Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, this government is also choosing to ignore the tens of thousands of people who have spoken up and expressed their dismay over the situation at CBC/Radio-Canada. None of us can deny that people in our ridings have taken a stand and spoken up in favour of the CBC. Every day, MPs receive calls and emails similar to the ones I receive. They know that over 25,000 people have gone to the trouble of signing the petition on our website because they believe that an effective public broadcaster is a vital part of a healthy media and cultural landscape, and a strong CBC is important to them.
There is no doubt that the Conservatives are wholly responsible for what is happening to the CBC. It has come to this because the Conservatives wanted it to come to this. When the Conservatives choose to attack the CBC by slashing its budget even as the corporation is coping with the toughest market conditions in its history and is already struggling, they are just showing how mean-spirited they can be.
The Conservatives did not really adopt a hands-off approach with the CBC. What they really did was make drastic cuts to the public broadcaster's budget: $115 million over three years. That will certainly have serious consequences: years of belt-tightening, service elimination, job cuts and talent loss.
We have only just begun to see how this will affect the CBC. We have all heard about the heartfelt appeal of the corporation's leading radio and television journalists: Céline Galipeau, Patrice Roy, Alain Gravel and many others have warned that the cuts will soon have a serious impact on the work of the creative people at CBC and especially the corporation's ability to practice good journalism.
We have every reason to believe that they will gut the CBC's sports service, which so many people tune in to, and that they will not spare regional stations either. When Céline Galipeau decides to publish an open letter in the newspaper, then we should definitely be worried too.
The two governing parties have developed a long tradition of attacking the CBC. The Conservatives cut another $115 million over three years starting in 2012, and $45 million of that will be cut this year. These cuts are why the CBC is in so much trouble today.
Before the Conservatives came to power, the Liberals had cut hundreds of millions of dollars to the CBC and left it more vulnerable than had any other government before it. Some of the Liberals in the House who nowadays will stand up to bravely defend the CBC were actually part of the government that cut $414 million from our public broadcaster in the first years of being in office, after promising they would protect the CBC. After playing this trick once in 1993, they played it again in 1997. The Liberals are responsible for some of the worst cuts in the history of the CBC and caused thousands of job losses at the CBC.
I speak today from a position of credibility as a New Democrat when I say that what we need for the CBC is adequate, stable, multi-year funding to allow it to live up to its mandate. This needs to be done if we want a strong, independent public broadcaster. Canadians know that we are the only party that can make this happen.
There are very serious consequences to cutting back the CBC's funding over so many years the way both the Liberals and the Conservatives have done. We are starting to notice the effects of this new series of cuts when we hear about some of the CBC's best journalists leaving so that a younger colleague's job will be spared. We are told that the host of the show the fifth estate is leaving so it can keep on working with all its producers. We know that a lot of the effect of these cuts is still to come.
The news programs on the French network and on the English network are the victims of the latest cuts, which are jeopardizing the role that CBC plays in our democracy.
The show Enquête with Alain Gravel on Radio-Canada television is losing journalists and people who work behind the camera. Those same journalists, researchers, technicians and producers are the ones who invest time and resources into stories that other media outlets do not always pick up. It is thanks to those journalistic efforts that the public found out about the many instances of fraud and breach of trust we have seen in recent years.
Imagine for a moment that the Charbonneau commission never existed and that the sordid affairs that we are just starting to hear about were still the norm. Investing in a show like Enquête is very good for our society.
Since I am running out of time, I will skip ahead in my speech.
When it comes to the cuts to CBC, the other thing some people keep telling us and those concerned about the near future of the corporation is that if CBC needs adequate funding then it should come up with interesting programing. A member of the House said that. Is that not pathetic?
That is also what the minister keeps saying when we ask her the question. She says that CBC has to offer programming that appeals to Canadians. That type of answer illustrates just how far out of touch the Conservatives are with the reality of Quebec and the francophone community. I am sure that it is easy for them to forget, but Quebeckers watch shows from here and like the content produced here. The same goes for the large francophone community outside Quebec.
My office is in the Vieux-Longueuil neighbourhood, which is often the backdrop for television productions because the production companies are interested in their community. Providing us with a reflection of our society is precisely the invaluable role that CBC plays.
The public broadcaster is important to people across the country who are hoping to have an independent broadcaster that is provided with adequate, stable, multi-year funding so that it can fulfill its mandate while being sheltered from the uncertainties of the advertising market.
Despite the current shortcomings, we want to keep CBC even more than ever. When we think of the cuts in the media, especially when it comes to covering international news, when we think of this culture of scrutiny that could be lost because of a government that would do well to adopt that culture, we realize how important CBC is to us.
We care about CBC. Just think of its excellent, award-winning sports coverage, which is greatly appreciated. I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to mention the high-quality coverage Radio-Canada provided of the Olympics in excellent French.
We care about CBC. Just think about its educational role, which involves not only entertaining Canadians but also keeping them informed and making them better citizens who are more thoughtful and sometimes even more cultured. It is an unique mandate and no other broadcaster bears such a responsibility.
We care about CBC. Just think about the irreplaceable democratic role it plays in keeping an eye on our society, pointing out its overlooked realities and speaking on behalf of the voices that would otherwise not be heard. Unlike government broadcasters in other parts of the world, the role of our public broadcaster is not to be a spokesperson for those in power. On the contrary, its role is to keep an eye on the successive governments and the world of politics. We could use more of that, not less.
Over the past few weeks, 25,000 Canadians have joined the NDP in saying that they care about CBC. I urge another 25,000 to join us.
Mr. Speaker, I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from for his strong statement today and for his motion in support of the CBC.
For those who are watching this debate, this motion:
....calls on the government to: (a) reverse the $45 million in cuts for 2014-2015 in Budget 2012; and (b) provide adequate, stable, multi-year funding to the public broadcaster so that it can fulfill its mandate.
Let me just say first of all why we need a CBC. I want to begin with a quote from Canadian producer and director Peter Raymont. What he has said is:
I think the arts, arts programming on CBC English Television in particular, could really help revitalize the CBC. There's been very little arts programming on the CBC for quite a few years now. I think it's a great shame that the artists of Canada, the musicians and poets and writers and filmmakers of Canada haven't had their voices heard and their work seen on CBC television, and it's a vital part of Canadian culture and Canadian identity.
