House of Commons Hansard #87 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cbc.

Topics

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is really sad.

Honestly, I would like to go and have a beer with my colleague opposite because he obviously understands nothing. Nothing at all.

By blaming CBC/Radio-Canada for losing Hockey Night in Canada, my colleague is showing that he does not get it. It is absolute heresy when we know that CBC/Radio-Canada did not cut fat or muscle, but cut to the bone. We have reached that point. CBC/Radio-Canada cannot deal with this situation. It is shocking to hear such comments.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher for his strong statement today and for his motion in support of the CBC.

For those who are watching this debate, this motion:

....calls on the government to: (a) reverse the $45 million in cuts for 2014-2015 in Budget 2012; and (b) provide adequate, stable, multi-year funding to the public broadcaster so that it can fulfill its mandate.

Let me just say first of all why we need a CBC. I want to begin with a quote from Canadian producer and director Peter Raymont. What he has said is:

I think the arts, arts programming on CBC English Television in particular, could really help revitalize the CBC. There's been very little arts programming on the CBC for quite a few years now. I think it's a great shame that the artists of Canada, the musicians and poets and writers and filmmakers of Canada haven't had their voices heard and their work seen on CBC television, and it's a vital part of Canadian culture and Canadian identity.

It is still very essential that Canadians share their stories. That is what the public broadcaster allows us to do. We need to be able to tell our stories, from every corner of this vast country, not just the big cities. I come from Toronto. My riding is Parkdale—High Park. However, we need to know the stories of big and small communities right across this country as part of our Canadian identity.

The government does not seem to like our Canadian institutions, whether it is Elections Canada, the Supreme Court, Canada Post, or now the CBC. These cuts seem to be part of a broader assault on our public institutions in Canada.

Let us face it: our national broadcaster is part of our nation-building. It is an important element of our country. We need to share our stories. There is no private sector replacement for what the CBC does. These cuts are preventing us from effectively telling our stories across this country.

What are the cuts I am talking about? The cuts we are talking about today are a direct result of the 2012 budget from the Conservatives. However, ever since coming to power, the Conservatives have had the CBC and Radio-Canada in their sites. They appointed Conservatives to top management positions and instructed them to literally take an axe to the institution.

As a direct result of the actions by the Conservative government now, but also previous Liberal governments, CBC/Radio-Canada has been weakened at the same time as it is trying to survive in an extremely competitive television market, and struggling to transform and keep up with the 21st century technology.

New Democrats question whether the CBC/Radio-Canada can actually fulfill its mandate under the current conditions, particularly in respect to the regions and minority language communities. We so badly need these voices to knit our country together and not allow us to build on our differences but rather to celebrate our differences.

It is disappointing that the new Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages seems to be pursuing the Conservative approach of abandoning this important Canadian institution.

The NDP believes in the importance of our public broadcaster. CBC/Radio-Canada should have an adequate, stable budget that affords it a measure of predictability. This would make it less susceptible to the whims of the advertising market and less affected by political influence, I might say, because they would not have to be as concerned about the government of the day.

These cuts are having a huge impact on the staff at CBC. We are losing hundreds of young people, good people who are the future of our broadcasting, people who could make a huge difference for this country.

I want to just quote Linden MacIntyre, the host of the fifth estate, who is talking about the 657 people who will lose their jobs under these cuts.

He is someone who stepped down to save one more job of a young person. Mr. MacIntyre has been a Canadian treasure in his role as host of the fifth estate. He said:

...the 657 people are young, bright, talented and they represent the future of the CBC. If we start losing them at this point, we are losing the future. It's a tragedy, it's a human tragedy and it's an institutional tragedy and, I suppose it's not pushing it to say, it's a national tragedy.

