|| That this House recognizes the indispensable role of CBC–Radio Canada in providing national, regional, and local programming including news coverage and services to linguistic minorities throughout Canada, and therefore regrets the financial hardship and substantial lay-offs that CBC–Radio Canada currently faces; and urges the government to provide CBC–Radio Canada with the bridge financing it requires to maintain 2008 staffing and service levels.
He said: Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
It is unfortunate that we are obliged to move such a motion here today, in another attempt to draw the attention of the government to the issue of funding for our public broadcaster. If the government had done its homework, and if it had listened and understood to some degree, it would have already grasped the importance of the role played by CBC/Radio-Canada and it would have acted accordingly.
As we all know, the corporation is being forced to cut 800 jobs and sell nearly $125 million in assets just to balance next year's budget.
The Conservative government has known for a very long time that the public broadcaster has had a budget shortfall of $171 million and has done nothing to prevent the lay-offs, program cuts and selling of shares. The corporation got no help whatsoever from the government. In fact, it was as if the government were pleased with the way things were going.
The CBC has never —and it is important to point this out—asked for more money from the government, as it has pointed out. What it did ask for was greater financial flexibility in order to get through this advertising revenue crisis, which affects all of this country's broadcasters, we should add.
So far the federal government has refused a loan or an advance on next year's envelope. This inaction has forced CBC/Radio Canada to make heart-wrenching choices that will have absolutely disastrous consequences on its work as a national public broadcaster and imperil its very future.
According to CBC President and CEO Hubert Lacroix, the corporation will have to manage to sell $125 million worth of assets if this downsizing plan is to work, or else it will be back to square one. If it is unable to sell assets worth $125 million, and to keep that money, there will end up being more cuts at the CBC.
Mr. Lacroix also indicated that the sale of assets was necessitated by the Conservative government's refusal to help the CBC though the current economic upheaval. As well, according to him, this loan would have meant a considerable reduction in the number of people laid off and would also have avoided having to sell assets. He commented on how sad it was that CBC-Radio Canada had been left with no other choice but to mortgage its own future in order to balance its books.
I can state that the Liberal Party would never have turned its back on the fate of CBC-Radio Canada. We would have backed it up in order to allow it to obtain the necessary leeway to get though this crisis. As a result, the layoffs and reductions in service and programming could have been avoided.
But because of the government's inaction, jobs are going to disappear, not only in major centres like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, but also in many Canadian cities and regions. I am thinking of such places as Windsor, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Quebec City, Moncton, Sydney, Saint John Nova Scotia, Corner Brook, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Regina and many others. The list is getting longer because of this inaction.
The cuts that have been announced mean specifically—to give clear examples—the transformation of the Windsor station to a production centre, and the elimination of programs: the noonday Téléjournal Acadie and L'Ontario aujourd'hui.
I do not think that francophones in minority communities are impressed by the government's work on this issue. I do not think that there is one single francophone who is impressed by its work on this issue. If the government sincerely believed in linguistic duality and in promoting and respecting our two official languages, it would invest the necessary funds. Without that investment, the government is all talk and no action.
Our public broadcaster is very important to all regions of the country, and I am extremely disappointed and angry that the government has chosen to get rid of television, radio and new media journalists, producers and artists. Despite its claim that it wants to create new jobs, it has put the CBC in the position of having to cut 800 jobs.
The government needs to make up its mind: is it going to invest to get us out of this crisis, or is it going to do nothing, as it has done for the CBC?
The fact that the government's inaction has resulted in cuts that affect French-language services to francophone minority communities is unacceptable. We know that these communities count on the CBC to disseminate and promote their culture across the country. The government has a major responsibility toward both of our official languages, and it must shoulder that responsibility instead of trying to duck out.
Let us consider the CBC's mandate. First, its programming must reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions. Second, the CBC must actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression. Third, its programming must 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. Fourth, its programming must strive to be of equivalent quality in English and in French. Fifth, the CBC must contribute to shared national consciousness and identity. Sixth, its programming must be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose. Last, the CBC must also reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada.
How can CBC/Radio-Canada carry out that important mandate when it faces a $171 million shortfall? How can it maintain a presence in the regions, in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba or British Columbia if it is not provided with the tools to do so? That is what this motion is about. In view of the Conservative government's inaction and insensitivity, this House must act.
It is clear that the government has wanted to do away with CBC/Radio-Canada for a long time. The current had this to say on March 28, 1995, when he was a member of this House:
|| If we look at the Canadian television industry we see two private national broadcasters that both manage to make a profit most years. Then we have the CBC which is mortgaged to the hilt and costs over $1 billion a year. The major reason two are winners and one is a loser is based on incentives or lack of them.
|| Reform policy would place the government sponsored loser [the CBC] in a situation where subsidies are weaned away and the future of the company is based on consumer satisfaction.
In short, he is talking about abolishing CBC/Radio-Canada. It is clear that this government, which is very firmly led by this , who controls everything, wants to do as much damage as possible to the public broadcaster by using the current economic crisis for its own purposes. The government wants to use the current economic crisis to slash funding for the CBC and get rid of the corporation. We know what the Prime Minister thinks of the CBC, but it is interesting that some of his own members recently voiced quite a different opinion.
In February 2008, in its report to the government, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recommended stable, long-term funding for CBC/Radio-Canada. These two recommendations were supported by the Conservative members. Obviously, the government did not act on the report's findings. In fact, it did not lift a finger to help our public broadcaster. Now, the situation is critical and action is urgently needed.
That is why I said and will keep on saying that in view of the government's inaction and insensitivity, this House must act. That is the reason for the motion and the debate today. I ask all my colleagues to support this motion.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate and I thank my colleague from for his motion and for sharing his time with me.
Allow me to first set the stage. We know that last week the CBC announced cuts including the elimination of 800 positions by the end of September in order to save some $171 million. We also know that the Conservative government, through its , has been saying for some time now that it has no intention of providing a long term loan, advancing funding or, frankly, lifting a finger to help the corporation.
In the course of my remarks, I will discuss primarily the report entitled CBC/Radio-Canada: Defining Distinctiveness in the Changing Media Landscape, which my colleague mentioned and which was tabled in the House in February 2008. It is the product of over a year's hard work conducted in a most responsible fashion by all the members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. I must mention the real cooperation existing at that time among the representatives of the various parties who were working to establish a solid footing for the future of our quality public broadcaster.
Ever since I have been elected as a member of Parliament for Ottawa—Vanier, I have been involved in cultural matters, more particularly, in the well-being of our national broadcaster.
As I have said in the past, I totally support the existence of a public broadcaster in Canada. Furthermore, I believe that its existence is essential and I am resolved to defend the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada and to improve its role. In my view, with the increase in foreign television programs, we have the task as parliamentarians to promote Canadian content, first through its creation and then its broadcast. To do this, I repeat, we must have a public broadcaster.
Examples of countries with a public broadcaster are many. There are at least 18, including Australia, Great Britain, Sweden and France. In France, for example, the president has called for an end to advertising on French public television, which will in future be funded from public coffers. So regardless of the situation in a given country, I sincerely believe that our government should provide CBC/Radio-Canada with more appropriate funding. The report I have just mentioned recommends a number of solutions.
I will mention, essentially, four main points from this report. The recommendations were based on five broad themes.
The first theme was on limiting, and eventually, gradually decreasing the importance of advertising revenue. I will mention recommendation 4.8. It states:
|| The Committee recognizes the current necessity and value of advertising revenues from television and on new platforms, and accepts that the CBC/Radio-Canada continue to pursue those revenue streams. However, the Committee also recommends that the Government of Canada and CBC/Radio-Canada work toward decreasing CBC Radio-Canada’s relative dependency on advertising revenues for television programming.
This recommendation was accepted by everyone. Today, we find ourselves in a situation where the members of the government caucus appear not to share the opinion of the government at the time. Longer term planning must be ensured, because there has been a crisis in the Canadian and world economies and advertising revenues have declined. It is up to the government to intervene and support our national broadcaster, something the government does not seem to want to do.
There were recommendations on being reflective of all Canadians, and there was unanimity that CBC has to keep doing a better job of improving its ability to make sure Canadians identify with their public broadcaster in all regions of the country and in all spheres, be they public affairs, arts and so forth. There were a number of recommendations in that area which were supported by all parties. One would expect therefore that the party in government would follow up on its recommendations at the time.
There were recommendations on securing CBC Radio-Canada's autonomy. I will mention one in particular, which is recommendation 1.13:
|| The Committee recommends the ratification of a seven-year memorandum of understanding between the Government of Canada and CBC/Radio-Canada, setting out the respective responsibilities of the signatories. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage would be responsible for reviewing the memorandum of understanding and will conduct public consultations as required.
This was the subject of a lot of debate and was at the core of our report. Essentially we wanted to start borrowing from the model of the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and perhaps give our broadcaster a greater stability, autonomy and predictability, not just on funding but also on what government and Parliament expect from it. That was supported by everyone.
We talked about the new media. There was a recommendation that the legislative mandate of CBC be amended, the only recommendation to that effect, to make sure that CBC Radio-Canada had a mandate to incorporate in its planning digital technology, of course, and any new emerging technologies, and not be shut out of that as some of the private broadcasters would hope to do.
There was also a recommendation on funding. Here I will quote recommendation 4.1:
|| The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recommends that the Government of Canada commit to stable, multi-year funding for CBC/Radio-Canada, indexed to the cost of living. Funding should be for a period of not less than seven years and be established by means of the proposed memorandum of understanding.
We had a report which, although we did not have unanimity on every proposal or recommendation, was supported by all parties. In many instances recommendations were supported unanimously, but today that is not the case.
We also recommended that the base funding of CBC be increased from today's level of about $33 per Canadian to $40 per Canadian. I want to quote what the president of Radio-Canada, Mr. Lacroix, said about that on Thursday.
In a speech before the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, he referred to a comparative study of public funding for broadcasters in 18 countries and had the following to say:
|| The study revealed that those countries spend on average $76 per capita for public broadcasting. Canada ranked 15th, with a grand total of $34 per capita for CBC/Radio-Canada, which broadcasts in two languages. For comparison, France will soon spend $77 per capita, and England, $124 per capita—and in both cases, for unilingual broadcasting that is therefore much easier to manage.
We have a situation where all the broadcasters in our country are experiencing severe difficulties.
This government is entertaining the notion of helping private broadcasters. The minister talked about that recently. No one yet knows just how the government intends to support private broadcasters like CTV, Global and TVA. We expect to hear an announcement soon from the government, explaining how it will help private broadcasters, while its public broadcaster has asked for assistance but was denied. We have every reason to wonder about the nature of the government's true intentions concerning the public broadcaster.
I echo my colleague's question: Is the government using the financial crisis to effectively cut off CBC/Radio-Canada's lifeblood? I hope that is not the case.
However, if the Government of Canada goes ahead and helps private broadcasters, but refuses to help the public broadcaster, while they are all suffering from the devastating effects of the financial crisis, one might conclude that this government has no interest in supporting the public broadcaster, contrary to what its representatives have publicly repeated over and over again while working on the report I referred to.