It is still very essential that Canadians share their stories. That is what the public broadcaster allows us to do. We need to be able to tell our stories, from every corner of this vast country, not just the big cities. I come from Toronto. My riding is Parkdale—High Park. However, we need to know the stories of big and small communities right across this country as part of our Canadian identity.
The government does not seem to like our Canadian institutions, whether it is Elections Canada, the Supreme Court, Canada Post, or now the CBC. These cuts seem to be part of a broader assault on our public institutions in Canada.
Let us face it: our national broadcaster is part of our nation-building. It is an important element of our country. We need to share our stories. There is no private sector replacement for what the CBC does. These cuts are preventing us from effectively telling our stories across this country.
What are the cuts I am talking about? The cuts we are talking about today are a direct result of the 2012 budget from the Conservatives. However, ever since coming to power, the Conservatives have had the CBC and Radio-Canada in their sites. They appointed Conservatives to top management positions and instructed them to literally take an axe to the institution.
As a direct result of the actions by the Conservative government now, but also previous Liberal governments, CBC/Radio-Canada has been weakened at the same time as it is trying to survive in an extremely competitive television market, and struggling to transform and keep up with the 21st century technology.
New Democrats question whether the CBC/Radio-Canada can actually fulfill its mandate under the current conditions, particularly in respect to the regions and minority language communities. We so badly need these voices to knit our country together and not allow us to build on our differences but rather to celebrate our differences.
It is disappointing that the new seems to be pursuing the Conservative approach of abandoning this important Canadian institution.
The NDP believes in the importance of our public broadcaster. CBC/Radio-Canada should have an adequate, stable budget that affords it a measure of predictability. This would make it less susceptible to the whims of the advertising market and less affected by political influence, I might say, because they would not have to be as concerned about the government of the day.
These cuts are having a huge impact on the staff at CBC. We are losing hundreds of young people, good people who are the future of our broadcasting, people who could make a huge difference for this country.
I want to just quote Linden MacIntyre, the host of the fifth estate, who is talking about the 657 people who will lose their jobs under these cuts.
He is someone who stepped down to save one more job of a young person. Mr. MacIntyre has been a Canadian treasure in his role as host of the fifth estate. He said:
...the 657 people are young, bright, talented and they represent the future of the CBC. If we start losing them at this point, we are losing the future. It's a tragedy, it's a human tragedy and it's an institutional tragedy and, I suppose it's not pushing it to say, it's a national tragedy.
I agree. I believe that these cuts to CBC are indeed a national tragedy. However, it is not just the Conservatives, as I said, who have been making these cuts. It should be said that while they were in power in the 1990s, the Liberals imposed cuts on CBC and Radio-Canada to the tune of $400 million, and almost 2,500 people lost their jobs. The Chrétien era is generally accepted as the time when the troubles of the CBC and Radio-Canada began. It is on this terrible history of cuts that we are seeing these further cuts by the Conservatives today.
What does this mean to our major broadcaster? As I said, young talent is being lost, but we are also losing voices of Canadians. We are losing regional programming and diverse programming across this country and we are dropping in our ranking around the world. Among the 18 major western countries, Canada ranks 16th, third from the bottom, in terms of per capita public funding for public broadcasters, just ahead of New Zealand and the United States. That is sad testimony to the lack of support given to our public broadcaster.
This is a very important issue right across this country, but in my community and in my riding of , it has been a huge issue. I have received hundreds and hundreds of emails, calls, and letters from community members who are very concerned about this series of cuts. I want to quote a couple of these letters. One of them, from a constituent named Joe, who is talking about now having advertising on CBC Radio. He writes:
I just heard the first ads on CBC Radio. Consider this a howl of outrage. Promise me the NDP will establish stable funding for the national public broadcaster so that we may be spared further erosion of this once-mighty institution. What's next, billboards on the side of the parliament buildings?
Joe can rest assured that the NDP will restore funding to the CBC.
I want to quote one other letter from a constituent named Cathy. She has copied me on a letter to the . This was about budget changes in 2012. She wrote to the Prime Minister:
Your disrespect for the intelligence of the Canadian people is transparent when you challenge the value of the CBC. At election time you suggested [you] would support continued funding for the CBC, but when handed a majority you've worked to de-construct an internationally respected network on the basis that it threatens your ideology. To lose the CBC or worse, make it a propaganda machine for any standing government is an offence to our democracy and evidence of your disassociation with the history of this vast nation and the irreplaceable role that the CBC has played in maintaining our ties as a nation. Decades of increasingly depleted funding and the staffing at upper echelons of Executive Officers prepared to dismantle the CBC, managing it as if it were a private company, continues to undermine the CBC's unique mandate to connect Canadians. Shame on you...
I thank Cathy for that letter, and I echo those words: Shame on the .
The NDP motion today is calling for stable, predictable, long-term funding for the CBC. Let us not attack our national broadcaster. Let us treasure it, preserve it, improve it, and leave it there for future generations for the benefit of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I certainly welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion put forth by my colleague from the NDP. It should be highlighted immediately that the relationship between the government and CBC/Radio-Canada is an arm's-length relationship, and there are good reasons for that. I am going to spend a bit of time clarifying exactly what the nature of that relationship is.
I will begin with a reminder of the origin of the CBC. When the corporation was created way back in 1936, Parliament provisioned for a great level of autonomy from government to ensure independence in its program decisions and freedom from the type of political interference the opposition is trying to display today. Since then, and over the years, the Broadcasting Act, the legislation governing the corporation, has been amended a number of times to adapt to the changing broadcasting landscape. These various amendments were made in full respect of the necessary arm's-length relationship between the CBC and the Government of Canada.
It is important to take a few moments to speak about how the board's strategic guidance impacts the CBC. However, first it is important to acknowledge that there is a relationship that is defined by the fundamental freedom of expression that is a cornerstone of our Canadian democracy.
The CBC's independence is explicitly underscored in three sections of the Broadcasting Act. It states:
The Corporation shall, in the pursuit of its objects and in the exercise of its powers, enjoy freedom of expression and journalistic, creative and programming independence.
