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House of Commons Hansard #4 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

moved that Bill C-444, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act (broadcasting and telecommunications policies) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, in 2006, the Conservative government recognized Quebec as a nation. Since then, that same government has resisted giving Quebec the tools it needs to protect its identity and enable its culture to flourish.

This bill addresses the problem by making it possible for the federal government to delegate to any province that requests it authority to provide for the regulation of broadcasting and telecommunications within its boundaries. This bill would therefore enable the Government of Quebec to create its own broadcasting and telecommunications commission.

By giving the Government of Quebec the authority to regulate broadcasting and telecommunications, this bill would give Quebec full control over its cultural development and national identity. Guiding principles for the sector must take into account conditions in Quebec and the French fact, as well as regional differences within Quebec.

Given the impact of telecommunications and broadcasting on Quebec culture, oversight of this key sector must fall to Quebec. The purpose of regulation is to change the telephone services market, to determine its guiding principles and alter marketing strategies. It would also ensure the orderly development of telecommunications, ensuring access to people in all regions of Quebec. With respect to broadcasting, this bill would ensure diversity of voices and French-language content.

This is not the first time Quebeckers have asked for this. This is something they have always wanted. Since the early 20th century, Quebec has argued that broadcasting should be within its jurisdiction. In 1929, Quebec's premier, Alexandre Taschereau, passed a provincial broadcasting bill. In 1932, the Government of Canada responded by passing the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act, which established the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, forerunner to today's CRTC.

In 1968, Daniel Johnson said that Quebec should have more control over the sector. He said:

The assignment of broadcasting frequencies cannot and must not be the prerogative of the federal government. Quebec can no longer tolerate being excluded from a field where its vital interest is so obvious.

A few years later, then-Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, said:

In cultural matters, the decision making centres we need for our own cultural security will have to be transferred, particularly in the telecommunications sector. Here again, it is a simple matter of common sense—

Jean-Paul L'Allier, when he was communications minister in the Bourassa government, said:

It is up to Quebec in the first instance to develop a global communications policy. This policy is indissociable from the development of its education system, its culture and everything that comes under Quebec's domain.

As we can see, Quebec has been claiming this right for a while now. It has been claiming this right because it affects all forms of expression of Quebec's culture, its very soul.

This claim has nothing to do with partisanship. Quebec governments, of every political persuasion, have claimed control over broadcasting and telecommunications from Ottawa. In this regard, I would like to quote the member for Pontiac, when he was communications minister in Quebec.

Quebec must be able to establish the rules for operating radio and television systems, and control development plans for telecommunications networks, service rates and the regulation of new telecommunications services—

Quebec cannot let others control programming for electronic media within its borders...To that end, Quebec must have full jurisdiction and be able to deal with a single regulatory body.

This is nothing new, you might say. But I wanted to share my colleague's statement to once again illustrate the many contradictions that are so typical of this government. Does this mean that the interests of Quebec vary based on where they are being defended?

More recently, in 2008, Quebec's minister of culture, communications and the status of women and the minister of Canadian intergovernmental affairs and the reform of democratic institutions wrote to the federal government in an attempt to negotiate agreements for the broadcasting and telecommunications sector.

The letter was written to inform the federal government of Quebec's desire to begin talks, as soon as possible, with a view to concluding a Canada-Quebec agreement for the broadcasting and telecommunications sector and an agreement relating to culture. Considering the distinct culture of Quebec, the only French-speaking state in North America, they said they felt that concluding such an administrative agreement would make it possible to better reflect the specific characteristics of Quebec content in broadcasting and telecommunications, and would serve as recognition of the importance of protecting and promoting Quebec's specific culture.

The letter also pointed out that the Government of Quebec has always insisted that it should play a role in this area and that, in 1929, it was the first government to legislate the broadcasting sector, given the need to safeguard Quebec culture and identity.

The letter goes on to say that Quebec believes that the federal government must not act alone when it comes to broadcasting and telecommunications, and that Quebec would like to see the creation of concrete input mechanisms for the development and definition of government policies, particularly concerning decisions related to activities that primarily affect Quebec and concerning content.

More recently, in 2009, the minister of culture, communications and the status of women of Quebec had this to say:

Entering into a communications agreement would guarantee that Quebec's specific content would be taken into account more in broadcasting and telecommunications. It would also mean recognition of the importance of protecting and promoting Quebec's unique character.

In light of these statements by men and women of all political stripes, there is no doubt that Quebec agrees with the basic principles of the bill.

It has become increasingly urgent to take action on these issues since this government came to power, because it is proceeding with a massive dismantling of the telecommunications regulatory framework.

This government even issued an order, which was condemned by the Union des consommateurs and thousands of small telephone service providers in Quebec, calling on the CRTC to regulate telephony as little as possible.

Action is also urgently needed because technology is evolving extremely rapidly nowadays and regulatory authority is a huge issue.

I would like to quote from the report the CRTC submitted to the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel:

On 16 December 1992, prior to coming into force of the Telecommunications Act, the Commission initiated a public proceeding to examine whether the existing regulatory framework should be modified in light of developments in the industry. In that proceeding, the Commission noted that, in an information-based economy, a modern and efficient telecommunications infrastructure is a fundamental component of, and vehicle for, the production and consumption of goods and services.

The Commission noted further that, in recent years, technological change and increasing competition had significantly altered the nature of the telecommunications industry, so that, in addition to fulfilling the basic communications requirements of all subscribers, telecommunications had evolved into a tool for information management and a productivity enhancer for business.

These changes had allowed the telephone companies to develop a wide range of new audio, video and high-speed data services to satisfy the demands of both business and residence consumers in the local and long distance markets.