Madam Speaker, let us cast our memories back to a few months ago, to September 2008. Canada was in the middle of an election campaign. The then Liberal leader challenged our current to be honest with Canadians and admit his dreams of closing the CBC. There is only one problem with this. It was actually Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau who once threatened to put the key in the door of Radio-Canada. Subsequent Conservative leaders actually increased the CBC's budget, but not for long, though. By the time the Chrétien Liberal government came into power, the CBC funding would eventually be slashed hundreds of millions of dollars. But I am getting ahead of myself here. Let us start at the beginning.
I am happy to speak today about the CBC. The member for has moved a motion regarding the role of CBC Radio-Canada in promoting national, regional and local programming services to linguistic minorities throughout Canada. The member wants the government to provide the CBC with bridge financing to maintain 2008 staffing and service levels.
First, I would like to say that while we are always saddened to hear of job losses, when the president of the CBC referred to the readjustments of the national broadcaster, he said the CBC would have had to undergo them regardless of whether there was bridge financing.
The broadcasting industry in Canada is undergoing substantial hardship and, like any other industry, has had to adjust. All broadcasters have had to work within budget constraints, whether it is through a loss of advertising revenues or from other realities in this age of new media. They have had to make tough choices.
We have much faith in those in management at the CBC. We strongly believe they will be capable of making the right decisions and will be able to continue to operate and serve all Canadians, including official language minorities across our great country. They understand they need to tighten their belts, just like all Canadians are doing right now, and be cautious with taxpayers' money.
We hope that the CBC will ultimately be able to deliver the services and trust that it will be able to deliver these services and news products that Canadians expect from it. We will be monitoring the decisions of the board members very carefully to make sure that they respect CBC's mandate and treat the employees fairly.
The CBC receives over $1.1 billion per year from our government. The management should be able to manage the company with this unprecedented level of government support. In fact, the budget allocating these funds was just passed by a majority of the members of this House, including the hon. member for , who voted for the bill at all stages.
Our funding of the CBC has increased annually since we took government. In fact, in four successive governments, we have increased the funding to the CBC each and every budget.
We have made some very specific promises in our party platform. We have followed through on our campaign promises. We have made that commitment in our budgets. We have not changed anything. Our Conservative government has increased its support for the CBC year after year.
The Liberals suggest we should be providing the CBC with bridge financing to help it survive the current economic crisis. The current Liberal leader suggested that this would enable the CBC to maintain its current number of employees and that there would be no job loss. I guess he should speak to some of the executives at the CBC.
In fact, Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president of English services, said just last week that when the CBC asked the government for bridge financing, it was for the same amount of money. He said, “It was for $125 million, and with that amount of money, if they had given us the bridge financing, we still would have had to cut 800 people”. This is regrettable, but it is the reality broadcasters are facing.
CBC President Hubert Lacroix also spoke to his employees last week on the state of the affairs at the CBC. He outlined its economic status and told them of the changes that were going to take place at their office. He spoke very highly of our . He said:
|| I have met with [the minister] on several occasions. He is a man that I could get along with and respect, and with whom I could build a business relationship. We seem to share a number of convictions regarding what Canada's public broadcaster should be, including, ... the need to review the public broadcasting model to eliminate the reliance on advertising revenue to fund some of its activities.
Allow me to take members on a walk down memory lane, just a few years back in time. Let us go back to 1993 and the Liberal red book, where the Liberals promised they would make no cuts to the CBC.
I just heard a member saying they would like to bring in a multi-year funding model, blah, blah, blah. It sounds a lot like the 1993 red book. However, let us see what the Liberals do when they promise no cuts.
We remember Jean Chrétien crossing the country, waving the red book and campaigning on all the promises. On the very last page of the book, in the very last paragraph, it says:
||a Liberal government will be committed to stable multiyear financing for national cultural institutions such as...the CBC.
One would think they would be able to remember this, because the last statement of a book is often what one takes with oneself.
I think I heard a member quote that almost identically just a few minutes ago. I think he has read his 1993 Liberal red book. I did not believe them then, and I do not believe them now.
Of course, none of the promises that were made in the red book were ever kept. I have outlined some of those this morning.
Giving credit to the hon. member of the NDP who raised a point of order just a few minutes ago, between 1994 and 1997, the Liberals cut the CBC's budget by at least $414 million, cutting 4,000 positions. It was so much money that the president of CBC quit his job. He was so offended at the Liberal cuts that he left.
I defer once again to former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Everybody remembers Peter Gzowski. He was a great Canadian. When former Prime Minister Chrétien was on the late Peter Gzowski's radio show, he said that if CBC were to close its doors tomorrow morning, nobody would be in the street protesting.
Moving on in time, we see the Liberals in a bit of a bind. Many have publically spoken out against the CBC, people such as the member for , who was talking to the National Post in February 1996. He was discussing his opposition to tax increases in order to fund the CBC. He said:
|| It's my belief that the Canadian people have had enough of the GST and the PST. They don't want a CBC-ST.
By 1997, the Liberals were campaigning with another red book. Do we remember them waving red book two? It had another promise. Tucked away in the back pages of their platform, they had a preamble this time, admitting their failure on their promise of multi-year funding that was not realized. It read exactly this:
|| In 1993 Liberals made a commitment to stable multiyear funding for national cultural institutions such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
|| Given the severe constraints the government has faced in dealing with the deficit, we have not fulfilled this commitment.
The member for talks about a promise not kept. I do not think the Liberals kept any promise in the 1993 red book, but I digress once again.
I will continue the quote:
|| As we restore health to the nation's finances, our financial commitment to Canada's public broadcasting system will grow.
What happened next? We can guess it. Their election promise was ignored. Cuts continued after the 1997 election, with the CBC budget reaching a low of $745 million in 1998-99.
Today, under a Conservative government, it is $1.1 billion. That is record funding for the CBC. It was $745 million under the Liberals, and $1.1 billion under the current Conservative government.
In 2000, we heard about programming cuts and so forth. What did they do in 2000? They cut supper-hour programming right across Canada.
I will bet some Canadians valued that programming. The Liberals cut it.
However, they did not stop there. Members such as Roger Gallaway continued to introduce motions to cut the English network's government funding.
Former Liberal cabinet minister Stan Keyes spoke about the CBC and said that the CBC has become a monster, quite frankly. He said that it's a billion dollars we have put towards CBC television and we witness direct competition between a public broadcaster and the private sector.
It is not only the Liberals who are against the CBC, though. I just wanted to highlight them since they brought the motion and they are showing the most hypocrisy on this issue. They are also the only other party that has ever formed government in the House, so we can only look to their record.
When we look at the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, what can we say about them? Members of the NDP say that they support the CBC, yet on every occasion they have had to prove it, they failed. They have voted against every Conservative budget since 2006.
Here is the problem with the NDP's position on the CBC. In 2004-05, this Parliament increased funding for the CBC, and the NDP voted against it. In 2006-07, we increased the funding for the CBC, and they voted against it. In 2007-08, we increased the funding for the CBC, and the NDP voted against it.
In 2008-09, we increased the funding for the CBC; the NDP voted against it. Then there was our 2009 economic action plan. One gets the picture.
As for the Bloc Québécois, its members have also voted against recent increases to the CBC. The Conservative government is delivering the goods, but the Bloc Québécois is voting against it.
The CBC has been around for quite a while. Its mandate and role have been defined and redefined over the years.
The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage studied the CBC on a number of occasions with a variety of differing views on what the role of the broadcaster should be. There is a consensus amongst most members that the CBC should provide services to all regions of the country in both official languages. There is also agreement that minority linguistic communities also depend on the reception of news and information services provided to them in the communities in which they live.
At the end of the day, political members of all stripes have pondered the issue of the CBC and broadcasting in general. The present Liberal leader and member for , for example, in pontificating about the role of public and private broadcasting in North America, in a Toronto Star article in 1989, said:
|| I see our efforts as a struggle against the fragmentation of the broadcasting system in North America and against the assumption by existing public broadcasters, including CBC, that their audiences are fools who can't think for themselves.
Editorialists have weighed in on the debate as well. Across our country there have been a number of opinion pieces written regarding the public broadcaster.
The Chatham Daily News, in November, said:
|| The CBC gets 60 per cent of its funding from taxpayers. Spending frugally should be a given.
The Hamilton Spectator, in February of this year, said:
|| Whether it's called a bridge loan, a bailout or supplementary funding, the CBC request for federal money to tide it over is simply not fair to other struggling broadcast organizations...The CBC must...reinvent itself for the future as a condition of additional funding.
In Saturday's La Presse, Vincent Marissal reiterated the comment by his colleague, Nathalie Petrowski, saying that:
||...Jean Chrétien's Liberal government made severe cuts to the corporation's budget 10 years ago or so. The former Prime Minister... had gone as far as to contend that losing CBC-Radio-Canada would not be a big loss to Canadians.
|| Earlier, in the days of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Liberals [referred to] Radio-Canada [as] “that separatist nest” and dreamt of cleaning up that subversive outfit.
Marissal concluded with a question:
||...how come the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP, despite numerical superiority in the Commons, failed to act sooner, before the budget was passed for instance, to force the government's hand?
|| It has been known for at least three months that CBC/Radio-Canada was walking a tightrope, but answers obtained from all three parties yesterday suggest that they did not see the crisis coming.
|| The opposition is raising quite a ruckus, but it is rather pointless for the cavalry to move in once the battle is over.
André Pratte in a La Presse article over the weekend said, “if the CBC has hit a dead end today, it's not because the Conservatives were cheap, but as a result of a decline in advertising revenue as a result of the recession. In addition, the public broadcaster is facing the same structural problems that the private broadcasters are generally experiencing: costs are increasing, but demand is decreasing as a result of the appearance of new media on the broadcast landscape. Some people say that the Government of Canada should simply give more money to the CBC. However, who believes the CBC is managed on a tight leash? If the government has to support them, then with it must come the assurance that taxpayers' money is well invested”.
In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge the work and representation the CBC provides to many Canadians.
There are serious challenges facing the Canadian broadcast industry, and representatives in this industry, including the CBC, have to tighten their belts. As most Canadians can attest, there are tough choices that need to be made.
As with most Canadians, personal budgets must be established and followed. The same goes for the CBC. We are confident that the management knows how to make the best decisions for the future of the public broadcaster, keeping in mind the responsible spending of hard-earned taxpayer dollars and the service that is important to all Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
Madam Speaker, at the outset, I would like to say that I am fed up with the Conservative government saying that the Bloc Québécois has always voted against it. That is simply not true. On May 10, 2006, and March 27, 2007, the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of the Conservative government's budgets. I would therefore ask my Conservative colleagues to stop singing the same old tune and to check their facts. Every time they get the facts wrong and base their decisions on that kind of fundamental information, we have reason to doubt everything else they have to say and all of the facts they bring up in the House.
