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House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cuts.

Topics

Canadian Human Rights CommissionRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I have the honour to table the 2008 annual report of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(e) this document is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to two petitions.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly, OSCE PA, to the fifth economic conference of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly held in Andorra la Vella, Andorra, May 24 to 26, 2007.

Pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly, OSCE PA, to the annual fall meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly held in Portoroz, Slovenia, at which it was my privilege to attend, September 29 to October 1, 2007.

Pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly, OSCE PA, to the Bureau of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly held in Madrid, Spain, November 28 to 30, 2007.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology entitled, “A Study of the Crisis in the Automotive Sector in Canada”.

This is pursuant to the motion adopted by this House on February 26, 2009.

I just want to point out to the House that there was a premature leak of some of the information contained in this report but, unless the individuals responsible come forward, I believe there is little that this House can do to address that matter.

I would also like to take this opportunity to briefly highlight the important work done by members of this committee over the last couple of weeks. We heard from 28 witnesses, received 13 briefs and met over 24 hours in a very short two and a half week period, often meeting until midnight and, on some occasions, meeting for four, five or even six hours in a row. I want to thank members of the subcommittee for their efforts.

Understandably, the report is not as definitive in its five recommendations as it might be due to the still unfolding nature of the auto crisis, both in Canada and in the United States.

The hearings, however, were useful in that they revealed some new information to not only members of the committee but to Canadians. We learned about the new vehicle incentive programs that some of the manufacturers wish to have. We also learned of General Motors' indication that it had pledged its worldwide assets, including those in Canada, for its access to American loans.

Finally, the committee requests that pursuant to Standing Order 109 that the government respond to the report and the recommendations contained therein.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join the member for Wellington—Halton Hills in reporting to the House the findings of the subcommittee on the automobile industry in Canada, a committee created by the direction of the House at the behest of the Liberal opposition.

The purpose of the subcommittee was to help Canadians better understand the auto sector and the serious issues facing it and the government when dealing with the industry.

The opposition must note, however, its dissent with certain limitations of the report. These include opinions found in the report that were not, in every case, arising from opinions of the witnesses before the committee, such as the effects of a scrapage program or a tax holiday to stimulate car sales.

While drawing attention to the cyclical and structural issues facing the auto industry, what became obvious throughout the study was the government's lack of a comprehensive auto industry strategy.

Canada is part of a fully integrated North American auto industry. That in itself calls for the development of a North American auto forum that would more meaningfully and formally provide governments and industry stakeholders a venue to collectively monitor the industry and would, through engagement, enable governments to develop harmonized continental policies and regulations affecting the industry.

It is strikingly clear that the absence of such a structured meaningful engagement between all stakeholders has been detrimental to the industry in the past and, looking forward, such a forum is critical for the long term sustainability of Canada's share of the North American auto market.

In closing, the issue is about protecting Canadian jobs, the good jobs that are the lifeblood of communities right across this country. It is also about protecting taxpayer money and ensuring an investment in the auto industry today will provide results for taxpayers in the future.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, as well, we in the New Democratic Party oppose the actual report officially, which is different from all other parties, because of the lack of recommendations and would--

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I regret to interrupt the hon. member for Windsor West. I recognized him in error.

It is only a member of the official opposition party who can respond to the committee report. I apologize.

Income TrustsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

March 31st, 2009 / 10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 and as certified by the Clerk of Petitions, I am pleased to present yet another income trust broken promise petition from Burlington, Ontario and from my own riding of Mississauga South.

The petitioners remember the Prime Minister boasting about his apparent commitment to accountability when he said that the greatest fraud was a promise not kept.

The petitioners remind the Prime Minister that he promised never to tax income trusts but that he broke that promise by imposing a 31.5 % punitive tax that permanently wiped out over $25 billion of the hard-earned retirement savings of over two million Canadians, particularly seniors.