I agree. I believe that these cuts to CBC are indeed a national tragedy. However, it is not just the Conservatives, as I said, who have been making these cuts. It should be said that while they were in power in the 1990s, the Liberals imposed cuts on CBC and Radio-Canada to the tune of $400 million, and almost 2,500 people lost their jobs. The Chrétien era is generally accepted as the time when the troubles of the CBC and Radio-Canada began. It is on this terrible history of cuts that we are seeing these further cuts by the Conservatives today.

What does this mean to our major broadcaster? As I said, young talent is being lost, but we are also losing voices of Canadians. We are losing regional programming and diverse programming across this country and we are dropping in our ranking around the world. Among the 18 major western countries, Canada ranks 16th, third from the bottom, in terms of per capita public funding for public broadcasters, just ahead of New Zealand and the United States. That is sad testimony to the lack of support given to our public broadcaster.

This is a very important issue right across this country, but in my community and in my riding of Parkdale—High Park, it has been a huge issue. I have received hundreds and hundreds of emails, calls, and letters from community members who are very concerned about this series of cuts. I want to quote a couple of these letters. One of them, from a constituent named Joe, who is talking about now having advertising on CBC Radio. He writes:

I just heard the first ads on CBC Radio. Consider this a howl of outrage. Promise me the NDP will establish stable funding for the national public broadcaster so that we may be spared further erosion of this once-mighty institution. What's next, billboards on the side of the parliament buildings?

Joe can rest assured that the NDP will restore funding to the CBC.

I want to quote one other letter from a constituent named Cathy. She has copied me on a letter to the Prime Minister. This was about budget changes in 2012. She wrote to the Prime Minister:

Your disrespect for the intelligence of the Canadian people is transparent when you challenge the value of the CBC. At election time you suggested [you] would support continued funding for the CBC, but when handed a majority you've worked to de-construct an internationally respected network on the basis that it threatens your ideology. To lose the CBC or worse, make it a propaganda machine for any standing government is an offence to our democracy and evidence of your disassociation with the history of this vast nation and the irreplaceable role that the CBC has played in maintaining our ties as a nation. Decades of increasingly depleted funding and the staffing at upper echelons of Executive Officers prepared to dismantle the CBC, managing it as if it were a private company, continues to undermine the CBC's unique mandate to connect Canadians. Shame on you...

I thank Cathy for that letter, and I echo those words: Shame on the Prime Minister.

The NDP motion today is calling for stable, predictable, long-term funding for the CBC. Let us not attack our national broadcaster. Let us treasure it, preserve it, improve it, and leave it there for future generations for the benefit of all Canadians.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, with respect to this motion, if I am going to support it, I really would like to clearly understand your definition of adequate and stable funding. Can you give me a dollar value in terms of what that is?

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Order, please.

The member for Sault Ste. Marie should be aware that the questions have to be directed to the Chair, to the Speaker, not to the member the question is going to.

I am not sure if the member had completed. If not, please continue.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would ask the hon. member if she would please explain what exactly, in terms of a dollar figure, adequate and stable funding is in the mind of the member opposite.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member knows, only the government can actually direct funding from this House. The opposition cannot, in fact, identify a specific amount or dictate what we think the dollar amount should be. As he well knows, the opposition does not have that ability. We are not crafting a budget.

However, if the hon. member just waits until 2015, when the NDP is elected the Government of Canada, we will be happy to give him a dollar amount for the CBC.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to answer the previous question in asking my question. Why do we not bring it back to where the funding was in 2006, when the Conservative government was elected? That is a proposal.

I think any election platform will have to be fully costed, and they will have to put a dollar amount to what they want to spend on different things. I do not think that my hon. colleague's answer was sufficient. One has to say that we have put together an election platform, this is what we intend to spend, here is what it costs, here is where the revenue is going to come from, and here is our plan, with the dollars.

I want to give my hon. colleague a chance to respond to that.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will tell the hon. member what we will not do. Unlike the Liberals, we will not cut $400 million from the CBC and we will not lay off 2,500 hard-working employees of the CBC.

