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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

Oral QuestionsPoint of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I will take the hon. members' comments concerning this point of order into consideration and I will get back to the House soon with a ruling on it.

The hon. minister of state is rising on another point of order.

Oral QuestionsPoint of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, I just want to correct the record. The member for Etobicoke Centre was misrepresenting the facts. The visa requirement that was lifted was done by the citizenship and immigration minister of the Conservative government and the many stakeholders who worked very hard on that issue. It was not due to a press release sent out by that member's office.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Before question period, the hon. member for Ahuntsic had the floor. There are five minutes left for questions and comments in response to the speech by the hon. member for Ahuntsic.

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier today there was quite a good discussion about the unique role of the CBC and Radio-Canada with respect to the services for Canadians and particularly for French Canadians. This unique role to provide these important unifying services to Canadians means that the services have to be across Canada because there are many francophones who live outside of Quebec.

The hypothesis is that in order to provide these services across all of Canada, CBC Radio-Canada has to operate at a disadvantage to other private broadcasters who can thrive on purchasing high profile U.S. programming and therefore attract the advertising revenues. CBC Radio-Canada is at a disadvantage simply because it is meeting its mandate.

The question is whether or not there is a real justification for assisting the CBC, so that programming presently offered does not suffer and may be lost, and to mitigate the chance that the programming, if cut, will never be able to return. I wonder if the member has a comment.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. I think it is crucial that the crown corporation be strengthened, not undermined, especially since services must be maintained in both rural and urban areas. I would like to give an example. In Montreal alone, these cuts will result in the loss of 150 jobs and 85 jobs in news. In Quebec City, hours of programming will be cancelled. For instance, about 15 jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts, and the local noon program will disappear altogether. I could go on and on.

We think these cuts are completely unjustified. Instead, this corporation should be strengthened. Furthermore, the $171 million should be allocated to it, since no one really knows how the government plans to invest the famous $3 million.

There is no doubt about it. A report was prepared after hearing witnesses and written submissions, all clearly demonstrating that not only should CBC/Radio-Canada funding be maintained, but it should be increased. The Bloc Québécois is talking about $40 per capita. That funding is much higher in other countries, such as Great Britain and France.

I think it is unfortunate that this motion does not contain any of the report's recommendations. In a way, those recommendations would maintain the funding. I would remind the House that, under the Liberals, unfortunately, the corporation also faced cuts. I want to believe in my colleague's good faith and that of other members of the Liberal Party, but I cannot help but wonder about this motion, although it will no doubt pass.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague represents a Montreal riding with a much more urban population than that of my central Quebec and Eastern Townships riding, where populations are both urban and rural. Nevertheless, we both represent people for whom CBC/Radio-Canada is their connection to relevant regional news.

The Conservative government's propensity for cutting cultural funding is having a devastating impact on people in general, whether they live in rural or urban communities.

I would like my colleague to comment on the negative consequences of the Conservative government's decision to cut funding, and on the Bloc Québécois' proposals to counter the government's medieval attitude.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The member for Ahuntsic with a short answer.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. These cuts will have an impact on the news. I gave a few examples involving Quebec City, but similar examples can be found in other regions of the province where some programs will be cut and others, such as Le Téléjournal, will have their broadcast hours reduced.

In Quebec City, the 6 p.m. broadcast of Le Téléjournal Québec will be shortened by half an hour from June 29 to September 4, when it will be reinstated in its one-hour format. There will be less broadcasting. The worst part is that we know Quebeckers and francophones living outside of Quebec are among the most avid Radio-Canada listeners, whereas English-speaking Canadians tend to prefer American programs to those on the CBC. Moreover—

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I apologize for interrupting the hon. member for Ahuntsic, but her time has long since run out.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Newton—North Delta.

I rise today to speak in support of my colleague's motion with respect to the indispensable role of Radio-Canada in providing national, regional and local programming.

As a former journalist with the CBC, I think it is fair to say that I can speak with some knowledge about the corporation and what it offers Canadians. What it offers Canadians is the opportunity to learn from each other, from coast to coast to coast.

CBC has been referred to as the home of Canadian content. It offers services in English and French in five time zones. It provides coverage in eight aboriginal languages. It provides coverage in eight international languages for new and aspiring Canadians, and nine languages via the CBC's worldwide network.

Some people might ask why we are spending taxpayers' money on offering programs in languages other than our two official languages, English and French. It is because that is who we are in this country, a mosiac of people from throughout the world, many of whom chose Canada because of our reputation as a caring people and country.

