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House of Commons Hansard #90 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crtc.

Topics

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Honoré—Mercier for his interest in local and regional news throughout Quebec. In the Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches regions, TQS offers a much appreciated newscast.

The CRTC is a quasi-judicial tribunal. Of course, it may be tempting sometimes for Parliament or the government to interfere. We know however that, in 1994, a former Liberal minister interfered with the CRTC's decision-making process and had to resign. On that subject, the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien used to say that a minister must not interfere with or exert any kind of pressure on independent agencies such as the CRTC. It is as if the Minister of Justice dictated to the Supreme Court what its decisions should be.

With that in mind, I would like to ask a question of my colleague. Seeing that the minister, the government and Parliament must respect the CRTC's independence, how does he see the role of Parliament and of the government in order to avoid any interference on their part with an independent agency?

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is not about giving orders to the CRTC, and we fully understand that. The CRTC does not take orders from Parliament or the government. This motion is about expressing a wish.

We are taking a strong stance because it is an important issue. I would also remind my colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse that it is also our role to express our views in this House and to represent our constituents, and in this case people from all over Quebec who have clearly expressed their desire to see the news service maintained at TQS.

In fact, I was a little surprised to hear my colleague's comments since I thought that maintaining the news service at TQS was important to him. The fact that he refuses to commit himself and that he says that no one should take a stance on this issue is both disconcerting and disappointing. I am giving him another chance to recant if he so wishes.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if my colleague from Honoré-Mercier had the opportunity to participate in the Conseil de presse du Québec hearings. These hearings were recently held across Quebec—the one in Rimouski took place during the past couple of weeks. The council told us that what was remarkable about these meetings was the consensus that emerged in the briefs and opinions presented by the public throughout the regions as to their regional needs. These people need local news, they need to see themselves reflected in that news and their stories told.

As the member said so well, these people need to see a reflection of who they are, and they obviously spoke about the impact of any deterioration in that regard.

Does my colleague from Honoré-Mercier have any comment on the impact of this deterioration, if we allow things like that to happen in terms of our very fragile communities, which I have to say, even if it hurts me to do so, are slowly dying, mainly in Quebec, but undoubtedly in other parts of Canada as well?

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her question. It is clear that she values the different regions of Quebec. This has always been important to her. I did not have a chance to attend the meetings, but I have read a number of documents on the subject, and I will answer her question.

Our regions must be represented in news stories. We must take concrete action to ensure that this happens. We cannot leave this up to the general interest television broadcasters and let them do what they want, because they are interested only in the larger, more lucrative markets. Our regions cannot be left out. They have the right to be heard and the right to be recognized.They also have the right to have their own distinct news service, taking into account local and regional diversity.

As the member said, the regions are currently facing a number of challenges, one being the rural exodus of young people. This will certainly not do anything to counter that.

Once again, I thank the member for her question, and I would like to stress the importance of having local, regional content on our general interest television broadcasters.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to tell you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.

I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member of the opposition for this opportunity to debate a public policy issue that is so important to the social and democratic vitality of our society in general and to the regions that comprise it, in particular, as our hon. colleague just mentioned.

I would like to point out that while the government supports this motion in principle, we have no intention of making any comments about matters that are currently before the CRTC.

As everyone knows, the TQS issue is complicated and we will not take a position regarding this commercial transaction. It is the responsibility of the CRTC, an agency that operates at arm's length from the government , to regulate so as to ensure that the objectives of the legislation are met.

Our government is committed to ensuring a strong Canadian broadcasting system, a strong production sector and the creation of quality Canadian content that is accessible to everyone.

It is typical that a Liberal member would suggest interfering in CRTC decisions, something we would not do, but I am happy to listen to my colleague here today. That is why I feel I must remind the House that the CRTC plays a quasi-judicial role and we must let it do its job.

Despite undeniable progress in communications and information technology, communities basically remain attached to a given geographical area. We have a large country, and the communities at the heart of our nation are scattered across this vast land.

The Canadian broadcasting system is probably one of this country's greatest achievements. Broadcasting helps define who we are and who we want to be. Broadcasting is a tool that enables us to: find out about current issues; share and discuss our ideas and dreams; innovate and take advantage of our entrepreneurial spirit; give our children the opportunity to discover our world; and give families a chance to spend time together and be entertained.

More importantly, broadcasting provides some of the greatest support for our democracy by helping citizens become better informed. It is a forum for exploration, discussion and awareness.