The petitioners, therefore, call upon the government to: first, admit that the decision to tax income trusts was based on flawed methodology and incorrect assumptions; second, apologize to those who were unfairly harmed by that broken promise; and finally, repeal the punitive 31.5% tax on income trusts.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

moved:

That this House recognizes the indispensable role of CBC–Radio Canada in providing national, regional, and local programming including news coverage and services to linguistic minorities throughout Canada, and therefore regrets the financial hardship and substantial lay-offs that CBC–Radio Canada currently faces; and urges the government to provide CBC–Radio Canada with the bridge financing it requires to maintain 2008 staffing and service levels.

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.

It is unfortunate that we are obliged to move such a motion here today, in another attempt to draw the attention of the government to the issue of funding for our public broadcaster. If the government had done its homework, and if it had listened and understood to some degree, it would have already grasped the importance of the role played by CBC/Radio-Canada and it would have acted accordingly.

As we all know, the corporation is being forced to cut 800 jobs and sell nearly $125 million in assets just to balance next year's budget.

The Conservative government has known for a very long time that the public broadcaster has had a budget shortfall of $171 million and has done nothing to prevent the lay-offs, program cuts and selling of shares. The corporation got no help whatsoever from the government. In fact, it was as if the government were pleased with the way things were going.

The CBC has never —and it is important to point this out—asked for more money from the government, as it has pointed out. What it did ask for was greater financial flexibility in order to get through this advertising revenue crisis, which affects all of this country's broadcasters, we should add.

So far the federal government has refused a loan or an advance on next year's envelope. This inaction has forced CBC/Radio Canada to make heart-wrenching choices that will have absolutely disastrous consequences on its work as a national public broadcaster and imperil its very future.

According to CBC President and CEO Hubert Lacroix, the corporation will have to manage to sell $125 million worth of assets if this downsizing plan is to work, or else it will be back to square one. If it is unable to sell assets worth $125 million, and to keep that money, there will end up being more cuts at the CBC.

Mr. Lacroix also indicated that the sale of assets was necessitated by the Conservative government's refusal to help the CBC though the current economic upheaval. As well, according to him, this loan would have meant a considerable reduction in the number of people laid off and would also have avoided having to sell assets. He commented on how sad it was that CBC-Radio Canada had been left with no other choice but to mortgage its own future in order to balance its books.

I can state that the Liberal Party would never have turned its back on the fate of CBC-Radio Canada. We would have backed it up in order to allow it to obtain the necessary leeway to get though this crisis. As a result, the layoffs and reductions in service and programming could have been avoided.

But because of the government's inaction, jobs are going to disappear, not only in major centres like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, but also in many Canadian cities and regions. I am thinking of such places as Windsor, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Quebec City, Moncton, Sydney, Saint John Nova Scotia, Corner Brook, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Regina and many others. The list is getting longer because of this inaction.

The cuts that have been announced mean specifically—to give clear examples—the transformation of the Windsor station to a production centre, and the elimination of programs: the noonday Téléjournal Acadie and L'Ontario aujourd'hui.

I do not think that francophones in minority communities are impressed by the government's work on this issue. I do not think that there is one single francophone who is impressed by its work on this issue. If the government sincerely believed in linguistic duality and in promoting and respecting our two official languages, it would invest the necessary funds. Without that investment, the government is all talk and no action.

Our public broadcaster is very important to all regions of the country, and I am extremely disappointed and angry that the government has chosen to get rid of television, radio and new media journalists, producers and artists. Despite its claim that it wants to create new jobs, it has put the CBC in the position of having to cut 800 jobs.

The government needs to make up its mind: is it going to invest to get us out of this crisis, or is it going to do nothing, as it has done for the CBC?

The fact that the government's inaction has resulted in cuts that affect French-language services to francophone minority communities is unacceptable. We know that these communities count on the CBC to disseminate and promote their culture across the country. The government has a major responsibility toward both of our official languages, and it must shoulder that responsibility instead of trying to duck out.