This past weekend, I heard someone say that CBC/Radio-Canada is the GM of the news world. Initially, I thought that that was an interesting analogy, but upon reflection, I realized that it did not apply with the Conservative government. If CBC/Radio-Canada were the GM of the news world, the government would have helped it long ago. I heard the parliamentary secretary say that the corporation was having problems with advertising revenue. Maybe, but GM had problems with car sales revenue. The government is ready to help GM and Chrysler, but not CBC/Radio-Canada. That is the message we are getting from the parliamentary secretary and the . This government does not want to help CBC/Radio-Canada for ideological reasons.
The corporation’s problems did not begin yesterday, but long ago. In 2007, the opposition parties reacted and called upon the government to take the necessary action. Contrary to what the hon. member for says, the opposition parties, and in particular the Bloc Québécois, demanded that the government take action. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage did a study which began on March 1, 2007 and continued for a year, until February 2008. Hundreds of people testified, 45 meetings were held, and 710 letters and emails were received from Quebeckers and from Canadians all over the country. That report details all the problems of CBC/Radio-Canada, those from last year and those of today, that have resulted in the crown corporation's present difficulties. I will quickly recount the solutions that were proposed. I reread this report recently. Not only are the same problems recurring, but the solutions proposed are those that everyone is now considering for CBC/Radio-Canada.
First of all, we need multi-year funding that is stable, indexed and planned over seven years, with certain conditions and a memorandum of understanding. An envelope of $60 million has been suggested. I will turn in a moment to the famous discretionary envelope of the minister which he will allocate as the mood strikes him. We need a budget of $40 per capita. Mention was made just now of the studies being done elsewhere in the world which show that $40 per capita is not too much. We also need less dependence on advertising. The hon. member for spoke of the loss of advertising revenue. The corporation should not have trouble producing its programming because it is having trouble finding advertising. One situation does not necessarily flow from the other.
In last year’s report, the Bloc specified that the French network should receive all the attention and all the solutions it deserves. There are two broadcasters, one anglophone and one francophone, and they are faced with different problems requiring different solutions. We should also have a public television system that reflects Quebec’s values. Radio-Canada should in particular reflect the values of the Quebec nation: this is something that has been recognized by everyone here.
The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage thus took a cold hard look at the problems of the crown corporation which is today in hot water. The committee members sat down and came up with some solutions in a calm atmosphere, an atmosphere not subject to the stresses of today created by an extremely difficult situation of at least 800 looming layoffs. The document is over 200 pages long. It is indeed a very serious piece of work. Involved in it were my colleagues Maka Kotto, who is now making a contribution in the National Assembly of Quebec, the hon. member for , who will be speaking to you this afternoon, and the hon. member for , who also took part in last year’s study. This member so appreciates the world of culture that he has put forward a motion in this House calling on this government to restore funding for the arts and culture programs that were cut last summer for ideological reasons.
As I mentioned earlier, there are two distinct broadcasters: Radio-Canada on the French side, and CBC on the English side. Their problems are different, which means that the solutions must be different. It is a mistake to put everything together, to try to create a single entity, and then to try to fix the problems and find solutions. That does not work, and that is one of the problems right now.
As I mentioned, unfortunately, CBC Television remains in a constant state of crisis. I am not the one who makes that claim. One of the numerous reports of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage says:
|| 90 per cent of all the drama that Canadians watch on English-language television is foreign, mostly American.
This is from the report entitled “Making A Place for All Canadians”. And it is true that CBC, because of the English language and the proximity of the United States, has problems that the SRC does not have. That is not difficult to understand, but that is a fact. Canada is being invaded by American television.
When a Canadian decides to watch television in the evening, he chooses the network that is most likely to provide big budget programming, which often means, although not always, better quality. Therefore, he is tempted to choose American drama. Not only is he tempted, but he actually chooses them, as confirmed by audience ratings. The ratings for the CBC are, in some respects, poor or, rather, low. I will not go any further in my choice of words.
Radio-Canada does not have the same kind of problems. Let me give an example to prove my point. Earlier, I mentioned that last year the committee had tried to bunch together the problems of the French and English networks, and that it did not work. I happen to have with me a quote from the committee's report. It says: “For years now, Canadians have been witnessing the decline of CBC/Radio-Canada programming, particularly in the regions.”
That is undoubtedly an issue for CBC, but not for Radio-Canada, because the French network is doing very well.
Last week, the TV series Les Invincibles had a rating of close to 1 million viewers. That is quite a feat for a serial drama presented on a weeknight. It is about young and modern couples living in this day and age. It is really very interesting, it is well done, and Quebeckers can relate to that TV series. So, Radio-Canada does not have the rating problems that the CBC is experiencing.
This profound and significant difference, this reality of dissimilar challenges facing two quite separate networks, does not come through clearly in the Committee’s recommendations. Faced with CBC Television’s ongoing failure to attract a large audience, the committee seems to have thrown up its hands, while congratulating itself on the success of the French network.
By dividing its study on the role of a public broadcaster in the 21st century into two reports, one on the French network and one on the English network, the committee could have dealt in greater depth with the different problems confronting each of them. The truth is that CBC/Radio-Canada’s French-language network is intended essentially for Quebeckers, and tells Quebec stories made by Quebeckers. Quebeckers' feeling of belonging to the Quebec nation explains why they are so attached to their own television, whether private or public, and the audience ratings bear that out.
As I said earlier, the CBC has audience rating problems mainly because of competition from American networks. The French network still does have problems of its own, but is not affected by American competition, as audience ratings for Les Invincibles demonstrated again last week.
The problem facing Radio-Canada has more to do with fierce competition from private enterprise, which is practising convergence and fighting for the same advertising revenue. Issues such as funding for high-cost drama series, residuals, in-house production, funding for public affairs programs, respect for the mandate of Radio Canada International and the SRC's regional development would have received a great deal more attention if there had been a separate study.
It is obvious that even when it comes to broadcasting Quebec is a different nation and that the parliamentarians in the three other parties would have been better advised to face facts, which would have enabled the committee to do a better job. They preferred to deny the Quebec nation rather than appropriately support a multinational public broadcaster.
The Bloc took part in formulating the committee's recommendations and supported them. It is reiterating its belief in a real, national, strong and well funded public television network. First, it believes in stable, indexed, multi-year funding over seven years. That is recommendation 4.1 on page 129. Clearly, the opposition has done its homework. I must say that, last year, when the committee report was tabled in the House, the ball was in the Conservative's court government to accept the recommendations and to implement them. Had the Conservative government really wanted to do something for the CBC and resolve the problems we are now hearing about that are occurring today, it would have acted, as the reacted when he heard that CTV was having problems. He bounced up and said that, indeed, the government was going to help out. We are not hearing that from the Conservative government. We are not hearing that it is going to help the CBC. We are hearing that it depends on this and that, that it is not their fault, that it is the fault of the Liberals or the NDP and that the Bloc voted against it. This government is doing nothing, and yet it was said last year in this House and also written that CBC/Radio Canada needed stable funding over seven years. It needed $40 per capita, and that is really not a lot. Some countries in the world provide $80 per capita. In the 18 countries in the industrialized world, we are at the tail end, just ahead of the United States, which has no need for the reasons we know, including the size of its population. We need $40 per person.
When this Conservative government tells us in the House that it has never given so much for the CBC, I take a look at the budget documents. There I see that, in 2005-06, under a Liberal government, the budget was $1.97 billion. I am not making this up; it is in the government's budget. This year, what is the government budgeting? According to the main estimates, the figure is $1.52 billion. That is $62 million less. “Wait“, they will say, there is a $60 million envelope. Yes, but this envelope is not a sure thing. This is the way it is year after year. The government finally announced this additional envelope a few days ago. The minister let himself be persuaded and granted it. However, it still depends on the mood of the minister. He has given it year after year. There has been no year it was not given, but why is it not part of the budget? Why is the minister obliged to hold out this carrot? He has said that, if the CBC is nice, he will make the money available immediately, if it is naughty, he will hand it out later. That is not the way it works. It makes no sense. That is not how a Crown corporation is managed if it is to be strong and healthy.
Basically, the total after the $60 million promised this week will be $1.1 billion. As I said earlier, compared to the Liberals' $1.97 billion, it seems to me that $3 million does not make much of a difference; it does not even match the 1.5% wage increase this government is giving its employees. At CBC/Radio-Canada, the wage increase might be 2%, when they are already in the hole.
Advertising revenues are lower, but that is not the whole problem. This Conservative government is not respecting the economy and the constant dollar principle. Indeed, in constant dollars, there is a $300 million shortfall in CBC/Radio-Canada's budget as compared to 20 years ago. The Conservatives are talking nonsense. The fact is that, as we have see earlier, the information they are providing is not right, and neither is this. When the Conservatives say that the government gave CBC/Radio-Canada the most, that is not true.
Regarding the $40 per capita, if this government and its are serious, the minister should stand in this House and say that, from now on, $40 per capita will be provided. I must say that the Conservatives did not indicate in a supplementary report that they disagreed with this $40 per capita amount. All they said was that they wanted to see what the corporation would do with that money.
Perhaps by looking at the business plan prepared by Hubert Lacroix, the CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, the would realize that there is a shortfall of $171 million to deal with even after selling $125 million in assets. Perhaps then he would have a better idea of what to do. Even by posting a $171 million deficit and selling $125 million in assets, he still has to lay off 800 employees, which is not right. If the minister really wants to know what our public broadcaster would do with $40 per capita, he need only read through the corporation's list of expenditures and it will become clear.
If this government is serious, if it truly wants to help CBC/Radio-Canada, there is a solution: $40 per capita. Three words. It is not complicated, it just has to do it. Then we will finally believe that this Conservative government really does want to do something for our public broadcaster. To date, it has done nothing. It has done absolutely nothing
In short, as I mentioned earlier, it is very important to add the additional $60 million. This cat and mouse game is ridiculous: I am in a good mood, I will give you the money right away; I am in a bad mood, I will give it to you later. That makes no sense.
We must decrease the corporation's dependency on advertising revenues. Almost all the emails and messages received by the committee last year recommended that all advertising be eliminated from CBC/Radio-Canada television, as it was from radio. However, not everyone agrees on that point. Some find that advertising is a good link to the community, especially in the regions. But the corporation's reliance on advertising must be reduced. The loss of advertising revenue is not a good thing right now for television as a whole. But it is true that decisions are made in times of crisis. Perhaps this decision could be made quickly.
In closing, the Bloc Québécois will continue to support the corporation and work to defend it from a government that is insensitive to the arts, culture and cultural development. That is why the Bloc is so passionate about the transfer of all responsibility for the arts, culture and broadcasting, and naturally their corresponding funding, as quickly as possible to the Quebec government, which is truly interested in and attuned to cultural and telecommunications activities. It is our hope that this would be just one element of the transition to a sovereign Quebec.
Madam Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House representing the people in my region of Timmins—James Bay.
I am speaking with a heavy heart about what is being discussed today. I was afraid there would come a point when we would have to discuss this issue because we would come to a point where a government attack on the CBC would lead us to a situation where the future of the broadcaster would be a topic in the House.