It becomes essential to regulate telecommunications when you understand that they have become a “tool for information management”.

It is therefore impossible to take a purely commercial approach to telecommunications. The very nature of this business affects the transmission of information throughout Canada.

We condemn this approach, but we know that in the current context, Quebec can only play the role of a lobbyist and is unable to have any effective influence on the federal government. Telecommunications also affect the cultural sector.

As a group of Quebec cultural organizations underscored in a memoir to the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel in July 2005, “changes in technology are bringing about the convergence of computer science, telecommunications, radio and television”.

In closing, there are a number of reasons to pass this bill and there is general consensus in the nation of Quebec on its basic principles.

The CRTC makes its decisions based on Canadian realities and not on Quebec's reality. Quebec is viewed as just one of several regions in Canada, which means the regional differences within Quebec are not taken into account.

The cultural development of the Quebec nation hinges on its ability to determine its own terms of transmission. Quebec has no control over these.

Should the government deem a decision to go against the interests of Quebec, it is the National Assembly, and not the House of Commons, that would have the power to call for a review.

Partisanship aside, the nation of Quebec has been convinced for a number of years now that having its own regulatory power over the instruments essential to protecting and promoting its culture through telecommunications and broadcasting is what is required to ensure its full development.

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I can remember the debate we had in this place on the question of establishing Quebec as a nation. I think all hon. members will recall that the issue of what constituted a nation was not agreed to by members of the House.

Notwithstanding that, during that period of time we also understood that Quebec and its broadcast technology and cultural agencies were representing all French-speaking Canadians, both inside and outside Quebec. There is a substantial number and, in fact, a disproportionate amount of funding for cultural development that goes to Quebec to support francophone Canadians all across the country.

I want to ask the member whether that constituency of French-speaking Canadians outside of Quebec would also be served by a new mandate for a Quebec telecommunications commission?

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, it is rather obvious to us what constitutes the Quebec nation: it is the culture of the only French-speaking state in North America.

There is a huge divide between the Quebec's cultural vision and that of Canada, as demonstrated by this government every day. It believes that culture is inherently entertaining. The Olympic relay is a good example of that.

I have spoken with a number of organizations and people in my riding. The only reason we are seeking sovereignty is because Quebec needs to develop its culture and to be master of its own house.

I am a sovereignist simply because to properly promote its culture Quebec must control 100% of its tools.

I am not alone in thinking this way. The minister of culture, communications and the status of women in Quebec's Liberal government is in full agreement with our position.

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Madam Speaker, I am somewhat surprised by the answer of the member promoting this bill to my colleague's question about Canada's French-speaking community outside Quebec. My colleague has chosen to ignore this community rather than honestly answer the question.

I will ask the question again: does he not give a damn about francophones outside Quebec?

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, that is not it at all. The French fact, and not only from a Quebec point of view, was treated in an outrageous manner during the Olympic games.

When I go to the other country, that is, west of the Outaouais River, I am often asked what will happen to francophones outside Quebec when Quebec becomes independent.

And yet, it is quite simple. When I see the statistics showing the decline of the French fact in the rest of Canada, I am just as outraged as my colleagues from across Canada.

If there were a strong francophone state in North America, we would be able to preserve the French fact at least in one corner of the continent. It would not be like Louisiana and we would be able to help our colleagues in the rest of North America.

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Sherbrooke has 50 seconds, so he should keep his question brief.

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, my question will also answer my Liberal colleagues. In June 2005, the CRTC approved licences for SIRIUS Satellite Radio Canada and Canadian Satellite Radio Inc. to operate subscription radio services. The licence stipulated that 10% of its services had to be Canadian, 2.5% of which were to be in French.

Is that how the CRTC and the Liberal government of the day protected the French fact?

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Repentigny has 20 seconds to respond.

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be brief.

This is a strong point that bolsters what I was saying. Unfortunately, the French fact appears to be in decline, and if Quebec were to take full control of a Quebec broadcasting and telecommunications commission, we could protect the French fact in Quebec at least.

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Being the lone woman among the occupants of the Chair, I take this opportunity to wish an excellent International Women's Day to all Canadian women inside and outside the House.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women has the floor.

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Beauport—Limoilou Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Madam Speaker, you took the words right out of my mouth since I was just about to wish an excellent International Women's Day to all women in Quebec and in Canada, to all our female assistants who give their all to help us day in and day out, and to all empowered women.

I have the privilege to rise today to speak to this bill that would create new regulatory authorities in Canada in the area of communications. I want to explain why we believe that this approach would be detrimental to the development and competitiveness of Quebec's communications businesses.

First of all, I want to stress the importance of communications for Canada and for Quebec as well as for our future. Broadcasting and telecommunications have a significant impact on local and regional distinctiveness throughout the country and in Quebec.

The Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications industry is transforming because of the growing presence of digital technology. Businesses in that industry are adapting to the change to maintain or even increase their competitiveness in a market where consumer expectations are more and more pressing.

Not only does this digital transformation change the way the industry operates, but it also creates numerous opportunities in Canada, in Quebec and abroad for our dynamic businesses.

In fact, our Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications companies show good potential for becoming key players in the global communications market, and we take great pride in that.

However, to achieve this potential, our companies need an efficient and responsive regulatory framework that fosters their competitiveness. We believe that Bill C-444 does not support that.

Bill C-444 would fragment regulatory control and supervision. In fact, companies would be governed by both a federal regulator and a provincial regulatory body.

Having two responsible bodies would create numerous problems which would hinder the development of these sectors of strategic importance to Quebec as well as Canada. Having two responsible bodies would create contradictory policies applicable to the regulated companies, not to mention the inevitable negotiations between the two levels of government and associated delays.

