House of Commons Hansard #39 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was adoption.


Information Commissioner's Report

10 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I have the honour, pursuant to section 38 of the Access to Information Act, to lay upon the table the report of the Information Commissioner for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2006.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h), this report is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Telecommunications ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Oshawa Ontario


Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2) and in accordance with subsection 10(1) of the Telecommunications Act, I have the honour, on behalf of the Minister of Industry, to table in both official languages a proposed order under section 8 of the Telecommunications Act.

This proposed order stands permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

Antipoverty ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-322, Antipoverty Act (amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code).

Mr. Speaker, I am introducing this bill, which is made up of four measures: adding “social condition” to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act; establishing a new prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act in cases where financial institutions refuse to provide basic banking services; asking this House to debate poverty for six hours per year; and amending section 347 of the Criminal Code to limit the legal interest rate for lending money in Canada by lowering it from 60% to 35%.

I hope that this bill will be adopted as quickly as possible.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage presented on Wednesday, May 17, 2006, be concurred in.

I thank my colleague from Davenport for seconding the motion for concurrence in this first report of the committee, which was presented in the House on May 17, 2006.

The first report of the committee essentially states that the Minister of Canadian Heritage, before committing herself to the review of the mandate of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation-Société Radio-Canada, CBC-SRC, should comply with the motion that she herself adopted during the 38th Parliament, part of which reads:

“That the government, when establishing this independent task force, do so under the advisement of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage“. Furthermore, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage be offered the opportunity to review and offer modifications to the terms of reference of the CBC-SRC mandate review prior to the commencement of the review.

That in essence is the substance of the first report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Before the minister undertakes, on behalf of the government, a review of the mandate of CBC Radio-Canada, the heritage committee should be offered an opportunity to comment and offer modifications to the terms of reference to whatever structure the minister intends to use for the review of CBC Radio-Canada.

Everyone will recognize that CBC Radio-Canada is one of Canada's significant cultural institutions. It is an invaluable instrument in bringing Canadians together and in communicating Canadian values to Canadians across the globe and in Canada.

CBC Radio-Canada unites Canadians by offering high quality programming that reflects this country, its regions, and all of its creative talent to both regional and national audiences. It is also a powerful mechanism for showcasing Canadian values, artists and culture, both at home and on the world stage.

In 2003, after an exhaustive review of the Canadian broadcasting environment, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage reaffirmed the importance of public broadcasting in Canada in its report entitled “Our Cultural Sovereignty”, otherwise referred to by many as the Lincoln report.

In its follow-up response to the recommendations of the heritage committee, the Liberal government reaffirmed CBC Radio-Canada's role within Canadian society as envisioned by the 1991 Broadcasting Act.

The Broadcasting Act states that:

--(l) The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;

(m) The programming provided by the Corporation should

(i) be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,

(ii) reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,

(iii) actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,

(iv) be in English and in French, reflecting the different needs and circumstances of each official language community, including the particular needs and circumstances of English and French linguistic minorities,

(v) strive to be of equivalent quality in English and in French,

(vi) contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,

(vii) be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and

(viii) reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada--

CBC Radio-Canada delivers on its mandate by offering a comprehensive range of programs and services on 18 different platforms that reflect the interests and aspirations of diverse Canadian communities. It is the only broadcaster delivering high quality radio, television and Internet based services in English and French across the country.

CBC Radio-Canada uses every broadcasting platform available to it, so that it can provide Canadians with information and entertainment in the format and via the medium that is most effective and convenient for them.

In CBC Radio-Canada's latest annual survey monitoring corporate performance, 97% of Canadians said they considered CBC Radio-Canada to be essential.

In the same survey, 82% of anglophone viewers of CBC television stated that they were satisfied with the quality of the programming it offered and 88% of listeners said they were satisfied as well with CBC Radio.

CBC Radio-Canada Télévision also experienced high satisfaction ratings, as would be expected, given its ability to attract over one-fifth of all prime time viewing by francophones and not just francophones in Quebec, incidentally.

Similarly, la Première Chaîne has experienced a tremendous growth in its listener base over the past several years, achieving a share of 12.5% in the spring of 2004.

The corporation's website, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, is among the most popular online media sites in Canada, attracting more than 3.7 million visitors a month.

In an increasingly culturally diverse nation, it is especially gratifying to see that CBC television ranked first among English Canadian broadcasters in reflecting Canada's ethnic and cultural make-up

All is not well, however. There are some difficulties at CBC Radio-Canada and the heritage committee mentioned some of its concerns about the situation of public broadcasting in the 2003 Lincoln report, which I mentioned earlier. I would like to quote some passages of that report:

The CBC’s audiences have plummeted over the last decade and the public broadcaster spends much of its talent and energy searching for the right formula, the right approach, to ensure its place in Canadian life. The search has been painful and frustrating and the goal distant and elusive.

There is also cause for serious concern about the production and exhibition of English-language drama. Except in Quebec where audiences are entertained and invigorated by original, home-grown dramatic productions, American programming dominates the airwaves to an extent that is largely unknown and unimaginable in any other country outside of the United States itself.

Many critics also argue that its current mandate is simply too broad and unfocused for the resources that successive governments and Parliaments have provided. The federal government must better define the CBC's role and together with the CBC's managers place less emphasis on audience ratings and commercial revenues.

Just last week the public policy forum issued a report on CBC Radio-Canada and its mandate. It was heavily critical of the necessity of the CBC to search out commercial revenue advertising, identifying almost $200 million of the roughly $500 million English television receives as coming from advertising and therefore putting into question the notion of the public aspect of the CBC.

Canadians are now engaged in a debate. The Conservative government intends to look at the CBC's mandate. Committee members recognize that it is the government's prerogative to initiate a review of the CBC's mandate, but before it can be concluded, it will have to come back to Parliament to be addressed because CBC Radio-Canada's mandate is embedded in law.

This is not the issue at all. We recognize the government's authority to initiate such a mandate review in a fashion that it wishes. The committee has asked to have a go at the terms of reference that will be given to whatever structure is chosen and whoever is asked to conduct the CBC Radio-Canada mandate review. This is consistent with what the committee asked for before the change of government and what the present minister asked for when she was in opposition. That is the essence of what the committee recommended, which I believe was approved unanimously.

When the minister appeared a couple of weeks ago before the committee, this matter came up. I asked her if she could tell us when she intended to do this. I want to thank my colleague across the way from Abbotsford because on my first round of questions I did not get an answer from the minister and my colleague acknowledged that I had not received an answer. He also acknowledged that my question was rather straightforward and he asked it again on my behalf.

The minister responded that she was willing to do this, but also indicated that she was caught in a process of the government's making in that she had to first go to cabinet. Rumours are going around that she did indeed go to cabinet but did not get the green light that she had been looking for. In the absence of confirmation of this, I am moving this motion today.

On the second round of questioning I again asked the minister if she would commit herself to allowing the committee to have a look at the terms of reference before the summer break knowing full well, and according to the minister's own statements, that the government intended to proceed with the review of the mandate of CBC Radio-Canada. I will quote a few of the minister's statements further on in my comments.

Recognizing at that time that we had maybe three weeks left before the summer break in the session, I asked if the minister would commit herself to having the terms of reference presented to the committee so it could comment on them before the summer. She answered that she could not.

It is extremely important that this occur in order to give credibility to the process. This is a longstanding issue. The Lincoln report recommended a mandate review of CBC Radio-Canada and the government indicated it would do so. The new minister of heritage has said she intends to review the CBC Radio-Canada mandate and said that she wants to initiate this.