There are many ways of reflecting a regional reality. Maintaining a “locally or regionally produced news service” is certainly one of them, but one must not overlook the contribution of public and educational broadcasters, which reflect regional realities through various means.

This brings me to the key part of my speech, namely the contribution of broadcasting, and public broadcasting in particular, to the development of a free, democratic and economically strong society, which builds on the strengths of its regional components.

Let us start by our national public broadcaster, whose current mandate is set out in the 1991 Broadcasting Act. Section 3(1)(m)(ii) states that the programming provided by the CBC should reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions.

This goes to show that, at the very heart of the corporation's mandate, there is the idea that the national public broadcaster has to be rooted in the daily reality of Canadian communities. This mandate was recently ratified by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, of which the hon. member for Bourassa is a member, in its report on the CBC/Radio-Canada.

There are many ways to reflect a country's regional diversity. Maintaining a “locally or regionally produced news service” is not the only way. For example, it seems that region-network interaction preceded the current move toward platform integration that characterizes existing CBC Radio-Canada programming. As part of his testimony during licence renewal hearings for CBTV-TV (Quebec) in 2004, CBC Radio-Canada's executive vice-president of French television at the time commented on what had been happening with Cogeco-affiliated stations since the newsrooms were separated in 2002.

He described how program segments broadcast across the network had been incorporating more and more reports produced by regional stations. He also said that integrating the newsrooms had resulted in greater interaction between network headquarters and the regions and had increased collaboration.

In francophone markets, our national public broadcaster produces local news programs, and also reflects regional realities on a larger scale through locally produced programming broadcast nationwide, thereby proving that local vitality need not be confined exclusively to local communities.

The national public broadcaster is not the only one offering a regional perspective in its programming. There are six provincial educational broadcasters in Canada. These services fall within the purview of provincial educational authorities that determine their mandate and provide part of their funding. They are still subject to the provisions of the Broadcasting Act.

These services must be distributed free of charge as part of basic packages by cable distributors in their province of origin. These services are included in satellite distribution lists and are provided by satellite distribution companies. They may be provided by cable distributors outside of their province of origin, but distribution conditions may vary.

These networks are dedicated first and foremost to education. They play a significant role in their home provinces and communities.

When it renewed their licences in 2001, the CRTC praised educational television services, such as TVO and TFO in Ontario.

The regulatory body stated that they “provide programming distinctly different from that which is generally available to the public. The Commission fully supports the unique and valuable role they play in the Canadian broadcasting system”.

Networks like these provide rich and diverse programming.

For example, from Monday to Thursday, TFO, Ontario's French-language educational television network, broadcasts PANORAMA the only live public affairs program for Ontario francophones. TFO also broadcasts magazines and documentaries.

In Quebec, one of the objectives of Télé-Québec is to “reflect regional realities and the diversity of Quebec society”, which it does without a newsroom and by broadcasting documentaries and current affairs programs on society, science and culture.

Michèle Fortin, President and CEO of Télé-Québec had this to say in the 2006-2007 annual report:

Originality, openness to the world, freedom of thought—Télé-Québec has been able to retain, and even refine, its unique and vital signature in the Quebec television scene...adding episodes of the magazine Méchant contraste, a program completely produced in the regions and a voice for all of Quebec.

According to Télé-Québec, it broadcasts “programs that have sought to reflect the reality of the regions as a whole and individually.”

In western Canada, the Saskatchewan Communication Network, the public educational television network in Saskatchewan, has the mandate of providing cultural, information and educational programming. SCN rebroadcasts CBC regional and provincial news broadcasts. SCN also broadcasts local news from the Southwest TV News network and other programs that it places in the broader category of news.

In the end, there is no doubt that the underlying spirit of the motion moved today by the member from Bourassa is motivated by a deep commitment to the social, economic and democratic vitality of communities throughout the country. It is this spirit that we support today by standing behind regional and local programming.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that I am very happy to hear that this motion will be supported by the Conservatives. This is about the democratic expression of our people. We are here, so we can give our opinions. We are here not only to speak, but also to follow through on our opinions and vote.

I would like to hear what the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean thinks about a topic he touched on, the CBC.

I have some serious concerns about the CBC in the regions, especially the fact that the Téléjournal de l'Est du Québec—I am sure my colleague is familiar with this—is entirely produced in Quebec City. We have the necessary equipment in Sept-Îles, Matane or Rimouski, but since 1993—if I am not mistaken—the show has been entirely produced in Quebec City, even though it dedicates short 20- or 30-second segments to regional content presented by our cameramen and journalists.