In an attempt to forestall this day coming, I was on the heritage committee last year and it initiated a study of the CBC so that all members of Parliament would fully understand the role and importance of the CBC, and we could get all parties to buy-in to a vision of a reformed broadcaster. At that time, the NDP worked closely with its allies, the Bloc, Liberals and Conservatives, to bring forward a plan. Unfortunately, the plan that had been laid out by the heritage committee to address the many problems being faced with an underfunded CBC was ignored by the minister. The ensuing crisis is part of the problem now.
The loss of jobs that the CBC is facing comes at a time of unprecedented crisis in Canada's local and regional broadcasting markets. Private broadcasters' local television stations are being closed across the country. Once proud, independent television stations that grew into larger conglomerates are now being thrown aside as somehow having become a junk product, when for decades they built audience share and a local voice.
No better example could be given than CHCH-TV in Hamilton, which provided such a unique role. It was brought up in the Canwest chain and is now being discarded. That is an example of the kind of broadcast crisis we are facing. It is not just in terms of radio and television. It is in terms of newspapers. Many great local papers, some of which have been around for more than a century, are being bought by massive chains.
Every time we see more media concentration, the result is always clear, they cut more staff at the local level and get rid of local voices, to the point where many of the local newspapers across this country, that have served communities for decades or even a century, do not even have local editorials any more. Whoever is in the meagre stable of whatever media oligarchy is running that section of the country will present a national editorial. What happens each time is that local people feel their stories are disappearing. It happens bit by bit. Now we are in a full-fledged broadcasting crisis.
Let us talk about the CBC. The importance of the CBC in the Canadian broadcasting context is that it is a conversation. It is a conversation between Canadians. At its best, that is what public broadcasting is supposed to be and it is a job that private broadcasters cannot do. It is not to say that private broadcasters do not have their niche in their markets and serve their roles well, but the notion of a national conversation is only possible within the context of a public broadcaster.
I will give an example. When I was much younger, I was involved in media. I ran my own independent media magazine and online service as a regional voice for the north. I worked as a broadcaster for Studio 2, a provincial service. I did some work with the CBC and went to the CBC through my work in the arts.
When I was much younger, my band recorded the first Grievous Angels cassette. Even before we had a record we had a cassette, and we had the idea that if we got the cassette to Stuart McLean, he would play it on the radio and he did. Our first national public broadcast was by someone running up to Stuart McLean on the street and saying, “Here is a cassette, Mr. McLean. Would you play this on a national radio show?” The next thing I knew the band was being interviewed by Peter Gzowski on Morningside. That day the group went from being a very small local band to a band that was being asked to play across the country.
I am saying this not to brag, but to say there is no other broadcaster in the country where it would be possible for a song of a band that is completely unknown to be played once on radio, and then to be invited to Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton, right across the country, because people heard it and identified with it.
That has been the role of the CBC right across this country in terms of creating voices for new artists, new writers, new thinkers. When they are interviewed, whether it was by Gzowski in the old days or even today on Jian Ghomeshi's Q, or any of the other programs, people hear that and they feel they are part of this conversation. When the cuts that we are talking about today happen, they happen in a way that affects the ability of regions to speak to one another.
Nowhere do I see this more so than the cuts we are going to face in northern Ontario at CBC Sudbury and CBC Thunder Bay. In this market, CBC Sudbury represents a region that is about the size of western Europe. To cut 8 out of 16 jobs at CBC Sudbury means that the ability of this station to represent to Canada, in the multitude of communities that are as far flung as the shores of Hudson's Bay and James Bay, right across isolated communities in the north, has been terminated. It is no longer possible for that station to do that job.
The cuts will mean that we will have a morning show or an afternoon show. We will not have both. Let us say we lose the afternoon show out of CBC Sudbury. What does that mean in the grand scheme of things? It may mean nothing to people in other regions, but without an afternoon show, we now lose the one show that promoted local writers, regional artists, regional voices. Great performers like Kate Maki, who built a national name, do not get their start because they are not going to be heard on the local afternoon show. The local role of CBC Sudbury has been to cover an entire region.
The other role that CBC Sudbury plays, which is absolutely invaluable in our region, is that we have a francophone service representing the very large francophone population of the northeast, and we have English radio. It is the one format where the francophone and English populations actually speak to each other.
We have programming on CBC North where the hosts of the various shows speak to each other, so that the English milieu is hearing and understanding what the issues are in the francophone community. When we cut those wires, that conversation ceases. It has a profound impact and it draws us back to this fundamental question. What role does a public broadcaster play?
If we are going to cut regional services like this, we are essentially saying that we are turning out the lights in parts of our country. Nowhere else could I think of the effects than in my isolated communities on the James Bay coast. Those communities are served by Wawatay Cree Radio, where the communities speak to each other, but their only ability to speak to a much broader context is through CBC.
When St. Anne's Residential School in Fort Albany burned to the ground, it was a story that everyone in our region shared because CBC was there. When two young men burned to death in a jailhouse fire in Kashechewan, CBC brought that story to the nation, but now, two years later when we are actually having the hearings on what happened to those two men who burned to death in that makeshift jail cell, we will not have the budget to have CBC Sudbury cover that.
In fact, one flight now to Kashechewan, if CBC were to do its job, would probably wipe out CBC's budget for the year in Sudbury because there is no money to do these services.
By making these cuts, it has to be really understood that the lights are going out in certain parts of our country. The ability of certain parts of our regions to speak to one another is being turned off.
I was at an event in the little community of Kennebec, Ontario, on highway 65 west. An elderly woman came up to me and said, “If these cuts go ahead at CBC Sudbury, how will we speak to each other?” In that part of northern Ontario, the one unifying voice is the CBC link, so the cuts that are happening are profound and cannot be underestimated.
Let us talk about how we got here. CBC is the most underfunded public broadcaster in the world. When we look at the motion of my colleague from the Liberals, we will certainly be supporting the motion, but we need to address the elephant in the room, that bridge financing alone would not have gotten us out of this problem.
Bridge financing and a government that was willing to work would have helped address the immediate problems in the crisis. However, it would not have addressed the overall systemic problem we are facing, and that is years of underfunding, years of respective governments undermining our public broadcaster to the point that we were at the tipping point with this recent crisis. My colleague said that bridge financing would maintain 2008 staffing and service levels. I wish that were true. If the government had been willing to work with the CBC early on, we might have addressed many of the job losses.
It has to be pointed out that if we go back 10, 12, 14 years and look at the government's response to the obligations to a public broadcaster, it has been to undermine it. It has been to ridicule it. It has been to make it come and beg every March for the $60 million extra appropriation, and the government leaves the public broadcaster dangling and does not tell it until the very last minute. It is a situation that no other public broadcaster would ever face. It has undermined the ability of the public broadcaster to do its job.
Even with the years of underfunding and the lack of commitment toward the role of the public broadcaster, Parliament, the heritage committee, Canadians in general have asked more and more from our public broadcaster. In response we have CBC TV, Radio-Canada, Newsworld, Radio 1, 2, and now 3, RDI, and Première Chaîne Radio. We have a network that is on in five and a half time zones with eight aboriginal language services. That is outreach no other public broadcaster in the world would have to face. BBC plays to one time zone with one English market. It is much more concentrated than what CBC is having to face.
Yet even with all these challenges, we see that in the last few years, English language television now has the number two market share in the country on the 8 to 11 spot at night. All-Canadian fare is beating the all-American lineup on Global. Radio-Canada television is seeing a market share of almost 20% in prime time and it is continuing to increase. CBC radio services are enjoying historic highs, almost 20% for Radio-Canada in each market, 14.1% for CBC radio. With respect to the CBC website, we have called for CBC to get involved online and now it is getting four million hits a month. Two million podcasts are being downloaded every month. The online CBC.ca program has a quarter of a million members.
As Hubert Lacroix, the president of CBC, said, if we go back 40 years, we will not find an example of a public broadcaster being this successful. It has been successful, despite the fact that it has been doing it on a shoestring. It has met all the requirements that parliamentarians, politicians and the audience have pushed on it. Not only that, but when I was on the heritage committee, it would be regular to say that we wanted a new plan for expanding television or for expanding radio, but there was never a commitment at the government level that addressed the fundamental problem which is the underfunding.
When we look at the recommendations that were brought forward by an all-party committee in order to address the CBC, if the government had accepted the recommendations that were offered to it by the heritage committee, we would not be in this situation now.
There were numerous recommendations in terms of the mandate and how to ensure accountability at CBC, but there were a couple of key benchmarks that needed to be met. One was the ratification of a seven year memorandum of understanding between the Government of Canada and CBC that would set out the respective responsibilities and obligations. That seven year memorandum of understanding would allow the corporation to note clearly what Parliament expected in terms of its regional services, its commitments to the arts, its commitments to official languages, and then it would have the financial appropriations to be able to do its planning over seven years. The Conservative government never accepted that motion.
One of the other motions was that we have multi-year funding and that the one-time funding of $60 million, which comes at the end of every March, and the minister has just announced it, would actually be added to its permanent core funding so it would not have to come and beg and it could actually make the planning.
Recommendation 4.4 I think was the key one, that after consultation with broadcasters, consultation with experts, we settled on the figure that we need to move the core funding to $40 per capita. It did not have to be done in one year, but that was the benchmark we needed to move toward.
Funding of $40 per capita is still much lower than the funding that is offered to public broadcasters anywhere else in the world. To get from $34 per capita to $40 per capita over a three- or four-year timeline would give us the resources to put CBC in the position where we want it. We did not get that from the government. We have seen a rather cynical approach to an institution that the government has been very ambivalent about. Many of the government members have ridiculed CBC. Many of them have said that they oppose the public broadcaster; they think the private sector would do it better. Yet, they have watched this public broadcaster try to bend itself in circles in order to address the competing mandates of the government.
One of the arguments always is that it should compete with the private sector, go more to the private sector. Our public broadcaster is becoming increasingly dependent on advertising revenues and when it is completely dependent on advertising revenues, the Conservatives ask, “Why does it need to be a public broadcaster? It is acting like a private sector broadcaster. Why does it not do what a public broadcaster should do?”
The CBC is caught in a television simulcast war against the U.S. giants, in which we are actually doing very well, thanks very much. It is the unwillingness of the government to set a clear course.
What would $40 per capita mean? If we could move CBC television out of the advertising game wars, that money would be freed up for the private sector. That would be one way of helping to address the crisis. CBC television would be able to provide Canadian content all the time. There has been much ballyhoo about the fact that it had to buy a few American shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune and I am certainly not interested in watching Vanna White on the CBC, but I recognize it is having to buy programs because it cannot afford to make programs on a limited budget. There is no commitment from the government to make it possible.
If we had moved up the appropriations to $40 per capita, and we did that over a number of years and we set in place the other all-party recommendations, we could get CBC where it needs to be, which is to play a role that no other broadcaster in this country plays. That role is to make it possible for regions to speak to one another and to understand one another. It could let the young writers from Acadie be heard in other parts of the country, in order to allow a discourse about ideas and culture that is simply not available from the private broadcasters.