We agree with a review in whatever structure and format the minister wishes to use, assuming it is somewhat reasonable. The committee unanimously told the minister that before she proceeds with the review it have a chance to comment and make suggestions as far as the terms of reference of the mandate review are concerned. The committee reported this to the House and hopefully its report will be adopted today.

I for one have some grave concerns in terms of what the mandate may or may not include. Some of these concerns were as a result of some comments by members opposite and, in particular, the dissenting opinion that was attached to the Lincoln report. Anyone who has followed this issue will be aware of what I am talking about. I am not castigating the minister's parliamentary secretary. He is entitled to his opinion. Members of the Conservative Party are entitled to their opinion but so are Canadians and so is Parliament.

Parliament has always insisted that it be involved, if only in setting the terms of reference, in the review of the mandate of the CBC Radio-Canada. That is the purpose of the meeting.

It also speaks to democracy and respect of Parliament. I am not suggesting that is not the intent of the minister. However, the adoption of the heritage committee's first report by the House would reinforce the notion that Parliament and its instruments, standing committees, are not to be taken lightly.

The heritage committee, in particular, has over the past years done extremely important work in a very cooperative and collaborative manner. There is every indication that the committee intends to keep addressing issues on a non-partisan basis and in an objective way, such as the way in which we have addressed broadcasting in particular.

Now that the minister has launched, via the CRTC, a quick look into technology, the evolution of technology and its impact on broadcasting at large, not just the CBC, that is one thing. However, another shoe will be dropped at some point and we are asking that the heritage committee, which has looked at this year in and year out, be afforded the opportunity to comment and make suggestions on the terms of reference that will be guiding the review of CBC Radio-Canada's mandate.

The intent and purpose of the debate this morning is that the House reaffirm its will that its standing committee, to which it delegates all these matters, be involved and consulted in the setting of the terms of reference.

I do not sense from the government side that there is much opposition for that. The government indicated that it would support it. What I do sense, however, is that the minister may be caught in a situation where she may run out of time before the end of the session and be pushed or pressured into initiating this without the committee having had a chance.

Depending on the chairman of the committee and other members and depending on whether the minister can consult with the committee on the terms of reference before the end of the session, I would be agreeable to having the committee recalled sometime during the summer to do that. I understand my colleague, the parliamentary secretary who is from western Canada, may think that is a very facile commitment for me because I live here and would not have to travel very far but I would be prepared to meet them in the west to show that there is goodwill in the committee and in the House.

I think, by and large, most parliamentarians in Canada accept that the CBC Radio-Canada is an important institution and one that needs to be supported and protected. If its mandate does need to be adjusted that could be done after consultation with the committee on the terms of reference. However, if I had my way, the terms of reference would provide an opportunity for all Canadians to comment in terms of where they think the CBC Radio-Canada should be headed.

The purpose of moving concurrence in the first report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is to help the minister and the government understand how serious the committee is in asking that it be consulted in setting the terms of reference of whatever mandate review structure will be chosen by the government to review the mandate of CBC Radio-Canada before the mandate is initiated. The key words of that motion are, “before the mandate is initiated”.

All the committee is asking is that the government respect the will of the committee and, hopefully, the will of the House when we vote on this matter, and that the consultation will occur, hopefully, before the session ends, but if not, certainly before the mandate of the review process is launched, whenever and whatever format it takes.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.


Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, I am very interested in this concurrence motion. I find it passing strange, notwithstanding the constant, never-ending and ceaseless assertions that I have made on behalf of the minister and of the government that the minister wants to cooperate fully with the committee and is fully apprised of the situation with respect to the committee, that we are debating this concurrence motion.

Although I know this is an important issue, on the other side of the coin the issue has fundamentally been agreed to by the minister and the government, which is why I do not understand why we are in this debate at this time. The member is fully aware that we are coming up to the end of this particular session and leaving on a scheduled break at some point during the month of June. In looking at the order paper I see that the first item of business is to resume debate on the justice minister's motion for seconding reading of an act to amend the Criminal Code, minimum penalties for offences involving firearms and to make a consequential amendment to another act.

The second item of business on the order paper is Bill C-14, an act to amend the Citizenship Act, which was proposed by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and it is to be debated for the first time at second reading. When I look farther down the order paper I see the report stage motion of the act introduced by the Minister of Health, the public health agency of Canada act. I see Bill C-16, put forward by the Leader of the Government in House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.

We have many pieces of business that are quite pressing at this particular point. I am having a lot of difficulty trying to understand the member, when he already has agreement, which I have clearly, specifically, explicitly stated that the minister, who I represent, is in agreement to the things the member is asking for. I am sure there is no ill-will on the part of my friend but it just seems to me that there might be those with a more suspicious mind who would think this is something of a waste of time when there are these other bills.

I wonder if the member could enlighten me a bit, considering I have already stated three times and I will say it a fourth, fifth and sixth time, that he has the agreement and the cooperation of the government, the minister and myself as parliamentary secretary, as to why he is wasting the time of the House when we have these other pressing matters.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, for the member to insinuate that this is not in order is totally wrong. The agenda of the House calls for routine proceedings, in which there are motions. As a member of the House, I have every right to move the motion that I have moved. So that we do not provide erroneous impressions with the people who may be listening, I have every right to do what I am doing.

To suggest that I am wasting the time of the House by asking that the government respect the will of the House in terms of having a committee look at the terms of reference to review an institution that is very important to Canadians is a bit of a stretch. I am sure the member was not suggesting that reviewing the mandate of CBC Radio-Canada is a waste of time.

I said throughout my intervention that the minister did not confirm that she could or would consult the committee on the terms of reference of the review before the end of the session. It is also well-known that the government intends to move ahead. The question becomes: Will the House categorically state to the minister by adopting the report that its committee has proposed, which I gather was approved unanimously, that the government not proceed with a review of CBC Radio-Canada's mandate without first having gone to the heritage committee to get some feedback on the terms of reference of that review? That is all that is at stake here.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage has been a member of the heritage committee for a decade now and knows the committee has done excellent work. He was involved for the two years the committee spent reviewing broadcasting, including CBC Radio-Canada and its mandate. It only makes sense that the committee would ask to be consulted in terms of the ongoing nature of this file and the ongoing evolution of technology and broadcasting in Canada.

I am asking the House to confirm that its committee be consulted before we proceed. That is certainly not a waste of time.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will avoid the questions of process and privilege that are going on and speak to the member's obvious commitment and passion for CBC Radio-Canada, its performance in this country and the role that it plays.

However, I have a fundamental question. As someone who represents a rural constituency and having watched, over the last 10 or 15 years, the complete erosion of services and the ability of rural communities to have their own news sources and for small town Canada to generate their own stories and reflect back to Canadians what is happening in their communities, that was under the Liberal government. Year after year we saw budget restraints that caused the CBC to hit a point where in one of the communities in my riding, Prince Rupert, for example, it went from a staff of 17 to a staff of 3 within a four year period.

The CBC was meant to be one of the crown jewels that the government supported year in and year out but when it got to the budget stage and the rubber hit the road, the member's government consistently undermined the ability of the CBC to do its essential job, which is to hold the fabric of this country together.

With this obvious passion, what did his government do when it was in power for all those long, dark years with respect to the CBC other than to consistently undermine its ability to perform its central function, which is to talk to Canadians about their realities and the realities outside of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal?

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, there was a cut to the CBC Radio-Canada budget in 1995. When the Liberal government formed the government in 1993, remember that the Mulroney government had left the country with a $42 billion annual deficit. Our government felt that we could not continue accumulating debt at that rate. In the 1995 budget all the departments save one, and I believe that was Indian affairs, saw a cut in their budgets.