In addition, the management of the airwaves by two separate bodies raises other issues. First, to ensure interference protection for spectrum users, bilateral and international agreements have to be entered into. However, there are no simple solutions that would allow the CRTC, Industry Canada and a potential Quebec body to ensure the coordination of airwaves.

Besides, none of Quebec's major telecommunications companies are limited to that province. The key players in the private sector—the likes of Quebecor, Astral, Corus, Cogeco and Bell—have broadcasting, and some even have telecommunications, interests outside Quebec.

Cogeco, for instance, has cable broadcasting activities in Quebec, Ontario and abroad, while Quebecor has television broadcasting activities in Quebec and Ontario, with some services also being offered in other Canadian provinces.

Creating a Quebec version of the CRTC would make things more complicated rather than simpler, and it would be contrary to the wishes expressed by the industry for streamlined regulations so as to foster the competitiveness of companies.

Moreover, this would come at a time when broadcasting is facing structural challenges beyond the economic circumstances because of technological developments, new consumer habits and new business models.

For example, the transition to new digital platforms represents a major challenge that segments of the broadcasting industry, such as traditional direct-to-home broadcasters, have to address.

Given that the system needs a consistent regulatory approach as a result of media company convergence, the national scope of this industry and the need to adapt to this new reality, the creation of another regulatory authority would only add to the administrative burden and increase duplication and confusion, and would not serve consumers or businesses.

Furthermore, the cost of another regulatory authority would probably be assumed by consumers or the industry, and in the end, taxpayers would be the ones left to foot the bill.

At time when the broadcasting industry is undergoing major changes and devoting all its energy to adapting to those changes, the government must not do anything to impede innovation. On the contrary, it must ensure that the system serves the interests of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

These interests are protected by the existing system, given that the Broadcasting Act and regulatory framework take into account the interests and demands of francophone and anglophone broadcasting markets across Canada, particularly through public consultations held by the CRTC.

Our government is convinced that the current regulatory framework allows French-speaking communities and businesses in Quebec to express any concerns that may need to be addressed.

Furthermore, when a licence is granted, renewed or modified, the objectives of the Broadcasting Act must be taken into consideration.

That is how the Broadcasting Act and current regulatory structure are contributing to the protection and promotion of Quebec's social, cultural and economic objectives in the communications sector.

The current structure is also what has allowed broadcasting companies and dynamic cultural communities to thrive in Canada and especially in Quebec, which is something we can be very proud of.

Thus, we believe there is no need to change the existing regulatory framework, as Bill C-444 proposes. Nor do we need to change a system that works, one that is adapted to the needs of current markets and that protects the interests of Quebeckers and Canadians.

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Liberal Honoré-Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-444, tabled by my colleague from Repentigny.

This bill has to do with the structure of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC.

Before going any further, I would like to point out that the CRTC's mandate is to ensure that both the broadcasting and telecommunications systems serve the Canadian public. The CRTC uses the objectives in the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act to guide its policy decisions. It is very important to understand that.

The CRTC plays an important role in protecting and promoting Canadian content. To quote Ghandi:

I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.

That is exactly the role of the CRTC, to ensure that the different cultures are fairly represented on radio and television. It protects Canadian culture from other more imposing cultures—in particular that of our neighbours to the south—but it also aims to reflect the face of Canada and the regional diversities within the country.

The CRTC plays an important role in protecting culture, and I believe that we must strengthen the role and mandate of the CRTC, not weaken it in the way my colleague and friend from Repentigny proposes.

In fact, I do not see how splitting up the CRTC would strengthen its mandate. Would five, seven or even ten regional or provincial CRTCs do a better job than the current CRTC?

For these reasons and many others, I will vote against the bill tabled by the hon. member for Repentigny.

I will do him a favour and make a suggestion. I know he has worked very hard on his bill. However, rather than presenting it in this form, I invite him to take our approach and to concentrate on the challenges facing the protection and promotion of Canadian content. Naturally, that includes Quebec content which, we must say, is absolutely extraordinary.

Our society is changing at a dizzying pace. Everything is moving very quickly. We are moving into a digital economy, which has an impact on just about everything, and most certainly on culture. The means of telecommunications are evolving at lightning speed, as is broadcasting.

We must react quickly to all these changes, anticipate them, and even take a leadership role in them.

With all due respect, I do not see how this bill will help achieve these objectives.

I would like to make another important point.

I have had the opportunity to meet people from just about everywhere in Quebec and I have yet to be told that this bill is a priority or that it is a step in the right direction that will deal with future challenges.

As the heritage critic, I have been able to travel to all regions of Canada to address the matter of culture.

I do it every time I have the opportunity. Just last week, I went to Île Perrault and visited the Pointe-du-Moulin museum. I also went to Chicoutimi, or I should say Saguenay, to Quebec City, to Sherbrooke and to other places. I met with artists, broadcasters, producers, people who spend every day of their lives working in the arts and culture sector. They all told me about the importance of reinforcing that sector. For example, they told me about the importance of increasing the budget of the Canada Council for the Arts, which plays an extraordinary role and has great credibility. Projects are evaluated by peers. There is unanimity, both in Canada and in Quebec, about the need to increase the budget of the Canada Council of the Arts. I am sure my colleague agrees with me on that.

People, not only across the country but also across Quebec, told me about the importance of bringing back programs that were cut by the Conservatives and that played a crucial role for our cultural institutions. I heard a lot about that in Quebec City, as well as in Montreal and in the various regions. I heard about that, but not necessarily about my colleague's bill, even though I appreciate the importance it has for him. I did not hear once about this bill. People told me about the Canada Council of the Arts, about restoring programs that were cut, about the importance of continuing to support the CBC because it plays a crucial role in the various regions of Quebec and of Canada.