The CBC has a responsibility. All that we get are a few news stories on a half-hour evening radio show.

I would like to know what my colleague thinks about this, since he spoke about this issue. Should the CBC, a corporation financed by the people we represent, not get more involved in the regions? Is that not part of its mandate?

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question. Obviously, the subject we are discussing here today concerns TQS. CBC representatives are currently involved in giving evidence to various House of Commons committees. Having the pleasure of sitting with a number of my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Official Languages, I know we have already begun asking the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation representative some questions, and we will continue to do so.

To answer my hon. colleague's question, in part, I know that news is extremely important in the regions in Canada and Quebec. As for TQS, we also have a regional program in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean that is very popular with our citizens and that reports what is happening in our beautiful region. There is also another reason. Opportunities are needed for young people studying media art and technology in Jonquière, where we train most technicians and many of the animators on all television and radio programs in Quebec. We must continue to offer these young people opportunities in our regions, in our province and in our country. We will therefore continue working on this issue and closely follow everything that is happening with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague on reading the speaking notes that were prepared for him, but knowing him and his values, I know that he does not necessarily believe everything that was written for him. I would like him to set aside the notes that the Prime Minister's Office prepared for him, speak from the heart and tell us what he really thinks about the cuts to regional news at TQS.

Does he agree with his colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse, for whom I have a great deal of respect, but who disappointed this House earlier when he said that the government should throw up its hands and do nothing to try to save TQS and regional news?

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was able to do a good job of reading my notes because I had carefully watched the member for Honoré-Mercier read his. I even asked for a stand so that, for the first time, I could do what he does.

It is very clear that the government wants to send the message that we want to keep news services across the country so that the people in the regions are well informed. It is very important for us to send the message that we are not getting involved in what is happening with the CRTC at present or in the private transaction concerning the purchase of TQS.

It is clear that regionalists and people in every region of the country want to continue providing Canadians with regional news content to keep them well informed.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Compton—Stanstead has the floor for a very brief question.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. I have a question on all this fuss about the government not wanting to support the CRTC. Would the hon. member agree to support the Bloc on the creation of a CRTC in Quebec that would be called the CQRT?

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, court rulings have already stated the framework in which this had to be managed in Canada. In this matter, among others, this is a private transaction. I think the situation has to stay the way it is right now.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to debate the issue of local news and programs within general interest television stations. This debate provides us an opportunity to look at the existing public policy with respect to this issue and to the current investments private general interest television broadcasters make when it comes to the news.

I would like to point out that the government supports this motion in principle. However, we do not intend to comment on matters that are currently before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC. The TQS issue is a complex issue and we are not taking a position on this commercial transaction.

It is the responsibility of the CRTC, an agency that operates completely independently from the government, to regulate in a way that ensures that the goals of the legislation are met.

Our government is committed to ensuring that we have a strong Canadian broadcasting system, a strong production sector and good Canadian content that is accessible to everyone.

The motion moved by the opposition reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the provision of a locally or regionally produced news service must be part of the operating conditions for general interest television licence holders.

In fact, the content on television reflects how communities perceive themselves and direct their actions.

In broadcasting, over the years, the Parliament of Canada has defined a Canadian broadcasting policy that states the major objectives related to providing television and radio programming in Canada. The Broadcasting Act stipulates that our broadcasting system is made up of public, private and community components, makes use of radio frequencies that are public property and provides, through its programming, a public service essential to the maintenance and enhancement of national identity and cultural sovereignty.

Section 3 of the Act states that the programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting system should provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern.

The Broadcasting Act also states that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, an independent agency, shall regulate and supervise all aspects of the Canadian broadcasting system with a view to implementing the Canadian broadcasting policy.

The Act lists the general powers of the CRTC. It can, among others, establish classes of licences, issue licences for such terms not exceeding seven years and subject to such conditions related to the circumstances of the licensee, amend any condition of a licence, issue renewals of licences for such terms not exceeding seven years, and suspend or revoke any licence.

That is what is very interesting about the motion we are debating here today. Indeed, the Canadian broadcasting policy as outlined in the act includes objectives regarding local and regional programing and news services. It is also clear about the powers granted to the CRTC in the regulation of licence holders to that effect.

It is also important to mention that the CRTC established the regulations governing general interest television, based on public consultation. This regulatory framework dates back to 1987, and was amended in 1999 and more recently in 2006.

