Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Vancouver Centre.
I rise today to condemn how CBC/Radio-Canada is being treated. The corporation plays a vital role through its national, regional and local broadcasts. I am thinking here of news coverage and services for linguistic minorities throughout the country.
Access to information has become more and more restricted since the Conservatives came to power. The government's desire to control the media has taken many forms, the latest being its cuts to funding for CBC/Radio-Canada. Not that long ago, in 1995, the current Prime Minister, who was a member of this House, said:
Then we have the CBC which is mortgaged to the hilt and costs over $1 billion a year. The major reason two are winners and one is a loser is based on incentives or lack of them...
Reform policy would place the government sponsored loser in a situation where subsidies are weaned away and the future of the company is based on consumer satisfaction.
Last week, the Prime Minister made good on his promise and refused to provide CBC/Radio-Canada with the bridge financing it so badly needed, which would have enabled the corporation to maintain 2008 staffing and service levels. He set in motion the dismantling of CBC/Radio-Canada, as he had said he would do in 1995.
Members will recall that the current Minister of International Trade stated in 2000 that “The Liberals decided to throw millions and even billions in non-priority areas, while ignoring vital ones. For example, the CBC will receive $60 million.”
For his part, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism said that the cuts to CBC/Radio-Canada were not deep enough and condemned the fact that “There are subsidies to bloated crown corporations like the $1 billion annual subsidy to the CBC.”
The previous Minister of Canadian Heritage promised extensive consultations on CBC/Radio-Canada's mandate. We are still waiting for that to happen. The current Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages is improvising. He told the members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that he was open to allowing CBC/Radio-Canada to run radio ads in order to supplement its funding.
The Minister does not understanding broadcasting. If he were not constantly trying to improvise, he would know that the Canadian public does not want advertising when it is listening to programming on public radio.
Today, because of the incompetence or bad faith of the Conservatives in dealing with the CBC, the CBC has been seriously undermined.
This situation could have been avoided. The president and CEO, Hubert T. Lacroix, stated, “We have been in constant discussions with the government since the beginning of January about our financial situation.” To no avail.
The interim funding would certainly not have solved all the problems, but Mr. Lacroix said that with this funding, the corporation would have been able to manage them better and minimize them.
Instead of helping the CBC weather the storm, the Conservatives are using this situation to undermine it. In fact, the CBC was not asking the government for more money, simply for more flexibility. We know that the CBC cannot go to the bank to borrow money as a majority of Canadians and businesses can do. Its status as a crown corporation prevents it from taking out bank loans. It had therefore asked the government to either give it permission to borrow or provide some bridge financing. This government, which is trying to get rid of the CBC, said no.
The media everywhere in Canada are having financing problems because of the decline in advertising revenue. The CBC is no exception. But what is the government doing to help it? Nothing! This conduct is not just unacceptable, it is unreasonable.
What are the consequences of this sombre decision? First, the head of the CBC will be forced to lay off more than 800 people. And that would just be the beginning. These cuts would amount to 10% of the corporation’s workforce.
As well, the earnings shortfall has put an end to the traditional way of dividing funding between the two networks: one third to the French-language network and two thirds to the English-language network. The cuts to the French-language network represent nearly half of the total jobs eliminated. That is shameful!
What do these layoffs mean? There are two very significant consequences. First, the government is demonstrating how little concern it has for Canada's regions. The cuts will necessarily mean that regional newscasts in Quebec will disappear and news operations will centralized in Montreal. How will the regions be represented? How will it be possible to provide coverage of the regions with so little air time? The Conservatives are quite simply abandoning the regions to their own devices. They no longer count, in the Conservatives’ game plan. Quebeckers have long memories: after all, our motto says Je me souviens.
In the Outaouais, the television newscast Téléjournal du midi will disappear. Our region will not escape the cuts; this excellent noon-hour newscast, hosted by Nathalie Tremblay, will be eliminated. That amounts to abandoning the people living in the Outaouais region—they will now be served by Montreal. While I respect the people who live in our metropolis, the problems we have in the regions are very different in their nature and scope. The unique character of the regions, with which their people identify, is gradually disappearing, being smothered by Canada’s large urban centres and by American broadcasting as well.
A second consequence, no less important, is the abandonment of the minority communities. In our region, the national capital region, along with the Téléjournal du midi, the radio program L'Ontario aujourd'hui will disappear. The Franco-Ontarian community has reacted strongly to these cuts. This is what it had to say, according to the daily Le Droit.
Nicolas Séguin, president of ACFO, the Association canadienne française de l'Ontario, Ottawa region, said, “What I find sad is that, even before these cuts, we had to ‘hog the blankets’ to get local news. Not only are they not listening to us, they are going to reduce local content”.
Claudette Boyer, general manager of the ACFO in Ottawa, “It’s terrible. I will be getting my news from Montreal. That is of no interest to me”.
Nathalie Ladouceur, president of the ACFO in Prescott-Russell, “We are fighting for our language and our cultural heritage. It’s discouraging, not just for Franco-Ontarians, but for francophiles as well. It’s another demonstration that we have to be constantly fighting”.
Ms. Lise Routhier-Boudreau, president of the FCFA, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, said, “We absolutely need to find solutions so that the crown corporation is no longer forced to make these kinds of cuts”.
Those are the reactions of francophone leaders outside Quebec. These organizations are feeling abandoned by their government. They are ignored, except when election time rolls around. Newscasts are being cut in regions like Moncton, where there is a loyal Radio-Canada audience. Spot the error!
Another consequence of this scandalous decision by the Conservatives is that the CBC is being forced to sell assets valued at some $125 million. One wonders what the logic of this is. Is it not better to sell real property when demand is high and supply low? The present economic situation is certainly not ideal.
Once the assets are sold, the CBC will then have to pay rent, which will only increase its expenses. This sale of assets seems to me a last-ditch attempt to bail out the government in the short term. What will be the long-term consequences of this decision? Did the government even consider this in its haste to butcher the CBC, or was this the intended effect all along?
The mission of the CBC is to be a public broadcaster providing radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains. Its programming should, and here I quote two obligations, first of all, “reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions”.
And second, “be in English and French, reflecting the different needs and circumstances of each official language community, including the particular needs and circumstances of English and French linguistic minorities”.
It is clear that in abandoning the regions and the minority communities this Conservative government has failed to meet its responsibilities. The Quebec minister of culture, communications and the status of women has said that, without wishing to interfere in this matter of federal jurisdiction, she thinks that one can only cut so far into the bone. She is right: the government is underfunding the CBC, allocating it only $34 per citizen per year, compared with France where the figure is $77.
As you seem to want to interrupt me, Mr. Speaker, I deduce that my time is up.