Mr. Speaker, I certainly welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion put forth by my colleague from the NDP. It should be highlighted immediately that the relationship between the government and CBC/Radio-Canada is an arm's-length relationship, and there are good reasons for that. I am going to spend a bit of time clarifying exactly what the nature of that relationship is.
I will begin with a reminder of the origin of the CBC. When the corporation was created way back in 1936, Parliament provisioned for a great level of autonomy from government to ensure independence in its program decisions and freedom from the type of political interference the opposition is trying to display today. Since then, and over the years, the Broadcasting Act, the legislation governing the corporation, has been amended a number of times to adapt to the changing broadcasting landscape. These various amendments were made in full respect of the necessary arm's-length relationship between the CBC and the Government of Canada.
It is important to take a few moments to speak about how the board's strategic guidance impacts the CBC. However, first it is important to acknowledge that there is a relationship that is defined by the fundamental freedom of expression that is a cornerstone of our Canadian democracy.
The CBC's independence is explicitly underscored in three sections of the Broadcasting Act. It states:
The Corporation shall, in the pursuit of its objects and in the exercise of its powers, enjoy freedom of expression and journalistic, creative and programming independence.
The corporation reports to Parliament through the Minister of Canadian Heritage. It is governed by a board of directors comprising 12 individuals, including the chairperson and the president, who are appointed by the Governor in Council. The board provides overall stewardship of the corporation. It is responsible for the fulfillment of the mandate and for directing the business, activities, and affairs of the corporation. It holds its senior management accountable for its performance. It is also responsible for providing strategic guidance to the CBC.
The public broadcaster's current five-year strategic plan is an example of how the board interprets its public mandate and provides guidance to the CBC in developing media strategies, programming, and other initiatives.
The CBC's mandate states that:
(l) the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;
(m) the programming provided by the Corporation should
(i) be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,
(ii) reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,
(iii) actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,
(iv) be in English and in French, reflecting the different needs and circumstances of each official language community, including the particular needs and circumstances of English and French linguistic minorities,
(v) strive to be of equivalent quality in English and in French,
(vi) contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,
(vii) be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and
(viii) reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of [our country];
To provide Canadians with a wide range of Canadian cultural programs, the public broadcaster must provide content on multiple media platforms. Canadians expect to have access to media content at the time and place of their choosing, be it on mobile devices or on their television sets or with video on demand. They also want to contribute content, to participate, and be able to express their own personal opinions.
The CBC must strive to meet those needs by focusing on creating and delivering original and innovative high-quality Canadian content, by reflecting and bringing together Canadians with regional and national programming, and by engaging with Canadian audiences through special events such as town halls. Most importantly, the CBC must strive to be cost-effective, transparent, and accountable, which is something I hope the leader of the NDP is going to be at committee in about 10 minutes. The CBC must offer high-quality national programs that inform, enlighten, and entertain Canadians, just as its mandate requires it to do.
The CBC carves out spaces, forums, and opportunities for Canadians to connect with one another to share stories, experiences, and opinions. It must maintain and, where applicable, increase its presence in regions, and it must continue to do so in an innovative fashion, using all or some of its various services, depending on specific circumstances.
It must seek to reach communities that do not have access to many channels or cultural services. It also offers news programming produced in each particular region. The CBC has expanded its reach into underserved communities, such as Kelowna, Hamilton, the northern suburbs of Montreal, and Newfoundland.
The CBC is also investing in digital programming and is recognized as a leader in digital offerings with its news websites and with innovative applications such as TOU.TV and the CBC Music web portal. The corporation now offers a broad suite of digital programming that can be accessible to Canadians when and as they want it.
Digital programming can also mean an increased presence in regions. The corporation must continue to strive to be present in regions with digital media and offer Canadian content during prime time.
Like all broadcasters, the corporation continues to seek to diversify and to increase revenues. The CBC should continue to form partnerships and pursue other avenues to maximize its resources.
The corporation is responsible for establishing performance indicators to monitor how well, according to Canadians, its programming and services fulfill the main elements of its mandate. Our government strongly supports the emphasis the corporation is placing on measuring its performance, as it is imperative that all corporations demonstrate the results they achieve with Canadian taxpayer dollars.
In terms of meeting its specific mandate, according to recent surveys commissioned by the corporation, CBC's English- and French-language radio and television services scored an average of 8 out of 10 for being informative, enlightening, entertaining, and available on new platforms. When Canadians were asked how English and French services fare against the corporation's strategic priorities, it received an average of 8 out of 10 for being of high quality, distinctive, diversified, and reflecting all of Canada's regions.
Like all broadcasters, the corporation continues to measure audience share, revenue, subscribers, production costs, and adoption of its new platforms. It is noteworthy that results include the performance of French television, its network radio services, and its progress on digital platforms.
On the other hand, the CBC must find ways of attracting Canadians aged 25 to 54, a demographic that has slipped from the corporation and is continuing to slip. It is a key demographic sought by all television advertisers. It is its decline in viewership and the decline of advertising revenue that is first and foremost causing these challenges at the CBC.
To conclude this example of governance, it is critical to underscore that the corporation is responsible for its day-to-day operations, including its strategic objectives, and it is up to CBC, in terms of those objectives, to ensure that its strategic plans are fulfilled and the needs of Canadians are met.
The president, as chief executive officer at the head of the senior executive team, is responsible for the overall management of the corporation. He at this point is accountable to the board of directors for the efficient operation of the corporation in accordance with the plans and priorities established by the board itself.