Within three years of that budget the country had eliminated its annual deficit and was on its way to financial stability. As soon as we achieved that, the budgeting for CBC Radio-Canada became a steady matter on a five year forecast. The government also created the television production fund in which it put money to enable CBC and other producers in this country to initiate and re-engage in production.

Yes, in 1995 the government of the day did what it had to do in setting the finances of the nation on a proper footing. It included a general belt tightening for everyone, including the CBC. Henceforth from the moment we achieved financial surpluses which we have had since then, CBC Radio-Canada funding has been stable and predictable.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.


Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I was unprepared for this debate. The member decided that he was going to move this concurrence motion presumably with the approval of his House leader. I will restate that I consider this debate unfortunate and untimely in that things are moving along and there are so many other issues that we could be discussing. Seeing as the member wants to debate the issue of the CBC, I am prepared to do that.

The intervention from my friend from the NDP was spot on. The Liberals for a long period, 13 years, kept on strangling the CBC, taking away its ability to make any long term plans. The Liberals continued with whatever their vision was of a mandate for the CBC without giving it the ammunition and the resources to do the job. Most of us vividly recall what the CBC was. What it was and what it is today are significantly different.

The Liberals have consistently had a pie in the sky approach to things. They declare they are in favour of status quo but they starved the CBC of resources. They claim that they have a vision of where they want the CBC to go and yet, they never actually brought it to fruition.

It is very interesting that while the current Minister of Canadian Heritage was on the heritage committee in the last Parliament, it was she who actually led the opposition against the then Liberal government with respect to the CBC and many other issues. Whether we are talking about copyright, other broadcast media or whatever, it was she who led the charge to get the kind of changes which the Conservative government now has an opportunity to move forward on.

One of the difficulties is that it was not only the CBC that the federal Liberals ended up imperilling by virtue of their lack of understanding of what was happening within the marketplace, it was the entire broadcast industry. The broadcast industry does not work in a vacuum. Its stakeholders are the people who own the companies, the people who produce the shows, the people who are the creators. Its stakeholders are many, in the tens of thousands literally, but they are completely dependent on those in the marketplace who are looking for entertainment, looking for education, looking for news, looking for public service announcements. Those people now have a broad range of opportunities that simply did not exist as recently as six months ago.

There is an entire generation of people now who likely will never access radio and television the way you and I have, Mr. Speaker. I may have a couple of years on you, Mr. Speaker, I am not really sure, but we are of a generation that is catching up with the idea of time shifting. There is an opportunity through Bell ExpressVu or Star Choice of watching a program that is viewing in this time zone on a Halifax channel. With time shifting and with a VCR, we have discovered this wonderful new way of accessing the information and entertainment that we want.

I have a couple of grandchildren who are of an age that it is unlikely they will even know what a VCR is. With the whole concept of time shifting, why would they need VCRs? There are devices that use the ordinary television signal and people can make choices that simply were not technically available even a matter of months ago.

People are also using the Internet to download things onto their iPods and other devices. I do not know what iPod stands for, I regret to say, but these devices are completely revolutionizing the broadcast industry. They have the ability to completely bypass the ordinary broadcaster. The broadcaster's corporation gets revenue from advertisers which then flows through to the people who are actually providing those services. For television, there are so many eyeballs, and for radio, there are so many ears that the broadcasters want. If they are not getting those eyes or ears, then the advertisers say that they will find another way to reach their target market. That is how the industry supports itself.

If we look at the whole issue of simultaneous substitution as an example, it is very simple and straightforward. In the time zone in which I live, Spokane will broadcast Law & Order. CTV will make sure that Calgary, although it is in a different time zone which is the one I am in, will broadcast Law & Order which is being broadcast out of Spokane, Washington at exactly the same time.

Interestingly, if Law & Order is broadcast on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. Spokane time, it will be on CFCN out of Calgary at 9 p.m. Why? They do that because they know they are going to get half a million eyeballs, whatever the number is, by broadcasting Law & Order in Canada. They buy the rights for that and thereby are able to pay for all of the people and all of the services, all of the technical capacity to continue in business and hopefully for the broadcaster to make a profit at the same time.

Simultaneous substitution is something that has actually created generation of revenue for Canadian corporations that are in the broadcast business delivering entertainment to Canadians. Whether it is that program, Prairie Giant on the CBC, Corner Gas, or whatever the program is, Canadians make the choice of what they want to see by delivering those eyeballs. The broadcasters then collect money so that they can stay in business.

With the advent of satellite about six years ago and my ability as a consumer to time shift, I no longer care. If I want to see Law & Order, I will simply watch it on the Toronto CTV affiliate at the time I choose to watch it. I can shift things around. Therefore, for the advertisers that are paying to advertise on CFCN out of Calgary, I am one pair of eyeballs less, and if my wife is watching the same show, that is two pairs of eyeballs less that are watching the show. That was the thin edge of the wedge.

In spite of the fact that it is through simultaneous substitution that we have been able to create a revenue base for the advertisers, now with personal video recorders, PVRs, people are not only time shifting, but they are able to cut out the commercials. Now people can watch the shows and the eyeballs are on the television screen but it does not make any difference to the advertiser.

We are into a situation where product placement becomes a very important issue. For example, on Law & Order, somebody may be drinking a can of Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola, or whatever the commodity is. We can bet that the confection company will have paid money because the star of the show is drinking Coca-Cola, or driving a Ford, GM or Chrysler, whatever the case may be. It is through all of this that there is a complete change, a complete alteration, to what happens.

Within that context, is the idea of moving forward with a review by the CRTC, which is ideally suited, being an arm's length organization to the government, a review that the government has requested so we can look at where we are now and where we can go in the future.

I mentioned that the Liberals are very famous for desiring to either stay with status quo or believing they can maintain status quo. We are prepared to take a look forward to see where iPods, the Internet, satellites and satellite radios fit. Once we are aware of the potpourri available for Canadians to choose from, in my judgment, it would make sense then to go ahead with a mandate review of the CBC.

It seems to me that there is a sequence here. I have no knowledge of what the timing is on the CBC mandate review, but by doing things in sequence, it makes a whole lot more sense than to do something in a vacuum by itself. As a public broadcaster, the CBC does not exist in a vacuum. The CBC exists in a marketplace. Within that marketplace, people make choices of what they look at, what they see, what news they consume and what entertainment they take in.

The CBC has done an outstanding job of certain public broadcasting events. When I was formerly on the standing committing, I asked if there was a place that was exclusively the CBC's place for us to broadcast the Olympics, for example. What occurred, subsequent to my time on the standing committee, was that CTV ended up outbidding the CBC. My question at that time, and I am on the record so we may as well talk about it, was if it made any sense for a public broadcaster, with almost $1 billion in subsidies from the taxpayer, to get into a bidding war with a private broadcaster, namely CTV. That ended up sorting itself out.

Yesterday I happened to notice on Canada AM that Brian Williams has moved from CBC. He said that it was with regret, and I am sure it was, that after about 30 years with the CBC, he decided to move over to CTV to anchor its Olympics coverage. There is a motion, a movement, within that.

Where does the CBC mandate work with respect to things like professional sports, NHL hockey, the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Olympics and so on? There is a very logical way of looking at what is happening in the marketplace.

The minister committed to hearing the views of the committee on any type of review the CBC may or may not undergo. In response to a question from the member for Ottawa—Orléans, and I think he might recall this, on June 1, the minister said:

--I am looking forward to the fact that this committee is eager to take a very positive and contributory role to our review of looking at this, and the opportunity that CBC will have as a corporation to put before the Canadian public--and to hear from the Canadian public--the role and the mandate they believe the public broadcaster should play in the future.

As you know... through your chair, I have discussed various options on the ways and the means that this committee may participate and provide its input to this government for consideration in a very positive, effective, and time-efficient manner.