The corporation reports to Parliament through the . It is governed by a board of directors comprising 12 individuals, including the chairperson and the president, who are appointed by the Governor in Council. The board provides overall stewardship of the corporation. It is responsible for the fulfillment of the mandate and for directing the business, activities, and affairs of the corporation. It holds its senior management accountable for its performance. It is also responsible for providing strategic guidance to the CBC.
The public broadcaster's current five-year strategic plan is an example of how the board interprets its public mandate and provides guidance to the CBC in developing media strategies, programming, and other initiatives.
The CBC's mandate states that:
(l) the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;
(m) the programming provided by the Corporation should
(i) be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,
(ii) reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,
(iii) actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,
(iv) 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,
(v) strive to be of equivalent quality in English and in French,
(vi) contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,
(vii) be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and
(viii) reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of [our country];
To provide Canadians with a wide range of Canadian cultural programs, the public broadcaster must provide content on multiple media platforms. Canadians expect to have access to media content at the time and place of their choosing, be it on mobile devices or on their television sets or with video on demand. They also want to contribute content, to participate, and be able to express their own personal opinions.
The CBC must strive to meet those needs by focusing on creating and delivering original and innovative high-quality Canadian content, by reflecting and bringing together Canadians with regional and national programming, and by engaging with Canadian audiences through special events such as town halls. Most importantly, the CBC must strive to be cost-effective, transparent, and accountable, which is something I hope the leader of the NDP is going to be at committee in about 10 minutes. The CBC must offer high-quality national programs that inform, enlighten, and entertain Canadians, just as its mandate requires it to do.
The CBC carves out spaces, forums, and opportunities for Canadians to connect with one another to share stories, experiences, and opinions. It must maintain and, where applicable, increase its presence in regions, and it must continue to do so in an innovative fashion, using all or some of its various services, depending on specific circumstances.
It must seek to reach communities that do not have access to many channels or cultural services. It also offers news programming produced in each particular region. The CBC has expanded its reach into underserved communities, such as Kelowna, Hamilton, the northern suburbs of Montreal, and Newfoundland.
The CBC is also investing in digital programming and is recognized as a leader in digital offerings with its news websites and with innovative applications such as TOU.TV and the CBC Music web portal. The corporation now offers a broad suite of digital programming that can be accessible to Canadians when and as they want it.
Digital programming can also mean an increased presence in regions. The corporation must continue to strive to be present in regions with digital media and offer Canadian content during prime time.
Like all broadcasters, the corporation continues to seek to diversify and to increase revenues. The CBC should continue to form partnerships and pursue other avenues to maximize its resources.
The corporation is responsible for establishing performance indicators to monitor how well, according to Canadians, its programming and services fulfill the main elements of its mandate. Our government strongly supports the emphasis the corporation is placing on measuring its performance, as it is imperative that all corporations demonstrate the results they achieve with Canadian taxpayer dollars.
In terms of meeting its specific mandate, according to recent surveys commissioned by the corporation, CBC's English- and French-language radio and television services scored an average of 8 out of 10 for being informative, enlightening, entertaining, and available on new platforms. When Canadians were asked how English and French services fare against the corporation's strategic priorities, it received an average of 8 out of 10 for being of high quality, distinctive, diversified, and reflecting all of Canada's regions.
Like all broadcasters, the corporation continues to measure audience share, revenue, subscribers, production costs, and adoption of its new platforms. It is noteworthy that results include the performance of French television, its network radio services, and its progress on digital platforms.
On the other hand, the CBC must find ways of attracting Canadians aged 25 to 54, a demographic that has slipped from the corporation and is continuing to slip. It is a key demographic sought by all television advertisers. It is its decline in viewership and the decline of advertising revenue that is first and foremost causing these challenges at the CBC.
To conclude this example of governance, it is critical to underscore that the corporation is responsible for its day-to-day operations, including its strategic objectives, and it is up to CBC, in terms of those objectives, to ensure that its strategic plans are fulfilled and the needs of Canadians are met.
The president, as chief executive officer at the head of the senior executive team, is responsible for the overall management of the corporation. He at this point is accountable to the board of directors for the efficient operation of the corporation in accordance with the plans and priorities established by the board itself.
The board of directors has a proper mix of skills and experience to actually manage the CBC, and it is their responsibility to ensure it fulfills its mandate. Considering the legislative framework and regulations surrounding the broadcasting sector, it is also important to know that the board fulfills its roles and its responsibilities. The board has the knowledge, skills, and experience required to do a proper job in the legal, media, accounting, community, and business sectors.
I would now like to get back to the nature of the arm's-length relationship with the government and what it means in terms of accountability to Parliament and, most importantly, to the Canadian public.
The Financial Administration Act governs the administration of public funds. Part of the act provides a broad and accountable framework through which most crown corporations normally engage with the government. However, in this case, the CBC is exempted from some sections of part X of the Financial Administration Act.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation shares this exemption with a very select number of crown corporations. This exemption was put in place to ensure that some cultural activities and decisions are free from political involvement.
While this exemption from portions of the Financial Administration Act give the corporation a high level of autonomy from government, it still must comply with key reporting requirements that apply to all federal corporations as well as comply with the Broadcasting Act, which is its own legislation, or other legislation such as the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, and labour laws, among others.
Every year the corporation informs government what it intends to do by submitting to the responsible minister, for information only, a corporate plan with a five-year outlook. A summary of the plan and the annual operating and capital budgets are tabled each and every year before Parliament.
Like every other broadcaster in Canada, the CBC has to comply with regulations set by the CRTC. In addition, the CRTC establishes specific licensing conditions for the CBC and Radio-Canada television and radio services in order to encourage the national public broadcaster to deliver on key elements of its mandate and contribute to a strong Canadian broadcasting system.
To give even more strength to the crown corporation's accountability to Canadians, our government in 2007 expanded the scope of the Access to Information Act so that more federal organizations, including the CBC, are required to respond to information requests. It also brought the corporation under proactive disclosure requirements, which means that the travel and hospitality expenses of its executives and members of its board must be published online on a quarterly basis. We expect the CBC to fully comply with the requirements under that act.
We went even further to encourage an exchange between Canadians and the board of crown corporations. To encourage the CBC to engage directly with Canadians and to provide Canadians with an opportunity to speak with the boards, in 2009 our government added requirements to the Financial Administration Act that crown corporations hold annual public meetings. The purpose of these public meetings is to give the public an opportunity to witness, to ask questions, and to express concerns on the programming direction, the fiscal management, and the overall stewardship of the CBC.