At this point we are looking at a government which has sat back and allowed a unique and proud institution to start to crumble because of the government's unwillingness to provide the bridge financing and its unwillingness to commit to a long-term vision. We are at the point where, because of all the cuts that have come before, because of what is happening now, if any further downturn happens, the future viability of this public institution and public commitment will be so challenged we are going to have to talk about the potential death of the CBC in certain parts of this country. It is having to sell off its assets. It has to be dependent on the minister to support it in those sales. Those assets are being sold at a time of market collapse. If it does not get the value for them, then more cuts are coming; that is the reality. I am not really clear where else we can cut at this point in terms of the loss of regional programming, the loss of what we are seeing in terms of the television market.
This is a debate I am very sorry we are having in the House today, but as members of Parliament we need to stand and say that we do believe in a revitalized commitment to a full and strong public broadcaster. That commitment has to be made. The cuts that are starting to affect our regions and our television and radio services are not acceptable, because once those things are gone, there will be no replacing them. The private sector is not moving in to deal with the losses we are seeing at the CBC.
We need a strong public broadcaster. We need to send a message from Parliament that we commit to CBC, we want to rebuild CBC and we want to make CBC the broadcaster for the 21st century that it should be.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
At the outset, I am pleased to speak to the motion and I will support it.
This is a very important issue for all Canadians from coast to coast, particularly for Canadians who live in the regions, Canadians with linguistic minority communities, Canadians from remote communities and Canadian who live everywhere.
I am very pleased we are having this dialogue today. The issue of CBC and how it serves our country is tremendously important to all Canadians. I do not think we can look at the CBC and talk about the individual budget. I believe we have to look at it as to the role it plays in Canada.
Canada is an exceptionally large country, the second largest on earth. It is the most diverse country in the world. We have three founding nations. It is much stronger and much larger than its remarkably diverse and unique parts.
On the other side of the equation, we need the glue to keep us together. There is a social contract, for want of a better word, a shared destiny. As a country, we have to be cognizant of our history, our past and we have to go forward with a clear understanding that we build on that. We are different than other countries that surround us.
It is my premise in this debate today, and I am very pleased we are having this dialogue, that our national broadcasting corporation, the CBC, is one part, but not totally, of the glue that keeps the fabric of Canada together.
CBC is a national institution with a very important mandate. It provides an objective perception of current affairs in Canada. It serves the smaller regional communities, which the private broadcasting companies could not, would not and probably would not be expected to serve. It serves the linguistic minorities from all parts of the country and is responsible for the preservation of our culture, which makes us Canadians.
Many people are trying to a create a looser federation, a federation of self-autonomist units, each driven by the ideology of the government in power. However, my vision of Canada is larger than that. We need a strong federal government and a national broadcasting corporation.
That brings us to today's debate. I will not argue that there has to be a large dose of reality in this debate. I will not argue today for large increases to the budget of the CBC. It has to live within its means. We have economic realities in the country. I do not suggest for a moment that there should be a 10%, 20% or 30% increase in the CBC's budget. Its advertising revenues dropped dramatically. It knew it was faced with belt tightening, but it wanted to have a dialogue with the government of the day. Its proposal was that it be given $125 million bridge loan so it could make the cuts and the changes easier, more equitable and phase them in.
However, that was not the case. The CBC was met with total silence. As a result, we see the loss of 800 jobs, 393 jobs at CBC and an additional 336 at Radio-Canada. It is probably the case that this thing could not totally be avoided, but a lot of it could have been if the government had listened to public opinion on this issue.
I do not believe it is an unreasonable request. We all see what has happened to the economy over the last six to eight months. There was a dramatic decrease in its advertising revenues. It is my premise that the government should have entered this dialogue with CBC and probably should have granted the interim financing, the loan, to get it through this very difficult situation.
What has happened here is the continuation of the toxic relationship that has existed between the CBC and the Reform-Alliance wing of the Conservative Party, going right back to their constating meetings in 1994. A lot of those people who were part of that movement and part of those attacks on the CBC sit in cabinet, across the aisle.
I have a few quotes.
The first quote is, “There are subsidies to bloated crown corporations like the $1 billion annual subsidy to the CBC”. That is from the .
The second quote is, “The Liberals decided to throw millions and even billions in non priority areas, while ignoring vital ones....For example, the CBC will receive $60 million”. That is from the present .
The third quote is, “Do we need the CBC, in its current format, when there are so many private broadcasting channels available?” That is from the present .
The fourth quote is:
|| I've suggested that government subsidies in support of CBC's services should be to those things that...do not have commercial alternatives...I think when you look at things like main English-language television and probably to a lesser degree Radio Two, you could look there at putting those on a commercial basis.
That is from the present .
I do not attribute any of these quotes, this ideology, this thinking to the Progressive Conservative wing of that party. That was not the case during the times when it was in power.
I see this as a continuation of the toxic relationship. I am sure if we spoke to many of the Reform-Alliance members, we would probably be dealing with a lot of happy campers here today. It started in the founding meeting and has continued every day.
As a member of Parliament, as a Canadian, I am disappointed with this attitude. It continues this attitude, this ideology that the federal government has no role in broadcasting or in culture, that it should withdraw its mandate to the narrowly defined issues of defence and foreign affairs and become a federation of 13 semi-autonomous units, having no shared destiny, no common purpose, no social contract.
As I said before, I am very pleased that we are having this dialogue. It is important for the fabric of Canada and what it means to be Canadian. I hope the public is watching.
It is my hope the House will support the motion as presented. It is also my hope the government will respect the will of Canadians, if the motion does pass. It is my hope a dialogue can then start between the government and CBC so we can sort of ease out some of these temporary problems. It is my hope this impasse can be overcome.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the essential role that CBC/Radio-Canada plays through its national, regional and local broadcasts, including information and news for linguistic minorities all across Canada.
I know that the Conservative government does not believe in CBC/Radio-Canada and that nothing would please it more than to see the end of public broadcasting in Canada. That is an ideological view that ignores the situation in our northern communities in Canada.
Francophone culture in northern Ontario is very reliant on CBC/Radio-Canada to communicate its messages and transmit its news. Northern Ontario is a vast, diverse place where minority groups would not be served at all if not for the corporation.
In northern Canada, as in northern Ontario, there are simply no private networks. CBC/Radio-Canada ensures that the people of the north do not feel completely isolated and feel that they are part of a united country. The people living in the north all know they face major difficulties and obstacles.
The ministers in the Conservative cabinet, however, do not think so. The claims to be from the north but in an interview with the National Post, he wondered whether we need CBC/Radio-Canada in its current form when there are so many private networks. Those are the words of someone who fails to understand the reality of people living in northern Canada and northern Ontario.
When the states that there are so many private broadcasting channels available, I have to wonder in what world he lives. It is certainly not in northern Ontario.
Not understanding the living conditions of northern Canada is but one of the shortcomings of the Conservative government. Ideologically, it feels that it can sell everything, all of our national assets, to the highest bidder and everything will take care of itself. It is just a laissez-faire attitude that lets everything rule itself.
That, unfortunately, is not the reality for the people of northern Canada and it is not the reality that they live from day to day. More and more, the people of Canada and the people of the world are realizing that this is a fantasy land that exists only in neo-conservative minds.
The people of northern Ontario, for example, rely on CBC Radio to get their local and regional news. We have seen a slow decline in service over the years but the cuts that are being witnessed currently stand to have an irreversible effect on the CBC as we know it.
I could stand here today and tell members how important I feel CBC is to northern Ontario but I believe that it would be more effective if I read passages from but a few of the letters and messages that I received.
Here is what Garth Goodhew had to say from North Bay:
|| CBC Radio is a great Canadian institution that joins a vast area and allows us to be one Canadian nation. Cutting services to Northern Ontario will have a devastating effect. I am furious just at the thought of losing CBC in my area.
Mary from Temiskaming Shores wrote:
|| I am one of the many who are horrified because of the cuts to CBC Radio One in the north particularly Sudbury. Please endeavour to ensure that we do not lose this important aspect of northern life. Densely populated areas have more choices and we need this service in northern regions.
Just before coming here, Rita McDirmid called from Latchford wondering what was going on with CBC. She stated how important it was and how the people of Latchford rely on CBC Radio to get their information.
Charla from Thunder Bay wrote:
|| CBC has been an integral part of my daily life for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Dryden, Ontario, my family listened to CBC Radio each morning during breakfast and watched The National news each night - I have continued this practice throughout my adult life. The combination of local, regional and national news and the stories delivered by CBC Radio and CBC Television provides a better understanding of the Canadian mosaic past, present and future. Local radio programming provides a local perspective on issues and events that would otherwise be unavailable in small towns such as Dryden, Fort Frances, Kenora and Atikokan. It is vital that this local programming continue to provide a sense of community and to highlight the “goods news stories”, especially during the financial struggles we now face.
Richard Sciuk from Redbridge states:
|| It's painfully obvious to anyone who takes the time to understand the realities of Northern Ontario; CBC provides a public forum that bridges the distance. We need to stay connected.
|| As a constituent, I would ask you and/or your government, lobby the powers that be not to cut CBC service in the North. It seems that whenever there are cuts to be made us Northerners always suffer. I don't think that we should take this lying down.
That is but a small sample of what we in northern Ontario are saying about CBC cuts.
What can we look forward to as Canadians? The reality is that the Conservative government has done nothing to prevent the reduction of up to 800 jobs. It has done nothing to stop the scaling back of local programming or regional radio and television programming, and nothing to reduce the reduction in news coverage.
What is even clearer is that even though 800 jobs have been lost and CBC Radio-Canada has been left twisting in the wind by the government, the minister remains unwilling to provide any flexibility or honesty in the face of potentially deeper and more devastating cuts to come.
Destroying CBC Radio-Canada has been part of the 's agenda for over a decade and is a goal that the majority of his cabinet supports. They are taking advantage of tough economic times to launch an assault on a national institution. This behaviour by the Conservative government is consistent with its long-stated opposition to government support for CBC-Radio Canada.
In 1995, the now said that reform policy would place the government sponsored loser, and by loser he was referring to the CBC, in a situation where subsidies are weaned away. This is from a government that says that it does not pick winners and losers.
A while back, the and half of his cabinet were saying that they do not pick winners and losers. I guess it depends on when it is convenient for them.
This is not the first time that the government has flip-flopped on something.
On that note, I close with a plea to the and his cabinet to support CBC and to stop ignoring the fact that CBC-Radio Canada is of huge importance to Canadians from coast to coast to coast and, in particular, to the people of northern Ontario.
Simply put, the role and mandate of the CBC-Radio Canada must be preserved and the Conservative government has a responsibility to ensure that these priorities remain intact.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from .
I would like to begin by reiterating this government's commitment to arts and culture. In Canada's economic action plan in budget 2009, our government demonstrated its firm commitment to the arts, culture, and heritage. The Government of Canada will invest $540 million, that is, over half a billion dollars, to ensure as much stability as possible for this sector in these challenging times.
