Mr. Speaker, I would first like to tell you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.
I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member of the opposition for this opportunity to debate a public policy issue that is so important to the social and democratic vitality of our society in general and to the regions that comprise it, in particular, as our hon. colleague just mentioned.
I would like to point out that while the government supports this motion in principle, we have no intention of making any comments about matters that are currently before the CRTC.
As everyone knows, the TQS issue is complicated and we will not take a position regarding this commercial transaction. It is the responsibility of the CRTC, an agency that operates at arm's length from the government , to regulate so as to ensure that the objectives of the legislation are met.
Our government is committed to ensuring a strong Canadian broadcasting system, a strong production sector and the creation of quality Canadian content that is accessible to everyone.
It is typical that a Liberal member would suggest interfering in CRTC decisions, something we would not do, but I am happy to listen to my colleague here today. That is why I feel I must remind the House that the CRTC plays a quasi-judicial role and we must let it do its job.
Despite undeniable progress in communications and information technology, communities basically remain attached to a given geographical area. We have a large country, and the communities at the heart of our nation are scattered across this vast land.
The Canadian broadcasting system is probably one of this country's greatest achievements. Broadcasting helps define who we are and who we want to be. Broadcasting is a tool that enables us to: find out about current issues; share and discuss our ideas and dreams; innovate and take advantage of our entrepreneurial spirit; give our children the opportunity to discover our world; and give families a chance to spend time together and be entertained.
More importantly, broadcasting provides some of the greatest support for our democracy by helping citizens become better informed. It is a forum for exploration, discussion and awareness.
There are many ways of reflecting a regional reality. Maintaining a “locally or regionally produced news service” is certainly one of them, but one must not overlook the contribution of public and educational broadcasters, which reflect regional realities through various means.
This brings me to the key part of my speech, namely the contribution of broadcasting, and public broadcasting in particular, to the development of a free, democratic and economically strong society, which builds on the strengths of its regional components.
Let us start by our national public broadcaster, whose current mandate is set out in the 1991 Broadcasting Act. Section 3(1)(m)(ii) states that the programming provided by the CBC should reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions.
This goes to show that, at the very heart of the corporation's mandate, there is the idea that the national public broadcaster has to be rooted in the daily reality of Canadian communities. This mandate was recently ratified by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, of which the hon. member for Bourassa is a member, in its report on the CBC/Radio-Canada.
There are many ways to reflect a country's regional diversity. Maintaining a “locally or regionally produced news service” is not the only way. For example, it seems that region-network interaction preceded the current move toward platform integration that characterizes existing CBC Radio-Canada programming. As part of his testimony during licence renewal hearings for CBTV-TV (Quebec) in 2004, CBC Radio-Canada's executive vice-president of French television at the time commented on what had been happening with Cogeco-affiliated stations since the newsrooms were separated in 2002.
He described how program segments broadcast across the network had been incorporating more and more reports produced by regional stations. He also said that integrating the newsrooms had resulted in greater interaction between network headquarters and the regions and had increased collaboration.
In francophone markets, our national public broadcaster produces local news programs, and also reflects regional realities on a larger scale through locally produced programming broadcast nationwide, thereby proving that local vitality need not be confined exclusively to local communities.
The national public broadcaster is not the only one offering a regional perspective in its programming. There are six provincial educational broadcasters in Canada. These services fall within the purview of provincial educational authorities that determine their mandate and provide part of their funding. They are still subject to the provisions of the Broadcasting Act.
These services must be distributed free of charge as part of basic packages by cable distributors in their province of origin. These services are included in satellite distribution lists and are provided by satellite distribution companies. They may be provided by cable distributors outside of their province of origin, but distribution conditions may vary.
These networks are dedicated first and foremost to education. They play a significant role in their home provinces and communities.
When it renewed their licences in 2001, the CRTC praised educational television services, such as TVO and TFO in Ontario.
The regulatory body stated that they “provide programming distinctly different from that which is generally available to the public. The Commission fully supports the unique and valuable role they play in the Canadian broadcasting system”.
Networks like these provide rich and diverse programming.
For example, from Monday to Thursday, TFO, Ontario's French-language educational television network, broadcasts PANORAMA the only live public affairs program for Ontario francophones. TFO also broadcasts magazines and documentaries.
In Quebec, one of the objectives of Télé-Québec is to “reflect regional realities and the diversity of Quebec society”, which it does without a newsroom and by broadcasting documentaries and current affairs programs on society, science and culture.
Michèle Fortin, President and CEO of Télé-Québec had this to say in the 2006-2007 annual report:
Originality, openness to the world, freedom of thought—Télé-Québec has been able to retain, and even refine, its unique and vital signature in the Quebec television scene...adding episodes of the magazine Méchant contraste, a program completely produced in the regions and a voice for all of Quebec.
According to Télé-Québec, it broadcasts “programs that have sought to reflect the reality of the regions as a whole and individually.”
In western Canada, the Saskatchewan Communication Network, the public educational television network in Saskatchewan, has the mandate of providing cultural, information and educational programming. SCN rebroadcasts CBC regional and provincial news broadcasts. SCN also broadcasts local news from the Southwest TV News network and other programs that it places in the broader category of news.
In the end, there is no doubt that the underlying spirit of the motion moved today by the member from Bourassa is motivated by a deep commitment to the social, economic and democratic vitality of communities throughout the country. It is this spirit that we support today by standing behind regional and local programming.