As principal stewards of the corporation, the chair, the president and chief executive officer, and the chief financial officer must attend board meetings. They are expected to speak to the plans and spending of the corporation over the previous year and to its future direction.
There are also mechanisms for Canadians to pursue complaints about CBC/Radio-Canada's news or public affairs coverage. They can contact the corporation directly through any of its stations or through the head office here in Ottawa.
CBC ombudsmen review complaints regarding all of the areas upon which Canadians seek clarification or register a complaint. They do so regarding journalistic and current affairs material. The ombudsmen determine whether the journalistic process or the radio, television, or Internet content involved in a complaint does in fact violate the corporation's journalistic policies.
The ombudsmen are independent of the corporation's program staff and its management. After investigating complaints, the ombudsmen report their findings directly to the president and CEO of the CBC through to its board of directors.
Our government believes it is important that Canadians have direct avenues to hold the CBC to account. The CBC receives a significant amount of funding from taxpayers, over $1 billion each and every year, from the budget that Canadian taxpayers fund to run the Government of Canada and its subsidiary organizations. It receives both direct and indirect funding. It is sufficient, as the president and the chair of the board of directors have acknowledged, to fulfill its public mandate to reach Canadians as described in the Broadcasting Act.
Canadian audiences now have a number of electronic high-tech devices and hundreds of television and radio services that allow greater freedom to choose and access the content that they want.
The CBC must continue to invest in programs and platforms that Canadians want to invest their time in watching. It has the independence to decide how best to invest the funds that it receives from taxpayers, through Parliament, to achieve its mandate.
The corporation has operated and will continue to operate at arm's length from government. The corporation's reporting obligations are necessary to ensure the CBC remains accountable to all Canadians and delivers quality programming that Canadians want to enjoy.
As I conclude, it is imperative that Canadians understand that when we went through an extremely difficult time of a global recession in 2008 and 2009, this government was in a position to be able to respond to what was happening within this country and around the world in a way that put people to work, in a way that created investments in this country, in a way that was able to put us in a position far superior to those of most other countries in the world in terms of working through that recession.
Part of what we asked of every single department, ministry, and corporation was to participate in ensuring that we brought the Canadian government and its subsidiaries back to a balanced position in a responsible and productive way that allowed those corporations, those arm's-length agencies, as well as our ministries and departments in a fashion that was accommodating to them and that would both maintain the delivery of service in this country and enable us to reach a balanced budget. We did not ask any one ministry or corporation to do more than another. We asked all to join and do the same in a prescribed and determined effort to get this country back in a state of a positive budgetary process and a state of positive management, understanding, and style that are allowing us in the very near future to go back into balanced budgets in a way that no other government has done before under its mission and determination.
If we go across the country and ask Canadians on an individual basis, they would say that the delivery of service they are receiving from the federal government has not changed and has in fact improved since 2006.
Under that mandate, the CBC is working, is determined, and is giving every effort that it possibly can to join with the government and Canadians to ensure that its product is top notch, is one that people understand, and is one that they understand has a financial capacity and accountability.
I would tell the House today that the CBC is doing its job. There is no doubt that it is struggling. The mandate upon which it was structured, which was based upon how people interpreted broadcasting in 1936, is completely different in 2014. There is not an entity or corporation that delivers this type of service that is not struggling and is not determined to find a way to work through the issues of viewership and the demand the public is putting forward today onto those who provide those services.
The CBC is doing its job. We should continue to let it do its job and understand and fulfill its mandate.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House today to speak about CBC/Radio-Canada, for very important reasons. Our public broadcaster has been a stalwart for this country in building its culture from coast to coast to coast. I have always said that people say CBC is vital for regional programming, where it has served for many years.
We have parallel situations, of course. We have the private sector and we have the public sector, meaning the CBC. When we look at many of the smaller markets where the private sector could not survive on its own, the CBC provided that vital service. I speak specifically of CBC North as a prime example. In my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, it provided a service in Labrador in places where it was not obtainable through the private sector.
As I look back at both Radio-Canada and the CBC, I look at how they provided a national conversation and a national understanding. Before the days when we could talk to each other with a small mobile device, our way of communicating with each other was through a public broadcaster.
I remember as a child growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s watching the CBC. There was no thousand-channel universe at that point, and we did not have a computer or the Internet to use; television and radio were the only ways. Therefore, our conversation took place through the viewing of television and the making of documentaries and information programming, primarily provided by the CBC. There were no specialty channels back then, so we had our main broadcast channels, such as CTV, Global, and the affiliate, and we had the CBC and its regional station in addition to the American broadcasters, which came over the border and through cable.
At the time, I remember watching the traditions of organ-making for churches in Quebec. I had never really known about it. I remember writing about it in high school. I wrote about how Quebec was famous worldwide for developing these large pipe organs in churches. I had not known that. Here I was, a young child in Newfoundland and Labrador, learning about what was a tradition in the province of Quebec. I learned about Bonhomme and the Carnaval de Québec through CBC. I was not in Quebec, but I learned about it.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, I learned about the majestic mountains of British Columbia through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I also learned about Canada's north and the 24-hour sun, the 24-hour daylight, through the CBC.
In the course of growing up in a small province on the eastern coast of this country, on a small island, in the days when communications were not as prolific as they are now and certainly not prevalent by any stretch, all we had were three or four channels. The CBC was my window to my country. Not only was it the ability to see the country; it was the ability to converse with the rest of the country.
Later, when I grew up, I joined the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. I joined the air cadets and got to see the country that I had seen on television. I travelled to Alberta. I travelled to Nova Scotia and these areas. I had a genuine interest in doing that because I had seen the country laid out in front of me on a small television screen. I got to see the majestic mountains of both western Alberta and British Columbia in person, and I was astounded by them. If it had not been for our national public broadcaster, I never would have really appreciated what I was about to see, and I never would have had a genuine interest to see it.
This is what our public broadcaster has done. Through the years, it has provided us with a yearning to be Canadian in all facets of this country.
Let us not forget one of the greatest institutions alive in this country. That is Hockey Night in Canada. It was formerly La Soirée du hockey.