Although the member is clearly motivated with respect to the CBC, and I am very pleased he is, as am I and the minister, but, with the greatest respect, are there not other things on the order paper that need to be handled? This issue has already been handled.

I look forward to the fact that the committee is eager to take a very positive and contributory role in our review of CBC. I look forward to it going before the Canadian public to hear what they believe the role and mandate of the public broadcaster should be in the future. I regrettably do not comprehend what part of yes the member is having difficulty understanding. It is only three letters, y-e-s. Yes, we are ready to go. When the time is right, the minister has committed that the committee will be involved. What is left to talk about?

Our government is taking a look at this entire issue in a sequential manner. We are looking at the fact that the CBC does not operate or exist within a vacuum. While a debate on the CBC, Canada's national broadcaster, is a very worthy topic for the House, perhaps there might be a more efficient use of our time than discussing it at this particular point.

I refer again to my friend from the NDP. He talked about service in remote areas. One of the challenges the CBC is faced with at this point is what will it do with respect to high definition television. Countless billions of dollars will be required to completely upgrade broadcast antennae. That is not only for the CBC, it is also for the other broadcasters. When we take a look at that, is there a more creative way that we could make use of satellite broadcasting? The fact is signals are presently covered on the two transponders in outer space. Is there a more efficient way doing that and is there some way of engaging the existing satellite signal providers?

I cite that as an example of all the possible questions. Taking a look at things in sequence and taking a look at the CBC mandate review within that sequence, once we have the table set, is undoubtedly what my minister has in mind.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to what the minister's parliamentary secretary had to say. I think I can use his words to illustrate the difference of approach vis-à-vis CBC Radio-Canada.

Some of us on this side of the House are not comfortable with where the government may wish to take the CBC. I say may because there have been some reports, such as the Lincoln, where the facts do not support the claim that the CBC is essential.

The member for Peterborough last week recommended that the CBC increase its ability to sell commercials. We have had the recommendation that CBC English television be commercialized. There is a contradictory direction, where one would see more commercial revenues and more commercialization of CBC television and others would like to see less. As I said, last week the public policy forum put out a report.

We all know that the crafting of the terms of reference of a review is extremely important. In the crafting of them direction can be given. That is why the committee has asked to be involved in the crafting of those terms of reference. We will not set them, and I understand that. We respect the government's prerogative to do things.

The government should respect our wish to be consulted in giving advice and recommendations as to the terms of reference. For instance, we want the terms of reference to ensure they include a funding formula. That is the key to the future of the CBC. We want to ensure they include the technology and how it can adapt to technology. We also want to ensure that the commercialization aspect is dealt with in the terms of reference.

These are the issues that are “qui sont sous-jacentes”, that underline this debate. It is the future direction of CBC. Whereas some on the government side may want to see it commercialized or have more commercial revenues, some on this side of the House want to see less of it. We want to see the terms of reference, not give a direction that is not wanted.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.


Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, again, I have listened to the member and I still have difficulty understanding the urgency is of this debate. It has taken us off Bill C-10, an act to amend the Criminal. Code, minimum penalties for offences involving firearms, particularly considering the situation we ran into last summer and even during the fall with respect to guns. It has taken us off the bill of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration on adoption.

Many of these issues can occur only in this chamber as a result of the fact that we are charged with the responsibility for debating these laws and bringing them into effect.

Although I have done it already twice, I will not repeat the precise words of the minister, except to say that the minister is fully aware of what the committee would like to do. There is no problem there. However, it gives me an opportunity to put very clearly and specifically on the record that the Conservative Party is fully supportive of CBC Radio-Canada, which is more than I can say for the Liberals who were constantly starving it to death in terms of resources.

Before we decide on resources, we have to take a look at the mandate. We support CBC Radio, English and French, RDI, Newsworld. I suppose the big questions are around the issue of CBC Television English and to a lesser extent CBC Television French. These are good debates for us to have to ensure that we respond and react to Canadians with respect to their requirements and their desires as far as CBC is concerned.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party definitely has been supporting a review of CBC for some time, because we have to be honest when we are discussing CBC and we have to say that it is not working nearly as well as it could. There have been years of underfunding. It has had problems in terms of a loss of regional programming and a loss of markets that CBC once had and no longer has. There has been a problem with the governance structure of CBC. It is broken. It is an embarrassment. We need to end the patronage system at CBC. The NDP has been pushing for that.

A mandate review of CBC is something that we in the NDP support. We would be willing to work with the government on ensuring that the new ideas are brought forward to make CBC function in the 21st century.

I would like to bring up the issue the member raised earlier when he said that CBC does not exist in a vacuum. I agree with him. We are now in a situation where there are numerous issues facing broadcast and television. There are questions about maintaining Canadian content regulations and foreign ownership restrictions on broadcast. There are questions about new media, how that is going to implicate existing television markets, and how that works.

I suggest that one of the important functions of the heritage committee is to be able to look at the composite whole. How do CBC and regional programming play in with new media and private broadcasters? I would imagine that this is beyond the mandate review of the proposed CBC panel being put forward by the minister.

I would say it is very important that we first have input into the terms of reference so that the work already done in the heritage committee, in looking at the problems of the CBC and in needing a direction for it, is carried on so that this new panel is not reinventing the wheel. At the same time, we must look to the heritage committee for a larger overview of issues in terms of television and private broadcast, where the CRTC is going, and how all these pieces fit together.

I ask the hon. member if he would be interested in working with us at committee, in conjunction with the CBC review being carried out by the government, to do a larger review of television, new media and how it all fits together.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.


Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would say off the top of my head probably not. The reason why, very simply, is that the minister announced in Banff that the CRTC is going to be doing exactly that job. I do not understand what expertise the committee would be able to bring to those questions that the CRTC is not capable of.

I am also reminded that the committee is responsible for things like museums, art galleries and archives. It is responsible for all sorts of things other than the CBC and broadcasting. I have found the fixation on the CBC and broadcasting to be really unfortunate considering the number of other responsibilities there are within the Department of Canadian Heritage. It is, after all, a $4 billion department, and I think it would do well for members to broaden their scope past the CBC and past broadcasting per se.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member mentioned transponders because it gives me a chance to bring up an issue that is very important in my riding. A former speaker of our house, Don Taylor, has been on a great crusade to expand the strength of CBC out of the town of Watson Lake in Yukon. Sometimes CBC is the only media and it is very important for weather news, which could relate to life and death situations. I certainly hope the parliamentary secretary would support the expansion of the signal.

On the urgency of debating this now or getting back to Bill C-10, I do not think it is all that urgent in that all the statistics have shown that crime is going down and that the proposals in Bill C-10 would not work. That is not a particularly urgent bill.

On funding, though, the point he made about criticizing other parties related to the funding of CBC was a bit disingenuous when last week his party voted against a motion that would have maintained funding for CBC.

I have a question for the member. There are other bills I would like to get back to, and if this is so urgent, why did it take the member 10 minutes just to say yes, this was a good idea?

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.


Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have said yes. I have said yes repeatedly to my friend across the way. I do not know if he is having difficulty understanding the word yes. I just thought that maybe if I were to repeat yes enough times he might get the message.

However, with respect to his question about Yukon, I think that we have to be very careful as parliamentarians not to become involved in micromanaging the CBC. The CBC is an arm's-length corporation with people with management skills who work for its directors. These people are fully capable of making good management decisions with respect to where the various transponders or transmitters would be, could be and should be.

I have the same kinds of difficulties in my constituency. My constituency is probably not as big as Yukon, but it is very large. There are groupings of 50, 200, 300 or 1,700 people and we have to be concerned about the antennas and things of that nature. I do make suggestions to the CBC through the appropriate channels, but I always make it very clear that it is a management decision. It is indeed our responsibility as parliamentarians to look at the mandate and find out the best way to ensure that Canadians have the service they all want from the CBC.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.


