Mr. Speaker, I am speaking today as the official opposition critic for Canadian heritage and national historic sites. In that capacity, I of course have responsibility for such files as the Canadian public broadcaster, the CBC. Therefore, let me state clearly from the outset what the Conservative Party's position is, as endorsed by our delegates at party conventions: “The “CBC-SRC is an important part of the broadcasting system in Canada. It must be a true public service broadcaster, relevant to Canadians. We will focus the CBC-SRC services on its mandates as public broadcasting services.” That is our party policy. That is our official position as a party.
There are times when the CBC strays very far from those objectives. We are very fortunate, however, that the CBC is capable of being there. We need only look at this past weekend to see the CBC playing that role properly with the good coverage we saw around the 100th anniversary commemorations of the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge. It was very positive, and the proper role, I think, of a public broadcaster. I think of the drama we are seeing this year, Anne, which is another re-creation introducing what is a Canadian classic, and indeed one that has stood the test of time very well, to a whole new generation of young Canadians, and older Canadians, too, I have to confess. Again, I think it is fine, excellent work, and something we can all be proud of, which is the sort of thing we would like to see from a public broadcaster. I am particularly encouraged to see Canada: The Story of Us, which is a focus on history.
Those are the kinds of things a public broadcaster should be doing, telling Canadians their stories about Canadian history, our literature, and the important historical events that have made us what we are today. Sadly, it is all too rare.
One hears criticism, for example, in the newspapers these days of this project, Canada: The Story of Us, from a bunch of different perspectives. However, if I can put it in a nutshell, what all of those critics are saying is one thing, “I don't hear my story there” or “I don't see my story there”. Does that mean there is something wrong with the programming being shown? I do not think so. I think it is very high quality, and I commend the CBC for doing it. Do I agree with every view expressed? Of course not. History would not be history if we all agreed on it. Of course, we all have different views and perspectives. That is as it should be, and it is great that this debate be stimulated.
However, when people are saying that they do not see their story there, they are acknowledging what has been a failure of the CBC as a public broadcaster, which is to play exactly that role. The fact is that series like Canada: The Story of Us are too few and far between, and when one occasionally comes along, people necessarily are going to be left out. Stories are going to be left out from what is a magnificent array of Canadian history. What that shows us is that it has not been doing its job properly. That is an important consideration: Is the CBC doing the right things that a public broadcaster should do? That is what our party position is. That is what I would like to see happening. That is certainly what we are seeing some good examples of right now, but we have seen too few in the past.
Does it make sense for a broadcaster in a public role to be trying cheap reality TV shows, imitations of American programming? I do not think so. That is not its proper function. At the same time, we have to ask ourselves if the CBC produces value for the tremendous volume of tax dollars that Canadians give it, which is well in excess of $1 billion a year. Are Canadians consuming that? The fact is, the numbers show that the eyeballs are dropping. The relevance is declining. The CBC is not playing that role properly. I put it to members that if that money was focused, if it spent it more sensibly on what would be the true public broadcaster role, I think we would find it would be far more heartening, and it would do a much better job of that.
I look at those stories in Canada: The Story of Us, and I have to confess that even I, a bit of a Canadian history buff, am learning things I did not know before. We can all debate the perspectives, but that is what the CBC should be doing. I know there were journalists who contacted me in the effort of getting that kind of cheap shot they wanted, because the Prime Minister did an introduction at the outset of the series. I declined to do that. They wanted me to say it was not appropriate. I know my seven-year-old thought it was not appropriate. However, I said I was heartened to see it.
I commended the CBC for taking the initiative to focus on Canada's history. I was heartened to see the Prime Minister actually encouraging it, because in his other policies, he has been doing exactly the opposite. He has been turning his back on Canadian history, adding to the vacuum in the understanding of who we are. We see that most notably with the decisions on the themes for the 150th anniversary of Confederation, which were changed by the government to include four themes, all of them merit-worthy but excluding history and the story of Confederation itself as permissible themes. That was absurd. Fortunately, the public broadcaster, in its wisdom, was wiser than the Prime Minister and is talking about exactly such things, in a dramatic fashion. For this, it is to be commended.
However, there are other things we have to trouble ourselves with that we have legitimate concerns about in terms of the role of the public broadcaster. I do not want to be a TV critic, but is another stale comedy that has been on the air for decades, that folks are kind of tired of, the right way to go? I do not know.
Certainly, the most difficult fit for any public broadcaster is that of public affairs and news broadcasting. When a state broadcaster is engaged in the news, we look at it, in most countries around the world, with a lot of skepticism. A state broadcaster in Russia or in a place like Syria, which I suppose has a state broadcaster, I do not know, we immediately conclude is propaganda. If we look at RT, which is the state broadcaster projecting abroad for Russia, it is clearly propaganda.
There is always a discomfort when taxpayers' money is used to cover the news. This controversy goes back some time. The CBC was actually created as the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission by the Conservative government of R.B. Bennett. However, it was not too long before its news and public affairs role began to land it in trouble. Once Mackenzie King was in government, lo and behold, it changed the name to the CBC and took decisions, for example, not to cover the Conservative leadership convention. This, of course, attracted a lot of attention. Why is that? It was because it looked to everyone like a deliberate effort by a state-run broadcaster to diminish attention on the opposition Conservative Party. That goes back in time. These kinds of apprehensions and perceptions of bias have been there for a long time.
It is not crazy. If we look at any academic study done of journalists over the past 50 or 60 years, we will see that not too many of them vote Conservative. I do not know why. It seems to be something about who gets drawn into what professions, but that is the case. I will bet that is the case today. In those circumstances, we can understand why people are quick to perceive bias and concern.
Then, of course, there is the fundamental question, with the CBC, of value for money. A tremendous amount of money is being spent, and there are real questions based on how Canadians are voting, and voting with their feet.
At the heritage committee, we have been hearing criticism about how the public broadcaster is using those massive subsidies of billions of dollars. As the world is changing and we are seeing more and more people going online, the criticism we are hearing from the print journals, the newspapers that are in trouble, and other radio and television outlets is that the CBC is using its dominant position and taxpayer subsidies to squeeze everyone else out in the online news universe. It is attracting the advertising there, using the public subsidy to have an advantage in that news gathering. In the process, it is harming and putting those newspapers out of business. When the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission was established, when the CBC was established, no one contemplated a role in an online world. Is that an appropriate one for the CBC? That is an important question.
There are some real questions we as Conservatives have, but let me make it clear and understood by everyone that the party policy position is that we support a public broadcaster. We would just like the CBC to play the role of a genuine public broadcaster, bringing forward the literature, theatre, and music of Canada.
I point to what was seen in the past year as one of the rare successes of the CBC, and that was the final broadcast of the Tragically Hip concert from Kingston, which ignited the imaginations of a lot of people. These are the kinds of things that get Canadians excited and supportive of a public broadcaster, because it is being a public broadcaster.
If the CBC is to avoid facing an ongoing tide of the kind of initiative we are debating here to privatize the CBC, to abolish the CBC, it should look seriously at how it can better play the role of being a genuine public broadcaster and put on the air fine programming like Canada: The Story of Us , like the Anne miniseries, and like the coverage we saw of Vimy this weekend. It was CBC at its best. It is capable of doing it. Sadly, it is all too rare.