Consider the role of Radio-Canada in francophone communities outside Quebec. In the regions of Quebec, Radio-Canada's role is absolutely essential. People talked to me about that. Unfortunately for my colleague, no one talked to me about the bill before us. We have to ask ourselves the following questions. Will the bill that would split up the CRTC make it possible to meet the challenges I was referring to earlier? Will it help us meet the challenges stemming from the government's decision to deregulate the telecommunications sector? In my opinion, it is clear that the answer is no. Not only does the CRTC need to be split up, but it needs to be given more power to intervene. It needs to have the necessary muscle to make decisions and apply them.

I agree that Quebec has its own unique characteristics. I am from Quebec and I am proud to be a Quebecker. There are also challenges common to all our artists, creators and broadcasters. There are challenges common to Quebec artists, artisans and creators and their counterparts in Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia. That does not detract from Quebec's unique characteristics that we recognize and will continue to defend. These characteristics have to be taken into account. The current system does that and will continue to do so.

In Quebec, the cultural sector is absolutely fascinating. It is vibrant. Real treasures are being created in Quebec, as they are elsewhere. We have to support our creators and artists. The CRTC plays an important role in doing that.

Earlier, I invited my colleague from Repentigny to join us in finding common solutions to the challenges raised by the economy of the future and by the dizzying pace of change. Similarly, I invite him to continue to fight against the ideological cuts made by the Conservative government. I am talking about the brutal cuts to the programs that are essential to our artists. As I was saying, I have toured Canada and Quebec.

I invite my colleague to fight with us to reinstate these programs in order to strengthen Canada's culture.

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Speaker, I would first like to offer you my congratulations on this International Women's Day.

I am proud to stand today to speak on behalf of the people of Timmins—James Bay, a region that reflects the inclusive character of Canada. Forty per cent of the population of Timmins is francophone, 50% is English-speaking or multicultural and perhaps 10% speak Cree of the James Bay region.

My Bloc colleague believes that the French language outside Quebec is weakened. That is not so. I invite him to come to Timmins with me and see the phenomenal efforts the Franco-Ontarian community is making to maintain a very strong and vital identity in my region.

I have seen how much the francophone and aboriginal communities have grown closer and influenced each other in my lifetime. In my riding of Timmins—James Bay, we believe that sharing our cultures with each other has made us stronger.

I have the honour today to speak as the spokesman for the NDP on matters of culture and heritage. As an artist, musician and writer, I have travelled across this country, and I know the needs of artists. I support the programs that support the development of strong cultural industries across Canada.

As the spokesperson for arts, I have met with many artist groups in Canada and Quebec. And what do the artists, actors and producers tell us? There is a need for greater support for touring and promotion of Canadian artists, including those in Quebec. There is a need to improve tax credits to support film and television projects across Canada. There is a need to support the Canada Council and support programs for musical and artistic diversity.

As for the role of the CRTC, there is much room for improvement. The artists demand more accountability, more transparency from the CRTC. The CRTC must have the ability to impose administrative financial penalties to ensure that cable companies and broadcasters meet their responsibilities under the Broadcasting Act.

Certainly, a key element of cultural policy in this country is the role of the CRTC. The issue today is whether the Broadcasting Act supports the development of Canada's cultural and linguistic communities. This is an important question for the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, of which I have been a member for six years.

In 2005, I participated in a study on the future of Canada's film industry, and in 2006, in a CBC/Radio-Canada study. We held hearings across the country. Did any witnesses suggest that we separate the CRTC into regional operations? No.

In 2007, our committee studied the Canadian television fund. Producers, actors and artists all spoke with one voice. They wanted the government to support the CRTC in its efforts to ensure that the cable giants put money into the system.

In 2009, our committee studied the local television crisis. Not a single witness called for the dismantling of the CRTC as a national agency.

Nevertheless, I do not object to studying my Bloc colleague's bill. Certainly, the NDP supports Quebeckers' efforts to maintain a strong cultural identity. We support the Canadian Broadcasting Act provisions respecting maintenance of Quebeckers' cultural voice.

However, if we do send this bill to committee, we will have to study many different issues. I would point out to my colleagues that one of the CRTC's key responsibilities is to reflect Canada's regional diversity and to serve the special needs of Canada's regions.

If we fragment the CRTC into regional units, how will we protect the rights of Acadians, Franco-Ontarians and other cultural and linguistic communities across Canada? That is a very important question.

Although we have some questions about Bill C-444, we believe that the only way to talk about the issues, hear from experts and find solutions is to study the bill in committee.

We must not forget that the House has recognized the Quebec people as a nation within Canada. The NDP supported that.

The NDP will therefore support sending this bill to committee, not because it wants to break apart telecommunications regulation in Canada, but to ensure a strong framework for protecting linguistic and cultural diversity within the province of Quebec and across our great country.

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to start by congratulating my hon. colleague on a very eloquent presentation. Unfortunately, during questions and comments, I have seen two members from Quebec, one a Conservative and the other a Liberal, take the defence of the CRTC because they were under the impression that the CRTC was under attack. That is not it at all.

My friend from Honoré-Mercier should be reminded that a former colleague of his, Liza Frulla, told us that it was not likely that a body like the CRTC would be able to continue much longer to decide alone what is good for the provinces, and the French-speaking province in particular.

As for the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou, another member from Quebec, she should perhaps be reminded that, not so long ago, the hon. member for Pontiac and Minister of Foreign Affairs stated the following:

Quebec must be able to establish the rules for operating radio and television systems, and control development plans for telecommunications networks, service rates and the regulation of new telecommunications services... Quebec cannot let others control programming for electronic media within its borders... To that end, Quebec must have full jurisdiction and be able to deal with a single regulatory body.

