This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentence.

Topics

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of QuebecPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member is seeking unanimous consent to see the clock as 6:30 p.m. Is that agreed?

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of QuebecPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to revisit my March 30 exchange with the parliamentary secretary concerning cutbacks at the CBC.

At that time, I was very concerned and upset, as were my constituents, about the planned cuts to CBC Radio. We have a small but dedicated CBC contingent in Labrador who do remarkable work with limited resources covering a vast and diverse region. The cutbacks as initially planned would have threatened our only local program, Labrador Morning.

In the days that followed the announcement, the outpouring of support and emotion from CBC Radio listeners in Labrador was remarkable. People told their own stories of how important the CBC service is to them and to their communities.

This was about the same time as a pair of snowmobile travellers in northern Labrador became stranded. They took refuge in a cabin and decided not to press on in a dangerous storm. They made that potentially lifesaving decision because they knew a ground search and rescue team was looking for them. They had heard about it listening to Labrador Morning on a battery radio.

I know that the financial crunch at CBC is not of the CBC's own making. There are external forces at work, including the failure of the Conservative government to support our public broadcaster. The CBC has been forced to make very unpleasant decisions.

At the same time, I must give credit to the CBC, to managers at all levels, who heard the concerns in Labrador and recognized the important place the CBC has in our region. Like other areas of northern and remote Canada, CBC is the only local broadcast outlet covering the entire region. The CBC took our concerns to heart and reversed the planned cutbacks in Labrador. I thank the broadcaster for the dialogue that it had with listeners and community leaders in my constituency.

However, this good news is tempered by the reality that cuts are still coming. In other parts of the province, jobs and service will be lost. I think in particular of CBC Corner Brook, which serves southern Labrador and western Newfoundland. Cuts there will hurt my constituents.

There will still be significant losses throughout Atlantic Canada, as well as in northern Ontario and other rural and remote regions. This, despite the statutory mandate of the CBC to reflect all of Canada's regional diversity.

At the national level, the future of programs like Politics is up in the air. This is unfortunate at a time when we need more quality coverage of public affairs, not less.

Worse still, the finance minister has left open the possibility that Canadian Heritage assets might be part of the next Conservative fire sale of public property. That could include the CBC. I certainly hope that is not the case. However, given the hostility that seems to exist between the governing Conservatives and the CBC, one is never sure.

I would once again invite the government to assure this House and all Canadians that the government will support the CBC, not gut it or sell it.

6:10 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to speak to this topic and correct the member on a number of assertions he made that are clearly wrong. I do not mind coming in to correct the member on where he is wrong. I consider it to be part of my role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage to make sure that we explain all the good work the department is doing.

CBC is one of those areas where our government made a firm commitment during the last election, and the election before that, that we would maintain and increase funding to the CBC. We promised that we would at least maintain it, but in fact, we have increased it.

Just this year, there is an extra $60 million for the CBC. Funding is now well in excess of $1.1 billion, almost $200 million more than what it received under the previous government when the Liberals were in power. I believe the member was a member of that government.

In fact, I remember that exchange and the hon. member went on a bit of a walk down memory lane and was talking about the good old days of the CBC. He just missed the 13 years when the Liberal Party was in power, when the Liberals cut so much out of the heart of the CBC. There were $400 million in cuts, thousands and thousands of CBC employees let go, programming scrapped, coverages that it could not manage any more. That was the record of the Liberal Party.

In the 1993 Liberal red book the Liberals said they would put more money into the CBC, but they cut $400 million. In 1997, red book part two, the sequel no one wanted, they once again promised to increase funding to the CBC, but once again the Liberals cut the funding. It went to an all-time low under the Liberal Party. What a horrible record. What a record of shame when it comes to the CBC.

Let us talk about our record on the CBC. There has been more money for the CBC each and every year that we have been in power. We have been there for the CBC. We have supported the CBC. We have held true to our commitment. Now the CBC is obviously experiencing the same economic downturn that regular Canadians are facing. Everyday Canadians are saying that these are tough economic times. People are being forced to make tough choices.

The CBC has seen its advertising revenues drop, but not because of the Conservative Party. We actually offered to spend some money on some ads with the CBC, but the CBC does not want money from the Conservative Party for our ads. I think our ads are quite witty, quite well done. If I were at the CBC, I might consider running them, but the CBC is an independent body. It is an arm's length crown corporation. It can make those decisions and there is nothing wrong with that.

What I will say is when it comes to government support for the CBC, our government has held true to our word. We have provided the support that CBC needs. I am glad that the CBC has made that commitment to Labrador. I am glad it made the commitment to continue Labrador Morning, which the member spoke so eloquently about. I know the people of Labrador appreciate that service. I know it is a valuable service. I am glad CBC has made that decision.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is difficult for all Canadians to square the arguments of the parliamentary secretary that somehow Conservatives are supporting CBC, but yet there are these massive cuts at a time when CBC is most needed.

Most experts have said, and the CBC itself has said, that it needed extra money to fulfill its mandate, a mandate which was given to it by Parliament. CBC's request was rejected. It was a very reasonable request and very sound way forward. It was a request for bridge financing. It did not ask for a permanent increase in its funding. It asked for bridge financing to get through a difficult time, to make sure that it could appropriately carry out its mandate. The government refused that.

Instead, the parliamentary secretary likes to go back in time and not accept his responsibilities or his government's responsibilities for the actions the government is taking today. I would ask him to stand up for the CBC, stop the cuts, do not gut it and do not sell it.

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Once again, Mr. Speaker, the member really should read the budgets he votes for. He voted for the economic action plan. I believe it is on page 211 or 212 where it talks about revisiting the value of crown assets. He would know that heritage is not subject to that. The CBC is not subject to that. He really should read what he is voting for. One piece of advice I would love to give the member is to make sure that he reads what he is voting for because it is really important. That is a core responsibility of members.

One thing I will say, we have held true to our word. There has been more money for the CBC every year that this party has been in government. The member's party cannot say that. The Liberals are the party of slash and burn in the CBC. There are all kinds of quotes I could pull out but we do not have the time.

Even a CBC executive admitted that any kind of bridge financing was not a solution, that that was only moving the problems along. Our government is standing four-square behind the CBC because we said we would and we keep our word.

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:18 p.m.)