It is important to note that during its review of this regulatory framework in 1999, the CRTC looked into the issue of local programs and news. At the time, the CRTC said that news is a key element in establishing identity and viewer loyalty for a local station. The CRTC also said that general interest television stations could not solicit local advertising in a market without providing local news coverage or other local programming.

The CRTC decided that it would not impose quantitative commitments for these types of programs. However, the licence holders shall henceforth have to prove how they meet the demand for this type of programming and how their content addresses the concerns of their local audiences. This will be done on a case-by-case basis. The CRTC may resort to imposing specific licence conditions for local news and broadcasts.

Private general interest broadcasters contribute to news production and broadcasting. In this regard, general interest television stations have invested more than $325 million in 2006-2007 in this type of programming, an increase of $35 million over 2001-2002. News production and broadcasting represents 53% of their total investment in Canadian programming.

The Broadcasting Act sets out the objectives of the Canadian broadcasting policy. The CRTC is responsible for governing the broadcasting industry and ensuring that the objectives of the act are met.

The CRTC will examine the licence of each private general interest broadcaster in 2009. This process will be public and will allow all interested parties to inform the CRTC of their views. The issue of local and regional programming will be examined at that time. Licence holders with privileged access to the broadcasting system will have a role to play in attaining the public policy objectives.

The Canadian broadcasting system is certainly one of our greatest achievements. Broadcasting helps us define who we are and what we want to become. Broadcasting is a tool that enables us to: find out about current issues; share and discuss our ideas and dreams; innovate and take advantage of our entrepreneurial spirit; give our children the opportunity to discover our world; and give families a chance to spend time together and be entertained.

Even more importantly, broadcasting supports our democracy by helping citizens become better informed. It is a forum for exploration, discussion and awareness.

The news is a key component of that vitality. Geographical proximity to the news is also fundamental, but it is not the only way to enrich Canada's social fabric because the system is made up of a variety of elements that come together to provide Canadians with a wealth of diverse points of view that we need to maintain and improve.

As stated in the Broadcasting Act, the Canadian people must have a broadcasting system that provides access to diverse viewpoints and news from many sources.

That is why the government supports the principle underlying the motion moved by the member for Bourassa.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Bourassa who brought forward this motion, and also my hon. colleague from Honoré-Mercier who spoke to it.

Before I get into a question, this is less about regulations and arm's length organizations and less about the technicalities of the Broadcasting Act. This is more about the general philosophy behind what it is we are trying to accomplish here. To explain what I mean by that, I will use an example from my own area.

In Newfoundland and Labrador right now, we have two provincial newscasts, both of which are successful for the simple reason that it is more than just general news and information in the standard sense, as we would see in a national broadcaster.

What we do see is a crossroads and a way to communicate within all regions in the province. It is a crossroads for our culture. It is a crossroads that we depend on and because of that, it becomes a responsibility. It is a responsibility for those who endeavour to get into the broadcasting business that they will receive certain protections culturally for their businesses so that they can broadcast, but at the same time, this responsibility must be adhered to. That is the only way. With the proliferation of mass communications, the way it stands nowadays, let us face it, we do not tune into news as much as we used to; we actually download news now. We are in an era of satellite communications where it becomes one source. That local, regional aspect of broadcasting and information sharing, that crossroads of our culture, becomes muted and diminished.

Therefore, it is a responsibility of the Government of Canada, through its arm's length organization, to make sure that this enterprise has a responsibility to inform, to enlighten and to make sure that we are all connected.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Question.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

I will come to my question, considering that there is such an overwhelming demand, and I appreciate that.

With the proliferation of trade and investment around the world, is it the government's responsibility to protect our culture by protecting and enshrining local news in general television?

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is important to state from the outset that our government is committed to providing a strong Canadian broadcasting system. Regional content is obviously important. That is why we are saying today that we support the opposition motion in principle.

However, there is more to TV stations and regional broadcasting than just the news, in response to my colleague's question. When it comes to the culture of Canada, it has many different aspects. It is true that television and television content, local news content, is all part of the picture, but there is a larger picture at play as well.

Certainly with these smaller regional television stations, there is a bottom line that must be considered as well. They strive to provide local news content, and local content, but they must also provide Canadian content in their programming. I do not think it would be fair to say that they must do so no matter what the cost, or that they must do so without regarding their bottom line, because some of these are small or medium size businesses that have to take into consideration the financial aspects of their decisions.

Therefore, in general I would say yes, the government supports local and regional broadcasting and the capability to produce and deliver the news from the local perspective. However, we must also respect that the CRTC has a mandate, and that that mandate is arm's length from the government and that it would be inappropriate for the government to give direction to the CRTC.