It is clear that the Conservative MP as well as the Liberal MP, who are both from Quebec, are turning their backs not only on their former colleagues, but also on their current ones by defending the CRTC to the detriment of a potential QRTC. Also, I might add, these two members from Quebec are thumbing their noses at and turning their backs on the Quebec National Assembly.

We will recall that more recently, in a letter to the Minister of Canadian Heritage dated March 23, 2009, Quebec’s Minister of Culture, Communications and the Status of Women, Christine St-Pierre, wrote:

Concluding a communications agreement would make it possible to better reflect the specific characteristics of Quebec content in broadcasting and telecommunications. It would also recognize the importance of protecting and promoting Quebec's cultural distinctiveness.

Quebec's culture is indeed a major argument, but a QRTC would also play a fundamental economic role. In fact, the Minister of Industry recently decided, in an order, that Globalife was a Canadian company, despite the fact that, in its final ruling, the CRTC had said that this was not a Canadian company and should therefore not be sold what it was seeking to buy.

This is a huge and very dangerous precedent. We are prepared to defend Canada when the interests of Quebec are also at stake.

How can a country allow a foreign takeover of its telecommunications?

Whoever has control over telecommunications has control, end of story. One day, that control will extend to content as well.

So we must understand, when we are talking about the CQRT, a Quebec radio-television and telecommunications commission, there are two important words to look at—in both the CRTC and the CQRT: telecommunications and radio-television, that is, broadcasting.

Telecommunications means the transmission, emission and remote reception of messages, signals, writing, images, sounds or information of any nature, by wire, radio, optical or other electromagnetic system, and any other means by which a message can be transmitted.

Under these conditions, it makes sense that a society would want to regulate this transmission capacity in order to have effective control over its territory.

Radio-television, the broadcasting component, refers to the use of waves to transmit a message, either sound over the radio or sound and images on the television. These are two important points in the definition of telecommunications, if a society wants to have effective control over its territory.

The Conservative government even wrote in its budget that it wants to sell effective control in its territory over telecommunications tools, which could be called the medium, and broadcasting, which could be called the message.

We must protect the CRTC in order to protect Canada and all of its residents. Quebec is not the only nation to want a decentralized CRTC; others want the same thing.

In 1991, the House of Commons research branch produced a document entitled Culture and Communications: The Constitutional Setting written by Mollie Dunsmuir. It stated:

In the early days of communications regulation, radio exemplified broadcast technology and telephones exemplified telecommunications. Radio seemed to fall most naturally under federal jurisdiction, as the transmission waves could not necessarily be confined within provincial boundaries, while telephone regulation seemed most amenable to provincial regulation because telephone “networks” were geographically controllable.

The inability to confine transmission waves within provincial boundaries was a major argument that justified federal jurisdiction. Yet many countries allow their provinces or regions authority over the airwaves. This is true of Germany, which has 15 provincial regulatory bodies and an association of regulatory authorities.

Spain has an audiovisual council for Navarre and another one for Catalonia. Belgium has two separate regulatory bodies, based on language: one Flemish and the other Walloon. So it is possible, despite the inability to confine waves, to regulate broadcasting at the provincial level.

Regarding Belgium and Spain, it is rather significant that the regulatory bodies are linked to the different cultures that make up those countries. Quebec's distinct culture amply justifies the creation of a regulatory body in Quebec, since those organizations basically regulate content.

It is also important to note that many countries have decided to separate telecommunications and broadcasting, opting instead for two separate bodies. Thus, in France, the Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel regulates broadcasting, and the Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques et des postes regulates telecommunications. This model prevents possible conflicts of interest between the regulation of broadcasting content and telecommunications content, one of which is the responsibility of the minister of culture and communication, and the other, of industry.

This model could work for Quebec. Considering the Conservative government's approach—granting ownership of telecommunications to foreign interests—it is our duty as Quebeckers to protect this area. In fact, the competition created by this approach would not be unfair, but rather fierce, because foreigners want to invest here.

In closing, I would remind the Liberal and Conservative members that there are people in their parties who agree with us.

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-444.

First, Madam Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to you today on International Women's Day. You are the first lady of this chamber. You preside over our debates with impartiality and dignity. On behalf of the hon. members in my party and on behalf of all hon. members in this House, I thank you.

This bill, if passed, would open the door to creating regulatory authorities for broadcasting and telecommunications in other Canadian provinces.

I will attempt today to shed some light on the current business environment that communications companies are facing, and why adding another regulator and bureaucracy would hinder Quebec companies from growing and competing in the new digital world.

Broadcasting and telecommunication systems around the world are in the midst of a fundamental transformation. These changes are being brought on by the rapid adoption of new digital technologies which are opening up the operational environment for communications in unprecedented ways.

Traditional gatekeeper powers are falling away. Barriers to entry are being lowered, meaning that companies are facing competition from new, unexpected players. Lines between companies, devices, platforms and content are disappearing, and consumers are beginning to control and participate in their content experiences.

The introduction of digital platforms are also dissolving the territorial and technical boundaries that formerly limited Canadian companies, including those from the province of Quebec, from reaching and exploiting global audiences.

Today, there is not a single major broadcasting or telecommunications company in Canada that is limited to a given province. In fact, the key players in the communications sector—whether Quebecor, Astral, Corus, Cogeco or Bell—have broadcasting and, in some cases, telecommunications interests outside Quebec. And it is a very good thing too, since this helps them to compete in an increasingly competitive environment.

Given the convergence of the media and the national scope of the broadcasting and telecommunications industries, an additional regulatory framework would only create overlap and confusion, which is not in the best interest of consumers or the companies.

