Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, tabled on Wednesday, November 21, 2007, be concurred in.
I am pleased to rise for the first time in this House as the Bloc Québécois heritage critic. My first thoughts are for my colleague from Saint-Lambert, who has done such a wonderful job as critic since 2004. I thank him for all the work he has done. I would also like to assure all the stakeholders in the cultural community in Quebec and even Canada that, like my friend, the member for Saint-Lambert, I will listen to them and be an ardent defender not only of culture, artists and artisans, but also of the right of nations to exist as strong and different entities in the world. To me, cultural diversity should never disappear.
Before I get to the substance of my remarks, I also want to recognize the people of Ahuntsic. The name Ahuntsic calls to mind our historical heritage. Ahuntsic was the Huron name given to the French assistant of Récollet missionary Nicolas Viel, whom we have all heard of. Both men died in the rapids of the Rivière des Prairies in 1625.
What is important is that today, Ahuntsic is a magnificent cultural community. I wanted to pay tribute to the teams behind FestiBlues, an international festival, as well as Cité Historia, Maison de la culture, Ressart, Artisans de la rue, Foyer de la danse, Musique Multi-Montréal, Violon de Grand-mère, and our libraries and educational institutions. As hon. members can appreciate, Ahuntsic is a riding where culture is really very important. I also want to pay special tribute to the people behind the project to create the Maison des arts et des lettres, a very important addition to our community and something we are going to work very hard for at the federal, academic, municipal and provincial levels.
We have decided today to focus on issues that are important to the Bloc Québécois and Quebec because culture is an important part of our identity and the survival of our nation—and by nation, I mean Quebec. However, culture is also vital to Canada as a nation. The same is true of the environment, which is a crucial issue for the generations to come. And what is this government doing? It is systematically proceeding with a demolition project and muzzling the opposition in Bali. The same is true of broadcasting and telecommunications policy, where we are also seeing veiled demolition projects—the government does not act directly—and where the government is keeping the opposition out of the debate.
Hence this morning's motion, aimed at setting the record straight to some extent and raising the alarm with this government which, it should be remembered, is a minority government. The motion we are debating states, and I quote:
That, in the opinion of the Committee, any new directive to the CRTC from the Governor-in-Council amending the interpretation of the Broadcasting Policy for Canada or the Canadian Telecommunications Policy be first put before the House through the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage for its consideration.
This motion, which I put forward at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and which was adopted by a majority of committee members, reflects a profound uneasiness with this government turning its back on its democratic duties when it comes to presenting its policy directives to Parliament.
If this government wants to let the free market prevail, that is its philosophy. But if it wants to amend the legislation governing the CRTC, it should do it through the front door and let us have a debate in this House.
In fact, if we are debating this issue here today, it is because of this government's unacceptable behaviour in refusing to put its policy directives into a bill. This government, which is still a minority government, is bringing major policy changes in through the back door, without any real debate.
It seems fundamental to us that the partners have their say on issues of such importance to Quebeckers and to Canadians as well.
Talking about changes to broadcasting is really something fundamental that affects the protection of culture for the Quebec nation as well as for the Canadian nation. That is why we want these changes debated here in this House.
If they want to change the legislation, they should introduce a bill.
I know some people will insist that no major changes are being contemplated, and they will suggest that people are getting upset over nothing and that opposition members of Parliament are blowing things out of proportion, but that is not true. On November 6, the current Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages made an important announcement. She did not make it here, nor did she make it in committee. She made it at the convention of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. She said, “I challenge you to be open to change—because change will come.”
I would like to ask the minister what changes she thinks are in store. Everyone here would like to know. The Conservatives are doing their best to avoid talking about these fundamental changes that will affect our ability to protect Canadian and Quebec culture.
Let us talk about these changes. During the ADISQ Gala on October 28, in response to recent CRTC decisions that indicate a shift toward policies that put market forces ahead of the duty to protect culture and society, 18 groups of artists and businesses operating in the cultural sector, including 17 that work mainly in Quebec, strongly urged the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages to use her power to issue policy directives to the CRTC to avoid this major shift.
This protest from Quebeckers received unanimous support from Quebec's National Assembly. Then, on October 29, in response to this urgent appeal from the cultural sector, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages told my colleague, the member for Saint-Lambert, that “the CRTC is an arm's length agency”. Nevertheless, 11 days before that, on October 18, that same minister had ordered the CRTC to review its decision to amend the broadcasting licence of Avis de recherche inc. So she did intervene. On the 29th, the CRTC was autonomous, but on the 18th, she intervened in a decision. That is contradictory. Perhaps she was trying to hide her real intentions. Perhaps on the 18th, she was revealing her true intentions.