Maka Kotto Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by reminding the House that it was the principle of precaution that sparked this debate. We are discussing something that is very important: communications. We are aware of the role of communications in a democracy. We also know that, from the moment we let a public institution such as the CBC television network fall into the hands of private owners in a democracy—in this case, our own democracy—there is a great risk of control of the masses, of communication, of information and of content by ambitions that are far from being the main concerns of the people we represent here.

I would like to remind the House of the motion in question:

That the Minister of Heritage, before committing herself in the review of the CBC–SRC mandate do comply with the motion that she herself had adopted during the 38th Parliament, part of which reads: “That the government, when establishing this independent task force, do so under the advisement of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage”. Furthermore, that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage be offered the opportunity to review and offer modifications to the terms of reference of the CBC-SRC mandate review prior to the commencement of the review, and that the chair submit a report on the motion to the House of Commons.

That has been done. I want to point out that the Bloc Québécois supports this motion. The context for the committee's motion is the following. On May 16, 2006, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage passed a motion asking that the minister review the mandate of the CBC under the advisement of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. This request was in response to a motion put forward during the 38th Parliament by the current Minister of Canadian Heritage, who was a member of the committee and the official opposition's critic at the time. The motion before us is therefore set in a dual context: on the one hand, the review of the CBC licence by the CRTC next fall and, on the other hand, the minister's intention to establish an independent task force to review the mandate of the CBC.

It is surprising to see that this member who used to recognize and call for the expertise of the heritage committee is now contending that it is not part of the committee's terms of reference to review the mandate of the CBC. This must be a side effect of being in power.

In April, the minister's director of communications stated that it was not the role of the parliamentary committee to look at a government entity.

Not only is he wrong to say such a thing, but he is also showing contempt for a committee of elected representatives to which his own boss had faithfully contributed. I think that this desire to preclude the Committee on Canadian Heritage from reviewing the mandate of the CBC speaks volumes. What do they have to hide? What kind of canned conclusions do the Conservatives want to get at? One has to wonder. I think that, even before the committee undertakes its study, the Conservatives have decided what recommendations they are looking for.

Back to the context and the fact that the CRTC constantly has to renew the CBC's licence. Whenever the CRTC reviews the CBC's application for licence renewal, it does so in accordance with the Broadcasting Act.

In section 3, the act sets out the CBC's mandate as part of the broadcasting policy for Canada. The following is an excerpt from section 3 of the act, and I quote:

—(l) the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;

(m) the programming provided by the Corporation should

(i) be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,

(ii) reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,

(iii) actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,

iv) be in English and in French, reflecting the different needs and circumstances of each official language community, including the particular needs and circumstances of English and French linguistic minorities,

(v) strive to be of equivalent quality in English and in French,

(vi) contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,

(vii) be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and

(viii) reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada—

I would like to say in passing that, contrary to the statement by the chairman of the board of the CBC, Guy Fournier, the Broadcasting Act makes no mention of any role in defending Canadian unity. Reflecting Canada as expressed in Quebec also means recognizing sovereignty.

As former Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau said on May 29:

It is wrong to claim that Radio-Canada's mandate is “necessarily” to defend national unity because it is a crown corporation.

And I quote:

This is not necessarily so. For example, Télé-Québec's mandate is not to defend Quebec sovereignty. Radio-Canada does not necessarily have a mandate to defend Canadian unity.

He continued:

If that is the intent, then say so, put it in writing, so that it is clear.

This committee, advocated by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women, should propose changes to the CBC's mandate and amend the Broadcasting Act at the same time, because the mandate is enshrined in Canadian policy. Not only the representatives of Canadians in this House, but also all Canadians, would find it unacceptable if the committee were unable to intervene in this way.

It was unacceptable to the member when she was in opposition in the 38th Parliament. That was her position in the 38th Parliament, and it was also her position when she defied, in this very Chamber, the former member for Jeanne-Le Ber.

The message she is sending, now that she is in government and no longer in opposition, is that the perspective has changed. We must remember that it is our duty to have this debate, here, because we have concerns that they probably do not share. As elected officials, we must foresee the unforeseeable.

In the 38th Parliament, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage deemed it important to examine the mandate of the CBC.

Given that we are familiar with the Conservative vision for the CBC, we feel it is essential to conduct this review, but in a collegial manner, without exclusions.

Why must we be vigilant with respect to the Conservatives in this matter? I would like to read an excerpt from the Canadian Alliance dissenting opinion on the review of the Canadian Broadcasting Act:

Canadian Alliance notes the historic role the CBC played in the lives of Canadians and the continuing investment made by the Canadian taxpayer.

Canadian Alliance would maintain a long-term funding commitment to CBC Radio.

The Canadian Alliance members said it and repeated it. They were there to support the CBC and that is a good thing. However, a little bit further down:

CA draws attention to Figure 4.13 in Our Cultural Sovereignty. CBC English audience share moving from 34.9% (1969) to 7.6% (2001-2002) is a story in itself.

Those are their words.

Further analysis reveals unprecedented audience fragmentation. There is every reason to believe fragmentation will increase dramatically in the foreseeable future.

Those are their words.

The position of Our Cultural Sovereignty which continues to see the CBC as the cornerstone of broadcasting in Canada cannot be sustained in light of this fragmentation.

Those are their words.

A recent Compas poll of Canadians shows that Canadians have as much faith in the CTV or TVA networks and specialty channels as they do in the CBC. Canadian Alliance interprets these results to say that the CBC image as protector of culture and identity on television is no longer unique.

Those are their words.

The CBC shares this image with other broadcasters including the specialty channels.

They go on to say:

In recognition of significant advances in technology, the choices available for viewers, and to get the government out of the business of being in business, we would restructure CBC television.

Those are their words.

The CBC's involvement in professional sports and the Olympics is a case in point. If the CBC is competing in the commercial marketplace why should CBC management be subjected to the kind of political interference it has experienced in recent times?

It is their question.

The only way this can happen is because of taxpayer subsidy which simply means the CBC—often through no fault of its executives—can put taxpayers' dollars in competition with private broadcasters.

I will continue to quote them:

Given these realities Canadian Alliance is convinced that the time has come to reconsider the importance of CBC television. The Committee's report may claim that the CBC is essential but the facts do not support the claim.

Those are their words.

Anyone looking at Figure 4.17 can see that the majority of Canadian programming is available on private networks.

Those are their words.

It is true that CBC attracts a large number of viewers to sports programs but these same programs could be offered on private networks.

Those are their words.

If sports is removed CBC's audience share would be less than 5%.

And this is their conclusion—in their words:

We would significantly reduce CBC operating subsidy by commercialization of CBC television.

Canadian Alliance would consider transferring a portion of the current funding for CBC television to new or existing subsidy or tax credit programs to support Canadians creating content for film and television.

This is frightening. This deserves special attention—which is why I mentioned the principle of caution in my introduction—especially given that this dissenting report, dissenting from the report entitled Our Cultural Sovereignty, was signed by the minister's parliamentary assistant, who would presumably sit on the committee that she intends to form.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of adequate funding for public radio and television. Once again, while we support this motion, we would remind the House that the Liberals do not beat around the bush.

Only a little over a year ago, the target was public affairs. Indeed, in early February 2005, we learned that CBC was imposing additional restrictions of $13 million on its French television network, namely, $6 million on general television, $3 million on support and on the regions, $400,000 on regions including Quebec, and $4 million on news.

These restrictions did not result from federal government cuts, but essentially, from reductions linked to advertising revenues and internal shuffles.