For a child growing up in Newfoundland and Labrador, the upbringing was not that much different from growing up in Trois-Rivières. I grew up in the small town of Bishop's Falls. On Saturday, I would go and play hockey at the local arena, but I certainly would not miss Hockey Night in Canada. I am sure for kids growing up in Trois-Rivières, Saint-Jean, or other small towns in Quebec, it certainly would not have been dissimilar.
Our public broadcaster united us in what we had a passion for, whether we were children, teenagers, or adults, as we are today. However, the public broadcaster has had challenges. It has had budgetary challenges through the years, as the Government of Canada has had budgetary challenges over the years. I could say the same for the National Film Board, given what it is going through.
What we must not forget is the genuine understanding that our public broadcaster, CBC/Radio-Canada, is still vital to us today to make sure we share these conversations across this country. We want to know what is happening in Canada's north. We want to see what is happening in Canada's north. We want to hear what is happening in Canada's north.
Let us not forget another element of CBC/Radio-Canada. We pushed Canada out to the world through short wave radio service for many years. We were a pillar for shortwave radio, with our ability to communicate around the world and spread our message to billions of people in China or India and throughout the United States of America. We had a service similar to its public radio, NPR, but ours was more challenging because we only have 30 million people right now, and in those days we had about 20 million people, trying to support this service that went from coast to coast to coast.
Let me go back to my original point. It is not just about having local stations, which are very vital and important, but what the CBC did, secondly and just as importantly, was allow a small child in Newfoundland and Labrador to experience the country through French Canadians in Quebec, French Canadians in New Brunswick, English Canadians in British Columbia and Alberta, and of course through many aboriginal groups across this country. The conversation was shared.
There are institutions in this country that are famous, and not just by themselves. Let me use an example I used previously, the Carnaval in Quebec City. It is a fantastic event. Its mascot, Bonhomme, is famous. It is not just a Quebec phenomenon. I always wanted to meet Bonhomme, and I had never been to Quebec at that point.
Many citizens in this country want to meet Bonhomme, and they know Bonhomme because of our public broadcaster. That is why. It is because we had a conversation between French Canada and English Canada. In doing so, we got to share its triumphs, such as last night, when the Montreal Canadiens won game seven. That is not a bad admission, given the fact that I am Boston Bruins fan.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Scott Simms: Do not boo, because we lost. Seriously, we cannot rub it in any more than what it is. That is the passion we share.
As a child, I loved watching baseball. If I could bring the Montreal Expos back, I would bring them back tomorrow. God love them. The issue is not just about baseball or the Carnaval or the hockey that we share. The issue here, if I may steal something from a Canadian intellectual, the late Marshall McLuhan, is that the medium is the message.
Today, that is exactly why we are debating this. It is the medium that brought us the message of Canada. That medium is not just about radio, not just about television, not just about the Net or any social media out there, but it is about the existence of public broadcasting.
What worries me is there is a change in ideology. I know that once I sit down, I will be questioned about cuts that happened in the 1990s. I am well aware of that. There were budgetary constraints. The Liberals were under pressure to wrestle a massive deficit and tough decisions were made. It was not just the CBC that was affected. Other tough decisions had to be made as well. However, we never lost sight of the fact that public broadcasting was vital to our country. Funding was stabilized once the budget was back into balance.
What worries me, however, and I hope it is highlighted in this debate, is an ideology is creeping in that dictates, “Why should I pay for public broadcasting when private broadcasting can fill that space?” Through you, Mr. Speaker, to all my colleagues in the House, that is the most dangerous attitude we can have against any semblance of public broadcasting.
I believe that our private broadcasters are doing a wonderful service to our country. They donate to the Canada Media Fund, which is a wonderful program providing movies, documentaries, and funding for all these things that tell our story, not only to each other but to the world. However, our public broadcasting is incredibly sacrosanct.
I would like to talk about some of the issues of recent time. I noticed the motion itself calls for multi-year funding to the public broadcasters so it can fulfill its mandate. Indeed, in the last couple of elections we talked about that. It is really the only way we can go about doing this. The BBC does it, and it does it well. If members noticed, some of the best programming in drama is now coming from the BBC, a public broadcaster. One of the greatest worldwide news services, the most respected, is the BBC. We must look to other models around the world, and the BBC is one example, especially when it comes to multi-year funding.
I want to talk briefly about CBC/Radio-Canada and its history through the years.
It has been said that through 1920s, there was a proliferation of private radio stations in our country, but we also had a lot of private radio stations streaming across the border. The origins of public broadcasting are not dissimilar from the origins of public broadcasting around the world, which is to say that we need to protect our message here. This is becoming more difficult because of the regulations in place to help protect our Canadian culture, like Canadian content rules allowing certain channels on the satellite spectrum. There are certain regulations, but a lot of people are now able to get around that because of technology.
By way of example, there is Netfllix, or what is called an over-the-top broadcaster, essentially, through the Internet, because the CRTC does not regulate the Internet. Therefore, content is now streamed through our computers. We can get copies from iTunes and these sorts of things. There is a fundamental shift in content and how we deal with content now. We will have to subsidize content in the future, but in the meantime, the CBC started with the very basics of protecting our own culture.
In 1928, it established a royal commission to advise on the future of broadcasting in Canada.
Going ahead to the 1940s, the national public broadcaster took off.
In 1941, CBC news service was formally opened. Radio-Canada's news division was also created. As the next decade approached, getting into the 1950s, television was on the horizon and CBC/Radio-Canada was preparing.
In 1947, the corporation presented a 15-year plan for the development of television in Canada.
Throughout the 1950s, CBLT Toronto and CBFT Montreal began broadcasting.
In 1955, television services were available to 66% of the Canadian population. That is a pretty big goal and accomplishment for a country with a few million people, the second-largest country in the world, and most of this stuff was over-the-air transmissions.
In the 1960s, the regulatory framework was refined. The CRTC formally took over as the regulator. Before that, the CBC handled it.
In 1968, the new Broadcasting Act confirmed CBC/Radio-Canada's role in providing the national service. Therefore, 1968 was the year when we said that we had a national broadcaster, a public broadcaster, and, therefore, it should be enshrined and protected.
Recently, however, due to cuts, the CBC had to make some fundamental decisions on its service. It had to manage $390 million in financial pressures since 2009. Overall, these reductions have affected the equivalent of 2,107 full-time positions.