Let us consider the CBC's mandate. First, its programming must reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions. Second, the CBC must actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression. Third, its programming must be in English and in French, reflecting the different needs and circumstances of each official language community, including the particular needs and circumstances of English and French linguistic minorities. Fourth, its programming must strive to be of equivalent quality in English and in French. Fifth, the CBC must contribute to shared national consciousness and identity. Sixth, its programming must be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose. Last, the CBC must also reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada.

How can CBC/Radio-Canada carry out that important mandate when it faces a $171 million shortfall? How can it maintain a presence in the regions, in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba or British Columbia if it is not provided with the tools to do so? That is what this motion is about. In view of the Conservative government's inaction and insensitivity, this House must act.

It is clear that the government has wanted to do away with CBC/Radio-Canada for a long time. The current Prime Minister had this to say on March 28, 1995, when he was a member of this House:

If we look at the Canadian television industry we see two private national broadcasters that both manage to make a profit most years. 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 [the CBC] in a situation where subsidies are weaned away and the future of the company is based on consumer satisfaction.

In short, he is talking about abolishing CBC/Radio-Canada. It is clear that this government, which is very firmly led by this Prime Minister, who controls everything, wants to do as much damage as possible to the public broadcaster by using the current economic crisis for its own purposes. The government wants to use the current economic crisis to slash funding for the CBC and get rid of the corporation. We know what the Prime Minister thinks of the CBC, but it is interesting that some of his own members recently voiced quite a different opinion.

In February 2008, in its report to the government, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recommended stable, long-term funding for CBC/Radio-Canada. These two recommendations were supported by the Conservative members. Obviously, the government did not act on the report's findings. In fact, it did not lift a finger to help our public broadcaster. Now, the situation is critical and action is urgently needed.

That is why I said and will keep on saying that in view of the government's inaction and insensitivity, this House must act. That is the reason for the motion and the debate today. I ask all my colleagues to support this motion.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, I guess it is of benefit in the House from time to time to have a short memory, but I would like to jog the member's memory and take him back to the 1993 Liberal red book. I know the individual was not a member of the House at that time but I imagine he was still a proud Liberal.

Let me outline a couple of things that were in the 1993 red book. Better health care, we know about that. Shorter wait times, we know that doubled under the Liberal government. Better access to post-secondary education was in it, but tuition fees doubled under the Liberal government. The Liberals were going to cut the GST and now they want to raise it. I do not understand. Of course, they did not cut it. We know national child care was a major failure. The Liberal Party did not get that done.

In the very last paragraph of the 1993 red book the Liberals said they would support the CBC at current funding levels. They cut $414 million from the CBC and 4,000 people lost their jobs. Does the member remember that? Where was his passion from 1993 to 1997 and, in fact, in 1998?

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

I was a proud Liberal then and I am a proud Liberal today, Madam Speaker.

We could always go back 10 or 20 years. The member, in answer to a question on the CBC, talked about child care and the GST. He will talk about almost anything to smother debate and try to shift the attention to other things. Simply stated, in the current situation, the Liberal Party of Canada would never have abandoned our public broadcaster as the Government of Canada is doing.

I read the comments made by the Prime Minister as a member of this House. At the time he thought, and even today he thinks, that they would cut, cut and cut some more and end up making the CBC disappear.That is the government's position.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, the issue we are dealing with is similar to many other major concerns before the House today, including when the previous government refused to ensure a solid foundation for certain programs. This created ripe conditions for the Conservatives to come along and erode them even further.

The CBC is no different than any other issue like that. The problem we are now facing is due to the fact that the Liberal government did not ensure proper support for the CBC over the last decade. We now have this erosion of our public broadcaster.

My question is specifically the following. In the past, when the Liberals cut back or targeted CBC, specifically with respect to Ukrainian broadcast services under CBC, the community spoke up and caused that cutback to be rescinded. Today we are facing a situation with the Conservatives where they are doing the same thing.

I want to ask the Liberals, what was the benefit? What did the lobby do that caused the Liberals to change their minds on this so we can apply that logic to the Conservatives today?