If he is patient and he waits, when we are in a federal election and have an election platform—and, as he knows, every platform is fully costed—we will lay out exactly what our plans will be for the CBC. I am sure Canadians will prefer the approach to the CBC of the New Democrats over what either the Conservative or Liberal record has been over the last 15 years.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my colleague for her eloquent speech, which encapsulates the views of people in her riding.

I would also like to point out that, quite clearly, the other parties are not really taking seriously what $45 million means. Canada has a population of roughly 30 million people. That $45 million would add $1.50 per person. The debate is clear. We give $29 per Canadian. Previously, we gave $34. It is not too hard to do the math. I think the Conservatives know how to count.

I would like to ask my colleague what she believes is motivating people. In fact, 25,000 people signed the NDP petition. Why are these people so passionate about their public broadcaster?

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 15th, 2014 / 10:45 a.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, once again I would like to thank my colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher for his question and his efforts on behalf of CBC/Radio-Canada.

What is motivating the people in my riding is their pride in Canada. It is their passion for communication, the arts, information and the news. They like the information they get from CBC/Radio-Canada, which is impartial—which is not the case in the private sector—reaches every corner of our country and represents all Canadians.

I think it is this pride and passion for our country that is really behind the support for CBC/Radio-Canada. That is why it is so important to adequately fund this public institution.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

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.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I found myself agreeing with some of the member's points. He was supporting our argument on this side. He talked about the importance of regions and about the need for funding to support regions and about the mandate. Those are very important. Those are good facts that he put forward on the record.

Some facts to come back to are that following the 2012 budget, we saw that the cuts to public funding left the budget at $1.025 billion. To give members some context on the record, in 1996 the corporation received $1.07 billion. Therefore, we have seen the funding cut since 2012 versus 1996, where we saw major cuts from the previous government.

Then the 2014 budget cuts were $82 million for English, $42 million for French services, and $4.7 million for corporate services.

Those are just some facts on the table.

I want to leave the member with this question. Current River councillor Andrew Foulds, who represents a ward in Thunder Bay, is concerned about the regional representation that my colleague put on the record. He said the city is calling on the CBC to cancel all programming staff cuts in Thunder Bay and he sent a resolution of the council to the government.

What does the member say to people like Andrew Foulds, who is representing his community, about the fact that these cuts would hurt the regional representation that the member put on the record as being the mandate of the CBC?

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments, and certainly I understand that everyone in our country has the ability to formally register a compliment or concern. If we look back over the corporation's history since 1936, I do not think that the matters he is suggesting are new to the House of Commons or are new among the concerns the CBC faces on a daily and yearly basis.

It is the CBC's mandate to implement programming based on its requirements under legislation and regulation. It is the CBC's board, president, and chairman who have the responsibility to respond to the very concerns the member raises. The government's responsibility is to ensure that the implementation of that legislation and regulation is thoroughly followed, and we get those results back from the CBC on a yearly basis. However, the determination of programming, direction, and what the CBC is going to do in terms of delivery of service is its mandate.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Lévis—Bellechasse Québec

Conservative

Steven Blaney ConservativeMinister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague, the member for St. Catharines and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, for his speech. He reiterated and reminded members of the commitment the Canadian government—and particularly our government—has made to providing stable funding to CBC.

My colleague also explained that the challenges facing CBC are not related to stable funding from the Canadian government, but to external factors, such as the loss of hockey contracts and declining advertising revenue.

My question for him is this: what challenges does CBC face in a competitive environment in which it is up against private companies for advertising revenue and major contracts?

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary. You have one minute.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Minister of Public Safety for his thoughtful question and also for giving me the opportunity to, very quickly, respond.

CBC is facing challenges, just as all other networks in the country are, whether they are delivering radio service, delivering television service, or delivering online. The world is changing. The demographics at CBC are that individuals aged 25 to 52 are decreasing at an alarming rate. The fact that Hockey Night in Canada, which is something CBC has delivered for years, is now going to be delivered by Rogers Corporation, which has taken that over, will have a huge impact on the revenue and roles and responsibilities of the CBC.

