Mr. Speaker, my Bloc Québécois colleagues and I support this motion because we believe it is critically important for elected officials to make their position clear to the government and the CRTC. Providing locally or regionally produced news services must be part of the operating conditions for general interest television licence holders.
Nobody is trying to interfere with the CRTC's work. The CRTC must remain independent and must continue to apply the required telecommunications and broadcasting regulations. With this motion, we are discharging our responsibility as elected representatives of the people and expressing our vision for the evolution of general interest television, which has, historically, played a major role in the cultural development of our societies, particularly in Quebec.
Yesterday, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage unanimously passed a Bloc Québécois motion calling on the government to defend the notion that local news and production must be maintained in general interest television. I will not read the motion, which is more or less the same as the one before us today.
Although I have not yet heard from my NDP colleague, I am pleased to conclude, based on what I heard yesterday, that he too will support this and that the motion will be agreed to unanimously, just as it was in committee. I think that everyone here wants to support it. We are all working toward the same goal: maintaining local news and production services.
Parliamentarians decided to take action on this matter yesterday and today because of the lack of leadership shown by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages in response to the statement by the new owner of TQS about getting rid of news services. We would not even be talking about this had the minister acted on the questions we asked in the House and given some direction to the CRTC.
She may claim to sympathize with the 270 workers that were laid off and lost their jobs—we saw what happened—but let us not forget the major impact, be it social, economic or cultural, this is having on the regions. Despite the sympathy she expressed, she kept repeating that this was a private transaction. That is disturbing. I think that comes from the old Conservative habit of looking at everything from a consumerism perspective, thus making everything a private transaction. That is disturbing.
Airwaves are public domain, and general interest television broadcasting has its own set of requirements. I could quote lawyer, journalist and Laval University Department of Information and Communications professor Florian Sauvageau, who recognized that it was inconceivable to maintain general interest television while at the same time eliminating all news content.
Let us ask ourselves a few questions. Will the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages have a burst of common sense and the sudden desire to listen? Will she give directions to the CRTC concerning TQS? It is all fine and well for the Conservative government to say that it will support this motion in principle, but it is not saying anything about TQS. It remains silent on that issue, which is very disturbing. We have just heard that it will support the motion, but will not discuss TQS and cases before the CRTC. It is one thing to approve in principle, but action is required. This reminds me of the motion on the Quebec nation; the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party supported it in principle, but no action followed. Principles are fine, but we want action as well.
In the case of TQS, for instance, like it or not, the minister's initial reaction was consistent with the rationale behind past statements of hers.
I am going to go back in time for a moment. On October 28, during the ADISQ gala, 18 artist and cultural business groups, including 17 that work mainly in Quebec, called on the minister to use her power to issue policy directives to the CRTC to avoid what they called the laissez-faire attitude of that body, which was shifting toward policies that put market forces ahead of the duty to protect culture and society. What was the minister's reaction?
We got her true response on November 6, when she addressed the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. The minister said, and I quote: “There must be an increased reliance on competition and market forces...”. She added: “I challenge you to be open to change, because change will come...”. That is scary. She then went on to say: “The status quo is no longer an option. We must create an environment that rewards excellence.”
In my opinion, the minister could not be clearer. She rejected the call that came primarily from Quebec' cultural community.
In this sense, the decisions of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and of the Conservative government are very consistent with the policies of the Canadian Alliance, their founding party. In fact, some excerpts from the dissenting opinion expressed by the Canadian Alliance in the Lincoln report are quite telling about their deregulation philosophy. That party said, and I quote: “We would remove content definition regulations.” It also added:
Canadian Alliance supports relaxing foreign ownership rules on Canadian industry, including telecommunications and broadcast distribution. We suggest conducting an immediate review to determine whether to reduce or completely remove these rules.
So, they are very consistent and I respect that.
The current Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was then the Minister of Industry, applied the same philosophy when he issued an order calling upon the CRTC to regulate telephony as little as possible. That action was condemned by Quebec's Union des consommateurs and by small providers of telephone services.
As we can see, where there is a will, there is a way. We are talking here about an order saying that the government is going to deregulate the industry and keep it that way. Now, we are told that we cannot do anything and that we must wait.
Will the minister and this government defend general interest television, not only in principle but also in action as we asked it to in the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and as the motion calls for today? The question is there. We can give the government a chance, and we will see. Earlier, the critics did not want to broach the subject of TQS. So we are no further ahead in terms of information about TQS. I am a very optimistic person, and I believe in people's goodwill. I think then that the minister could perhaps listen not only to workers, but also to those of us here in the House who are asking her to act. I could also say that history tends to repeat itself, but we should not be pessimistic. We must stay positive and believe that, perhaps, the minister will do something.