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, we must never give up and we must debate the future of the CBC, as we are doing today. The reason for the motion is quite simple: we have to ensure the future of our public broadcaster.

How can we change the government's mind? By having this debate today. By stating loud and clear that we want a public broadcaster and that it should have the money to fulfill its mandate. It must have a presence in every region of the country—including New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Colombia—in both official languages and it must provide Canadian content.

That is the CBC, our public broadcaster. It is presently experiencing a serious crisis and rather than helping, not only has the government thrown its hands in the air but it has decided to take advantage of the situation to knock down the CBC. That is unacceptable and we will not take it.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate and I thank my colleague from Honoré-Mercier for his motion and for sharing his time with me.

Allow me to first set the stage. We know that last week the CBC announced cuts including the elimination of 800 positions by the end of September in order to save some $171 million. We also know that the Conservative government, through its Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, has been saying for some time now that it has no intention of providing a long term loan, advancing funding or, frankly, lifting a finger to help the corporation.

In the course of my remarks, I will discuss primarily the report entitled CBC/Radio-Canada: Defining Distinctiveness in the Changing Media Landscape, which my colleague mentioned and which was tabled in the House in February 2008. It is the product of over a year's hard work conducted in a most responsible fashion by all the members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. I must mention the real cooperation existing at that time among the representatives of the various parties who were working to establish a solid footing for the future of our quality public broadcaster.

Ever since I have been elected as a member of Parliament for Ottawa—Vanier, I have been involved in cultural matters, more particularly, in the well-being of our national broadcaster.

As I have said in the past, I totally support the existence of a public broadcaster in Canada. Furthermore, I believe that its existence is essential and I am resolved to defend the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada and to improve its role. In my view, with the increase in foreign television programs, we have the task as parliamentarians to promote Canadian content, first through its creation and then its broadcast. To do this, I repeat, we must have a public broadcaster.

Examples of countries with a public broadcaster are many. There are at least 18, including Australia, Great Britain, Sweden and France. In France, for example, the president has called for an end to advertising on French public television, which will in future be funded from public coffers. So regardless of the situation in a given country, I sincerely believe that our government should provide CBC/Radio-Canada with more appropriate funding. The report I have just mentioned recommends a number of solutions.

I will mention, essentially, four main points from this report. The recommendations were based on five broad themes.

The first theme was on limiting, and eventually, gradually decreasing the importance of advertising revenue. I will mention recommendation 4.8. It states:

The Committee recognizes the current necessity and value of advertising revenues from television and on new platforms, and accepts that the CBC/Radio-Canada continue to pursue those revenue streams. However, the Committee also recommends that the Government of Canada and CBC/Radio-Canada work toward decreasing CBC Radio-Canada’s relative dependency on advertising revenues for television programming.

This recommendation was accepted by everyone. Today, we find ourselves in a situation where the members of the government caucus appear not to share the opinion of the government at the time. Longer term planning must be ensured, because there has been a crisis in the Canadian and world economies and advertising revenues have declined. It is up to the government to intervene and support our national broadcaster, something the government does not seem to want to do.

There were recommendations on being reflective of all Canadians, and there was unanimity that CBC has to keep doing a better job of improving its ability to make sure Canadians identify with their public broadcaster in all regions of the country and in all spheres, be they public affairs, arts and so forth. There were a number of recommendations in that area which were supported by all parties. One would expect therefore that the party in government would follow up on its recommendations at the time.

There were recommendations on securing CBC Radio-Canada's autonomy. I will mention one in particular, which is recommendation 1.13:

The Committee recommends the ratification of a seven-year memorandum of understanding between the Government of Canada and CBC/Radio-Canada, setting out the respective responsibilities of the signatories. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage would be responsible for reviewing the memorandum of understanding and will conduct public consultations as required.

This was the subject of a lot of debate and was at the core of our report. Essentially we wanted to start borrowing from the model of the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and perhaps give our broadcaster a greater stability, autonomy and predictability, not just on funding but also on what government and Parliament expect from it. That was supported by everyone.