The budget for television news was $64 million in 2004-05. The budget cutbacks announced are therefore in the order of 6.5%

In terms of jobs, according to Daniel Raunet, then-president of the Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada (SCRC), job cuts so far have affected two specialized reporters, five national reporters, one researcher and three production assistants in the television current affairs division. The following excellent programs have all been affected by these cuts: Zone Libre, La Facture, Justice and Second Regard.

These cutbacks have had a major impact on the production of current affairs reporting for television.

They cut 5 of 26 national reporter positions, which is 19.2%, and 2 of 20 specialized reporter positions, which is 10%. In all, they cut 15.2% of journalistic staff in current affairs programming.

Clearly, we deplore these cuts, which are small for the CBC but huge for the news department, and we hope the minister will remind the broadcaster of its mandate.

Part II of the Broadcasting Act shows how these cuts to the news and current affairs budget go against the CBC's mandate.

The Broadcasting Act of 1991 states that:

(l) the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;

The position made public during a press conference on Thursday, February 10, 2005, sent exactly that message. Pierre Saint-Arnaud of the Canadian Press wrote:

The CBC's news and current affairs employees denounce cuts to television information programming and are asking the crown corporation to postpone them.

They are also demanding that the federal government provide adequate, uninterrupted funding for the public broadcaster.

SCRC president, Daniel Raunet...referred to the Broadcasting Act, which requires the CBC to offer programming that informs, enlightens and entertains, and deplored the fact that management seems to focus exclusively on entertainment.

If we let this government do as it pleases in this matter, we may find ourselves with a mothership that has lost its bearings and can no longer fulfill its mandate. That is why we support this motion. That is why we will fight to make our point of view heard in this matter.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague's dissertation. He knows the cultural file very well and I would like to ask him his opinion.

We are hearing from the parliamentary secretary that we spend too much time at the heritage committee wondering and worrying about the future of television and broadcast when so many issues are coming before us. I feel that we should perhaps better spend our time going out on little field trips and visiting all the little cultural institutions across this country, not to put that down because I think that is very important.

Regarding our role as legislators and in committee where we can look at the framework problems that are facing broadcasters in this country, is that not a fundamental responsibility that we have at that committee?

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.


Maka Kotto Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. We are indeed playing our role as parliamentarians. We are the representatives of the people. In heritage matters, we are in a way the defenders of cultural identity, integrity and sovereignty. In this case, in a debate such as this, we are called upon to express the fears that we are hearing. As I was saying, we are the representatives of persons who are making certain arguments, namely that culture is essential to our sense of a common home and to the continuity of our common identity. We are talking about the CBC, and we hear the parliamentary secretary opposite calling this debate unnecessary and a waste of time. In no way do I share that position.

As I was saying at the beginning of my statement, we are talking about communications and we are in that field. Communications are essential in a democracy. We cannot allow ourselves to overlook that. If that should happen, we would inevitably end up in an information dictatorship, like what is happening in the United States. I do not think this will happen; I am relying on the vigilance of parliamentarians on both sides of the House.

Allow me to clarify. If we allow information content to essentially get into private hands, to be dictated by private interests, we will find ourselves resembling a public or a population that has been lobotomized, because amidst the diversity of information we will be getting only one side of the story.

That is what we want to avoid when we reach a decision here this morning. That is what we intend to make the parliamentary secretary and his minister understand. For example, he said we have no expertise at committee to review this mandate. I remind him that we are also there to compare positions with each other, particularly the positions of people in the community, people who work in this field and also people who take in this information, this entertainment and all the popular imagery that comes out of the CBC.

This is public radio and television. It is not a private institution. As representatives of the people, it is our duty to stand up here and denounce what will probably happen, namely a deviation toward the private sector.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.


Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I am having a little difficulty in terms of understanding what part of the word yes he does not understand and for that matter the member from the NDP. The heritage minister has agreed to this. I would rather suspect that if this concurrence motion came to a vote that the government would be voting in favour of it.

It absolutely and totally baffles me that we have this situation. We have 2,200 heritage museums across Canada that receive $9 million from the government, as per the budget of the Liberals up to this point. We are at a point where the art gallery will be requiring extra facilities, as well as the library, the archives and the natural history museum. That is not to mention the fact that within Canadian Heritage there are also issues with aboriginal Canadians and multicultural issues. It goes on and on.

There is a fixation unfortunately, on the part of the opposition members currently elected, solely on broadcasting. Yes, it is important. We have said it is important. The minister has said it is important. The minister has agreed to this motion. There has never been an utterance from my mouth or her mouth to the opposite. Why are we spending time in this place discussing something that has already been agreed to? This sounds an awful lot like a filibuster.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.


Maka Kotto Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, he is impugning our motives. I want to emphasize that. The minister came and testified before us in committee. We did not hear her speak transparently, clearly, about her intention to consider the motion we are debating here this morning.

I had to propose a motion like the one here today, looking for my Liberal colleague to approve it in the debate. If the minister or even the parliamentary secretary had provided us with clear information, I do not think that we would be here debating this morning.

Deception is one of the arts of the Conservative Party. We felt forced to have this debate today in the House as a precaution. If the parliamentary secretary makes a public promise today, many people and the media will probably report it. But this was hardly the case at first. His position on this matter was not public, or else why would we have had this up for debate here this morning?

As I said, this debate is based on the precautionary principle. We do not know what they want to do, we do not know where they are headed, but we do know what they said they intended to do.

I reject outright the parliamentary secretary’s impugning of our motives—those of my colleague from the NDP, my colleague from the Liberal Party and myself.

This debate is justified. I already said so. Television is important. It is a public institution that we are debating here. If it were ever allowed to fall under the dictate of private interests, the diversity of information would be at stake, as well as the health of the CBC's very mandate for television, which we must acknowledge is the only medium today where the people still have a say.

It is important to talk about museums, but there has been a host of studies on museums. A multitude of reports are gathering dust. They need only consider these studies and reports and propose a policy. Just do not try to take us off to play tourist all over. The work on museums has been done. They should do their work now; that is what they were elected to do.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to this motion today. Members are asking why it has come before the House? I think it is important that it is before the House because decisions are being made in terms of the future of broadcasting, the future of telecommunications, and in fact the future of the CBC outside the purview of Parliament.

The good book says that what is done in the dark should be seen in the light. Given our concern over directions taken by the government, this debate is a chance for us to inform Canadians about the issues being raised and the fundamental changes being made by the government regarding broadcasting.

We are talking about the role of a public broadcaster versus a private broadcaster. There is a notion that if private broadcasters were allowed to step up to the plate they could do the job as well. Having been a former musician and having travelled the country for some 20 years, I can tell the House that nobody is more committed to the market approach than musicians because that is how we make our living.

We believe in a free and open market, but sometimes we need government to regulate it to ensure that it is in fact free and open. Whether we are talking about musicians or about getting agricultural products on the shelves at grocery stores, we know that the problem with our markets right now is that they do not have access and choice that consumers demand.

I am going to tell two stories. I was 19 years old and God I was a handsome young fella. Our band was touring the country, playing in Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax and Toronto. Everywhere we went we had an audience of university students because our record was being played on the radio at the university level.

One night we were doing a show right here in Ottawa at the old Roxy Club on Elgin Street. We were interviewed by the big FM radio station in Ottawa, which was basically the same FM chain as the one in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. During the interview I asked why we were being interviewed since our record was not being played on its station. I was told the station was not allowed to play our band in the same way it was not allowed to play other bands because it had a canned list of what it was allowed to play.

Things have changed somewhat in the last 20 years but not a lot. Right across Canada there are very few radio corporations and they run off lists. If a band is lucky enough to get on that list, then it will do fairly well because of the recording royalties, which of course as New Democrats we support.