We talked about some of the numbers earlier in this debate. For people are just tuning in now, I would like to repeat some of those numbers because it is very vital that we do so. A lot of people think we may spend too much on public broadcasting, but let us put it into perspective. Each Canadian pays $29 per year for the combined services, CBC/Radio-Canada, but the worldwide average in other nations is $82. Of the 18 countries that invest heavily in public broadcasting, we are at number 16. Therefore, there is room to grow.
Again, I go back to what was in the original motion. We also have to provide a model for multi-year funding.
The services offered now to Canadians include 88 radio stations, 27 television stations, three all-digital services, two specialty television news services, RDI, CBC News Network , three other specialty television services, and 11 other services, including music channels and services in two official languages across six time zones. Therefore, we get the vastness of what our public broadcaster has to accomplish.
The 1980s saw a tremendous growth in the number of private and specialty channels. We went from a four- or five-channel universe to about a 60-channel universe in the 1980s, with American channels being the most prolific at the time, the CNNs of the world. We followed suit with Newsworld, which it was called at the time, the CBC component of an all-news channel. CTV did much the same. We had TSN as well as the Weather Network, MétéoMedia en français.
The corporation continues to push ahead this multi-channel universe. Throughout the 1990s, it was much of the same. All of a sudden we find ourselves now in the proliferation of not just channels but platforms. Therefore, we move into the digital world, providing content. The way we consume our entertainment through digital devices has changed dramatically. Tonight's Hockey Night in Canada starts at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. Newfoundland time.
Basically, we are moving out of making appointments to see entertainment. What we are doing now is downloading content in our digital world. Whether it is to save it to view it another time or to stream it from a cloud or from the central service that is provided. CBC, our public broadcaster, has to fit its way into that.
However, what is interesting about that is it also provides a great deal of opportunities. Through one of these providers, lately I have downloaded—and paid for it, I might add—several programs that originated with the BBC. One has to wonder, with the BBC providing this content, if we could do much the same.
However, we have to get serious about content, and that is a conversation and a debate we should have in the future about not only the CBC but the National Film Board and the Canada Media Fund. We can look at Canadian content.
I thank the hon. member for for bringing forward the motion. I hope the debate will be a fruitful one, despite the vote. We pretty much know how the vote will go, but in the course of this conversation, we can talk about fundamental reasons why we like our public broadcaster and how we can improve it, given technology today.
Mr. Speaker, what an honour it is to rise today in the House to speak to a fantastic motion on the CBC, moved by my party, the NDP. People may not know this, but I am a journalist by training. I will share my time with the great member for .
This is about information and freedom of the press, as well as the extraordinary work done by journalists, whose situation is becoming increasingly precarious. Friends often tell me just how difficult it is to be a journalist every day, on many levels. Today, frankly, 10 minutes will not be enough time to say how much the NDP wants to support them and that we care about the CBC and we believe in it.
My colleagues spoke a little about what the CBC means to them. Personally, I am a big fan of Radio-Canada. I watch programs like Enquête and Découvertes. I also listen to radio programs. I could not go without mentioning À la semaine prochaîne, a funny political program that helps me take things a little less seriously each week, when we find that the Conservatives are steamrolling over us.
I rise in the House to support this NDP motion that reminds us that the CBC plays a fundamental role in informing, entertaining and uniting Canadians from coast to coast to coast. This role has been jeopardized, mainly because of the many rounds of cuts in the past 20 years, which is why we are asking the government to reverse the $45 million in cuts for 2014-15 in budget 2012 and provide adequate, stable, multi-year funding to the public broadcaster so that it can fulfill its mandate.
For the third time in four years, the CBC has announced significant budget cuts of over $130 million, which translates into 657 positions. Eleven positions will be cut in Québec, my riding. The CBC's situation is so precarious and difficult that 11 positions in Québec are threatened.
The CBC is at the heart of our cultural ecosystem. It broadcasts programs that are made here and acts as a showcase for creators in all sorts of disciplines. The CBC is also a partner in broadcasting many arts events.
Given these cuts, we are wondering whether the CBC will be able to fulfill its mandate, particularly when it comes to Canada's regions and linguistic minority communities. I am particularly concerned about the regions and linguistic minority communities. They will be harder hit by these cuts, to the point where it will be difficult for them to recover because of the problems the cuts will cause.
In this era of media concentration and cross-media ownership, Canadians need to be able to count on an independent and impartial source of information. We cannot stress enough how important this is. We have seen the importance of public broadcasting in recent years. Without shows such as Enquête, the Charbonneau commission would never have happened. This is one of the most striking examples of the strong and meaningful contribution the CBC makes to our country's democratic health.
Democracy can never be taken for granted. We work every day to make it real and meaningful. That includes freedom of the press.
I would like to make another important point. I read Time for Outrage! by the late Stéphane Hessel. In it, he said that any attack on freedom of the press, or an independent press, erodes the health of our democracy. It is really a step in the wrong direction. Sometimes, we come to this realization too late.
That is why we are sending out a warning today. The government needs to wake up. Today, we want people across Canada to understand this motion and join their voices with ours because it is important to stand up and say, in social media and other forums, that we care about the CBC. One more opinion is never one too many. That is part of democracy.
Alain Gravel, a journalist and the host of the television show Enquête, said:
Today, about 25 people make up the Enquête team. That may seem like a lot, but it is not too many for what we do. We do not keep track of our hours and everyone who works here is extremely dedicated. Conducting investigations takes time and an organizational structure that supports our work. Losing staff will definitely have an impact on our work.
Mr. Gravel goes on to say:
We, along with other investigative news teams, have helped to save Canadians tens of millions of dollars by uncovering corruption [which can happen at any time]. The first year we did the show, the City of Montreal announced that the cost of major public projects had dropped by 30% even before the police had investigated, simply through the power of information.
Alex Levasseur, president of the Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada, said:
At the end of the day, it is the younger people who will have to leave. However..., when all is said and done..., this means cutting a team that works and delivers results.
The Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec wants a public debate on the CBC's role. Brian Myles, vice-president of the FPJQ, said:
It seems the Conservative government wants to let the CBC die a slow death.
One cut at a time. This is the third time, and that is why we are saying enough is enough.