We talked about the new media. There was a recommendation that the legislative mandate of CBC be amended, the only recommendation to that effect, to make sure that CBC Radio-Canada had a mandate to incorporate in its planning digital technology, of course, and any new emerging technologies, and not be shut out of that as some of the private broadcasters would hope to do.

There was also a recommendation on funding. Here I will quote recommendation 4.1:

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recommends that the Government of Canada commit to stable, multi-year funding for CBC/Radio-Canada, indexed to the cost of living. Funding should be for a period of not less than seven years and be established by means of the proposed memorandum of understanding.

We had a report which, although we did not have unanimity on every proposal or recommendation, was supported by all parties. In many instances recommendations were supported unanimously, but today that is not the case.

We also recommended that the base funding of CBC be increased from today's level of about $33 per Canadian to $40 per Canadian. I want to quote what the president of Radio-Canada, Mr. Lacroix, said about that on Thursday.

In a speech before the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, he referred to a comparative study of public funding for broadcasters in 18 countries and had the following to say:

The study revealed that those countries spend on average $76 per capita for public broadcasting. Canada ranked 15th, with a grand total of $34 per capita for CBC/Radio-Canada, which broadcasts in two languages. For comparison, France will soon spend $77 per capita, and England, $124 per capita—and in both cases, for unilingual broadcasting that is therefore much easier to manage.

We have a situation where all the broadcasters in our country are experiencing severe difficulties.

This government is entertaining the notion of helping private broadcasters. The minister talked about that recently. No one yet knows just how the government intends to support private broadcasters like CTV, Global and TVA. We expect to hear an announcement soon from the government, explaining how it will help private broadcasters, while its public broadcaster has asked for assistance but was denied. We have every reason to wonder about the nature of the government's true intentions concerning the public broadcaster.

I echo my colleague's question: Is the government using the financial crisis to effectively cut off CBC/Radio-Canada's lifeblood? I hope that is not the case.

However, if the Government of Canada goes ahead and helps private broadcasters, but refuses to help the public broadcaster, while they are all suffering from the devastating effects of the financial crisis, one might conclude that this government has no interest in supporting the public broadcaster, contrary to what its representatives have publicly repeated over and over again while working on the report I referred to.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to engage in this debate, because the member and I were on the same committee and I am very familiar with the report to which he refers.

I would suggest that the position the Liberals are taking today is, to use the English expression, “as bold as brass”. The definition of “as bold as brass” is “shameless, audacious, impudent”. The synonym is “shamelessness”.

It is impossible to believe that the member and his party would come into this place, having cut historically $400 million from the CBC to the point that 4,000 employees were put out of work and the president resigned, by comparison with the Conservatives who have put $100 million over the last four budgets into the CBC and the president of the CBC in fact is saying there would have to be these redundancies within the CBC whether or not this magic plan the Liberals are talking about today would happen.

I wonder if the member would care to comment on that history.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, on a point of order, my hon. colleague just said the Liberals cut $400 million in the mid-1990s, when in actual fact it was $500 million they cut from the CBC.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I do not believe that is a point of order. I think that is a point of debate.

The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Madam Speaker, numbers can be made to say anything. But since we are talking numbers, I will add a few. When the Liberals formed the government in 1993, they inherited a $42 billion deficit. All kinds of budgetary restraints and cuts were imposed.

The member opposite forgets or neglects to mention that the government also created the Canadian television fund for the development of programming. Personnel moved from the public broadcaster to the private sector and with double the critial fund he result was an upsurge in the creation of Canadian programming. So we have to understand what went on.

The question I want to ask is this. If the government presents a program in one or two weeks to help the private broadcasters while refusing to help the public broadcaster, will Canadians be able to conclude anything other than that the government has no intention of helping CBC/Radio-Canada?

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a question for my Liberal colleague from Ottawa—Vanier.