The truth came out during the minister's speech on November 6. The minister told those attending the Canadian Association of Broadcasters convention that her first priority was “—an increased reliance on competition and market forces—”. She made that very clear. Later on, she said, “The status quo is no longer an option".
The Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages could not have been more clear. She said no to the Quebec and Canadian cultural communities and to the National Assembly. And she said yes to the financial free market. Regarding broadcasting, whether on the radio, television or Internet, the minister's approach is, in fact, to defend the interests of large corporations. She treats culture first and foremost as a consumer product, even though Canada signed the convention on cultural diversity.
I think this conservative approach will be detrimental to culture and to the Quebec nation, which the Prime Minister and his government claim to recognize. Furthermore, in the speech made by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages on November 6, there was no mention of the concept of nation. In fact, there was no place in her speech for the Quebec nation. For the Conservative government, nation is merely a word and is not linked with any action or real commitment thus far. We must denounce this, because we are not a “nation-concept”, but rather a real nation that truly exists and we must have our powers. It is even more upsetting when this kind of behaviour is seen in a minister from Quebec.
At present, artists are worried, and with good reason.
Unfortunately, we cannot count on the “Quebeckness”—that is, a sense of belonging to a nation called Quebec—of any Conservative members to defend the interests of the Quebec nation when it comes to broadcasting and in other areas.
Under the Conservatives, Canada is unfortunately following a path driven by market forces rather than the defence of national identities. Not only is the Quebec nation worried, but the Canadian nation is also concerned. The Quebec nation must not be dragged down this path, which, in the end, serves no purpose but assimilation into what could be called global cultures. We are here to defend our culture of course, but I really encourage the other members from Canada to also defend Canadian culture, just as we, the Bloc Québécois, can do for Canadians.
We therefore repeat that, in order to support our culture, it is crucial that the application of radio and television broadcasting policies be left to the Government of Quebec, our national government, and that it be allowed to determine the regulatory framework within its borders.
When the current Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities of the Conservative government was communications minister in Quebec, he defended the following statement:
Quebec must be able to establish the rules for operating radio and television systems, and control development plans for telecommunications networks, service rates and the regulation of new telecommunications services...Quebec cannot let others, meaning Canada, [member's emphasis] control programming for electronic media within its borders...To that end, Quebec must have full jurisdiction and be able to deal with a single regulatory body.
The member for Pontiac, like his Conservative colleagues from Quebec, is now contributing to the threat facing Quebec society and its culture.
Now, more than ever, Quebec needs its own CRTC. We cannot trust the Canadian government or a pan-Canadian body to protect our Quebec nation and its culture.
A Quebec body would consult and make decisions based on the priority interests of our nation, and only our nation. Furthermore, the power of direction would be assumed by the Quebec government.
Having recognized Quebec as a nation, the federal government must now do something tangible about it and at the very least agree to a devolution of power, if not give up that power under the Constitution. This could be a first step in showing that it truly recognizes us as a nation.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government is characteristically anti-democratic, implementing policies without debate and presenting parliamentarians and the general public with a fait accompli.
In fact, this government does not respect what the majority of Quebeckers want and it is abusing its prerogatives.
It does so on the environment—as we have seen quite recently—and on the gun registry. We saw what it did to Status of Women Canada and Canada Summer Jobs. I could go on and on. The only time there was any kind of agreement was in connection with the war in Afghanistan. That is all it cares about. But there again, the government has hijacked the mandate. Unfortunately, instead of striking a balance between humanitarian aid and security, the government has put the entire focus on war.
As far as broadcasting and telecommunication are concerned, this government is using its power of direction over the CRTC in order to weaken the regulatory framework without any real debate in this House.
When the CRTC drifts toward deregulation and ignores its responsibility to protect culture, this government does not say a word.
I strongly encourage the House to pass this motion in order to make this government more accountable to the people of Quebec and Canada before this Parliament.
In Quebec, as anywhere else in the world, our national identity depends on the strength and vitality of our creators. When they sound the alarm as they did in October, we cannot sit idly by, especially when the Minister of Canadian Heritage says she recognizes the nation of Quebec and she herself is from Quebec.