moved that Bill C-308, An Act to provide for the incorporation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to introduce my bill, the concept of which has been talked about for a long time by various members, predominantly on this side of the House. I want to make special note of the late former finance minister, Jim Flaherty, who I approached on this subject a few times in the past. He spoke to me about how it was one of his wishes to privatize the CBC. Jim and I discussed it.
Prime Minister Harper had certain feelings on this, even though he never acted on it. Many Conservatives have talked about this for a long time and it is one of my motivations for getting the debate going on this. This is a large institution in our country's history, an expensive institution, so it is important we discuss this and begin to decide what the future holds. That is the background.
I rise to speak in favour of Bill C-308, an act to privatize the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Perhaps the best place to start my remarks today is to emphasize what this legislation does not propose. This bill does not propose to do away with the CBC. It does not propose to dismantle it, reform it, replace it, or tinker with it in other ways.
What the bill actually proposes to do is very simple. It proposes to privatize the CBC, thereby relieving taxpayers of the burden of subsidizing it, freeing it from the amateur influence of meddling politicians and government bureaucrats, and giving average Canadians the opportunity to freely choose whether to participate in its ownership by purchasing shares and exercising the rights and privileges that come with ownership. However, the bill does more than that. It lays out a responsible plan, a road map, so to speak, on how this can be done.
The CBC was first established in the early 1930s, by a Conservative government under R.B. Bennett, as a way of bringing Canadians together when broadcasting was still in its infancy. At the time, the sheer size of Canada, the relative sparseness of its population, and the remoteness of many of its communities made direct participation of the government in the project a necessity. Those days have long since passed.
For decades, privately owned and operated radio and television broadcasters have been providing precisely the same services that the CBC was created to provide. Today there are three networks, with very professional broadcast news services, plus a host of excellent regional English and French news operations. On top of the news provided by each of these networks, there are three full-time cable news channels. These entities have demonstrated that state ownership and taxpayer support of a national broadcaster is largely unnecessary. With the emergence and growing availability of the Internet and satellite communications, that need has been reduced to absolutely zero.
Let me be clear. The bill is not a reflection of the quality of the CBC's products. Everyone in the House will have an opinion about that. Some will be very supportive, while others very critical. None of this matters, though, because the focus of Bill C-308 is neither the character of the CBC nor the quality of its products and services. The focus of the bill is the CBC's status as a state-owned entity and its consequent cost to taxpayers. Let us take a few minutes to discuss those costs.
Each year, taxpayers provide the CBC with more than $1 billion in subsidies. That is in addition to the approximately $600 million a year in revenue it receives from subscribers through cable companies and advertisers, including, among other advertisers, the Government of Canada and other governments.
Last November, the CBC delivered a position paper to the government, proposing that its television operations become ad free and that $500 million be added to its current annual appropriation to make up for the anticipated shortfall in revenue. That would make the CBC's annual cost to taxpayers more than $1.5 billion. Imagine what $1.5 billion dollars a year could do. Instead, we are using that money to ensure that the CBC continues to provide allegedly vital services to Canadians.
However, here is my challenge to those who make that claim. Name one service, vital or otherwise, that the CBC provides that is not provided by other broadcasters or through other media, such as the internet or satellite. The answer is, none.
Even the Minister of Canadian Heritage's own briefing book admits that the CBC/Radio-Canada's indigenous language broadcasts, which are in eight aboriginal languages, would be better produced and managed by first nation peoples themselves. Page 133 of the minister's brief book admits that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission prefers that aboriginal language initiatives, that is, the production and broadcast of radio content in indigenous languages, “are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities”.
Some people may say, but what about developing Canadian talent? The truth is that contrary to popular belief, the CBC does very little, virtually nothing, to develop Canadian talent. Consider, for example, the popular series Murdoch Mysteries. It is wonderful entertainment, I am told, though to be truthful, and perhaps I should apologize for this, I have never seen the program.
The CBC has made a great deal in the past of how it made this the highest-rated Canadian-produced show in the country. This may be, but conveniently forgotten in that narrative is that Murdoch Mysteries was developed and produced by Shaftesbury films, a private production house. It was not picked up by the CBC until 2013, its sixth season. The show was aired on City TV during its first five full seasons. Prior to it becoming a television series, Murdoch Mysteries was a made-for-TV movie under the name Murder C19, broadcast by the American television network Bravo.