I am very sorry to have to say it, but the Liberals do not have much credibility with their shrill demands for more funding for CBC/Radio-Canada. Back when they could have provided it, they did exactly the opposite. They instituted cuts and cost a lot of people their jobs. Just recently they voted in favour of the government’s budget, which was not very generous toward CBC/Radio-Canada, despite the posturing of the parliamentary secretary.

Apart from their criticism of the current government, what promises can the Liberal Party make to do any better?

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to refer my colleague to the report I mentioned during my presentation. Some of her colleagues helped produce it and supported it. When we form a government, I hope it will base itself on this report and move in the direction suggested there, that is to say, develop a multi-year agreement covering at least seven years with predictable funding in place so that our public broadcaster knows what it is dealing with over this period. The complexity of programming development requires such a multi-year commitment. That is the direction we will move in.

We want to follow up seriously on all the work parliamentarians have done in consultation with Canadians. When we form the government and my colleague is in the opposition, I hope she will support these initiatives.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, let us cast our memories back to a few months ago, to September 2008. Canada was in the middle of an election campaign. The then Liberal leader challenged our current Prime Minister to be honest with Canadians and admit his dreams of closing the CBC. There is only one problem with this. It was actually Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau who once threatened to put the key in the door of Radio-Canada. Subsequent Conservative leaders actually increased the CBC's budget, but not for long, though. By the time the Chrétien Liberal government came into power, the CBC funding would eventually be slashed hundreds of millions of dollars. But I am getting ahead of myself here. Let us start at the beginning.

I am happy to speak today about the CBC. The member for Honoré-Mercier has moved a motion regarding the role of CBC Radio-Canada in promoting national, regional and local programming services to linguistic minorities throughout Canada. The member wants the government to provide the CBC with bridge financing to maintain 2008 staffing and service levels.

First, I would like to say that while we are always saddened to hear of job losses, when the president of the CBC referred to the readjustments of the national broadcaster, he said the CBC would have had to undergo them regardless of whether there was bridge financing.

The broadcasting industry in Canada is undergoing substantial hardship and, like any other industry, has had to adjust. All broadcasters have had to work within budget constraints, whether it is through a loss of advertising revenues or from other realities in this age of new media. They have had to make tough choices.

We have much faith in those in management at the CBC. We strongly believe they will be capable of making the right decisions and will be able to continue to operate and serve all Canadians, including official language minorities across our great country. They understand they need to tighten their belts, just like all Canadians are doing right now, and be cautious with taxpayers' money.

We hope that the CBC will ultimately be able to deliver the services and trust that it will be able to deliver these services and news products that Canadians expect from it. We will be monitoring the decisions of the board members very carefully to make sure that they respect CBC's mandate and treat the employees fairly.

The CBC receives over $1.1 billion per year from our government. The management should be able to manage the company with this unprecedented level of government support. In fact, the budget allocating these funds was just passed by a majority of the members of this House, including the hon. member for Honoré-Mercier, who voted for the bill at all stages.

Our funding of the CBC has increased annually since we took government. In fact, in four successive governments, we have increased the funding to the CBC each and every budget.

We have made some very specific promises in our party platform. We have followed through on our campaign promises. We have made that commitment in our budgets. We have not changed anything. Our Conservative government has increased its support for the CBC year after year.

The Liberals suggest we should be providing the CBC with bridge financing to help it survive the current economic crisis. The current Liberal leader suggested that this would enable the CBC to maintain its current number of employees and that there would be no job loss. I guess he should speak to some of the executives at the CBC.

In fact, Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president of English services, said just last week that when the CBC asked the government for bridge financing, it was for the same amount of money. He said, “It was for $125 million, and with that amount of money, if they had given us the bridge financing, we still would have had to cut 800 people”. This is regrettable, but it is the reality broadcasters are facing.

CBC President Hubert Lacroix also spoke to his employees last week on the state of the affairs at the CBC. He outlined its economic status and told them of the changes that were going to take place at their office. He spoke very highly of our Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. He said:

I have met with [the minister] on several occasions. He is a man that I could get along with and respect, and with whom I could build a business relationship. We seem to share a number of convictions regarding what Canada's public broadcaster should be, including, ... the need to review the public broadcasting model to eliminate the reliance on advertising revenue to fund some of its activities.