We care enough to make sure they have every opportunity to learn about their new home, including via the country's public broadcaster. In fact section 27 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states, “This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians”. The recognition in the charter of the multicultural heritage of Canadians speaks to the importance of ensuring there is a forum for all Canadians to express their views no matter what their heritage. The CBC has been helpful in fulfilling this role.

By reducing funding to the CBC, are we not compromising that opportunity? When the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism refers to the CBC as a bloated crown corporation, does he not realize how valuable the CBC is to our multicultural population?

Without the CBC, I think it is fair to say that Canadians born in this country would not have the opportunity to learn about every region of the country. Many do not have the opportunity to travel and they welcome the chance, through the CBC, to discover information about Canada and other Canadians.

One example of a great program hosted by a fellow Newfoundlander, Rex Murphy, is Cross Country Checkup, Canada's only national open-line radio program broadcast live across the country every Sunday. Anyone who has listened to Cross Country Checkup knows Rex initiates a lively discussion on issues of national importance that Canadians are only too eager to speak about, and to share their thoughts and opinions.

I mention Cross Country Checkup because when I see comments from the Prime Minister where he refers to the CBC as a government-sponsored loser, how can he not see the value in programs produced by the CBC where the emphasis is on Canada and Canadians?

In Newfoundland and Labrador, a local radio program called The Fisheries Broadcast is the radio program to tune into for information about anything to do with the fishery, a vital industry in the province, one that continues to provide a living for many despite the collapse of the ground fishery. Whenever I get a chance to listen to The Fisheries Broadcast, it is obvious just how much those involved in the industry use it and appreciate it.

Since its inception in 1951, The Fisheries Broadcast has covered stories about the fishing industry, reflecting the people and the communities that depend on the sea for their livelihood. The program provides basic survival information to fish harvesters, such as marine weather forecasts, meeting announcements and the opening and closing times of the various fisheries. For more than half a century The Fisheries Broadcast has been considered a trusted, essential communication service provided by the CBC.

Unfortunately, with the Prime Minister's view of CBC as a government-sponsored loser, programs like The Fisheries Broadcast could one day be on the chopping block. That would be a tragedy.

When one reduces spending to a crown corporation, like the CBC in this case, and leaves those in charge no choice but to make decisions taking into account the funding cuts, anything and everything is up for consideration.

In Newfoundland and Labrador invaluable programs such as Radio Noon will be cut to one hour, and a program called Living Newfoundland and Labrador has been cancelled. Living Newfoundland and Labrador has been an interesting program, not only for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, but it has also aired in other Atlantic provinces, just as similar programs from other Atlantic provinces have been carried in Newfoundland and Labrador by the CBC.

Canadians learning about Canadians instead of watching American produced programming is not a bad thing and should be encouraged.

I recall watching an episode of the Rick Mercer Report in which he interviewed people in the United States. He asked them questions about Canada. Their lack of knowledge about Canada and Canadians was appalling. Rick Mercer was doing his part to educate Americans about Canada, even if he was taking a shot at them while doing so. By the way, Rick Mercer is a fellow Newfoundlander as well.

The government's latest funding cuts could result in as many as 20 jobs eliminated in Newfoundland and Labrador. While we talk about the loss of programming and the seriousness of these cuts at the CBC, the personal side is something that tends to get lost.

I know of a cameraman who has lost his job, a father of three whose wife is a stay-at-home mom. In this economy, finding a job for either the husband or the wife will not be easy, even if possible. It is possible that this man will end up on EI, trying to provide for a family of five. He will go from one government funded job where he was a productive member of society to trying to make ends meet on EI, a fund administered by the government.

A poll conducted by the Truro Daily News in Nova Scotia asked readers if the government should have provided the funding to ensure that the CBC did not have to axe hundreds of full-time jobs across the country. It was clear in the responses that CBC is considered to provide a valuable service. I am sure the response would have been the same throughout the country. Why then, at a time when hundreds of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast to coast are losing their jobs, did the Conservatives decide to play a major role in seeing the loss of hundreds of more jobs? The Minister of Industry is on record asking, “Do we need the CBC, in its current format, when there are so many private broadcasting channels available?” Unfortunately, such a comment shows the absence of any understanding of the mandate of the CBC and the important role it plays in the country.

