Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate this afternoon in this debate. We are debating an opposition day motion sponsored by the member for Bourassa, which reads:
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.
This has been before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as well. In fact, yesterday the member for Ahuntsic, who just spoke in the debate, tabled a motion that was amended slightly by the committee but passed unanimously. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage expressed its concern that conventional television must support a basic level of information services, including quality regional information services and local production.
That is the motion that was passed yesterday at the standing committee. Everyone can see there is interest in this important issue percolating around Parliament Hill, through the House of Commons today and the standing committee yesterday. That is because this is an issue of importance and it has come to the fore because of the situation at TQS, the television network in Quebec that also serves other areas.
I know my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst had hoped to speak in the debate but because Wednesdays are short days, we are not going to have the entire time period this afternoon and he was not able to participate. This is important to folks in Acadie—Bathurst who also enjoy the programming of TQS.
The situation with TQS is that it is a network that has had its financial difficulties. It is in the process of changing ownership and the new owners have announced that they will be gutting the information services of the network and that 270 journalist jobs and people who provide that service are going to be lost.
All of us in this place and certainly in this corner of the House want to stand in solidarity with the workers who are losing their jobs. Sadly, it is a situation we see repeated all too often in so many sectors where good, well paying jobs that provide good benefits are being lost in very many parts of the country in different sectors. Here it is happening again.
We want to stand in solidarity with those workers and their union as they work to ensure the continuance of their important employment. However, it is more than just that. It also relates to the conditions of licences that are granted and awarded to broadcasters in Canada and the conditions of a conventional or general interest TV licence that requires that the provision of new services be part of that endeavour.
That is what is at the heart of all of this. New Democrats in this corner will be supporting this motion, by the way. It sounds like all parties in the House will be supporting it. For the NDP, the crux of the matter is that the conditions of the licence be respected, that the importance of a local and regional news service be respected, and that a general interest or conventional TV licence be respected through this process with a change in ownership.
I know the workers who lost their jobs and their union understand the financial situation of TQS and have struggled to be responsive to that. They have said that they are willing to negotiate with the knowledge of the financial situation of that network. However, at the same time, they also believe that the broadcaster has an obligation to abide by the terms of the licence and the provisions of broadcasting in Canada, and it is very important that it continue. All of this discussion is happening as a result of those changes at TQS.
It has been noted a number of times this afternoon that the National Assembly of Quebec has also passed a motion. I believe it passed unanimously, pointing out the importance of a diversity of news sources and regional news services in a democratic society and the importance of maintaining the news services of TQS, in particular. It is very important to realize that this was not an insignificant step by the Assemblée nationale and the government of Quebec to make this kind of statement about the importance of this service to the people of Quebec.
I think all of us understand that it was a strong statement that came from the Assemblée nationale and from the government in Quebec. It just reinforces again the importance of maintaining this kind of service and maintaining the determination to see all aspects of a broadcast licence adhered to as these kinds of changes happen in the industry.
It is very important that we show respect for the CRTC and the conditions of the licence. I think that is why it is important that in the House of Commons and in the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage we demonstrate that we want to see the conditions of the regulations respected, and that we want to see a healthy and vigorous local and regional news service provided by a conventional television broadcaster, by a general interest broadcaster.
It is very important that we reinforce that this afternoon by supporting this motion, and by supporting the Assemblée nationale in the motion that it made as well. I think that shows the respect that we have in this place for the CRTC and its work for the provisions of the broadcasting licences. I do not think there is any problem with us reinforcing our belief that those are important principles that need to be upheld.
I know the government has been a little jittery that we are somehow trying to tell the CRTC what to do. I do not think that is happening this afternoon. What we are doing as parliamentarians is saying that the principles involved here are very crucial to broadcasting in Canada, to broadcasting in Quebec and to all regions in the country. We cannot let this slip by unnoticed. Everyone will be on notice that this is very important with the passage of the motion this afternoon.
I think folks in Quebec are a little skittish about this too. They have seen governments in the past fail to protect local news services. There is the example of CKAC, which is the oldest French language radio station in the world. Several years ago the company that owned it closed down its newsroom. We saw a public outcry about that, but sadly the government of the day, the Liberals were in power then, did nothing to ensure the continuance of that news service at that important radio station.
The government took no action and I think that folks are very determined to make sure that this does not happen again with the example of the television service of TQS. They want to make sure that the importance of local and regional news service in a general licence is understood and made clear, and that all politicians from all sides understand that.