Allow me to take members on a walk down memory lane, just a few years back in time. Let us go back to 1993 and the Liberal red book, where the Liberals promised they would make no cuts to the CBC.

I just heard a member saying they would like to bring in a multi-year funding model, blah, blah, blah. It sounds a lot like the 1993 red book. However, let us see what the Liberals do when they promise no cuts.

We remember Jean Chrétien crossing the country, waving the red book and campaigning on all the promises. On the very last page of the book, in the very last paragraph, it says:

a Liberal government will be committed to stable multiyear financing for national cultural institutions such as...the CBC.

One would think they would be able to remember this, because the last statement of a book is often what one takes with oneself.

I think I heard a member quote that almost identically just a few minutes ago. I think he has read his 1993 Liberal red book. I did not believe them then, and I do not believe them now.

Of course, none of the promises that were made in the red book were ever kept. I have outlined some of those this morning.

Giving credit to the hon. member of the NDP who raised a point of order just a few minutes ago, between 1994 and 1997, the Liberals cut the CBC's budget by at least $414 million, cutting 4,000 positions. It was so much money that the president of CBC quit his job. He was so offended at the Liberal cuts that he left.

I defer once again to former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Everybody remembers Peter Gzowski. He was a great Canadian. When former Prime Minister Chrétien was on the late Peter Gzowski's radio show, he said that if CBC were to close its doors tomorrow morning, nobody would be in the street protesting.

Moving on in time, we see the Liberals in a bit of a bind. Many have publically spoken out against the CBC, people such as the member for Pickering—Scarborough East, who was talking to the National Post in February 1996. He was discussing his opposition to tax increases in order to fund the CBC. He said:

It's my belief that the Canadian people have had enough of the GST and the PST. They don't want a CBC-ST.

By 1997, the Liberals were campaigning with another red book. Do we remember them waving red book two? It had another promise. Tucked away in the back pages of their platform, they had a preamble this time, admitting their failure on their promise of multi-year funding that was not realized. It read exactly this:

In 1993 Liberals made a commitment to stable multiyear funding for national cultural institutions such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Given the severe constraints the government has faced in dealing with the deficit, we have not fulfilled this commitment.

The member for Mississauga South talks about a promise not kept. I do not think the Liberals kept any promise in the 1993 red book, but I digress once again.

I will continue the quote:

As we restore health to the nation's finances, our financial commitment to Canada's public broadcasting system will grow.

What happened next? We can guess it. Their election promise was ignored. Cuts continued after the 1997 election, with the CBC budget reaching a low of $745 million in 1998-99.

Today, under a Conservative government, it is $1.1 billion. That is record funding for the CBC. It was $745 million under the Liberals, and $1.1 billion under the current Conservative government.

In 2000, we heard about programming cuts and so forth. What did they do in 2000? They cut supper-hour programming right across Canada.

I will bet some Canadians valued that programming. The Liberals cut it.

However, they did not stop there. Members such as Roger Gallaway continued to introduce motions to cut the English network's government funding.

Former Liberal cabinet minister Stan Keyes spoke about the CBC and said that the CBC has become a monster, quite frankly. He said that it's a billion dollars we have put towards CBC television and we witness direct competition between a public broadcaster and the private sector.

It is not only the Liberals who are against the CBC, though. I just wanted to highlight them since they brought the motion and they are showing the most hypocrisy on this issue. They are also the only other party that has ever formed government in the House, so we can only look to their record.

When we look at the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, what can we say about them? Members of the NDP say that they support the CBC, yet on every occasion they have had to prove it, they failed. They have voted against every Conservative budget since 2006.

Here is the problem with the NDP's position on the CBC. In 2004-05, this Parliament increased funding for the CBC, and the NDP voted against it. In 2006-07, we increased the funding for the CBC, and they voted against it. In 2007-08, we increased the funding for the CBC, and the NDP voted against it.