It should not be seen as one or the other. Both have a role to play and both do it well. The difference is that in many small rural communities throughout the country, the only presence is the CBC. It serves as the voice of Canadians who live in those communities. In my riding of Random—Burin—St. George's, there are over 200 communities. In fact, it takes nine hours to drive from one end of my riding to another. There are eight isolated communities in my riding. Indeed, the CBC is the voice of Canadians. Residents and constituents of my riding listen to the CBC.

The president and chief executive officer of the CBC, Hubert T. Lacroix, said that the corporation brings Canadians programming when, where and how they want it on 29 services and multiple platforms: television, radio, the Internet, satellite radio, digital audio and a recording label. According to Mr. Lacroix, only the CBC provides 21 hours of Canadian programming in regular prime time. In the last four years, CBC increased by 38% its investment in Canadian dramas and comedies. CBC created a made-in-Canada reality segment. CBC commissions more developmental, commercial free, child focused programming than anyone else in Canada. CBC has increased its focus on original current affairs programming, highlighting Canadian issues and international events from a Canadian perspective.

While Mr. Lacroix likes to boast about what the CBC has been doing, and rightfully so, my take on it is that the CBC has been fulfilling its mandate and, if given the opportunity to do so, would continue down that path.

What I thought really interesting in Mr. Lacroix's remarks is that Canadians, through their tax dollars, contribute $34 a year to the CBC, which is less than a dime a day. In Britain, each person contributes $124 a year toward that country's public broadcaster, the BBC. In France, each person contributes $65 a year and that will rise to $77 a year under the French government's plan to disallow advertising on its public broadcaster.

How is it that the Conservative government does not have the same appreciation for Canada's public broadcaster? Could it have anything to do with the Prime Minister's remarks on March 12 of this year, just a little over two weeks ago, when he said:

Never forget--you would forget this sometimes listening to the CBC--that it was Conservatives that created our federation, one of the most lasting political democratic arrangements in history.

Could the decision to let our national broadcaster die a death of a thousand cuts stem from the Prime Minister's dissatisfaction over some remarks made by some announcer, journalist or program producer? Certainly that cannot be the case. Canadians support the CBC and so should the Conservative government.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I realize that the member is new to this House, so perhaps she has not had an opportunity to read the Broadcasting Act. She would realize, if she took the time to do so, that the CBC is totally independent of this House, of the Prime Minister and of the government of the day, according to the terms laid out in the Broadcasting Act. Perhaps with a lack of information, I find her comments quite regrettable.

I would like to engage her in a debate about her assertion, which is a totally false assertion. She said that we, the government, are reducing the funding to the CBC. In fact, if she were to do a modicum of research, she would come to the realization that in fact our government has increased the funding to the CBC over the last four budgets continuously to the tune of $100 million.

If she is looking for a government that wanted to cut the CBC, it would be her government under Jean Chrétien and finance minister Paul Martin that removed between $400 million and $500 million from the funding envelope for the CBC. This created a major crisis in the CBC, caused the unfortunate loss of 4,000 jobs and the resignation of the president of the CBC at the time.

I would like to give the member the opportunity either to do some research or, at the very least, to correct the record and admit that her comment that this government is reducing funding to the CBC is without any basis of fact whatsoever.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, clearly, the member is, as we would say, out to lunch, in terms of the question itself and the information that he is providing here in the House of Commons to the public via the airwaves.

We clearly know, and the CBC has admitted this, that the government did not provide the bridge funding as was requested by the CBC. All it was asking for was funding to allow it to continue its mandate.

As I said, I am very familiar with the mandate of the CBC, being a former employee of the corporation. The CBC wants to do what it was mandated to do. Unfortunately, the government is not allowing the CBC to do that, whether it is through not providing the bridge funding or not continuing with the budget it already has, which is in fact being cut. It was cut the last two years by the Conservative government. This year it is being cut by $62 million. If the hon. member does not believe that, all he has to do is look at the CBC's own financial statements.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her obvious support for the CBC. I share her enthusiasm.

In the 1990s when the Liberals were slicing and dicing the CBC, I was living in the Yukon and relying immeasurably upon the CBC to inform me on what was happening in the rest of the country.

I have had the opportunity of living across the country and overseas and in all circumstances I have appreciated being able to find out what is going on in Canada through the CBC.

