Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today on the important motion put forward by the member for Ottawa—Vanier. My riding of Parkdale—High Park in Toronto is home to many artists and others who make their living in the cultural sector. They are our friends and neighbours and they make our community a unique and indeed better place for us to live.
Former NDP critic Wendy Lill once said that “art is the soul of any great nation”. She was right, and for the city of Toronto, it is also more than that. Culture and the arts represent jobs for Canadians. In Toronto, 25,000 jobs are tied to film and television production alone. Hundreds more are in the broader cultural sector.
Toronto recently commissioned a cultural plan for the city which clearly outlines that much of Toronto's wealth is “generated by people who work with ideas, and studies have shown that such people prefer to live and work where they find a vibrant cultural scene”. It goes on to say, “In fact, Toronto's cultural sector is the dynamo that turns the biggest economic motor in the country”.
However, unlike commodities that rely on non-renewable resources, the creative sector is in fact an infinite resource, and I submit that it is the key to a thriving 21st century economy. Our mayor, David Miller, recently said that Toronto's cultural sector is a $1 billion industry but that we need to do much better in this sector. For example, he said, there are federal tax incentives that are “so out of whack that it actually makes more sense for producers to shoot a show about Toronto in Regina or Winnipeg”. He said:
When you undermine the viability of the industry in Toronto, you undermine the industry in the whole country...you drive hard-working men and women...out of their chosen profession...[and] you reduce the talent and diversity of that talent throughout the country....
The cultural sector is also one of those unique economic engines that leaves a very small ecological footprint. Investment in the arts creates jobs, strengthens our national identity and gives us all our voice in an environmentally sustainable way. It is a win-win if ever I could think of one.
Despite this, the arts and cultural sector has been under attack after years of cutbacks, deregulation, unfair trade rules and partisan patronage appointments to our public broadcaster. That is why in this caucus we not only support the motion today but have proposed an amendment to strengthen it. That is also why our caucus has proposed substantial amendments to the federal accountability act, to stem the tide of partisan patronage appointments that tarnished the reputation of the CBC under the previous government.
The decision of the CBC to cancel programs like This is Wonderland is having a profound effect on employment, but also on our collective identity. Now there is no hour-long, Toronto-made drama on the air. As well, the decision of the CBC to cut its design department, which will axe almost 100 jobs and inevitably affect the quality of our public broadcaster, is also profoundly short-sighted.
I was pleased to join with CBC employees last Friday to oppose these cuts, but it is appalling to think that if these cuts are allowed to go through, the CBC will no longer be able to design sets or make costumes, props or special effects in the Canadian epicentre of English public broadcasting. They will no longer be able to produce complete shows inside the CBC. This is yet another CBC sellout and we are losing our public broadcaster cut by cut. We need to have our Minister of Canadian Heritage step forward and stop this sellout.
We need a strong cultural sector in order to tell our stories as Canadians and to protect our sovereignty. The spirit of this motion, as amended, needs to be respected by the government and the minister needs to take this seriously. If so, we will have gone a long way to protecting and enhancing our cultural rights and our cultural sector.
I am calling on the minister to seize the opportunity today to signal to the CRTC that TV drama content requirements be imposed on Canada's private broadcasters and that we strengthen our public broadcaster. As a former CRTC commissioner and a television executive, the minister, we know, understands the industry well. In 2004 she recognized the need for stable funding, saying that “they have to have confidence and stability that those dollars of support are going to be there year after year”.
It is also my hope that the minister will push for increased long term investment in the CBC. It is the only way that we can tell our own stories and protect our own jobs in the cultural sector.