Increasing the regulatory burden and confining one's view to provincial mindset smacks of analog thinking, thinking that is totally out of step with the borderless reality of the digital world. Adding complexity to regulation, which the bill would do, would only hinder the capacity of the industry to meet the promising opportunities ahead to further develop and prosper, and to continue to offer Canadians a diversity of content and service choices.

This government's current approach is already responsive to the needs of Canadian companies, including those that are headquartered in the province of Quebec. It recognizes that these companies are better served by just one set of rules that allows them to compete in a world of choice.

Taking such a risk at this time needs to be avoided at all costs, given not only the dramatic changes affecting communications but also global economic uncertainty.

If we want our communications companies, in Quebec and in the rest of the country that we all love, Canada, to be successful in the modern communications world, it is essential that we maintain a single, streamlined approach which encourages them to be innovative and adaptable in a world of change.

Let there be no doubt from my remarks that I have just made about where I stand on this issue.

Allow me to end the suspense as to how I intend to vote. I am voting in favour of the workers in the broadcasting and telecommunications sector. I am voting in favour of the economic development of Quebec's companies that are doing so well all across Canada. I am voting against Bill C-444.

Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member should have four and a half minutes left the next time this bill is called for debate.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House resumed from March 5 consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceTHE BUDGETGovernment Orders

Noon

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Madam Speaker, as you know, the Liberals are opposed to this budget because it is a bad budget, and they will therefore vote against it. At the same time, we are well aware that Canadians do not want an election. We will therefore vote so as not to trigger an election.

We have worked hard over the past few months, especially during the time when Parliament would have been working if it had not been prorogued. We held about 30 round tables and meetings that produced some very good ideas and some new policies that are different from the Conservatives'. We will continue working in this way in order to win Canadians' trust as an alternative government.

Why do we say that this is a bad budget?

Let me count the ways. It is a bad budget because it does nothing for one of the main challenges facing Canada today, which is the state of retirement income and pensions. Liberals and others have proposed a supplementary Canada pension plan and amendments to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. This budget does nothing except offer yet more consultations: consult, consult, consult. We believe the time is for action.

It does nothing on the environment. It guts Canada's renewable energy programs, which are critical not only for the environment but for green jobs. Our situation now is pathetic if we compare Canada with other countries, notably the United States.

I could go on endlessly about the bad things in the budget, but I want to be a little more focused. I want to focus on only three areas: jobs, innovation and the way in which the government is proposing expenditure restraint.

We have said time and again that the top priority for the Liberal Party in the year 2010 is jobs. We have an official unemployment rate of over 8%. We have real unemployment of some 12%. We have the prospect for only a very gradual recovery in jobs. We have the government itself in the budget saying the unemployment rate this year will be higher than the unemployment rate last year.

We came up with three very concrete proposals for the creation of jobs in three of the most important areas: manufacturing and forestry, which are suffering; youth, who are suffering with an unemployment rate twice the national average; and the high tech jobs of tomorrow, which are critical for building new jobs in the new economy of the future.

The Conservatives might ask how we will pay for this plan and what about the deficit? Let me provide the answer to that. The Liberal plan is carefully costed at some $200 million to $300 million a year. At the same time, we identified extravagant, wasteful, partisan Conservative spending amounting to $1.2 billion a year, which could be cut immediately. This includes rolling back partisan advertising spending to the levels of 2005-06, substantially less wasteful management consulting, limiting ten percenters to members' own ridings which would save some $20 million, and a rollback of the unwarranted expansion of the Prime Minister's own department. If we add up those savings, they amount to $1.2 billion a year.

I think even Conservatives know that $1.2 billion is a bigger number than $200 million. Therefore, they could have funded our jobs proposals worth $200 million to $300 million, cut the wasteful $1.2 billion, and would have had close to $1 billion left over. What could they have done with that? Why not beef up renewable energy? Why not give money to hard-pressed students who got nothing in the budget? Why not do something for seniors and pensioners? Why not pay down the debt or some combination of all of the above?

The Liberal proposal addressed the most critical issue of the day, jobs, and it did so in a fiscally responsible manner, proposing a financing mechanism that would more than pay for these proposals and leave almost $1 billion left over for other worthy initiatives.

However, the Conservative policy in this budget is worse than doing nothing for jobs. In fact, it destroys some 230,000 jobs. This is in two ways. First, the estimates indicate that the Conservatives failed to spend at least $1.4 billion of infrastructure money which was allowed to lapse. According to their own methodology, when that number is combined with contributions from other levels of government, it is worth 30,000 jobs. They failed to get the money out, as Liberals have been saying for months. Now the facts have become clear in the estimates and that has led to a loss of 30,000 jobs.

Worse than that, the Conservatives are proposing punishing hikes in employment insurance. They are proposing, beginning next year, to raise EI premiums at the maximum rate allowable under the law for several years. This is a tax on jobs. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, this act alone will destroy 200,000 jobs. I have verified with some of my economist friends that this is indeed a reasonable number. The government will raise an additional $6.3 billion from EI premiums in the fourth year, which is about the same amount it would get if it raised the GST by one point. The government is coming in through the back door, without having to go to Parliament, imposing a punishing tax hike on the companies and workers of Canada to the tune of $6.3 billion a year, the effect of which will destroy 200,000 jobs.

I criticize the government on two counts. First, it does not even have the honesty to admit that it is raising a tax. Yet every first year undergraduate in economics knows that a payroll tax is a tax. It could at least come clean and acknowledge it is indeed raising taxes.