I find it a bit incredulous that the member's party supported a budget that gave money to multinational corporations to test out pollution control technologies, which has obviously left the budget shortchanged, and yet she is now complaining there is not enough money for the CBC. I wonder if she could please explain her rationale.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am not saying that one precludes the other. It is important for all of us to recognize the importance of the CBC to Canadians and to the country. I do not think we need to talk about doing one and not the other in terms of the environment. It is important for us to recognize that we need to take care of the environment and, at the same time, take care of something as important to all of us as the CBC.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's on her passion toward the CBC.

This past weekend Vancouver had the honour of hosting the Juno awards, the country's largest celebration of homegrown music. The weekend was a fantastic success, in the welcoming spirit of the west coast in hosting the rest of the country, in the much needed economic activity that greatly benefited local businesses, and most important, in the pride that we have for our country's finest musicians who serve as global ambassadors for Canada.

Yesterday in the Vancouver Sun there was a fascinating article about how our country is a pioneer in the protection of cultural sovereignty. We continue to promote Canadian culture in spite of being next to the world's largest economy, and our artists continue to thrive.

In 2005, UNESCO adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. The purpose behind such an initiative was described as follows:

For the first time in modern history, the right of states to adopt policies to protect and promote their cultural expressions was affirmed in an international legal instrument.

Canada was instrumental in putting this convention together and, in spite of heavy opposition from the United States, it passed overwhelmingly with a vote of 148 to 2.

Since that time, 96 countries have ratified the agreement, and the concepts of cultural protection and promotion have become a world-wide phenomenon.

Unfortunately, we no longer have a Canadian government that embraces these principles. The first sign of this was during the last election when the Prime Minister stood by his decision to cut $45 million from cultural funding. Now this trend is continuing with the government's assault on the CBC. Before we get into what these cuts mean to Canada's unique cultural identity, let me frame this debate properly.

The Prime Minister and the Conservative Party have spent over a decade attacking CBC at its core. They do not believe that the government should provide any funding for a public broadcaster. This has been a long-standing position and tough economic times are simply an excuse for the real reasons behind the government's refusal to provide bridge funding. Misinformation is what the government is using to confuse the public.

The government claims that it has increased funding to CBC Radio-Canada every year. The truth is that an examination of both CBC Radio-Canada's annual reports and the main estimates determine that the government has cut funding since the Conservatives took office.

They claim that administrative cuts need to be made to trim the fat from the CBC. The truth is that the refusal of bridge funding is eliminating--let me repeat that word--eliminating original Canadian produced programming.

They claim that they care about Quebec and our bilingual identity. The truth is this funding shortfall hits directly at the core of French programming, with more than half the cuts to staff coming from the CBC's francophone operations.

Let us be clear, the CBC is not asking for a handout. Management has clearly indicated that it understands that in tough economic times “everyone must tighten their belts”.

An increased subsidy to the annual appropriation has not been asked for. What we are talking about is a request for a loan, a loan that CBC as a crown corporation cannot access from the private sector.

Let the government begin to be honest about its intentions. The CBC's troubles provided a perfect means to capitalize on a network that the Prime Minister has referred to as a “government sponsored loser”. Therefore, the government is happy to see the CBC fall to its knees and in the process that original Canadian content, quality television and radio, is being lost.

The government is not targeting salaries or bonuses or compensation packages as is being done with some of the major auto manufacturers. It is intent on destroying Canadian programming, period.

With all the money that is being spent to invigorate the economy, with all the money that is being racked up in the largest deficit seen in a generation, and with all the money that the government has squandered because of poor economic decisions, a loan to the CBC was entirely possible and, more important, a loan to the CBC was entirely necessary if, of course, one believes in the protection of our cultural identity.

What is clear, both in terms of this debate about the CBC and the past cuts to cultural funding that I mentioned earlier, the Canadian identity is not important to the Prime Minister unless it is a commodity to be bought and sold like any other product.

Here is the ironic part about all of this. The decision not to provide bridge funding is going to cut at the heart of television shows that have become huge exports across the world for the CBC.

Let us take the program Little Mosque on the Prairie, which is in international syndication in France, Switzerland, several francophone-speaking African nations, Israel, Dubai, Finland, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Here is an example of a Canadian international success story that has been cut because of the government's hidden agenda when it comes to our cultural identity.

To conclude, I encourage the government to reconsider its decision about the CBC, which is a pillar of our cultural identity. However, much more than that, I encourage the minister and the Prime Minister to come clean about their intentions and at least let Canadians know their true motivations for hanging the CBC out to dry.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are in difficult economic times. The news media, television and radio are all having difficult moments. The auto industry alone is not advertising on television stations. The CBC is having difficulty. The private news stations are having difficulty as well. Small stations are being closed all across this country. Jobs are being lost and programs are being rearranged, whether it is public or private.