I would like to speak briefly about these tough times. The current global recession is affecting all sectors of the economy, including arts and culture. Once again, the government's economic action plan is a detailed plan to stimulate economic growth, restore confidence and assist Canadians during this period of global recession.
The Government of Canada has helped, is helping and will continue to help this sector. Here are some concrete examples: $200 million over the next two fiscal years will be allocated to the creation and broadcasting of high-quality Canadian television programs in English, French, and aboriginal languages; over $28 million over the next two fiscal years will be allocated to continue to encourage the creation of Canadian interactive digital cultural media works; $14 million over four years, that is, $3.5 million a year, will serve to continue to support and enhance the arts, culture and heritage within minority anglophone and francophone communities; $7 million of additional support is earmarked to support training for Canadian artists through improvements to the national arts training contribution program; $5 million will be invested to implement a new national translation program for book publishing. The purpose of that program is to increase the availability of Canadian books in both official languages.
We support the arts because our artists and our cultural institutions play an important role in the lives of Canadians and Quebeckers within our economy. The response given recently by my colleague, the , demonstrates that our government recognizes the importance of the arts and cultural sector in stimulating and strengthening our economy.
We also support CBC/Radio-Canada because it remains and will remain Canada's public broadcaster in English and French in addition to being one of our most important cultural institutions. How should we support CBC/Radio-Canada? By investing in our public broadcaster.
I would like to point out how important the government considers CBC/Radio-Canada to be. Our investment in the corporation is the largest of all our spending on culture, with the exception of the budget of the Department of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages.
According to the 2008 annual report to Parliament on crown corporations and other corporate interests of Canada, CBC/Radio-Canada's share of all budgetary appropriations received by crown corporations is 22%.
Since 2006, our government has invested over $3 billion to enable CBC/Radio-Canada to fulfill its mandate. In 2008-09, our government gave the crown corporation $1.117 billion to fulfill its mandate to Canadians throughout the country, in English, French and eight native languages.
Our commitment was to maintain funding for CBC/Radio-Canada, and we have kept our word. To better illustrate our commitment to the public broadcaster since 2006, we have renewed additional funding of $60 million for CBC/Radio-Canada for Canadian programming.
Once again, by its actions and its decisions, our government shows the importance it gives to Canadian programming by allocating another $60 million for 2009-10.
In addition to the votes approved by Parliament, the CBC-Radio Canada can count on three other sources of funding—advertising revenues, subscription revenues and revenues from related activities. The CBC-Radio Canada has generated over $1.5 billion in revenues since 2006-07.
The role of a responsible government is not limited to handing out dollars. We must also ensure healthy governance, strong management and effective accounting.
To this end, the CBC-Radio Canada has a board of directors comprising 12 directors, including the chair of the board and the CEO. Although they are always appointed by the governor in council for their skills and broad experience, it is they who are at the helm of the corporation. It operates independently of government.
This board of directors is responsible for managing the affairs and activities of the corporation. Under the Broadcasting Act, the corporation is accountable to Parliament through the . This does not prevent the corporation from providing an accounting. Under the Act, the CBC-Radio Canada is obliged to submit a business plan to the government. This plan includes a statement of the corporation's objectives for the coming five years and a strategy for their implementation, the capital budget and the operating budget for the next fiscal year and the corporation's plans to borrow during the current fiscal year.
The capital budget has to be approved by Treasury Board, and any plan to borrow requires approval by the .
The corporation is also required to submit to the a summary of its revised business plan reflecting the financial resources Parliament plans to allocate to CBC/Radio-Canada. The minister then has to table this summary in Parliament. By making its business plan summary public, CBC/Radio-Canada is clearly indicating to parliamentarians and Canadians what its priorities are and how these will be met.
While CBC/Radio-Canada is exempt from part X, it is nonetheless required under the Financial Administration Act to keep satisfactory accounting records and conduct appropriate internal audits. It has to provide the , at his request, with reports on its financial activities.
Finally, within three months after the end of each financial year, the corporation is required to submit an annual report to the and to the President of the Treasury Board. In turn, the minister has to submit this annual report to Parliament within 15 days after receiving it. Again, as a public entity funded by us all, CBC/Radio-Canada has to clearly present its operating results to the people of Canada and Quebec.
The Government of Canada recognizes that CBC/Radio-Canada plays a unique role in reporting stories about Canadians, influencing our national identity and bringing people closer together.
The Government of Canada recognizes the role of our national broadcaster within Canadian society by providing it with more than $1 billion in parliamentary supply for the current year and renewing again for next year additional funding of $60 million for Canadian programming.
As we can see, our government has delivered on its promises. Clearly, our government is acting as a responsible manager.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from not only for her speech, but also for having risen here in this House at an extremely important moment when we have voted to increase the budgets of CBC/Radio-Canada, bringing its funding to a record amount since 2006. My colleague the , and all of my colleagues on our side of the House, have supported this economic action plan to bring the corporation's funding to a record amount since 2006—and to make that funding stable, as we had committed ourselves to doing.
Radio-Canada and the CBC, its anglophone counterpart, play a fundamental role in Canadian cultural identity and in the international position held by Canada.
We have brought CBC/Radio-Canada funding to a record figure, unlike the Liberals who had slashed its funding. This is a subject which calls to mind Ms. Petrowski’s comment on the contrast with the savage Liberal cuts in the 1990s: nearly a half a billion, $440 million slashed.
The government’s revenues are declining at this time, but we believe in the mission of CBC/Radio-Canada and are increasing its funding. The Liberals’ cuts were not negotiated and were directed by the office of the former prime minister, resulting in the elimination of 4,000 jobs at a time of no economic upheaval whatsoever. As I have just said, not only are we providing CBC/Radio-Canada with stable funding, but we are increasing it.
It is a pleasure for me this afternoon to explain to you how important it was for us to increase the corporation's funding by $60 million. Of course, as my colleague indicated, the investment that the Canadian government is making in CBC/Radio-Canada is one of the largest investments of the federal government in culture and Canadian content: $1.1 billion so that the corporation can continue to fulfill its mandate.
That mandate, under the 1991 Broadcasting Act, is to provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains. We committed ourselves, including in our 2008 election platform, to ensuring that CBC/Radio-Canada continues its key role as public broadcaster in Canada.
CBC/Radio-Canada provides a high volume of Canadian content for the broadcasting system. It offers the entire population, from sea to sea, television, radio and Internet services and services on new platforms in both official languages, something it is extremely important to point out. In addition, the corporation also provides services in eight aboriginal languages to the Canadian population living in the north, and multilingual service in many languages on Radio Canada International. Hence its influence is felt not only here at home, but internationally.
CBC/Radio-Canada plays an extremely important role for francophones in Canada and it operates the only national French-language radio and television networks. The corporation’s programming in French and in English is almost entirely Canadian. You will understand that for me, as chair of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, this is a very important role that is part of the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada. One need only think, for example of CBC English radio, which in Quebec is called the Quebec Community Network, which serves small anglophone groups. Be they in Gaspésie, the Upper North Shore, the Eastern Townships or the Quebec City region, these people have a vital connection thanks to the excellent work done by the corporation in serving the minority linguistic communities.
CBC/Radio-Canada has an ambitious mandate, and that is why we have increased its budget by $60 million. The question you are surely asking yourselves is what we are going to do with this additional $60 million.
The annual report of CBC/Radio-Canada shows that this money has been earmarked for typically Canadian programming. Last year, $27 million was spent on the English television network and $18 million on the French network, as well as $5 million on English radio, $5 million on French radio, and $5 million on intercultural initiatives—programs produced in both English and French and broadcast on both television networks.
Thanks to these $60 million, CBC/Radio-Canada will be able to create new broadcasts, develop bilingual programs and events, and expand its news coverage. Among its specific achievements, I could mention the advertising-free shows for pre-school-age children that are broadcast every morning and the new TV dramas and entertainment shows such as Dragon's Den. I could also mention the bilingual broadcasts and series, such as the documentary Hockey: a People’s History and the development of a public affairs show that is very popular in Quebec, Tout le monde en parle.
We support CBC/Radio-Canada and have enabled it to provide quality programming by increasing its budget since 2006. It provides broad coverage of amateur sports and various weekly magazines. That is another example of what the public broadcaster has achieved for Canadians through the expansion of its news coverage. Radio-Canada’s market share is quite large in this regard. I hear there has also been an increase at CBC television since last year.
The funding does not come from the public purse alone. It is a mixed system. CBC/Radio-Canada receives appropriations from Parliament that are approved right here in the House, and it also generates advertising revenues. In 2008-09, the appropriations for the CBC and Radio-Canada were more than $1 billion, with an additional $60 million announced last week by the in order to provide a broad range of Canadian content, such as the program I just mentioned, Tout le monde en parle.
These $60 million will help CBC/Radio-Canada continue to meet its mandate by developing new programming, creating bilingual broadcasts, and expanding its news coverage from a Canadian perspective. I should mention young people too. We are well aware of the number of programs for young people produced by CBC/Radio-Canada and the challenges it faces in view of the explosion of specialty networks and the expansion of multimedia.
All these developments and the diversity of the programming and services provided with the help of the Canadian government show how these investments are used and how far our national public broadcaster has come since it was created in 1936. Since our government came to power, we have been providing record levels of funding year after year that have been stable and reliable and have enabled CBC/Radio-Canada to plan ahead, something that is very important for any corporation, as well as the additional $60 million.
In conclusion, we are passing now through difficult economic times. It is hard to say when they will be over and how disruptive they will be. One thing is sure though: at a time when the Government of Canada’s revenues are declining, we have increased CBC/Radio-Canada’s funding to amounts unprecedented since we came to power. We are keeping our word, as we did in the past and will continue to do, so that our national broadcaster can fulfill its mission.
Mr. Speaker, I was back in my constituency last weekend and attended a number of events. At each event that I attended, without exception, somebody would enter into the debate and ask where we were going with the CBC and then offer their concerns about the loss of CBC services in our area.
As well, my office has received a great number of phone calls and emails with regard to this topic. To begin my remarks, I will share an email with the House from Ian McNeil of East Lake Ainslie.
He talks about the CBC and the fact that it is a vital piece of national infrastructure. He is amazed that a vital piece of national infrastructure is being allowed to decay before our eyes. What is worse, he says, is that this is happening at a time when the federal government talks about investment in infrastructure. He says that the decay has become devastation with the recent announcement of massive layoffs at CBC. He says that nothing unites this country as thoroughly, democratically, economically as the CBC. He says that it lets us talk to each other in both official languages, on radio, television and the Internet and that it holds a mirror up to Canadians every day and questions what we see. He goes on to say that it reflects and explains to Canadians and to the neighbours in the world around us, that it entertains and informs us, that it provides us with a forum for discussion and creativity, which our economy desperately needs right now.
Those are some comments that were sent to my office by Mr. McNeil and they pretty much echo everything we have been hearing about this issue and the recent cuts that were made by the government.