The government members like to talk about a third party agency at a distance from the government, which miraculously sets these premiums as if that agency were located in outer space and as if the Government of Canada had no impact or influence over the agency. That is clearly untrue. The Government of Canada has already overruled the agency two years in a row.

Everybody knows there is only one person in the country who effectively sets the EI premiums, as he decides everything else in Ottawa, and that person is the Prime Minister of Canada. The Prime Minister of Canada is not obliged to have these punishing job-destroying EI premium hikes; he could just say no or raise them at a more gradual rate. It is entirely the fault of the government that these job-destroying tax hikes are taking place.

The nub of my point on jobs is this. First, the government could have implemented the Liberal Party's job proposals, financed by cuts in the government's own wasteful spending, with much money left over. It did not do that. It did not do anything. Worse, the government has measures that, through the lapse of infrastructure money, because it failed to cut it out, 30,000 jobs will be lost and because of punishing job-killing payroll hikes another 200,000 jobs will go down the drain.

The government has done a terrible job on jobs.

The next point is innovation. Sadly, all members know that not all the manufacturing and other jobs that have been lost during the recession will come back, some will, but not all. If Canada is to emerge from this global recession in a leadership position, we have to do research, innovate and commercialize. We have to come up with more BlackBerry-type leading-edge products to serve the global market. We will not compete with China, Vietnam and India on low wages. We have to compete with our brainpower, through innovation and getting these ideas to market and by being a successful player in the new economy.

Part of that is the green economy. As I have already said, the government has completely opted out of support for renewable energy and all the progressive green jobs that come along with it. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out in his speech, the government has opted out of support for research and innovation. It cut funds to research granting councils and then it boasts about increasing grants this year, but the grants are still below where they were before the Conservative Party came to power.

The government let the space agency funds lapse and got rid of the government's leading scientists. In all these ways it has utterly failed to support the innovation agenda, which is critical for the future success of Canada's economy.

Let me back this up and illustrate the sheer hypocrisy of the government by giving quotes from leading commentators following budgets from the time the Conservative Party came to office. After budget 2006, here is what well-known economist Jack Mintz had to say:

The one policy that could have some impact on productivity--a rollover to avoid capital gains taxes when replacing one taxable asset with another--failed to even get mentioned in the budget.

Following budget 2007, Nancy Hughes Anthony, then president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said:

The government promised in November that they were going to make Canada more competitive and control spending and I think they broke that promise today.

What about budget 2008? Marc Lee, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said:

The funding announced today may fulfill its role as a PR strategy but it doesn't come close to the kind of investment that our cities need to stay vibrant and competitive.

Finally, we have budget 2009. Here are two quick quotes.

Chantal Hébert said, “Tory budget lacking in innovative thinking”.

Elizabeth Church and Daniel Leblanc said in the Globe and Mail, “Money for bricks, but not talent”.

This explains the mentality of the Conservatives throughout their period in office. It has been clear, as these commentators have said, that they have no time for innovation, no time for research, no time for science. They grudgingly will support bricks and mortar to help renovate or build new buildings in universities, but then they shut down the funding for the people who would occupy these buildings. Therefore, their record illustrates a total neglect and a lack of priority attached to this area, which is so important for the future of the Canadian economy.

In ending this part of my speech, the Conservatives talk as if there is only one deficit in the country that matters, the fiscal deficit, that this has to be paid down and nothing else matters. We have the track record for paying down and getting rid of big, juicy Conservative deficits, so they do not have anything to tell us on this topic.

However, there is more than one deficit in the country. The Conservatives have to walk and chew gum at the same time. They cannot focus uniquely and solely on the fiscal deficit. We also have an innovation deficit and a productivity deficit. If we are to succeed in this world in competition with countries around the planet, we have to be more innovative, more productive and we have to address that deficit.

There is also a pension deficit, which the Conservatives do not understand because they propose no action on either the supplementary CPP or the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to help people stranded in failing companies. There is a retirement income security deficit.

There is a care deficit. Anxious middle-class families are at their wits' end to care for their children and to care for older people.

Finally, there is an education deficit.

We need to be able to do more than one thing at one time. Yes, we have to deal with the fiscal deficit, but the Conservatives ignore all the other deficits that the country faces, whether it is the education deficit, the innovation deficit or the productivity deficit. It is equally important that the Government of Canada address all these things, and the government has lamentably failed in that regard.

My third and final point concerns the way this government is trying to reduce government spending.

All economists agree that the worst way is to make the same cuts or apply the same freezes across the board.

Across the board cuts or freezes are a mindless, dumb, stupid way to go. It implies that every program is equally good or equally bad, so we have the same medicine to every department, except defence, across the government. This is not the way to go. What the Conservatives need is to apply their brains, if they have any, to assess which programs are really good, which programs are okay and which programs leave something to be desired.

That is precisely what we did in 2005. We had an expenditure review committee with ministers getting submissions from departments and picking and choosing where it would be least painful or most expeditious to find savings so we could shift from lower priority to higher priority areas. By mindlessly applying exactly the same freeze to every department, the Conservatives have abdicated their responsibility to play any thinking role in this business of restraint on government spending.

My last point is the Conservatives are deluding Canadians. They are pretending that this will be a painless exercise. If they freeze a department's budget for one year, they might get away with it. However, if a department's budget is frozen for one, two, three or four years, it will undoubtedly eat into the fabric of social programs and other services provided to Canadians. All the experts agree on this, but the government is not telling us what will be hit. Will it be the funding for training? Will it be that it will take forever to get a passport? Will it be that student funding will somehow no longer be available? Will it be that the arts will suffer because there is no money? The Conservatives are setting up a system where, without doubt, Canadians will be hurt, but they do not have the courage or the honesty to tell us which Canadians and which programs will be hurt. It is all veiled at the macro level as if this will be a painless exercise when that is the last thing that it will be.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceTHE BUDGETGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Markham—Unionville for his comments about a great budget. Obviously, it is as I believe the Liberals will end up supporting it.