My question to the member is this. When he talks about providing specific assistance to the CBC, should the government provide funding to all public and private television stations?

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to give the hon. member some information that might be helpful.

Let us be clear about the landscape of the broadcasting industry. These commercial regulations provide private broadcasters with the right to substitute U.S. content, and they bring between $270 million to $330 million. Provincial and federal government subsidies, such as tax credits, and the Canadian Television Fund add another $165 million in cash supports to private broadcasters.

We all know our media industry could not exist without the subsidy. Private companies compete for public money and the CBC competes for advertising dollars. The difference is that the CBC has a mandate to tell Canadian stories and spending on Canadian programming is more than all the private broadcasters combined.

CBC television is being viewed by 30% more Canadians today than just three years ago, so it has the number one news and information website in Canada. I can tell members that because of the subsidies and the funding to the CBC--

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Honoré-Mercier.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague for his comments.

Today, we heard the Conservatives talk about CBC/Radio-Canada, and we saw just how deep their cultural cuts went. They cut some 15 cultural programs. Now they are refusing to lift a finger to help our national public broadcaster.

My question is simple: does my colleague get the sense that the government is trying to use the crisis as an excuse to get rid of CBC/Radio-Canada?

We know what the government thinks of our national public broadcaster, but does my colleague get the feeling that the government is trying to use the current economic crisis as a pretext for slashing the corporation's funding?

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for bringing this motion forward. I totally agree with him. In fact, if we look at the last decade, government ministers on the frontbench and the Prime Minister have always tried to diminish the CBC's ability to broadcast.

In my riding of Newton--North Delta, there are many francophone Canadians who want to listen to the CBC. This has always been the government's intention and that is what it is doing right now, taking advantage of this economic downturn to put blame on the CBC.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the hon. member's comments but we just simply cannot make a financial argument in this case. It is quite clear, from the estimates and from the CBC's appropriations that funding has gone up. It has gone up since the last Liberal government. It was $997 million and went to $1.043 billion last year, and $1.115 billion this year.

However, the point I want to make quickly was that the revenues of all of the stations, as the member for Dufferin—Caledon has said, and all the networks are suffering from economic difficulty because of reduced ad revenues particularly. The member simply missed the point here financially. If ad revenues have gone down for everybody, the CBC's ad revenue is a very small part of its budget--

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I will allow a very brief response from the hon. member for Newton--North Delta, then we will have to move on.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, when one looks at the estimates and the CBC's financial reports, it is very clear that the funding from the government has gone down year after year.

Opposition Motion--CBC Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to inform the House that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Saint Boniface.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Honoré-Mercier for proposing the motion today because it allows me to clear up some of the misunderstandings he has propagated with regard to the operational structure of the CBC. While seemingly unimportant to most, an argument based on faulty fundamentals is certainly of no use to the House.

In recent weeks the hon. member has made a number of statements that reveal just how far off-base he is with his assumptions around many of his supposed facts, and just how little he knows about the governance of the CBC and its operations. Perhaps he is doing a political show.

If the hon. member truly believed in the motion, it makes one wonder just why he voted in favour of the government's economic action plan, not once, not twice, but three times in the House. The economic action plan clearly outlined what the government's financial plan was for the CBC. Again, I remind the House that the hon. member voted not once but three times in favour of that economic action plan.

That being said, I am pleased to have the opportunity to provide much needed clarification and perspective on this issue for the hon. member and all Canadians.

It would be important to begin with the briefest of history lessons, so I will begin by quickly reminding the hon. members opposite of the origins of CBC Radio-Canada, its governance, and the importance of autonomy from government interference, which is what this particular motion seeks to do.

CBC Radio-Canada was created in 1936 and replaced the Canadian Broadcast Commission, which had become far too vulnerable to interference and meddling by political players. Because of the political influence, the public began to lose faith and confidence in the nation's public broadcaster.

However, unlike Liberal leaders who followed him, Prime Minister Mackenzie King took the opportunity to restore confidence in national institutions cherished by Canadians. He chose to fix the problem and granted the new public broadcaster with a greater level of autonomy from government. That was in 1936. Since 1936 the Broadcasting Act has been amended a number of times, but no amendment has ever attempted to disregard that autonomy, as the hon. member's motion would have us do today.

