Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my colleague from Drummond on his excellent speech. Bravo!
I am pleased to rise today to speak to this motion, which concerns the short- and long-term future of CBC/Radio-Canada.
On March 25, the corporation's president and CEO, Mr. Lacroix, announced that 800 full-time positions would be eliminated between May and September, including 335 at the French network. This amounts to a loss of around 8% of the corporation's workforce across Canada.
The positions are being cut because of rapidly declining advertising revenues owing to the difficult economic situation, rising production costs and aging infrastructure.
Unfortunately, I have to point out that it is rather odd, even paradoxical, that the Liberal Party is behind this motion today. During the final years they were in power, successive Liberal governments refused to index CBC/Radio-Canada's budget. In the 1990s, they even cut its budget repeatedly, most notably in 1998, when they slashed it by $94 million.
More recently, on February 1, 2005, a newspaper in the greater Montreal area wrote the following:
Yesterday, all the CBC/Radio-Canada news anchors sounded the alarm. They do not accept the new $4 million cuts to the news sector.
They were all there, saddened and asking Prime Minister Paul Martin and minister Liza Frulla to be receptive.
Those people are not Conservatives.
In constant dollars, that is, taking inflation into consideration, the CBC's budget under the Liberals went from $900 million to $708 million. This means that the Liberals are also directly responsible for the state of the CBC's infrastructure and partially responsible for the current crisis that is shaking the corporation. The tabling of this motion by the Liberal Party once again shows the political hypocrisy that is so ingrained in that party. This way of doing things is not the exception for the Liberal Party. It is its trademark.
I will provide an example that affects me directly, because it is happening in my riding, and also in other Montreal ridings. I am referring to the noise caused by aircraft, ever since flights were moved from Mirabel to Dorval. In Ahuntsic we are disturbed by the noise of these aircraft. That is also the case in Saint-Laurent and, oddly enough, in Lachine as well. It is rather funny to see some Liberal members cry wolf regarding the noise made by aircraft, considering that they are directly responsible for this unacceptable situation, which prevails in several ridings in Montreal. That is a small example, but I could give other ones. This shows why, when we look at the facts, both Quebeckers and Canadians are disappointed by the Liberals.
But let us get back to the main issue, namely, the financial crisis that the corporation is facing. The CBC has to deal with a shortfall of $171 million. The corporation's management has confirmed that it asked for the government's assistance, but the government refused to help. It merely authorized the CBC to benefit from the proceeds generated by the sale of some of its assets. Such a sale would take place at the worst moment, in the midst of an economic crisis. It is claimed that these assets are worth about $125 million, but one wonders how much the corporation will get for them, in the context of the economic crisis. It is obvious that this sale will mortgage the corporation's future. The sad thing in all this is that the government prefers to invest huge amounts of money in military equipment and war, rather than preserving jobs in Canada and in Quebec. That is the reality and that is unacceptable. This government does not understand anything and it continues on its military path.
I would point out that 85% of these cuts will affect television and 13.5% will affect radio. For example, in Montreal, the cuts will mean the loss of approximately 250 jobs, including 85 in news programming. In Quebec City, about 15 jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts, and the local noon program will disappear altogether. That means two and a half fewer hours of news from Quebec City every week, beginning June 29. The 6 p.m. news program, Téléjournal Québec, will be shortened by 30 minutes from June 29 to September 4, and return to 60 minutes in the fall. We are seeing real cuts to news and jobs. In addition to the people who will be left without a job, Canadians will also see a reduction in the amount of information they receive. This reminds of what happened with TQS.
Mr. Lacroix said that, beyond the CBC's walls, these cuts will also “dramatically” affect independent producers. The broadcaster has insisted that they reduce their production costs by 10% to 25%, which most have agreed to do.
We can therefore assume that a lot more than 800 jobs will be eliminated, if we include jobs outside the CBC, that is, jobs with private producers.
Mr. Lacroix was very clear. The Conservative government's decision to deny the crown corporation temporary financial assistance made things very difficult for its administrators. According to Mr. Lacroix, with bridge financing, the CBC would have been in a better position to manage the situation it now faces. This leads me to vigorously emphasize that the Conservatives' decision not to grant the CBC temporary assistance is unacceptable. As we know, the Conservative government has finally acknowledged the global economic crisis and admitted that it is also being felt here in Canada. They keep telling us, loud and clear, that their action plan has four main priorities, the first of which is, and I quote, “to take measures to protect jobs.” This is a little strange, is it not? They say they want to protect jobs, yet they refuse to give money, and people are losing their jobs. Some 800 people are being laid off.
Confronted with the financial crisis rocking CBC/Radio-Canada, the government is failing woefully its own test. Its inaction is a pure show of economic incompetence in these times of crisis. The fundamental role of any responsible government in these times is to preserve jobs. Through its inaction, this government which is currently in power thanks to the support of the Liberals, including my friend from Honoré-Mercier, is directly responsible for the loss of 800 well-paying full-time jobs. On the one hand, the government wants to be seen to be actively creating infrastructure jobs by pressing Parliament to support its $3 billion plan, even though it not clear where exactly this money will go. On the other hand, it is deepening the crisis by refusing to provide CBC/Radio-Canada with $171 million in temporary funding. I just do not get them anymore. They will hire more people to process the EI claims of the 800 plus employees losing their jobs.
On March 26, a renowned CBC/Radio-Canada journalist with 50 years' experience expressed concern about the future of the Crown corporation. He said that what was most worrisome in the medium and long term was the future of public television in Canada. He added that we can always overcome difficult economic conditions. But when such conditions are combined with a lack of political will, things get pretty rough at the shop.
What this government is doing is shameful. From a strictly financial and human perspective, the Conservatives should support the preservation of these jobs without hesitation. Unfortunately, the Conservative government does not seem to understand that or to embrace that economic truth. It would appear that the Conservatives' plan is to take advantage of the current economic situation to starve CBC/Radio-Canada and compromise its influence and future across Quebec and Canada. This is all the more shocking given that the Conservatives are apparently considering helping private broadcasters. As the saying goes, charity begins at home.
The Bloc will be voting in favour of this motion, but in reality we want more than it calls for. Since my time is nearly up, I will just list a few points. That the public funding for CBC/Radio-Canada be raised from $34 to $40 per capita. In other countries in the world it is far more than that. That the annual additional funding of $60 million be maintained. That the funding be stable, multi-year, predictable and indexed. The worst part of all this is that all this was in the February 2008 report of the standing committee on Canadian heritage. Many witnesses were heard. Many briefs were submitted. There was endless discussion. It took the time it took. A fine report was produced. That report did not really question the importance of funding CBC/Radio-Canada. But now it is as if we did all that for nothing. Nothing came of it. The Liberal motion is interesting but unfortunately it is a matter of too little, too late. The demands I have listed are not part of it. As far as the government is concerned, that is not one of its concerns.
Moreover, those recommendations went much further than this Liberal motion. They were supported by the Liberal Party, even if our colleagues who were on the committee did not seem very comfortable with this request for increased and maintained corporation funding. I would have expected this motion to have far more teeth than it does.
WIll the Liberals do the same as our Conservative colleagues? That is the major question and one for which I think the future will provide an answer.
If this Liberal motion seems to be bold in its demands of the government, it is more than timid when compared to what all my Liberal colleagues were backing a little over 12 months ago.
Unfortunately, with the Conservatives—