Back in the days when I was in municipal government and the Liberals were in power in 1995-96, I remember when the provinces were slaughtered. They received 25% cuts in the health and social transfers. Those cuts and responsibilities were transferred down to those of us at the municipal level.

The member also talked about EI, which at one time the Liberals overcharged the Canadian people about $59 billion or so and then took it and spent it. I guess that was kind of falsely helping to wrap up their financial issue. On February 26, in the Peterborough paper, the member said that even though he was a Liberal, some of those cuts had some negative effects.

What are the negative effects that the member would see?

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceTHE BUDGETGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Madam Speaker, I would point out, and perhaps he did not hear me, at the beginning I said that we opposed the budget. I did not say we supported the budget. Oppose means we will vote against the budget.

With respect to the situation in the mid-1990s, I remind the hon. gentleman that we had a state of fiscal crisis induced by the reckless spending and budget of the Conservative government led by Brian Mulroney. We inherited a $42 billion deficit, which relative to the size of the economy is way bigger than the deficit we have today.

I remind the hon. gentleman at that time The Wall Street Journal was saying that Canada was about to become a third world country. It said that the IMF was about to come in and run the country because the Conservative government, under Brian Mulroney, had spent so recklessly that we were in a state of a real crisis.

The Liberal government came into power and dealt with this crisis where we were the basket case of the G7. Yes, the measures did cause some pain. We cannot inherit a big fat juicy $42 billion Conservative deficit and get rid of it totally painlessly, but we did it. We paid that debt down to the point where we are now the best in the G7 and not the worst.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceTHE BUDGETGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to ask my colleague some questions. I enjoyed listening to him speak about deficits.

The deficits obviously include the failure to distribute wealth and the deficit in sensitivity towards the most disadvantaged. It could also be said that there is a deficit with respect to women and I invite my colleague to comment on that.

In its prebudget document, the Bloc Québécois pointed out that women have particular difficulty in accessing employment insurance, that most caregivers are women and that there is a sensitivity deficit in the budget. We also point out that the budget makes cuts to Status of Women Canada. Thus, there are deficits in terms of distribution and treatment.

I would like the member to help me to understand, given that I have little parliamentary experience. Why is he speaking against the budget but will not be in the House during Wednesday's crucial vote? If he is going to be present, how can he accept that a good number of his colleagues will not be here?

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceTHE BUDGETGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Madam Speaker, I agree completely with the hon. member that there is more than one deficit and that the deficit with respect to the status of women is an important one.

My colleague from Ottawa has reminded me that there is also a democratic deficit, attributable in part to the prorogation imposed by this government. Money will not resolve that issue.

I thought I had explained what we are going to do and why. First, we will vote against the budget because it is not a good budget, for the reasons I have listed. We are quite aware that Canadians do not want an election at this time. Therefore, we will vote against the budget in a way that does not trigger an election.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceTHE BUDGETGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, I always enjoy listening to my hon. colleague because the longer he speaks, the more he sounds like the government. I have a couple of points and then I would like to ask a question.

First, the member talked about the government raising taxes which indeed it is, but it so happens that he and his party are also supporting the harmonized sales tax in Ontario and British Columbia. That will be perhaps the biggest tax shift in the history of Ontario. He will shortly be approving the billions of dollars going to Mr. McGuinty in this budget.

In northern Ontario I see seniors every day who cannot pay their electricity bills. They are going to be hit even harder. The member and his party are supporting that.

My second point also involves seniors. The opposition party clearly supports corporate tax cuts. There is a choice that governments and opposition parties could make and that would be to freeze corporate tax cuts for the next three years. Some of that money could be used to make sure that not one senior lives in poverty in this country. That would seem to be a good choice.

When will the hon. member and his party stop adopting policies that keep seniors in poverty in this country?

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceTHE BUDGETGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Madam Speaker, I do not think the Conservatives would agree that I was supporting their budget given the tone of their questions and reactions while I was speaking.

I am afraid the problem is the NDP still lives in the sort of ancient world of class warfare from back in the 1950s. I am referring to the federal NDP. Because the NDP members have never had the experience of governing, and they never will, they live in this dreamworld which does not exist.

As for the harmonized sales tax, the fact of the matter is that the provinces decide. If the legitimately elected government of British Columbia or Ontario decides to do the harmonized sales tax, then we at the federal level cannot say, “No, Ontario, you cannot have the harmonized sales tax but, yes, Nova Scotia, you can”. That is a purely logical thing and I do not understand why the NDP fails to fathom it.

In terms of corporate tax cuts, we are not proposing extra corporate tax cuts; these are already legislated. In terms of our position, especially given that we now have a strong dollar instead of a weak dollar, Canada needs a hook to attract foreign investment to create jobs and to retain domestic investment to create jobs.

If the NDP is in favour of jobs, which I assume it is, then I do not think that party would be talking this way unless the problem is that the NDP really does not understand these measures.

Financial Statement of Minister of FinanceTHE BUDGETGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the last time Canada was in a recession, three things happened. First, there was a significant increase in health care costs. Second, there was an increase in social services requirements. Third, there was a very significant increase in property crime in Canada. All are funded by the provinces. The crime rate actually tracked the unemployment rate very well.

The government seems to think that we should simply focus on getting the second year of stimulus money out and then deal with everything else later. It may be very difficult to address the damage done as a consequence of focusing very narrowly on the deficit and not having that vision or understanding of the impact on the people of Canada. I wonder if the member would care to comment.