The Liberals are certainly not the party of a strong, independent and free national broadcaster, as they would have us all believe. In fact, history indicates just the opposite. It was the Liberal Party that promised increased stable and long-term funding for the CBC in 1993, only to start slashing the budget in 1994. The year 1997 saw the same promises made and the same ends met. Budgets were cut to the tune of $440 million, while at the same time certain individuals in the Liberal Party received similar amounts of money by something most Canadians, unfortunately, remember as the sponsorship program. The victims of that were the more than 4,000 Canadians who lost their jobs at the CBC under the previous Liberal government. That is the real legacy of the Liberal Party.

A Conservative government in 1991 further expanded the corporation's independence from government and allowed the leadership of the CBC to make its own decisions with regard to programming and journalistic activities, and freed the CBC from the interference of former Prime Minister Trudeau, who infamously threatened to put the key in the door of the CBC, a threat that would obviously have put thousands out of work.

Another Conservative government increased funding to arts and culture to record levels in the country, and increased support to the CBC to the tune of $1.1 billion a year, a level that has never before been seen. This Conservative government has made all those changes.

The amazing thing is that a Conservative government always has to come to the aid of the CBC in tough times. Yet, the hon. member claims that Conservatives are destroying the CBC. I think Canadians are smart enough to know the real story when they hear the facts, which is why I am very pleased the hon. member raised this motion today.

The government will not dictate business practices of the CBC, as the hon. member would have us do with the motion. Supporting the motion today would certainly be the first step in the destruction of the CBC.

I am sure, in worldly travels of the Liberal leader, he has come across state controlled broadcasters and he must know the result of such control. We cannot and we will not dictate what the corporation should run, which programs it can run and when or second guess the decisions that it must make. The results would be catastrophic and I hope the Liberal leader will remember this when it comes time to vote on this motion tonight.

What the member opposite fails to understand is that to now intervene in the CBC's business would reverse over 73 years of autonomy from the government, an autonomy that is paramount for a public broadcaster in a free and democratic society.

The fact that the country is facing an economic downturn is not news today. The downturn was not created by this government but it is one that this government, with the help of Canadians, including our business leaders, will conquer together. Each and every business in this country needs to make difficult decisions, as does each and every family. The CBC is not alone in this. Every media outlet, every business and every family are now making the difficult decisions that are required during these difficult times.

The leadership of the CBC, by virtue of being a corporation funded by taxpayers, is not immune from these difficult business decisions. It has taken the bull by the horns and has faced its challenges head on. That is why it is good at what it does. To have my colleagues second guess it here today must be truly insulting to the management of the CBC.

It is the responsibility of this government to ensure that the CBC and, in fact, all crown corporations are appointed with people, not on the basis of who they know but on the basis of what they know. It is the job of the government to ensure that the leadership of the CBC is stacked with people who have the proper skills and experience required to run a business because that is what the CBC ultimately is.

The skills, experience and competence of the corporation's current CEO, Hubert Lacroix, his chairman, Timothy Casgrain, and the entire board is undeniable. The board is well-balanced and includes individuals with the vast knowledge and experience in all aspects of business. They will weather this storm and will be stronger for the tough decisions they are making.

The CEO and board of directors deserve the support of the House. We must have faith in their abilities to make the right decisions and use what they have been given wisely. Although we may not be pleased with program choices or a news report, we do not interfere and we must not interfere.

When the decisions of the board get more difficult to make, as in this case, when employees are let go or programming is scaled back, governmental interference is equally inappropriate. On this side of the House, we do have faith in the leadership of the CBC. We know it is best able to make the tough decisions that these difficult times require. Without a doubt, its job would be easier if all the decisions were simple. Reality, however, dictates that they are not, not for Hubert Lacroix and not for any Canadian.

If the hon. member lacks the faith in the leadership, then he should move that motion. I am sure the House would resoundedly defeat it. What he should not do is sit in the House and play backseat driver in the decision making process of the CBC.

The sponsor of this motion supported the budget that allocated record levels of funding to the CBC and now that is not enough for him. He now wants to run the show but it does not work that way. During these times, how can he possibly look his constituents in the eye and not blush? How can he support the budget that outlines funding for the CBC one day and the next day complain against it?

Everyone in the House supports the CBC. However, the senior management of the CBC has said that the end sought in the approval of this motion will not be met with or without the bridge financing requested here today. As such, I would propose the following amendment. I move that all words following “throughout Canada” be deleted so that the motion reads as follows, “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”.