Those are two areas that are of huge concern to the CBC. In fact, they are bigger concerns, I would imagine, than whether or not it is receiving whatever revenue it receives from the federal government. The issue that CBC faces is viewership and declining revenues from its advertising, which it needs to address and is attempting to.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House today to speak about CBC/Radio-Canada, for very important reasons. Our public broadcaster has been a stalwart for this country in building its culture from coast to coast to coast. I have always said that people say CBC is vital for regional programming, where it has served for many years.

We have parallel situations, of course. We have the private sector and we have the public sector, meaning the CBC. When we look at many of the smaller markets where the private sector could not survive on its own, the CBC provided that vital service. I speak specifically of CBC North as a prime example. In my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, it provided a service in Labrador in places where it was not obtainable through the private sector.

As I look back at both Radio-Canada and the CBC, I look at how they provided a national conversation and a national understanding. Before the days when we could talk to each other with a small mobile device, our way of communicating with each other was through a public broadcaster.

I remember as a child growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s watching the CBC. There was no thousand-channel universe at that point, and we did not have a computer or the Internet to use; television and radio were the only ways. Therefore, our conversation took place through the viewing of television and the making of documentaries and information programming, primarily provided by the CBC. There were no specialty channels back then, so we had our main broadcast channels, such as CTV, Global, and the affiliate, and we had the CBC and its regional station in addition to the American broadcasters, which came over the border and through cable.

At the time, I remember watching the traditions of organ-making for churches in Quebec. I had never really known about it. I remember writing about it in high school. I wrote about how Quebec was famous worldwide for developing these large pipe organs in churches. I had not known that. Here I was, a young child in Newfoundland and Labrador, learning about what was a tradition in the province of Quebec. I learned about Bonhomme and the Carnaval de Québec through CBC. I was not in Quebec, but I learned about it.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, I learned about the majestic mountains of British Columbia through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I also learned about Canada's north and the 24-hour sun, the 24-hour daylight, through the CBC.

In the course of growing up in a small province on the eastern coast of this country, on a small island, in the days when communications were not as prolific as they are now and certainly not prevalent by any stretch, all we had were three or four channels. The CBC was my window to my country. Not only was it the ability to see the country; it was the ability to converse with the rest of the country.

Later, when I grew up, I joined the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. I joined the air cadets and got to see the country that I had seen on television. I travelled to Alberta. I travelled to Nova Scotia and these areas. I had a genuine interest in doing that because I had seen the country laid out in front of me on a small television screen. I got to see the majestic mountains of both western Alberta and British Columbia in person, and I was astounded by them. If it had not been for our national public broadcaster, I never would have really appreciated what I was about to see, and I never would have had a genuine interest to see it.

This is what our public broadcaster has done. Through the years, it has provided us with a yearning to be Canadian in all facets of this country.

Let us not forget one of the greatest institutions alive in this country. That is Hockey Night in Canada. It was formerly La Soirée du hockey.

For a child growing up in Newfoundland and Labrador, the upbringing was not that much different from growing up in Trois-Rivières. I grew up in the small town of Bishop's Falls. On Saturday, I would go and play hockey at the local arena, but I certainly would not miss Hockey Night in Canada. I am sure for kids growing up in Trois-Rivières, Saint-Jean, or other small towns in Quebec, it certainly would not have been dissimilar.

Our public broadcaster united us in what we had a passion for, whether we were children, teenagers, or adults, as we are today. However, the public broadcaster has had challenges. It has had budgetary challenges through the years, as the Government of Canada has had budgetary challenges over the years. I could say the same for the National Film Board, given what it is going through.