I think folks in Quebec were burned by the closure of the newsroom at CKAC and by the failure of the Liberal government of the day to take any action that would support the continuation of that news service and the loss of diversity in viewpoints that it represented at the time. The concern is very directly that history may repeat itself now that we find this situation with TQS.
Over the past few weeks we have had this issue raised in the House a number of times in question period. The member for Outremont was one of the members who raised this issue in questions for the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages. I think he raised a very important point when he put this question to the minister. He asked:
Is the minister aware that, at the hearing on the future of TQS, the controller, who is appointed by the court, said that the buyers, namely Remstar, had no intention of asking for substantial changes to the licence?
He went on to say:
We now know that this is false. Indeed, the massive layoff of journalists and the death of the news services are in blatant contradiction with the formal commitments made by TQS, when it applied for its licence.
I think the member for Outremont put it very clearly and very strongly to the minister that day about the concern that something important was being lost. Even though, when the changes were first discussed, it was stated that there was no intention of doing away with the news services at TQS, that is indeed what took place not too long thereafter.
What a huge disappointment and sense of betrayal that this has caused among the workers, but also among viewers and among people who care about media diversity in Quebec and all across Canada. It is very important to remember that.
Part of our action today is to let broadcasters and potential investors in the broadcasting industry know that we are determined to see the principles of a general interest broadcast licence and a conventional broadcast licence maintained. There should be no compromise on those kinds of licences.
We are determined to ensure that anyone who invests in that industry, maintains that commitment and does not say one thing one day and then takes a completely different action the next day. We are determined to ensure people do not go back on those kinds of commitments. It is important we reinforce that. The member for Outremont did that clearly and articulately in his questions to the government in question period some weeks ago. When people are granted that licence and when they undertake operations under that licence, We have to ensure that commitment is maintained and no compromise is made to it.
This is an important issue. It is an important issue in Quebec, as we have heard from the debate today, as we have heard from the discussions at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and as we have heard from the debate at Assemblée nationale. The actions of the Government of Quebec have also shown this to be an important issue in Quebec.
However, it is not just limited to Quebec. It is an important discussion to have in all regions of Canada. One organization, one company, one voice in news services does not guarantee a democratic or diverse media. This is why it is important that we take a stand when any one of those regional media voices is on the verge of being lost. It does raise important issues of culture, of language and of information. The member for Outremont made that very clear in his questions in the House, when this issue first broke. We have to take our responsibilities seriously in all these areas.
Most acute is the situation surrounding broadcasters and broadcast licences in Canada. We have to do our utmost to maintain a diversity of viewpoints when it comes to provision of information and news in our country. That was driven home by the Lincoln report, a very extensive report on the broadcasting industry in Canada. Not many current members in the House worked on that report, but members who are no longer here worked on it a few years back. That report is considered one of the most important reports on the broadcasting industry in Canada.
In the chapter on community, local and regional broadcasting, the committee noted its concern that community, local and regional broadcasting services had become endangered species and that many parts of Canada were underserved. In its travels across the country, the committee heard from a surprising number of citizens who felt they had been neglected and even abandoned by the broadcasting system.
It is important to recognize that this concern has been raised for many years and in many different circumstances across Canada. The situation facing viewers in Quebec has raised alarm bells. The provision of regional news voices, regional information services, regional and local programming has been a major concern to Canadians from coast to coast to coast for many years. This is nothing new. When these situations arise, it is incumbent on us to make our position very clear. We stand in support of providing that important kind of local service.
The Lincoln report was clear, and we have been very clear here this afternoon. I hope the message is heard in the places where it needs to be heard.
It is crucial in any part of the country that there be a diversity of voices in the media. As someone from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, I know we are often given as an example of a place in North America where media concentration and ownership of media is at its highest. We are not always pointed out as a positive example.
The majority of people in Vancouver get their news and information from one source, from one company, and that presents a certain concern that there is not a diversity of voices that are heard.
Thankfully we have other competitors for that market, for the interest of those viewers and for the provision of that information, and others are doing a very valiant job of competing with the major organizations. However, it remains a concern when any one market has that kind of concentration of ownership and the development of a single major voice in the provision of information and news services.
We want to ensure we do not lose that in any part of the country. People in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia understand the importance of this. That is why we can stand in solidarity with the folks in Quebec who were concerned about the situation with TQS and with the workers at TQS. We know the kind of situation that is involved.