In 2008-09, we increased the funding for the CBC; the NDP voted against it. Then there was our 2009 economic action plan. One gets the picture.

As for the Bloc Québécois, its members have also voted against recent increases to the CBC. The Conservative government is delivering the goods, but the Bloc Québécois is voting against it.

The CBC has been around for quite a while. Its mandate and role have been defined and redefined over the years.

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage studied the CBC on a number of occasions with a variety of differing views on what the role of the broadcaster should be. There is a consensus amongst most members that the CBC should provide services to all regions of the country in both official languages. There is also agreement that minority linguistic communities also depend on the reception of news and information services provided to them in the communities in which they live.

At the end of the day, political members of all stripes have pondered the issue of the CBC and broadcasting in general. The present Liberal leader and member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, for example, in pontificating about the role of public and private broadcasting in North America, in a Toronto Star article in 1989, said:

I see our efforts as a struggle against the fragmentation of the broadcasting system in North America and against the assumption by existing public broadcasters, including CBC, that their audiences are fools who can't think for themselves.

Editorialists have weighed in on the debate as well. Across our country there have been a number of opinion pieces written regarding the public broadcaster.

The Chatham Daily News, in November, said:

The CBC gets 60 per cent of its funding from taxpayers. Spending frugally should be a given.

The Hamilton Spectator, in February of this year, said:

Whether it's called a bridge loan, a bailout or supplementary funding, the CBC request for federal money to tide it over is simply not fair to other struggling broadcast organizations...The CBC must...reinvent itself for the future as a condition of additional funding.

In Saturday's La Presse, Vincent Marissal reiterated the comment by his colleague, Nathalie Petrowski, saying that:

...Jean Chrétien's Liberal government made severe cuts to the corporation's budget 10 years ago or so. The former Prime Minister... had gone as far as to contend that losing CBC-Radio-Canada would not be a big loss to Canadians.

Earlier, in the days of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Liberals [referred to] Radio-Canada [as] “that separatist nest” and dreamt of cleaning up that subversive outfit.

Marissal concluded with a question:

...how come the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP, despite numerical superiority in the Commons, failed to act sooner, before the budget was passed for instance, to force the government's hand?

It has been known for at least three months that CBC/Radio-Canada was walking a tightrope, but answers obtained from all three parties yesterday suggest that they did not see the crisis coming.

The opposition is raising quite a ruckus, but it is rather pointless for the cavalry to move in once the battle is over.

André Pratte in a La Presse article over the weekend said, “if the CBC has hit a dead end today, it's not because the Conservatives were cheap, but as a result of a decline in advertising revenue as a result of the recession. In addition, the public broadcaster is facing the same structural problems that the private broadcasters are generally experiencing: costs are increasing, but demand is decreasing as a result of the appearance of new media on the broadcast landscape. Some people say that the Government of Canada should simply give more money to the CBC. However, who believes the CBC is managed on a tight leash? If the government has to support them, then with it must come the assurance that taxpayers' money is well invested”.

In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge the work and representation the CBC provides to many Canadians.

There are serious challenges facing the Canadian broadcast industry, and representatives in this industry, including the CBC, have to tighten their belts. As most Canadians can attest, there are tough choices that need to be made.

As with most Canadians, personal budgets must be established and followed. The same goes for the CBC. We are confident that the management knows how to make the best decisions for the future of the public broadcaster, keeping in mind the responsible spending of hard-earned taxpayer dollars and the service that is important to all Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, the government's view is rather peculiar. When it is not making cuts to culture, it thinks that it is increasing funding. Talking about yearly increases is incorrect. There have been no increases in the government's budget, but rather a scheduled 1.5% per year increase from Treasury Board. So, let us stick to the facts.

Let me read another very important quote, which states, “Reform [their party] policy would place the government sponsored loser [the CBC] in a situation where subsidies are weaned away and the future of the company is based on consumer satisfaction.” That is a quote from the Prime Minister, and I would like to know if the parliamentary secretary agrees with his leader on that.