What we must not forget is the genuine understanding that our public broadcaster, CBC/Radio-Canada, is still vital to us today to make sure we share these conversations across this country. We want to know what is happening in Canada's north. We want to see what is happening in Canada's north. We want to hear what is happening in Canada's north.

Let us not forget another element of CBC/Radio-Canada. We pushed Canada out to the world through short wave radio service for many years. We were a pillar for shortwave radio, with our ability to communicate around the world and spread our message to billions of people in China or India and throughout the United States of America. We had a service similar to its public radio, NPR, but ours was more challenging because we only have 30 million people right now, and in those days we had about 20 million people, trying to support this service that went from coast to coast to coast.

Let me go back to my original point. It is not just about having local stations, which are very vital and important, but what the CBC did, secondly and just as importantly, was allow a small child in Newfoundland and Labrador to experience the country through French Canadians in Quebec, French Canadians in New Brunswick, English Canadians in British Columbia and Alberta, and of course through many aboriginal groups across this country. The conversation was shared.

There are institutions in this country that are famous, and not just by themselves. Let me use an example I used previously, the Carnaval in Quebec City. It is a fantastic event. Its mascot, Bonhomme, is famous. It is not just a Quebec phenomenon. I always wanted to meet Bonhomme, and I had never been to Quebec at that point.

Many citizens in this country want to meet Bonhomme, and they know Bonhomme because of our public broadcaster. That is why. It is because we had a conversation between French Canada and English Canada. In doing so, we got to share its triumphs, such as last night, when the Montreal Canadiens won game seven. That is not a bad admission, given the fact that I am Boston Bruins fan.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Do not boo, because we lost. Seriously, we cannot rub it in any more than what it is. That is the passion we share.

As a child, I loved watching baseball. If I could bring the Montreal Expos back, I would bring them back tomorrow. God love them. The issue is not just about baseball or the Carnaval or the hockey that we share. The issue here, if I may steal something from a Canadian intellectual, the late Marshall McLuhan, is that the medium is the message.

Today, that is exactly why we are debating this. It is the medium that brought us the message of Canada. That medium is not just about radio, not just about television, not just about the Net or any social media out there, but it is about the existence of public broadcasting.

What worries me is there is a change in ideology. I know that once I sit down, I will be questioned about cuts that happened in the 1990s. I am well aware of that. There were budgetary constraints. The Liberals were under pressure to wrestle a massive deficit and tough decisions were made. It was not just the CBC that was affected. Other tough decisions had to be made as well. However, we never lost sight of the fact that public broadcasting was vital to our country. Funding was stabilized once the budget was back into balance.

What worries me, however, and I hope it is highlighted in this debate, is an ideology is creeping in that dictates, “Why should I pay for public broadcasting when private broadcasting can fill that space?” Through you, Mr. Speaker, to all my colleagues in the House, that is the most dangerous attitude we can have against any semblance of public broadcasting.

I believe that our private broadcasters are doing a wonderful service to our country. They donate to the Canada Media Fund, which is a wonderful program providing movies, documentaries, and funding for all these things that tell our story, not only to each other but to the world. However, our public broadcasting is incredibly sacrosanct.

I would like to talk about some of the issues of recent time. I noticed the motion itself calls for multi-year funding to the public broadcasters so it can fulfill its mandate. Indeed, in the last couple of elections we talked about that. It is really the only way we can go about doing this. The BBC does it, and it does it well. If members noticed, some of the best programming in drama is now coming from the BBC, a public broadcaster. One of the greatest worldwide news services, the most respected, is the BBC. We must look to other models around the world, and the BBC is one example, especially when it comes to multi-year funding.

I want to talk briefly about CBC/Radio-Canada and its history through the years.

It has been said that through 1920s, there was a proliferation of private radio stations in our country, but we also had a lot of private radio stations streaming across the border. The origins of public broadcasting are not dissimilar from the origins of public broadcasting around the world, which is to say that we need to protect our message here. This is becoming more difficult because of the regulations in place to help protect our Canadian culture, like Canadian content rules allowing certain channels on the satellite spectrum. There are certain regulations, but a lot of people are now able to get around that because of technology.