Actually, ever since they came to power, the Conservatives have been targeting the CBC. Everyone can see that. They appointed Conservatives to top management positions and basically instructed them to take an axe to the institution.
The CBC sports service has also been hard hit by cuts. Fifty hours of original sports programming are being cut. The CBC used to take a special interest in amateur sports. When Louis Lalande, executive vice-president of the CBC's French-language services, was asked about future broadcasts of the games of Université Laval's football team, Rouge et Or, he did not seem very optimistic in his answer:
It will be very difficult because we can no longer afford to have the same level of daytime programming as we do now.
The CBC is one of the least subsidized public broadcasters in the world. The CBC costs every Canadian $29 a year, whereas the BBC, for instance, receives about $111 per capita. That is unbelievable. Our broadcaster is one of the least subsidized broadcasters.
I look at the figures, and when we compare ourselves to other countries, the difference is unbelievable. Our broadcaster is receiving less and less funding. Of course this will affect the quality of information and Canadians' access to this information. That is what bothers me the most. The Conservatives are not able to understand that informed citizens are citizens who actively participate in their democracy, and that is what we want.
There needs to be more public education so that people can react to what is happening. We know that the Conservatives are out to destroy that because they do not want to be challenged. This situation is the result of the Conservative and Liberal governments gradually abandoning our public broadcaster.
The NDP feels that public broadcasting is important. Our motion is not asking for more funding, far from it. Instead, we want to stop the cuts so that the corporation can receive stable, adequate and predictable funding.
By making its budget more predictable, CBC would be able to cope with fluctuations in the current market. In return, we will continue to expect the corporation to meet the highest management and accountability standards, as is the case with all other crown corporations.
We can never stress enough how important it is to support our public broadcaster. The people at CBC have my full support, and I invite all Canadians to express how much they care about CBC. They should contact their MP and tell him or her that it is important to support our journalists.
Mr. Speaker, the CBC is Canadian stories. It is our voice. It is our sovereignty.
My first encounter with the CBC was in 1975 in Saint-Lazare, Quebec. As an anglophone Quebecer, the CBC and CTV were our two channels, other than the American channels we got. During the day, there would be game shows and soap operas on CTV, but on CBC, there was a funny man who drew pictures, dressed up, and talked to puppets. For a four-year-old kid, Ernie Coombs was the cat's meow.
Ernie Coombs fostered in me a love of art and a love of drama. He taught me things. He taught me good Canadian values. From that first encounter with that black and white TV set, I learned what it was to be Canadian and what it was to be an anglophone in Quebec. I learned the value of the CBC at that point.
In 1981, my grandfather St-Maurice's hotel in Quebec City burned down and he lost all his money and had to move in with my parents. Our TV programming underwent a shift at prime time. We were a family that liked sitcoms and American TV. We liked to laugh together. However, my grandfather liked les Canadiens de Montréal and les Expos de Montréal , so all of a sudden, we began watching CBC Hockey Night in Canada quite religiously. The transition took a bit of time, but I learned to love the theme song of Hockey Night in Canada and I learned to love the times we spent together as a family watching the games.
I am reminded that I went to my family last night and watched game seven of the Habs and the Bruins. There is a long tradition of matchups between these two teams. The can pretend that he is with the Habs, but he and his government, to me, act more like Boston. Here we have a team that is bullying, brutish, and, as we saw last night, desperate. When it is losing, it does not play a valiant game. It roughs up people against the boards.
While we are here, our party is defending the public broadcaster, and the Conservatives are piling up on our leader in this very House, pulling a Chara.
Hockey Night in Canada is a symbol of our cultural sovereignty. With budget cuts that have been made, the CBC could no longer compete for the contract for the NHL, because for a long time, at least 20 years, it had had challenges in its funding.
My colleague from mentioned the 1990s and the $400 million in cuts the Liberals made, but I would like to mention something more recent. In 2003, Clifford Lincoln, the member for Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis, prepared a report called “Our Cultural Sovereignty: The Second Century of Canadian Broadcasting”. This report recommended that the CBC get multiple-year stable funding. The Liberals had two years to do this. They had two full years to implement the recommendations in Mr. Lincoln's report. It was a parliamentary committee that prepared that report. However, we know the record of Paul Martin, and we know that he and his government had no understanding of the importance of the public broadcaster. Paul Martin, in the 1990s, cut $400 million at a time when the CBC faced the challenges of exploding channels and platforms. The Liberals could have prepared for the future, but instead, they cut the legs of the public broadcaster.
To return to my family and the 1990s, I remember sharing Radio One with my father. We would listen to the radio. We would listen to people like Rex Murphy , L. Ian MacDonald, and Bernie St-Laurent. We can agree or disagree with these political commentators, but there was public debate, ideas, and stories.
I mentioned at the beginning of my speech that I was an anglophone. My father, William Nicholls, was an anglophone as well. He was not a man who watched sports games. He listened to the CBC. He listened to the radio, and he listened to the public broadcaster for information, because my father was a dropout. His father was a town planner for the town of Pointe-Claire. His father passed away when he was 17, so he had to take care of his mother and his mentally challenged brother and never finished high school, yet this was the man who was my foil and my debating partner.
My father, who was a Tory, with a disdain for Pierre Trudeau, and who was from a family of Tories, loved the CBC, because it was public debate. It was political ideas. He could shout at the radio about something he did not agree with, but we were talking about these issues. He was a critical thinker, and when he did not agree with something, he debated it. He debated, he spoke about it, and we would talk as a family about ideas. We would argue ideas. He did not shut down debate. He was not afraid of debate. He was not afraid of being challenged. He would never have identified with the party across the way. He would have been like Flora MacDonald. He would be supporting our party these days, seeing that the NDP is the only reliable one left standing to protect our public broadcaster, the only one reliable and trustworthy enough to defend our cultural sovereignty and the right to tell Canadian stories.
We are not just paying lip service here. This is not just a market-oriented decision being made. This is changing the fabric of Canadian sovereignty by crippling what has built our identity for generations. We are not just saving money or making economies of scale here; we are actually destroying institutions that have built for generations our Canadian identity.
I know that some members of the government party believe that the CBC is biased. This has always been an argument. I mentioned that my father would sometimes argue with what people said on the radio or television. My grandfather did as well. He was from a different political persuasion as well. However, we had discussions about politics and ideas.