We grew up with the CBC. As a young guy, I remember making sure I had a nap on Saturday afternoon so I could get into my pyjamas that evening and watch Hockey Night in Canada. We only had the two channels in Glace Bay but the highlight of our week was Hockey Night in Canada. In the earlier years, we might have been allowed to stay up to watch Juliet or Gilligan's Island.
We grew up with the Peter Gzowskis and the Vicki Gabereaus and they have had a huge impact on shaping the overall culture of this country. They have allowed us to realize the great country we are. They have helped impact on our global perspective. They have helped us develop a perspective, a Canadian conscience, all those thing that we probably take for granted. I do not think we will understand the significance until we absolutely lose the CBC.
That is where we are today. We are fearful that once the cuts begin, we will be on that slippery slope and we do not know where the cuts will end.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from who will also speak to this because we know the impact it will have on his riding as well.
I want to talk about the impact that it will have locally. I had a discussion with the opposition House leader a little earlier today, the member for . He talked about the cuts in Saskatchewan and the shutting down of the operation in La Ronge. That station itself in central northern Saskatchewan, which services all the northern communities, many first nations communities, is the well-established voice of the north in Saskatchewan. Tom Robertson was a long-time broadcaster there of legendary proportions. That has just been extracted from those communities. A vital part of communication, a vital part of those communities has just been lost.
It is not dissimilar to my own riding of . A portion of my riding will continue to be serviced by Halifax. Up by Guysborough, Larrys River and Country Harbour, that area will still be able to access the Halifax station, but in Cape Breton, with the cuts that have been made, it is looking at the loss of maybe six, seven, eight jobs. It was a station that was run on a bare bones staff anyway. There were 22 people to provide the service.
Once we start to lose the journalists, the people who get into the community, who dig up the stories, who share them and who put a human face on a particular issue, we lose the essence of the CBC. We lose what is vital about the CBC if we do not have those people to do that job. The end result is the quality of the program will be impacted. Once that starts to slip, people will believe it does not make a difference if we have the CBC, and then we lose that vital service to our community.
The CBC has meant so much to us in terms of our culture, history and music. I am very fortunate to come from an area like Cape Breton. I look at some of the artists who have contributed not just to the local music scene but nationally and internationally, artists such as Natalie MacMaster, the Rankins, Ashley MacIsaac, Rita MacNeil, the Barra MacNeils, Matt Minglewood and the list goes on. They can go back and speak about their first time being on the radio. When they talk about their first interview and where they learned their chops on the airwaves, they will talk about their interactions with the staff at CBC Sydney.
Getting that kind of music out gives those artists that first opportunity. Then they can tell the stories back. In their songs and words, the artists can celebrate who we are as a people. It is essential that these regional stations and services are allowed to continue to operate. Hopefully, it would have been to grow, but we are now looking at operating and salvaging. The cuts that have been announced have put them in greater jeopardy.
We have good local radio stations. A number of local radio stations are doing fairly well. However, by and large, it is music for the most part. It is top 40 music, country music or whatever the style or theme of the station is. They will do a broadcast and they can come with the headlines. However, it is very rare that they can go deep on stories. They will play the national playlist. They will support Canadian music off the MapleMusic brand.
It is great that we get an opportunity to listen to Bruce Springsteen and Ashlee Simpson, who I am sure are great people and artists. However, we are concerned about Bruce Guthro and Ashley MacIsaac. We are concerned about giving our own musicians and talent a stage on which they can play their music and get it out to the broader public. By doing so, they have an opportunity to start to build a career. The local CBC stations can do that.
Ron James is a buddy of mine. He lived in Glace Bay in his early years. He is a comedian, a great guy and a huge international success. He got his start at CBC Sydney and the local stations. They were there for the good times and the tough times to tell the stories. They were there when Canada hosted the Olympic Games in 1987. It was a great celebration and they talked about Cape Breton right across the country. Those stories were delivered across the country.
When there was a severe loss of life and tragedy at the Devco mine, No. 26 colliery, CBC was at the pithead, talking to the families and community leaders. It is imperative that we support these regional stations. It is imperative that these stations are allowed to tell those stories. The cutbacks today are going to be devastating to the regional stations.
I call upon the government to do something to ensure that bridge money is implemented so these stations can continue to operate.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for for sharing his time with me today and for his passionate and emotional plea that the government help the CBC.
I would also like to thank the hon. member for for bringing this motion forward. I know his passion about this issue and his strong support for the work that CBC Radio-Canada does throughout the country, including in his own province of Quebec.
I would like to speak about the importance of CBC's work in my part of the country, namely Labrador, and also about the impact this round of cuts will have on my riding and the CBC audience our local bureau serves.
Unfortunately, Labrador has seen this story before. It was under the Mulroney Conservatives in 1990 that we lost our CBC television station in Goose Bay. The journalists who lost their jobs and the community leaders predicted that it would diminish Labrador's voice on the provincial and national scene. Sadly, they were right.
We had, and have, no other alternative for local TV production besides the CBC. There is no CTV, no Global. The same is true for radio where Labrador has virtually no presence of private commercial networks. We have community stations, but our only network connection is via the CBC.
In fact, we have long argued for increasing CBC's presence in Labrador. In particular many Labradorians have called for a pan-Labrador radio signal so that people in southern Labrador could get the Goose Bay radio signal directly. Instead of increasing the presence, it is now being cut back.
These latest cuts are a case of history repeating itself. It is a trend. Conservatives are elected and they cut the CBC. It is an ideological bent on the part of the Conservatives.
Labradorians have been loyal CBC listeners for generation after generation. Our local team of producers and reporters and the entire CBC radio staff do an outstanding job on an already shoestring budget. They bring Labrador news and views to a wide audience. Many of their segments are picked up regionally and nationally. They are also the eyes and ears of Canada when news of national importance breaks in our region. Good news or bad, the CBC is there to explain to local and national audiences the whats, whens and hows of the story. The CBC fills the gap that other networks have never even tried to fill.
To give the House some sense of the work that CBC Labrador does in bringing together our region, I will mention some of the topics covered in just the past few days by its flagship show, Labrador Morning.
There has been extensive coverage of the controversial hunt on the Joir River caribou herd, a story which spans two provinces, ours and Quebec. The CBC has done panel discussions on the local impact of the provincial budget. It has covered a workshop on food security and the nutritional value of traditional wild foods. It has reported on plans to improve Route 389 which links Quebec and Labrador. Again, this is a local story of great interprovincial, and even national, importance. It has covered cutbacks at one of our local airlines. There is the ongoing and very popular Jigs and Reels, a series which regularly checks in on news and happenings in each and every one of Labrador's towns and communities.
Unfortunately, in the past week, CBC Labrador has had to report on the impact of the cutbacks to its own service and the people it serves throughout Labrador.
This is not a matter of nostalgia. This is a bread and butter issue. This is literally about how we share and communicate with one another. It is about our music. It is about our stories. It really is about ourselves.
I have already heard from many groups and concerned individuals who are angry and upset at the cuts that are coming. The town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay issued a strong statement this morning in which Mayor Leo Abbass said, “CBC Labrador Morning is a vital link for our communities across Labrador. It is the only comprehensive radio show devoted to the geographic, cultural and political issues that affect all Labradorians”.
A resident of Nain in northern Labrador said, “Please make sure CBC is not allowed to wither on the vine”.
Another email stated, “In the name of fairness to a territory that already feels disconnected, left out and ignored, I implore you, do not do this to Labrador”.
Another is from North West River which stated, “CBC is the glue that holds us together as a country and reflects our culture”.
A resident of the Lake Melville area said, “Maybe some of those decision makers should come and stay for a winter in one of our towns. We depend on this information for our daily living”.
I echo these statements and the personal attachment that many have to the CBC. I expect to hear more from many more. I hope that the Conservative government is hearing from them, too. Perhaps it will convince the Conservatives to change their minds about the decision to cut the CBC.
Unfortunately, there are too many Conservatives on that side of the House who agree with the sentiments of the who is on record as saying, “Do we need the CBC, in its current format, when there are so many private broadcasting channels available?” I challenge him to come to Labrador and say that to the residents directly.
In fact, the latest round of cuts targets many rural and northern parts of the country, many areas with large aboriginal populations, such as Labrador, northern Manitoba, northern Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. There are substantial cuts in Newfoundland and in two of the three maritime provinces. Of the thirteen bureaus and stations closed or cut, eight are in Atlantic Canada.
The Broadcasting Act states that CBC Radio-Canada has the mandate to reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences while serving the special needs of those regions, to contribute to shared national consciousness and identity, and be predominantly and distinctively Canadian.
The journalists at CBC Labrador strive to achieve those goals. They do an admirable job with the resources they have available, but now, due to the failure of the Conservative government to provide CBC with the resources it needs, that mandate is in jeopardy. The Labrador staff face a 40% cut. The impact on our region cannot be measured solely in dollars and cents. Labrador will be poorer for it, and all of Canada will be poorer for it.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my charming colleague, the hon. member for .
I am extremely pleased to speak today on the Liberal motion put forward by my hon. colleague the member for . The first purpose of this motion is to recognize the indispensable role of CBC/Radio-Canada, both the anglophone and francophone sections, in providing information through its broadcasts across Canada, especially those for the benefit of language minorities, including aboriginal minorities, since there are broadcasts in at least eight aboriginal languages.
Second, the motion is intended to fault the present government for the financial hardship and substantial lay-offs that CBC/Radio-Canada will soon be facing because of its refusal to grant it any financial flexibility.
Third, the motion urges this same government to provide CBC/Radio-Canada with the bridge financing it requires to maintain last year's staffing and service levels.
There is something deeply ironic about the fact that the motion today is a Liberal motion, when they are the ones mainly responsible for the crisis the corporation is experiencing. They refused to index its budget when they were in power, and in the 1990s they were the ones that started making budget cuts. In constant dollars, i.e. taking inflation into account, the budget for CBC/Radio-Canada went from $900 million to $708 million during the Liberal regime, and that was at a time of full economic growth, as has been said already today.
What more can be expected of a party that has something negative to say day after day about the multiple facets of the Conservative budget and yet, again day after day, supports what it has criticized with its votes? Day after day, that party demands more attention and more funds for the unemployed, who are the first victims of the crisis we are in. Yet, when they were in power, they systematically raided the employment insurance fund to the tune of several billions, in order to balance the books of the government of the day, while at the same time allowing the richest members of society to continue to benefit from tax havens and family trusts. Their finance minister, Paul Martin, was himself one of the biggest profiteers from the system. Our private nickname for him was “Paul, the Little Boatman”, because he had his ships built abroad and sailed them under flags of convenience, reported his profits in tax havens and then had his ships scrapped in China. All that in order to help Canada.
There are others who say he is a man who put his mouth in Ottawa but his cash in Barbados.
What more can we ask of a party that gets all worked up in the House and speaks very quaveringly against a government that abolishes the fundamental right of women to pay equity—a right for which the previous generation fought so hard—only to support this government's legislation after condemning it so harshly.