This is worth repeating, not because it is the exception, but rather because it is becoming quite typical of Canadian production these days. Murdoch Mysteries was originally developed by a private Canadian production company for an American television network, and when it became a television series, it was broadcast by a private Canadian network for five seasons before the CBC became involved.
The success of this and so many other Canadian productions is due to the quality of the product, the talent of the Canadian producers and actors, not to unique support of the CBC. Yes, many of these productions have received help through special tax credits and artistic grants, but none of that assistance is tied to the CBC. Privatizing the CBC, or even eliminating it, would in no way impact the availability of that assistance.
So, why privatize the CBC? Why not dismantle it altogether, as some of my colleagues on this side of the House have suggested? I do not think that is a fair solution. Whatever one thinks of the character or quality of the services that the CBC provides, the fact is that it does provide those services to a real audience. Simply shutting down the corporation would deprive many Canadians of a product they have come to know and, in some cases, love. I see no reason to do this. Moreover, the CBC employs, directly and indirectly, thousands of workers. I do not believe that these workers should be arbitrarily kicked to the curb.
Privatization will preserve most, if not all, of these jobs, and ensure that the products and services that the CBC currently provides remain available to consumers who want them, so long as those products and services can be delivered in a cost-effective manner consistent with free market principles. Who will determine the cost effectiveness? Who will be the final arbitrators? They will not be faceless bureaucrats, but average consumers.
I have often heard complaints raised in this House, and elsewhere, about the high cost to taxpayers and the manifest unfairness of corporate welfare schemes. A case in point this recent week was an announcement by the government that it plans on providing Bombardier with a cash infusion loan of a little over $370 million. This news provoked a great deal of criticism among hon. members, particularly on this side of the House.
It seems to me that the case of the CBC is the most blatant example of corporate welfare the government engages in. How can members oppose a one-time subsidy of $370 million, which I am not defending, yet turn a blind eye to an ongoing corporate subsidy of more than $1 billion annually? This makes little sense to me.
It also makes little sense to taxpayers who support the idea of privatizing the CBC. Their support is strong and non-partisan. A January 2014 poll by Abacus Data found that 45% of those surveyed supported or strongly supported selling the CBC, compared to 34% who were opposed to the move, while 21% were undecided. The same poll found that 45% of self-identified Liberals supported privatization versus 39% who were opposed. Self-identified New Democrats were split, with 44% supporting privatization and 45% opposed. For Conservative supporters, it is worth noting that 63% of self-identified Conservatives in the same poll supported privatizing the CBC.
This sentiment was hardly unique. A poll conducted at the time of the last budget revealed that most Canadians, by a wide margin, either outright opposed restoring funding cuts the previous government had made to the CBC or at best were ambivalent. That poll said that only 27% of respondents supported increasing funding.
Another reason privatization makes such good sense is that it would give taxpayers the opportunity to derive some financial benefit. Taxpayers would gain at least a modest return through the sale of assets, and those who chose to would be able to invest in the corporation, either directly or perhaps indirectly through mutual funds, as would other institutional investors, such as pension funds, the largest of which, ironically, belongs to public servants.
This would not be the first time Canadians moved large corporations out of the hands of government and into the private sector. During the 1980s, the government privatized both Petro-Canada and Air Canada. At the time, opponents of these privatizations said there would be great calamities. None of these dire predictions came to pass. Today these companies employ thousands of Canadians while delivering vital products and services, all while making money for millions of average Canadians. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that many elderly Canadians today who vehemently protested the decision at the time are now benefiting from the benefits of privatization in the 1980s through their pensions.
Mr. Speaker, the CBC is not a national institution, as it is so often described, but a television and radio broadcast company, no more and no less. At one time, it provided Canadians with a new and vital service that might not have been available without the direct assistance of the government. Those days are long since gone. The CBC is like adult children who live in the basement of their parents' home, trying to discover themselves at their parents' expense. Mom and Dad love them, but that does not change the fact that it is time for them to move out and make their own way in the world.
I have pointed out many reasons why I support this bill I have presented. I would ask all members of this House to give it thorough and thoughtful commentary and support it. It is time for a change. It is time we had a CBC that was private and in the hands of Canadians, not in the hands of the government.