In fact, that has been echoed by Liberal members today. The Liberal member who spoke just before my colleague admitted exactly that, that we are here to express our intent, to express our ideas, to express what is important to us, but we also must respect the mandate of these arm's length organizations and what Parliament has invested in them, because Parliament has invested certain responsibilities in these organizations.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Windsor West, the Budget; the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, Airbus; the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, Bulk Water.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Ahuntsic.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

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.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage is rising on a point of order.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know that you would want the member to stay on a point of relevance. I think it is regrettable that she has chosen to make these kinds of comments about the head of Canada, the Governor General. I notice that most of the Québécois do not seem to have that much difficulty cashing their paycheques from the Governor General.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member is making a point of relevance.

The hon. member for Ahuntsic has one minute to reply. I would ask her to stick to the topic of the motion. That would be appreciated.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be glad to do so. I do not want to offend the Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage, whom I really appreciate. It is my opinion and I respect his opinion. I have a lot of respect for the head of Canada. She is the head of Canada and I have a great deal of respect for her. However, she is not my leader, but that is another issue.

I will simply conclude by asking hon. members to vote in favour of this motion—which they will certainly do—and by asking the parliamentary secretary to convey these comments to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages, so that she will provide directions to the CRTC to ensure that TQS, which is a general interest television broadcaster, can survive and still have information services.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I could take my own comments down a peg or two and extend the same kind of courtesy that the member extended to me.

However, the difficulty that I am having, particularly, in this debate, is the fact that Bloc Québécois members, unfortunately, come to this place with a lack of information and a lack of understanding.

The court, at the highest level, has systematically confirmed that the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over issues of broadcasting. This was a Supreme Court decision from 1994. Yet, the members come to this place and say why do we not do this and why do we not do that. The fact is that this has been established clearly by the Supreme Court in 1994.

Also, perhaps the member is not aware of the fact that heritage minister Dupuy, also in 1994, lost his job over the fact that he was interfering inappropriately in matters before the CRTC.

The minister of this government has written to the CRTC, as she may under the regulations and the laws of the land, and has asked to be kept abreast of exactly what is going on with respect to TQS. However, she will not and the government will not interfere in this commercial transaction which is currently before the CRTC.

If at some point in the future it is determined by the minister and she advises the cabinet and the cabinet agrees that there should be intervention, there is a place for intervention, as designed by law.

It is really unfair. It is really inaccurate that this member along with other members in this House are suggesting that the minister has been inactive. It is quite the opposite. She has been engaged, as she may be by law.

I just wonder if the member might want to reflect on that and perhaps just back off a bit over what we will call accusations of the fact that the minister has not been engaged. Quite candidly, she has.

The reason why the members of the government have been saying during this debate today that they are not going to comment on the TQS is because it is inappropriate for the government members to do so. As a matter of fact, it is against the law for the government to comment on this commercial transaction that is before the CRTC at this point.

I wonder if she wants to reflect on my comments.

Opposition Motion—General Interest Television Licence HoldersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. He actually asked two questions.

As for a CRTQ, it is true that there was a Supreme Court decision. I would like to explain to him what happened at the time. There was a request for total repatriation of powers, which would have involved changing the Constitution. The Supreme Court refused, on the ground that the airwaves were a federal jurisdiction, so Quebec could not be given full powers. What should have been done was to request a change to the Constitution.

As we know, Ms. Marois is currently in favour of changing the Constitution on this issue. We are not asking for the Constitution to be changed, but we would like to amend the Broadcasting Act, which is possible. It is not unconstitutional; we checked. We would like an amendment that takes the Quebec identity into account. This would give Quebec some leeway under the law to ask Ottawa for a CRTQ.

In a way, what we are doing with this bill—and I urge my colleagues to vote in favour of this very innovative bill—is creating some space to allow for powers to be transferred to Quebec. This is being done currently with immigration, and also in other areas, such as coastal surveillance. It is possible to transfer powers. We are not asking for a change to the Constitution.

On the one hand, this belongs to Quebec. I fully support Ms. Marois' position of wanting to change the Constitution. But we are not the ones who can do so. Quebec and the provinces are the ones that can.

On the other hand, I completely understand my colleague's point about whether or not the minister can intervene. I do not agree with his opinion. In fact, the minister can give direction, and she has the last word. If the CRTC makes a decision, she can simply say that she does not agree with the decision.