Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time this afternoon with the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
Canada has both the right and the duty to protect its cultural identity. Last October, we had the pleasure of seeing a Canadian-led initiative on cultural sovereignty come to fruition as a binding international treaty, the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This treaty recognizes the dual nature of cultural goods and services which have both an economic and a social value. It emphasizes the right of states to take measures in support of diverse cultural expressions.
I represent the riding of Beaches—East York, with a vibrant, diverse and growing arts community. I can say that this international agreement was a very important development for many of my constituents. Under the terms of this convention, cultural products will not be subordinated to commercial agreements, such as those of the WTO. This means that governments will be able to continue to support the cultural and artistic communities without fear of commercial reprisals.
Our representatives at UNESCO, led by the Liberal minister of heritage, Liza Frulla, worked long and hard to build international support for this treaty. It was a great day for Canada when this Canadian idea became an international reality. On November 23 of last year, the former Liberal government approved the treaty, making Canada the first country in the world to ratify it.
Canada must now build on this leadership, not only by working hard on the international stage to persuade other countries to join the convention so that it can come into force as soon as possible, but also by moving to protect and promote our own cultural industries here at home.
In addition to their enormous contribution to our quality of life and our sense of national identity, the cultural industries in Canada employ thousands of people. The Canadian cultural sector generates more than $40 billion per year in economic activity and provides jobs to nearly 600,000 Canadians.
In order to help protect these jobs, we need to make sure that Canadian broadcast media remain in Canadian hands. The previous Liberal government was firmly committed to maintaining existing limits on foreign ownership in the cultural sector. In light of conflicting reports from two House of Commons committees, we firmly reiterated that we had no intention to modify foreign limits on broadcasting or general content.
Our work on the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions has made it possible to keep this promise without fear of commercial reprisal. I hope that the current government will follow suit and maintain the current limits on foreign ownership.
It is not enough to protect our cultural identity or to set rules for a minimum level of Canadian content. Without the right incentives and investments, these rules will not have their desired effect of fostering the development of high quality Canadian programming. Canada's writers, directors, producers, actors, musicians and other artists are second to none, but the resources have to be there to allow them to practice their trades.
The approach of the previous Liberal government was to provide incentives to private broadcasters to invest in high quality Canadian content and to invest as a government in the development of Canadian programming. We need to continue as a country to pursue both of these strategies and to reinforce them as we learn more about how to make them effective.
Canadians are best served by a broadcasting system that offers an ample supply of high quality, distinctively Canadian content that enlightens, entertains and informs its citizens. We need to make sure that we are creating a climate that enables our best creative minds to flourish and to produce high quality, made in Canada television content.
A recent report prepared for the Canadian Film and Television Production Association showed that while broadcasters in Canada have increased their profit margins in recent years, these gains have not translated into equivalent increases in the amount these broadcasters invest in made in Canada television content. The study also showed that the profit margins of those who produce Canadian film and television content have decreased substantially.
This leads me to think that it is time to think about some changes to the policy framework for Canadian television content. Some ideas have been put on the table by stakeholders and they deserve careful consideration. They include: reinforcing compulsory expenditure thresholds, which would require conventional broadcasters to invest a certain amount in Canadian programming; raising the tax credit rate to 30% of producers' eligible expenditures; increasing the government's contribution to the Canadian Television Fund; and changes to the fund's eligibility criteria that would increase broadcasters' level of investment. These are all initiatives that I would be happy to support.
Any strategy to protect and promote our cultural industries in Canada must include strong and adequate support for public broadcasting. I am a strong believer in the value of a national publicly funded broadcasting network. Canada needs a strong CBC and I have consistently pushed for increased CBC funding.
Among other things, the CBC plays a unique and central role in developing and promoting Canadian dramatic programming. In budget 2005 the Liberal government committed an additional $60 million in 2005-06 to help ensure that Canada's stories reflect the ever increasing diversity of Canadian society and find their way into Canadian homes in the form of high quality programming.
The CBC needs stable and predictable funding, so that it can continue to operate at the highest level and continue to uphold the principles of Canadian content legislation.
I also support the CBC's proposed local and regional programming strategy. It is my understanding that the strategy as proposed would be implemented over three years with estimated costs rising to approximately $83 million annually. This is not too high a price to pay for high quality public broadcasting coverage of local and regional news, culture and current events.
Closely related to the issue of CBC funding is the issue of funding for the Canadian Television Fund. The CBC and the CTF work closely together and can feed off each other's success. The CTF needs stable, long term, predictable funding and there should be an envelope of funds set aside within the CTF to support CBC projects as the Liberal Party proposed during the recent election campaign.
The previous Liberal government also announced in November 2005 that we would double federal funding to the Canada Council for the Arts to $300 million by 2008. The Canada Council for the Arts provides the most efficient and fair way of ensuring that public funds get to where they can do the most good for artists and arts organizations across the country.
I was saddened to see that in the recent budget the new Conservative government has committed only $50 million over two years to the Canada Council. This is only one-third of the increase we promised and without any indication of sustained funding at that level.
The development of the next generation of Canadian artists depends upon the level of support we offer to the Canada Council for the Arts. I urge the government to do better in this area because it is through arts and culture that Canadians reflect each other back to themselves. Without that a country has no soul.
I truly believe that without a strong cultural policy a country does not have a soul and that is how a country tells its stories, how it reflects itself, and how it communicates itself abroad and to each other. Without that it is woefully sad that this government has not decided to commit to culture in this country.
The CBC, as the House knows, is a public entity which I have supported for many years. I visited a few years ago a major arts promotion event in Acadia, in Atlantic Canada. I must say that as a Canadian I had never seen the kinds of things as the beautiful songs, culture and music that were presented to me entirely by Acadians. Actually, they were all New Brunswick performers. This was La Francophonie and it was absolutely fantastic. I had never seen such talent and energy. They could have been on any stage anywhere in the world and would have done just as well or outperformed anyone.
Canadians do not see this. We have to see this on CBC. We have to see this more in each other's houses across the country. The different parts of Canada must be reflected as well as the different cultural entities in order to see the different ethnocultures that we have in this country, whether they be Italian Canadian, Portuguese Canadian and so on.
There are distinct cultures in the arts that are being developed in this country by these communities which are very distinct in themselves. Again, they have to be reflected and public broadcasting is the only way to carry these messages from one corner of the country to the other.
Therefore, it is fundamentally important for us to maintain strong Canadian content and strong Canadian public broadcasting in this country.