While these remarks put a damper on the real motives of the Liberals in presenting this motion, the Bloc Québécois will nevertheless review it on its merits. It is true that, in its forecasts, CBC/Radio-Canada announced a shortfall of $171 million for 2009-10. That shortfall can be explained by a combination of several factors: lower advertising revenues—of course everyone is affected by that—increase in programming costs and aging infrastructures, to name but a few. It is also true that, on March 25, the corporation's management announced the elimination of 800 positions, about which we will find out more in the coming months. Finally, it is also true that, at the time when the corporation was asking for an advance—and only that—on parliamentary votes, or to borrow money from a financial or banking institution, the Conservatives rejected both options. They did so at the very time when the minister said he was prepared to help private broadcasters and media.
After numerous delays and after being forced to do so by the three opposition parties, the Conservatives finally decided, in light of the economic crisis—the very existence of which they had first denied—to apply here the Keynesian solutions that all the other industrialized countries in the world, including the United States, had begun to implement, namely investing massively in job creation. All of a sudden, this government began announcing investments of billions of dollars in infrastructure, ports, highways, bridges, airports, skating rinks and tennis courts. It even announced the establishment of a bizarre $3 billion fund that will be invested without any monitoring by the House, and we still do not really know where exactly.
Yet, at the same time, the government cut millions of dollars in cultural programs, thus jeopardizing hundreds and even thousands of jobs in Quebec and in Canada. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is currently reviewing this issue. It is finalizing its study, which will be tabled in the House very soon. It will not be pretty. The government refuses to support CBC/Radio-Canada, even if that means losing 800 highly specialized jobs.
I would like to give those watching a sense of how different $1 billion is from $1 million. Never having had that kind of money in our pockets, obviously that is foreign to us, but I will give a specific example. If I were to put in your bank account—assuming it was empty to begin with—$1 million and asked you to withdraw $1,000 a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, until there was no money left, it would take you a little under three years to empty your bank account. However, had I put in $1 billion and asked you to go through the same process of withdrawing $1,000 a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, even if you had started when Chris was born, it would still take you another seven centuries to empty that bank account. That is the difference between those two amounts.
On the one hand, we have billions in investments with economic benefits neither you nor I have any idea about and, on the other hand, millions in cuts with results that are immediately clear: hundreds of jobs lost while they claim to want to create jobs.
That makes absolutely no economic sense and we are forced to assume that the Conservatives made this decision for ideological reasons. In other words, they continue to apply the good old Conservative maxim, the best government is no government. Private interests take precedence over public interests.
However, the importance of CBC/Radio-Canada has long been proven. In its February 2008 report tabled last year, the Standing Committee on Heritage studied the corporation in detail and stated the following in its introduction. I will read from page 7 of the report, where it explains why the corporation was created.
|The origins of what is now known as CBC/Radio-Canada date back to 1929 and the Report of the Royal Commission on Broadcasting (the Aird Commission). The Commission noted that the majority of the radio broadcasts that Canadians listened to came from the United States and worried that this would tend to inculcate young people with non-Canadian ideals and viewpoints.The Aird Commission also recognised broadcasting’s immense educational and informational potential and its ability to contribute to a shared sense of national identity. The Commission therefore recommended setting up a national public broadcasting service that had the necessary resources to create truly Canadian content.
Although I am being told that I have one minute remaining, I would nevertheless simply like to add that, today, we realize, especially in English Canada, that almost all movies watched are American movies, that almost all the music we listen to is American, that almost all television series are American and that to francophone ears, such as mine, it sounds like more and more American English and less and less British English is being spoken.
What the government needs to do right now is increase CBC/Radio-Canada activities, but it is cutting its funding. And both the Liberals and the Conservatives had a hand in that.
If the Canadian government is incapable of providing adequate funding for the survival of Canadian culture, why should we, Quebeckers, trust it to ensure the survival of our culture? We will take control of our own affairs and it is about time.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my colleague from on his excellent speech. Bravo!
I am pleased to rise today to speak to this motion, which concerns the short- and long-term future of CBC/Radio-Canada.
On March 25, the corporation's president and CEO, Mr. Lacroix, announced that 800 full-time positions would be eliminated between May and September, including 335 at the French network. This amounts to a loss of around 8% of the corporation's workforce across Canada.
The positions are being cut because of rapidly declining advertising revenues owing to the difficult economic situation, rising production costs and aging infrastructure.
Unfortunately, I have to point out that it is rather odd, even paradoxical, that the Liberal Party is behind this motion today. During the final years they were in power, successive Liberal governments refused to index CBC/Radio-Canada's budget. In the 1990s, they even cut its budget repeatedly, most notably in 1998, when they slashed it by $94 million.
More recently, on February 1, 2005, a newspaper in the greater Montreal area wrote the following:
|| Yesterday, all the CBC/Radio-Canada news anchors sounded the alarm. They do not accept the new $4 million cuts to the news sector.
|| They were all there, saddened and asking Prime Minister Paul Martin and minister Liza Frulla to be receptive.
Those people are not Conservatives.
In constant dollars, that is, taking inflation into consideration, the CBC's budget under the Liberals went from $900 million to $708 million. This means that the Liberals are also directly responsible for the state of the CBC's infrastructure and partially responsible for the current crisis that is shaking the corporation. The tabling of this motion by the Liberal Party once again shows the political hypocrisy that is so ingrained in that party. This way of doing things is not the exception for the Liberal Party. It is its trademark.
I will provide an example that affects me directly, because it is happening in my riding, and also in other Montreal ridings. I am referring to the noise caused by aircraft, ever since flights were moved from Mirabel to Dorval. In Ahuntsic we are disturbed by the noise of these aircraft. That is also the case in Saint-Laurent and, oddly enough, in Lachine as well. It is rather funny to see some Liberal members cry wolf regarding the noise made by aircraft, considering that they are directly responsible for this unacceptable situation, which prevails in several ridings in Montreal. That is a small example, but I could give other ones. This shows why, when we look at the facts, both Quebeckers and Canadians are disappointed by the Liberals.
But let us get back to the main issue, namely, the financial crisis that the corporation is facing. The CBC has to deal with a shortfall of $171 million. The corporation's management has confirmed that it asked for the government's assistance, but the government refused to help. It merely authorized the CBC to benefit from the proceeds generated by the sale of some of its assets. Such a sale would take place at the worst moment, in the midst of an economic crisis. It is claimed that these assets are worth about $125 million, but one wonders how much the corporation will get for them, in the context of the economic crisis. It is obvious that this sale will mortgage the corporation's future. The sad thing in all this is that the government prefers to invest huge amounts of money in military equipment and war, rather than preserving jobs in Canada and in Quebec. That is the reality and that is unacceptable. This government does not understand anything and it continues on its military path.
I would point out that 85% of these cuts will affect television and 13.5% will affect radio. For example, in Montreal, the cuts will mean the loss of approximately 250 jobs, including 85 in news programming. In Quebec City, about 15 jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts, and the local noon program will disappear altogether. That means two and a half fewer hours of news from Quebec City every week, beginning June 29. The 6 p.m. news program, Téléjournal Québec, will be shortened by 30 minutes from June 29 to September 4, and return to 60 minutes in the fall. We are seeing real cuts to news and jobs. In addition to the people who will be left without a job, Canadians will also see a reduction in the amount of information they receive. This reminds of what happened with TQS.
Mr. Lacroix said that, beyond the CBC's walls, these cuts will also “dramatically” affect independent producers. The broadcaster has insisted that they reduce their production costs by 10% to 25%, which most have agreed to do.
We can therefore assume that a lot more than 800 jobs will be eliminated, if we include jobs outside the CBC, that is, jobs with private producers.
Mr. Lacroix was very clear. The Conservative government's decision to deny the crown corporation temporary financial assistance made things very difficult for its administrators. According to Mr. Lacroix, with bridge financing, the CBC would have been in a better position to manage the situation it now faces. This leads me to vigorously emphasize that the Conservatives' decision not to grant the CBC temporary assistance is unacceptable. As we know, the Conservative government has finally acknowledged the global economic crisis and admitted that it is also being felt here in Canada. They keep telling us, loud and clear, that their action plan has four main priorities, the first of which is, and I quote, “to take measures to protect jobs.” This is a little strange, is it not? They say they want to protect jobs, yet they refuse to give money, and people are losing their jobs. Some 800 people are being laid off.
Confronted with the financial crisis rocking CBC/Radio-Canada, the government is failing woefully its own test. Its inaction is a pure show of economic incompetence in these times of crisis. The fundamental role of any responsible government in these times is to preserve jobs. Through its inaction, this government which is currently in power thanks to the support of the Liberals, including my friend from , is directly responsible for the loss of 800 well-paying full-time jobs. On the one hand, the government wants to be seen to be actively creating infrastructure jobs by pressing Parliament to support its $3 billion plan, even though it not clear where exactly this money will go. On the other hand, it is deepening the crisis by refusing to provide CBC/Radio-Canada with $171 million in temporary funding. I just do not get them anymore. They will hire more people to process the EI claims of the 800 plus employees losing their jobs.
On March 26, a renowned CBC/Radio-Canada journalist with 50 years' experience expressed concern about the future of the Crown corporation. He said that what was most worrisome in the medium and long term was the future of public television in Canada. He added that we can always overcome difficult economic conditions. But when such conditions are combined with a lack of political will, things get pretty rough at the shop.
What this government is doing is shameful. From a strictly financial and human perspective, the Conservatives should support the preservation of these jobs without hesitation. Unfortunately, the Conservative government does not seem to understand that or to embrace that economic truth. It would appear that the Conservatives' plan is to take advantage of the current economic situation to starve CBC/Radio-Canada and compromise its influence and future across Quebec and Canada. This is all the more shocking given that the Conservatives are apparently considering helping private broadcasters. As the saying goes, charity begins at home.
The Bloc will be voting in favour of this motion, but in reality we want more than it calls for. Since my time is nearly up, I will just list a few points. That the public funding for CBC/Radio-Canada be raised from $34 to $40 per capita. In other countries in the world it is far more than that. That the annual additional funding of $60 million be maintained. That the funding be stable, multi-year, predictable and indexed. The worst part of all this is that all this was in the February 2008 report of the standing committee on Canadian heritage. Many witnesses were heard. Many briefs were submitted. There was endless discussion. It took the time it took. A fine report was produced. That report did not really question the importance of funding CBC/Radio-Canada. But now it is as if we did all that for nothing. Nothing came of it. The Liberal motion is interesting but unfortunately it is a matter of too little, too late. The demands I have listed are not part of it. As far as the government is concerned, that is not one of its concerns.
Moreover, those recommendations went much further than this Liberal motion. They were supported by the Liberal Party, even if our colleagues who were on the committee did not seem very comfortable with this request for increased and maintained corporation funding. I would have expected this motion to have far more teeth than it does.
WIll the Liberals do the same as our Conservative colleagues? That is the major question and one for which I think the future will provide an answer.
If this Liberal motion seems to be bold in its demands of the government, it is more than timid when compared to what all my Liberal colleagues were backing a little over 12 months ago.
Unfortunately, with the Conservatives—