By way of example, there is Netfllix, or what is called an over-the-top broadcaster, essentially, through the Internet, because the CRTC does not regulate the Internet. Therefore, content is now streamed through our computers. We can get copies from iTunes and these sorts of things. There is a fundamental shift in content and how we deal with content now. We will have to subsidize content in the future, but in the meantime, the CBC started with the very basics of protecting our own culture.

In 1928, it established a royal commission to advise on the future of broadcasting in Canada.

Going ahead to the 1940s, the national public broadcaster took off.

In 1941, CBC news service was formally opened. Radio-Canada's news division was also created. As the next decade approached, getting into the 1950s, television was on the horizon and CBC/Radio-Canada was preparing.

In 1947, the corporation presented a 15-year plan for the development of television in Canada.

Throughout the 1950s, CBLT Toronto and CBFT Montreal began broadcasting.

In 1955, television services were available to 66% of the Canadian population. That is a pretty big goal and accomplishment for a country with a few million people, the second-largest country in the world, and most of this stuff was over-the-air transmissions.

In the 1960s, the regulatory framework was refined. The CRTC formally took over as the regulator. Before that, the CBC handled it.

In 1968, the new Broadcasting Act confirmed CBC/Radio-Canada's role in providing the national service. Therefore, 1968 was the year when we said that we had a national broadcaster, a public broadcaster, and, therefore, it should be enshrined and protected.

Recently, however, due to cuts, the CBC had to make some fundamental decisions on its service. It had to manage $390 million in financial pressures since 2009. Overall, these reductions have affected the equivalent of 2,107 full-time positions.

We talked about some of the numbers earlier in this debate. For people are just tuning in now, I would like to repeat some of those numbers because it is very vital that we do so. A lot of people think we may spend too much on public broadcasting, but let us put it into perspective. Each Canadian pays $29 per year for the combined services, CBC/Radio-Canada, but the worldwide average in other nations is $82. Of the 18 countries that invest heavily in public broadcasting, we are at number 16. Therefore, there is room to grow.

Again, I go back to what was in the original motion. We also have to provide a model for multi-year funding.

The services offered now to Canadians include 88 radio stations, 27 television stations, three all-digital services, two specialty television news services, RDI, CBC News Network , three other specialty television services, and 11 other services, including music channels and services in two official languages across six time zones. Therefore, we get the vastness of what our public broadcaster has to accomplish.

The 1980s saw a tremendous growth in the number of private and specialty channels. We went from a four- or five-channel universe to about a 60-channel universe in the 1980s, with American channels being the most prolific at the time, the CNNs of the world. We followed suit with Newsworld, which it was called at the time, the CBC component of an all-news channel. CTV did much the same. We had TSN as well as the Weather Network, MétéoMedia en français.

The corporation continues to push ahead this multi-channel universe. Throughout the 1990s, it was much of the same. All of a sudden we find ourselves now in the proliferation of not just channels but platforms. Therefore, we move into the digital world, providing content. The way we consume our entertainment through digital devices has changed dramatically. Tonight's Hockey Night in Canada starts at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. Newfoundland time.

Basically, we are moving out of making appointments to see entertainment. What we are doing now is downloading content in our digital world. Whether it is to save it to view it another time or to stream it from a cloud or from the central service that is provided. CBC, our public broadcaster, has to fit its way into that.

However, what is interesting about that is it also provides a great deal of opportunities. Through one of these providers, lately I have downloaded—and paid for it, I might add—several programs that originated with the BBC. One has to wonder, with the BBC providing this content, if we could do much the same.

However, we have to get serious about content, and that is a conversation and a debate we should have in the future about not only the CBC but the National Film Board and the Canada Media Fund. We can look at Canadian content.