The problem is that it is a very closed market and it is very arbitrary as to who gets heard and who does not. So when we talk about fragmentation of radio markets, many young people tune out the radio because they can find what they want to hear on other sources.

I will move from the example of the private radio to public radio. My last band, the Grievous Angels, was considered a localized band until we were interviewed by Peter Gzowski. As a result of that interview we became a national act because people across Canada listened to his show. After that interview we were selling CDs from Prince George, B.C. to Halifax and we were getting engagements.

That is the role a public broadcaster should play. It has the mandate to expose Canadians to new sounds and to new ideas, sometimes controversial ideas. It is in that public broadcast domain that consumers are given the ability to hear new ideas and new sounds. It is a role that private broadcasters simply cannot and will not play.

Does the CBC fulfill this mandate as well as it should? It certainly does not. We know there are major problems with the CBC and the New Democratic Party has been raising these problems for a number of years. It would not be an exaggeration to say there is somewhat of a crisis at the CBC. It has had years of underfunding, so much so that it has lost numerous world markets that used to have CBC television as their choice of viewing in the evening. Those markets have disappeared. They have gone to private broadcasters.

Private broadcasts on television attempt some local and regional coverage, but we lose a sense of identity in rural areas when we do not hear our own voices being spoken. There is nothing worse, and it almost sends me into a rock cut, than when I am driving on the highway outside Cochrane, Ontario and I hear the afternoon drive home show from Toronto. That is not something I want to hear on my radio. I want to hear the voices from my region. I want to hear their identity and their discussions.

There has been a problem. The underfunding of CBC year after year by the former government has put the CBC in a very difficult situation. This is an issue that we were discussing at the heritage committee.

We have raised these issues. We have asked the CBC president for a plan for restoring regional programs. We have asked CBC to address the issue of the lack of drama content in programming. We have asked about the role the CBC plays in terms of promoting film. We see that Radio-Canada in the Quebec market plays an integral role. Yet in the English market, CBC is not playing a similar role. As a heritage committee, we have started to raise these issues.

Another issue we have to raise is the issue in terms of the patronage system at CBC.

What we have now is a situation where the CBC president locks out the employees, reduces Canadian content, and ignores CRTC directives. Furthermore, he is not accountable to anyone for his actions.

The CBC is the only public broadcasting corporation in the world whose managers are political appointees.

We have to end the system of patronage at the CBC. Year after year we have had very good people on the CBC board of directors, but it has also been a political dumping ground. Let us be honest. Since the CBC was founded, 89% of the appointees to the CBC were allied to the ruling political party. We have asked for that system to stop. We have asked for accountability.

Should there be a mandate review of the CBC? Yes indeed, it is very important. We have to address these fundamental problems. The question we New Democrats have is about whether or not there is trust with the government's plan for a mandate review if we are not involved. In the last lockout, the present heritage minister mused out loud that she did not know if anybody even missed English CBC or whether anybody even noticed. The present Conservative leader in the Senate wanted the CBC to stay off the air because it rankled her political views.

We are being told not to worry, to trust the government, to let the government handle this outside of Parliament and outside of heritage. We are being told that the government will move forward and come back with decisions that could fundamentally change the CBC. My hon. colleague, the parliamentary secretary, made it very clear where he stands in terms of the CBC when he said, as heritage critic for the Reform Party:

Mr. Speaker, speaking of the CBC, the Reform Party has a very clear vision of a publicly funded CBC and a privately funded or a privatized CBC television.

So is it simply enough to expect that the heritage committee will sit on the sidelines while a mandate review goes ahead that could have profound implications for the future of broadcast? Is it reasonable to expect the heritage committee to put aside the requests it has undertaken of CBC management to respond to us in terms of regional programming plans and in terms of drama content? Should the heritage committee put this aside so this other body can make the decisions?

What we need to look at is the issue of how the crisis at the CBC is playing out in terms of larger media. As my hon. colleague from the Conservatives said, CBC does not exist in a vacuum. He is right. What we are seeing now are numerous issues that are coming to bear in terms of the future of broadcast in Canada. Again, there has to be a composite review. Where else can that review be done except at the heritage committee? That is our role.

We now are seeing questions of a mandate review at the CRTC on the renewal of broadcast licences for the private broadcasters. Have the private broadcasters stepped up to the plate in terms of Canadian domestic drama content? No, they have not. In fact, they have done a very poor job of it. I will put that on the record.

The 1999 CRTC decision changed the rules of drama and the private broadcasters said, “Trust us. Change the rules, open it up and make it easier for us and we will provide Canadians with good drama content”. If we look at station after station in prime time, we will see that it is a wasteland for Canadian products right now.

How would the changes at the CRTC with regard to the private broadcasters affect their obligations in the use of public airwaves? Because that is what we are speaking about: they are public airwaves and these are private corporations that have a responsibility to the people of Canada for the use of those airwaves.

Here is one question. How will the CRTC review of the private broadcasters' licences affect the future direction of television? How will this mandate review of the CBC affect our ability to maintain a strong and vigorous public broadcaster?

The other question is in terms of Canada's role at the international level at the GATS negotiations in Geneva. We have taken it upon ourselves to be the lead nation in terms of encouraging other countries to strip themselves of all foreign ownership restrictions on broadcast and telecom. Telecommunications in Canada, because of convergence, means that the same companies that are providing our phone service are also providing our television news network service. It is impossible to suggest that we can separate those two.

So the question is this: where is the mandate for our trade negotiators in Geneva? Where is it coming from with a government where the industry minister, when he was in private business, was with the right-wing Montreal think tank that was advocating stripping all foreign ownership restrictions on telecommunications?

We have just seen the orders from the industry minister that were released to members of Parliament and senators today in terms of telecommunications, the CRTC and government direction. As of today, it states:

The policy direction contained in the proposed order would direct the CRTC to rely on market forces to the maximum extent feasible and regulate, where there is still a need to do so, in a manner that interferes with market forces to the minimum extent possible.

That is what the minister gave as his marching orders today. Those, we can imagine, are the same marching orders that he is giving to our trade negotiators in Geneva. The question is, if the government believes that we have to allow market forces more access in telecommunications, where is that need coming from? There is not a single telecommunications company in the country that is even close to its foreign ownership limitations.

In fact, if we look at the role that telecommunications has played in Canada, our companies have done a much better job for the consumer in reaching rural regions, providing adequate service and getting broadband high speed Internet into rural areas of the country. It is much better than what we see with competitors in the United States.

We have a direction coming down from government to allow market forces as much latitude as possible when it comes to telecommunications. I would like to read for members from a policy study done on Canada's position in terms of telecommunications:

As a result of WTO and GATS commitments, Canada [already] has one of the most open and loosely regulated telecom markets amongst OECD countries.

Canada [has already] unilaterally agreed to:

end Teleglobe Canada's monopoly on transcontinental...traffic...;

end Teleglobe's special ownership restrictions, which prohibited investment by foreign telecommunication carriers and limited the investment by Stentor, (the incumbent carriers);

allow 100% foreign ownership and control of international submarine cable landings in Canada...;

allow 100% foreign ownership and control of mobile satellite systems used by a Canadian service provider...;

end Telesat's monopoly on the fixed-satellite system on March 1 2000, allowing the use of foreign satellites to provide service to Canadians....

Right now the only element that is left on the table to negotiate is the fact that we still have a 46.7% limit for foreign ownership of telecom companies. This is the very issue that our negotiators in Geneva are trying to trade away.