The board of directors has a proper mix of skills and experience to actually manage the CBC, and it is their responsibility to ensure it fulfills its mandate. Considering the legislative framework and regulations surrounding the broadcasting sector, it is also important to know that the board fulfills its roles and its responsibilities. The board has the knowledge, skills, and experience required to do a proper job in the legal, media, accounting, community, and business sectors.
I would now like to get back to the nature of the arm's-length relationship with the government and what it means in terms of accountability to Parliament and, most importantly, to the Canadian public.
The Financial Administration Act governs the administration of public funds. Part of the act provides a broad and accountable framework through which most crown corporations normally engage with the government. However, in this case, the CBC is exempted from some sections of part X of the Financial Administration Act.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation shares this exemption with a very select number of crown corporations. This exemption was put in place to ensure that some cultural activities and decisions are free from political involvement.
While this exemption from portions of the Financial Administration Act give the corporation a high level of autonomy from government, it still must comply with key reporting requirements that apply to all federal corporations as well as comply with the Broadcasting Act, which is its own legislation, or other legislation such as the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, and labour laws, among others.
Every year the corporation informs government what it intends to do by submitting to the responsible minister, for information only, a corporate plan with a five-year outlook. A summary of the plan and the annual operating and capital budgets are tabled each and every year before Parliament.
Like every other broadcaster in Canada, the CBC has to comply with regulations set by the CRTC. In addition, the CRTC establishes specific licensing conditions for the CBC and Radio-Canada television and radio services in order to encourage the national public broadcaster to deliver on key elements of its mandate and contribute to a strong Canadian broadcasting system.
To give even more strength to the crown corporation's accountability to Canadians, our government in 2007 expanded the scope of the Access to Information Act so that more federal organizations, including the CBC, are required to respond to information requests. It also brought the corporation under proactive disclosure requirements, which means that the travel and hospitality expenses of its executives and members of its board must be published online on a quarterly basis. We expect the CBC to fully comply with the requirements under that act.
We went even further to encourage an exchange between Canadians and the board of crown corporations. To encourage the CBC to engage directly with Canadians and to provide Canadians with an opportunity to speak with the boards, in 2009 our government added requirements to the Financial Administration Act that crown corporations hold annual public meetings. The purpose of these public meetings is to give the public an opportunity to witness, to ask questions, and to express concerns on the programming direction, the fiscal management, and the overall stewardship of the CBC.
As principal stewards of the corporation, the chair, the president and chief executive officer, and the chief financial officer must attend board meetings. They are expected to speak to the plans and spending of the corporation over the previous year and to its future direction.
There are also mechanisms for Canadians to pursue complaints about CBC/Radio-Canada's news or public affairs coverage. They can contact the corporation directly through any of its stations or through the head office here in Ottawa.
CBC ombudsmen review complaints regarding all of the areas upon which Canadians seek clarification or register a complaint. They do so regarding journalistic and current affairs material. The ombudsmen determine whether the journalistic process or the radio, television, or Internet content involved in a complaint does in fact violate the corporation's journalistic policies.
The ombudsmen are independent of the corporation's program staff and its management. After investigating complaints, the ombudsmen report their findings directly to the president and CEO of the CBC through to its board of directors.
Our government believes it is important that Canadians have direct avenues to hold the CBC to account. The CBC receives a significant amount of funding from taxpayers, over $1 billion each and every year, from the budget that Canadian taxpayers fund to run the Government of Canada and its subsidiary organizations. It receives both direct and indirect funding. It is sufficient, as the president and the chair of the board of directors have acknowledged, to fulfill its public mandate to reach Canadians as described in the Broadcasting Act.
Canadian audiences now have a number of electronic high-tech devices and hundreds of television and radio services that allow greater freedom to choose and access the content that they want.
The CBC must continue to invest in programs and platforms that Canadians want to invest their time in watching. It has the independence to decide how best to invest the funds that it receives from taxpayers, through Parliament, to achieve its mandate.
The corporation has operated and will continue to operate at arm's length from government. The corporation's reporting obligations are necessary to ensure the CBC remains accountable to all Canadians and delivers quality programming that Canadians want to enjoy.
As I conclude, it is imperative that Canadians understand that when we went through an extremely difficult time of a global recession in 2008 and 2009, this government was in a position to be able to respond to what was happening within this country and around the world in a way that put people to work, in a way that created investments in this country, in a way that was able to put us in a position far superior to those of most other countries in the world in terms of working through that recession.
Part of what we asked of every single department, ministry, and corporation was to participate in ensuring that we brought the Canadian government and its subsidiaries back to a balanced position in a responsible and productive way that allowed those corporations, those arm's-length agencies, as well as our ministries and departments in a fashion that was accommodating to them and that would both maintain the delivery of service in this country and enable us to reach a balanced budget. We did not ask any one ministry or corporation to do more than another. We asked all to join and do the same in a prescribed and determined effort to get this country back in a state of a positive budgetary process and a state of positive management, understanding, and style that are allowing us in the very near future to go back into balanced budgets in a way that no other government has done before under its mission and determination.
If we go across the country and ask Canadians on an individual basis, they would say that the delivery of service they are receiving from the federal government has not changed and has in fact improved since 2006.
Under that mandate, the CBC is working, is determined, and is giving every effort that it possibly can to join with the government and Canadians to ensure that its product is top notch, is one that people understand, and is one that they understand has a financial capacity and accountability.
I would tell the House today that the CBC is doing its job. There is no doubt that it is struggling. The mandate upon which it was structured, which was based upon how people interpreted broadcasting in 1936, is completely different in 2014. There is not an entity or corporation that delivers this type of service that is not struggling and is not determined to find a way to work through the issues of viewership and the demand the public is putting forward today onto those who provide those services.
The CBC is doing its job. We should continue to let it do its job and understand and fulfill its mandate.