industry is flourishing. Last year, it enjoyed phenomenal success. It increased its share of the market to some 27%, primarily in Quebec.
Francophone and anglophone production combined has captured only 4% or 5% of the country's market. That is very little given that American film production occupies over 90% of it.
There is no question of blocking American cinema. Rather, the idea is to create a space for our own cinema.
The situation is the same in the case of books. We need only wander around any airport, bus terminal or train station to see that American best sellers are everywhere.
We are not trying to restrict access to American books, American music, American theatre, or any other artistic endeavour that is prepared in and exported from the United States into Canada. That is not the point of this exercise. It is absolutely not anti-Americanism. It is pro-Canadian. It is to make sure that we have certain restrictions and safeguards so that Canadian cultural products and images can be enjoyed by Canadians in their own country.
I would therefore like to make sure that during the debate today, members do not accuse us of anti-Americanism. because that is not the case.
We focus on three items.
We mention in particular three items that we want the government to maintain, such as the current Canadian content requirements. We are not suggesting that things stay fixed in cement forever. We understand that technology evolves. We understand that new methods and new means of communication are created. We understand that there may be a need to adjust, to innovate and to strengthen.
What we are looking for collectively I hope in the House is that we do not go backward, that we do not withdraw from requiring minimum Canadian content, be it on radio, television or in other cultural industries. We have demonstrated over time the usefulness and the appropriateness of requiring a minimum of Canadian content on our public airwaves for instance.
If we look at the most celebrated songstresses in the world, four or five Canadians could be named who benefited greatly from the Canadian content requirement. I think of Sarah McLachlan, Avril Lavigne, Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette and Céline Dion. They are perfect examples to justify requiring a minimum of Canadian content on the radio. It generated incredible support and enthusiasm for the Canadian music industry. This is the kind of result that requiring Canadian content yields. I would hope that all members in the House would support maintaining Canadian content requirements.
It is the same kind of argument on foreign ownership.
It is the same kind of argument on foreign ownership restrictions. We have maintained over the past, a number of restrictions on foreign ownership of broadcasting facilities. Now we are looking at a situation where the government may put that into question. It is very important to reaffirm our desire to maintain the ability to own our own distribution networks and our own broadcasters, because if we have given up on that, then we have given up on everything, and I do not think that is where Canadians want to go.
I understand that the private sector, and those who would benefit directly from lifting such restrictions on foreign ownership, want them. That is human nature and one can understand that. But we have a duty here and the CRTCs of the world have a duty that goes beyond that. We have a duty to protect the interests of Canadians and the interests of Canadian cultural industries. That is why it is important that before we embark on the lifting of any foreign ownership restrictions, which is something the government is hinting at, we be very careful and establish protection policies.
We recognized that some arguments can be made, for instance on the telecom side, that there may need to be some consolidation and greater foreign ownership. Having said that, there have to be allocations made to keep the broadcasting industries under Canadian control and in Canadian hands. If indeed we are looking at a convergence situation where all the telecom companies own the broadcasters, then we would have a situation where we could end up with foreign interests owning all our broadcasting capacity. Therefore, the need to maintain restrictions against foreign ownership is very important.
This is a topical issue because the government apparently intends to lift these restrictions.
Lastly, there is public television and its funding by taxpayers.
We say that we want to maintain the level of funding, and perhaps even enhance it, of public broadcasting. In this case, we are talking principally about CBC Radio-Canada and its various guises and manifestations.
It is important to mention that the CBC, with its French- and English-language television and radio networks, has become an extremely important institution to Canada. The CBC tells Canadian stories. It is therefore important that this institution maintain its autonomy and its ability to plan.
As the government prepares to review the CBC's mandate, I think it is important that the House give its opinion on the importance of this institution and its funding, and I hope that will happen today.
Regarding the CBC's mandate, the other day in this House the minister answered me that she would bow to the will of the committee or body that will be reviewing the CBC's mandate and will have a say in its parameters. I hope that we will have the opportunity to discuss this, because this is a significant debate. I would hope, for example, that Canada will look at funding models for public television and public broadcasters elsewhere in the world.
These are the issues I wanted to define today.
These are very significant debates in our country. We have extremely important and delicate issues before us. In my view and hopefully in the view of this House, as we go forward it is important that the House establish some parameters, some areas where we wish the government to go and where we do not wish it to go in terms of Canadian content, in terms of restrictions on foreign ownership and in terms of public broadcasting.