I thank the hon. member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher for bringing forward the motion. I hope the debate will be a fruitful one, despite the vote. We pretty much know how the vote will go, but in the course of this conversation, we can talk about fundamental reasons why we like our public broadcaster and how we can improve it, given technology today.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his testimony. I think it was more of a testimony than a speech, and I was particularly touched by the emotional aspect, since I watched La Soirée du hockey as a young boy in Trois-Rivières. I also watched Les Beaux dimanches and shows like Rencontres, which we never would have been able to see or been allowed to watch on a private network.

I think this shows just how important our public broadcaster is. CBC gave us a picture of this vast country that was much more accurate than the map on the “Canada” notebooks I was using at that age.

I must point out, though, that the member's party began these massive funding cuts to CBC, which is how we have ended up where we are now. When we know that we are rank 16th out of 18 in terms of funding for public television, I think that reversing the $45 million in cuts is just the beginning.

I want to know whether my colleague thinks it is necessary that we bring ourselves closer at least to the world average for public television funding in the coming years.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, yes, I think it is. By way of illustration, if I may continue with my testimony, over the next little while we anticipate getting from that dollar value to a world average, which is about $88. That is a substantial amount. That is more than double what we are doing right now.

The models we could use in other nations may dictate. It is more expensive for us because of revenue sources. We are not in a country that is relatively the same size. Let us take a look at places like Switzerland and those areas. They do not have to broadcast to a much larger geography; however, that gap is now decreasing, given digital and satellite technology. There is room to grow in that part.

The member mentioned $45 million in cuts to be restored, which is true. However, the most important part of this has to deal with the fact that it is a multi-year model for funding. This is the most vital part of the motion that all parties should consider doing.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Cambridge Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear ConservativeMinister of State (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Mr. Speaker, what we are seeing is a change in market demand, and we see that in other industries. A good example is that Kellogg's food recently shut one of its plants because the demand for certain types of breakfast cereal around the world shifted and there was no longer that demand.

I believe the government is providing significant funding to CBC, but the entertainment preferences of Canadians is changing. I like Murdoch Mysteries, a great show. I listen to the CBC when I have the opportunity to drive from Ottawa to my riding of Cambridge. However, I am curious about the timing of the motion.

Speaking of testimony, we had the Leader of the Opposition being hauled before a committee to provide testimony on the alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars. Is this a ploy for the NDP to find favourable journalistic coverage by CBC on this apparent misuse of taxpayer dollars?

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I came here today to talk about public broadcasting, quite frankly. With all due respect to my colleague, I have no interest in answering that question.

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, my very honourable colleague from across the way talked about changing entertainment preferences. However, my favourite program on CBC Radio when I was growing up was Quirks & Quarks, which is still going on. It is a testimony to how much people like it and how it has inspired a lot of people to go into science and engineering, something our economy needs.

We should be talking to people all across Canada about nature, about how things work, about the importance of science, engineering and technology in our everyday lives, without selling toys and sugary cereals, focusing on science, why it is so interesting and why people should think about a career in science and technology. Could my colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor tell us about the importance of that to our country?

Opposition Motion—CBC/Radio-CanadaBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am impressed with the member's question.

He illustrates a very good point of this motion, about the multi-year funding, because there is the responsibility of our public broadcaster to raise money through revenues. Bidding for the Olympics is not a cheap thing, but it is great that our public broadcaster can cover the Olympics and hockey and that sort of thing. I know that now it is different with the contract going to the private sector. However, to provide programming that is illustrative of who we are as Canadians, for education purposes and also for entertainment, and to be serious about providing something that is not always achieving the biggest number of viewers, we have to do something that enriches our nation. Multi-year funding will go a long way in doing that. It allows the broadcaster to make these plans so that programs like Quirks and Quarks, which he is a fan of and continues to be today because it is a great program, can continue. That is fundamental in this debate.