Where is the government going in terms of its direction for the future of telecom? Because telecom and broadcast are one and the same, and if we are asking countries in other parts of the world to strip their foreign ownership restrictions, then clearly the government must be committed to the concept of trade reciprocity. The government is accepting that we are going to strip our own foreign ownership restrictions on broadcast.

That has major implications, because Canadian policy has been consistent. The Canadian Parliament has maintained a very consistent position, that is, that maintaining our control of our sovereign airwaves is a fundamental feature of the Canadian experience. These things are now on the table.

We are looking at a government that has raised very dubious questions about its commitment to the future of the CBC and is looking to do a mandate review outside of Parliament and outside of the heritage committee. We are looking at the broadcast companies coming forward on radio and television and major questions being asked on the future obligations in terms of even having to provide Canadian content and how that should be.

We are looking at trade negotiations that are ongoing in Geneva and could allow, for example, AT&T, without any commercial presence in Canada, to buy up Bell Globemedia. As for anybody who suggests that we are going to maintain our domestic content quotas and our language quotas when we are being taken over by a large U.S. multinational that does not even have to maintain a commercial presence in this country, it is absurd. It is simply absurd to say that we will be able to maintain the policies that we have had until now.

The other issue is the convergence of new media. Where are we going with that? There has not been a very clear direction at all in terms of how Canada will be involved in the development of digital culture. Digital culture is the direction.

As an example, after I was elected and was away from home so much, my wife and children decided to get cable television against their father's strong wishes. That television is never on. My children are of the digital age. They do not watch television. They are on the Internet. That is where their sense of culture and identity is. Where is Canada in terms of the digital culture?

In the 38th Parliament there was the LaPierre report on the future of Canada's online vision. Nobody has picked up on that. That report is sitting on a shelf. That report lays out a very fascinating and powerful call to start championing the rights of the online cultural citizen. Canada should be in the forefront of digital development so that the next generation, which does not listen to radio or watch television, is able to experience Canadian identity and Canadian political and cultural issues online. We need to be at the table when that happens.

What I am saying is that major issues are coming together at this time and they are all being handled outside the purview of Parliament. We are being told to trust the government. I am sorry but I do not trust the government. I believe my responsibility as the heritage critic for the NDP is to work in Parliament and review the fundamental changes that could alter the cultural landscape for the 21st century.

Is a review of the CBC mandate needed? Yes, indeed. Is there a review needed of the mandate for telecommunications broadcast, Canadian cultural and drama policy for television? Yes, indeed. That has to happen within a holistic view and I would submit that can only happen at the heritage committee. That is why as a committee we have been trying to start to address some of these issues in this new Parliament. Yet it seems every time these issues are raised, and in fact it happened the other day, we are asked what we could possibly learn by looking at television.

It is pretty clear the government knows there is a lot on the table with television. I think it is being disingenuous with the members of the committee when it tells us to look at other things and asks why we as heritage critics are not concerned about other things. We are concerned about the whole heritage portfolio. There are many issues that have to come before us, but the problem is there is limited time.

My suggestion has been, and I have tried to work with the other parties, that we need to address the fundamental changes that are coming. If we are asleep at the switch when these decisions are being traded away in Geneva or in a backroom with Conservative lobbyists, there will be no going back from that point. We need to look at the direction.

The NDP does not want the status quo. We believe that the CBC needs to change. There needs to be a vision that brings us forward. We cannot simply accept what happened yesterday. It worked somewhat but it does not work any more. The NDP would support a mandate review, but it has to be done with a clear set of terms of reference. It has to be done in conjunction with the work that is being done, or should be done, at the heritage committee so we can bring forward a holistic view of broadcast and cultural issues in our country so that we are ready for the challenges that face us as a nation in the 21st century.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to ask this question before, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage does also, in terms of asking the member why he does not understand yes either. I have that thrown at me and the critic for the Bloc Québécois has had that thrown at him. I expect it is coming, but we will try to prevent that from happening.

The committee has asked, and the motion that is before us is supportive of it, that the minister consult the committee vis-à-vis the terms of reference of a review of CBC Radio-Canada before that review is undertaken. I wanted to ask the member for Timmins—James Bay if he has heard, as I have not, the minister say categorically either in the House or in committee in response to questions or in any ministerial statements she may have made that indeed she would consult the committee on the terms of reference of a CBC Radio-Canada mandate review before the review is undertaken.

That question was put and we never got an answer. She said she would happily seek the advice of the committee but never in regard to the terms of reference and never before the mandate review was to start. She has not said that.

I was wondering if the member opposite would concur with me. He said that he does not trust the government. I must admit to some misgivings myself, especially concerning the parliamentary secretary's views of CBC and also in view of the vote that took place two weeks ago on a motion that called for maintenance of CBC funding, which the government voted against.

There are some misgivings. That is why I thought it appropriate that the House insist via concurrence in the report of the committee with what we are asking, which is fairly innocuous, that the committee be consulted by the minister on the terms of reference of a CBC mandate review. Has he heard the minister clearly state that she would consult the committee before the mandate review was initiated?

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did try to pay very close attention to the minister's whirlwind tour through committee, which seemed to be over before it started, and I did not hear it at committee.

What I did hear from the minister when she was the heritage critic was that during the lockout she mused out loud that she did not know if anybody missed English CBC. What I did hear was the present leader of the Conservative Party in the Senate who said she did not want CBC back on the air because she did not think it was good for the Conservative Party. I have heard the present parliamentary secretary, who said when he was the Reform critic that he was very clear on a privatized role for English CBC television. That is what I have heard. I have not heard yes clear enough.

When I did ask the parliamentary secretary if he would be willing to work with us on committee so that we could help in the larger issues that could not be addressed in the CBC mandate, he categorically said no. He did not think it was the role of the heritage committee to be involved in any of the fundamental decisions that are coming down in terms of television policy.

The question is does yes mean yes, or does yes mean no? I believe at this point from the government that unless we are debating it in the House, unless we get it on the record and unless we get a very clear commitment from the minister, there is not a lot of trust in our party where the mandate review will go. We believe it has to be done in conjunction with the work that is being done at the heritage committee.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.


Maka Kotto Bloc Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to congratulate my NDP colleague for his presentation. I would like to ask the following question with regard to the only commitment regarding the CBC made by the Conservatives during the last election. On page 40 of the their sacrosanct election platform Stand Up for Canada, they state, and I quote, “A Conservative government will: ensure that the CBC and Radio-Canada continue to perform their vital role as national public service broadcasters”.

I am asking my NDP colleague what does that mean? Is it a commitment that allows for cuts, that does not take into account the regional role of state television? Is it simply an indecipherable, superficial, insipid promise? I would like to hear his opinion.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did read that. I found that during the election and I also spent a great deal of time when the budget came down trying to find culture. I even looked it up under K, but it was not there in the budget either.

The question in terms of a commitment to a public broadcaster is meaningless, unless we are talking about a commitment in financing. That is what has been noticeably absent.

When we hear comments from the minister that the public broadcaster should have a distinctive role which should not be in competition with private broadcasters, I think, what are we talking about then? Are we talking about taking away the ability of CBC to raise advertising revenues so that it becomes a small, diminutive education network that is on channel 300 of the multi-screen universe? If it cannot compete for advertising revenues, I certainly do not see anything in the Conservative budget or in terms of the language the Conservatives have used that they would be willing to fund it to the degree necessary for television to be able to provide the kind of programming that it needs in the very expensive television markets of today.

The government is committed to maintaining a public broadcaster, but that could take any form. Right now, our concern is that the form it would take would be in a very diminished role, unless we hear some very clear commitments that yes means yes. Yes means a public broadcaster that is fully funded. Yes means a broadcaster that is able to carry on its role in the region and yes, this is a broadcaster that can compete against a private broadcaster for advertising revenues.