In a completely different vein, but still fundamental to this debate, there is the issue of Quebec's jurisdictions. We believe that Quebec can no longer play the role of lobbyist. We have had enough. We have a unanimous motion from the National Assembly, and we are bringing the minister a message. We want full jurisdiction, and we are convinced that Quebec would be in a better position to properly defend issues related to its own culture, especially in terms of broadcasting and diversity of information.
Historically, Quebec has always asked that broadcasting be recognized as part of its jurisdiction.
In 1929, Quebec premier Alexandre Taschereau held a vote on the Quebec broadcasting act. The federal government responded by adopting the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act on May 26, 1932. It provided for the establishment of the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, which was instituted that same year and was the forerunner of the CRTC.
On February 25, 1968, Daniel Johnson clearly expressed why Quebec had to have a say in communications:
The assignment of broadcasting frequencies cannot and must not be the prerogative of the federal government. Quebec can no longer tolerate being excluded from a field where its vital interest is so obvious.
This vital component of Quebec's development has been defended by Quebec governments of all political stripes. In fact, for all Quebec governments, it is a cultural issue and, like the creators, the news people in conventional television contribute, in their own way, to the evolution of culture and the identity of a nation, which is shaped over time and by all regions of Quebec.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives are allowing Canada to be driven by market forces—we have several examples and I provided a few earlier—rather than defending national identities. Our nation should not be led down a path that does not serve it well.
We will reiterate that supporting our national culture urgently requires, at a very minimum, the application of telecommunications and broadcasting policies that are the responsibility of the Government of Quebec, our national government, which must establish the regulatory framework in its territory. We now need a CRTQ and it is legally possible to establish it with people of good will. I refer my colleagues to our Bill C-540 and urge them to support it.
Quebec could put in place its own policies, particularly with regard to the definition of conventional television, diversity of news and approval of transactions in the broadcasting sector that reflect the values of Quebec society.
By recognizing Quebec as a nation, the federal government must take concrete action in that direction. It is not just a question of principle or hollow words. They may say that we have been recognized, that we should be happy and that things are good. No. Responsibilities and actions must accompany the recognition of our nation.
Unfortunately, the federalist members from Quebec, including the minister and my colleague, the Liberal heritage critic, whom I respect, have nothing to say about this.
The most incomprehensible of all, in my opinion, is the current Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, a former minister in Robert Bourassa's government, who had quite a bit to say about this issue and said it with a great deal of passion and panache. When he served as Minister of Communications from 1990 to 1994, he said:
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 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.
He also wrote to the federal ministers at the time:
While telecommunications are important to Canada's identity, they are even more vital to Quebec, whose future on this continent will demand greater effort.
Today, in his public statements, he is comfortable with a situation that he previously condemned. To my way of thinking, it is no surprise that Premier Bourassa lost the battle.
It is clear that this motion refers to the difficult situation facing TQS. As we have said before, the Bloc Québécois intends to submit a brief to the CRTC calling on it to keep the licence requirement to provide appropriate news coverage.
I therefore invite the minister and all my colleagues in the other opposition parties to follow our lead, even though I am beginning to have doubts about the Conservatives, because earlier the spokesperson did not want to go any further in the debate. I hope with all my heart that the minister will submit a brief to the CRTC.
In conclusion, I believe that the approval of the transaction between Cogeco and Remstar to purchase TQS will be a test of the effectiveness of the new policy on the diversity of voices that the CRTC introduced in January 2008. It is to be hoped that the CRTC will take the broadcasting policy for Canada into consideration. The 1991 Broadcasting Act provides that:
3(1) (i) the programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting system should
(i) be varied and comprehensive, providing a balance of information, enlightenment and entertainment for men, women and children of all ages, interests and tastes—
That truly is diversity. In interpreting that section, we, like many experts, understand that a general interest television station must inform and enlighten, in other words, provide informed and enlightened news bulletins. As an example, I am convinced that the disappearance of the CKAC newsroom had a significant impact on the diversity of voices—and it would be equally significant if the TQS newsroom were to disappear.
I would remind the House that, sadly, in 2005, despite another unanimous motion in Quebec's National Assembly, the CRTC authorized the disappearance of the CKAC newsroom and, unfortunately, the Liberal heritage minister at the time did nothing to stop it. Thus, there is cause for concern. CKAC is one example, and I hope the same thing does not happen with TQS.
I would like to close on a topic—my colleagues will call it unrelated—that is very painful. I must mention it, because it is a very current issue. Speaking of nations, I cannot help but mention that the Quebec nation—without wishing to digress—has asserted itself perfectly well. When the government sends the Governor General of Canada to France to launch the festivities for the 400th anniversary of Quebec, one must wonder whether we are celebrating Canada's birthday or that of Quebec. Excuse me: ridicule has never killed anyone, but it certainly hurts. It is very upsetting for me, for many Quebeckers, and for my country, Quebec.