I know the current government's position with respect to the CBC and its feeling about it, because I listened to the member for at the official languages committee. He had questions for Mr. Hubert Lacroix. He asked Mr. Lacroix about political bias in reporting and what he was going to do about it. Mr. Lacroix was talking about making efficiencies in his organization and budget cuts, yet the member for questioned him on political bias. Right there it became clear why these budget cuts were being made to the CBC. It was not because the CBC was not effective in its role. It was not because it was not effective in telling Canadian stories. It was simply because the CBC often runs stories that are embarrassing to the government.
Let us not beat around the bush. The current government does not like the news reporting service of the public broadcaster. It is so focused on its partisan agenda that it cannot see the wider picture of what this public broadcaster does. It cannot see the wider picture of how it goes beyond these nine years of Conservative governance or the 13 years of Liberal governance before. It goes beyond that. It skips generations and brings generations together by telling our stories and sharing our stories and ideas.
The CBC is our Canadian stories, our voice, and our sovereignty. I ask all members of this House to vote for this motion in order to save this institution for generations to come.
Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, our government recognizes the contribution that the CBC, as the national public broadcaster, plays in Canadian society. Some remote, aboriginal, and official language minority communities are served by the CBC for radio and television coverage. As members know, the CBC reaches Canadians across distances and backgrounds from across our great country and reflects that diversity to each other.
Specifically, the CBC is mandated to inform, enlighten, and entertain Canadian audiences and offer distinctively Canadian programming that contributes to an exchange and flow of cultural expression. That programming is expected to reflect Canada and all its regions to national and regional audiences while serving the needs of all the regions.
The CBC must strive to produce that programming of equal quality in both English and French as well as reflect the different needs of each official language community and English and French linguistic minorities. Moreover, the CBC/Radio-Canada is mandated to reflect the multicultural and multinational nature of Canada while contributing to a shared consciousness and identity.
Our national public broadcaster indeed has a broad mandate to fulfill. The CBC must, each and every day, reach Canadians using 30 television, radio, and digital services in both official languages, in eight aboriginal languages and in five languages on its international service.
The Broadcasting Act guarantees the CBC a degree of independence and freedom as an arm's-length crown corporation. This guarantee is based on the significance and importance of journalistic freedom in our democracy.
This freedom and independence of the CBC is stated multiple times in the Broadcasting Act, “...The Corporation shall, in the pursuit of its objects and in the exercise of its powers, enjoy freedom of expression and journalistic, creative and programming independence”. Our government continues to work with the CBC in a manner that respects these independence principles and allows it to fulfill its national cultural mandate. Members may ask why this freedom and independence is so important. In the context of the recent announcements made by the CBC President and CEO about program and staff reductions at the corporation, it is important to understand by whom, why, and how those decisions were made.
Our opposition colleagues have been alluding to reduced parliamentary funding as the source of the CBC's current financial difficulties. I would like to put that to rest once and for all. The business decisions announced by the CBC reflect the realities of its business decisions. This brings me to how these concepts of freedom and independence translate for the CBC, particularly given its current situation. Now this is important, and I implore the opposition to pay close attention to what I am going to say.
When Parliament created the CBC, in order to ensure that its freedom and independence would remain paramount to government managerial oversight, it was designed as a crown corporation. A key feature of a crown corporation is that while they are public policy instruments, they also operate at arm's length from government. As an arm's-length corporation, the CBC is responsible for its own operational decisions. It is governed by a board of directors whose decisions regarding the strategic governance and stewardship of the CBC's resources are made at arm's length from government.
The CBC receives substantial funding to meet its mandate under the Broadcasting Act. It is up to the CBC to provide programming in French and English that Canadians want. The choices in programs and services are made independently from government involvement.
The implementation of the board's choices and decisions are managed by the president and chief executive officer of the CBC who is responsible for directing and supervising staff, as well as CBC's day-to-day operations. The board is accountable to Parliament and to Canadians through the for the good governance and management of its resources.
Each year, Parliament provides financial support to the CBC totalling more than $1 billion for the corporation to deliver on its mandate and its core services. It is an incredibly significant amount of federal funding. In fact, it is the most funding that we provide to any federal cultural or heritage crown corporation and, as the CBC has stated, it is enough money for the corporation to fulfill its mandate.
I would also like to remind the House that the CBC also has access to other funding sources. Our government contributes over $130 million to the Canada media fund to join the contributions of the private broadcasting industry in order to support Canadian television programming and associated digital media content. Given its dedication to Canadian content, the CBC also benefits from allocations of about $90 million from the Canada media fund for investments in Canadian content programming. Its allocations represent over one-third of the total funding this program provides to broadcasters.
The amount the CBC or any other broadcaster is allocated depends on the performance of the programs and their digital innovations. This is to ensure that Canadians receive value for the investments we make on their behalf.
Another reason for establishing the CBC as a crown corporation is that while being owned by the crown and pursuing cultural objectives, it has a certain flexibility, similar to that of a private business, to operate in a commercial environment. For instance, the CBC can generate revenue through its assets and services and retain and reinvest that revenue in its activities and programming. Revenues are key in the funding model Parliament designed for the CBC. Federal funding represents almost 65% of the CBC's total budget, while revenues account for the remaining 35%. Of that amount of revenues, about half comes from television advertising revenues, another 10% from subscription revenues to its specialty services, and the rest from other revenue sources.
Given its mandate to reach all Canadians, and with revenues making up a significant amount of available funds, it is imperative that the CBC deliver programming that Canadians want to watch. This is an important point, because the current financial difficulties that the CBC is facing are due to a number of business factors that have reduced revenues. According to its president, the CBC's declining viewership in key demographics and ad revenues are causing these challenges.
Since the economic downturn of 2008-09, the television advertising market has rebounded, but it never fully recovered to previous levels. This is amplified by the CBC television program schedule's difficulty in attracting the 25- to 54-year-old age group for advertisers, making it harder for the corporation to attain revenue targets.
The industry has also seen a major shift, with advertisers spending much more on online ads than on radio. The combination of those revenue losses is the main contributor behind the $130 million shortfall for the CBC, according to Monsieur Lacroix, the president and CEO. To address this shortfall, the CBC decided to implement a number of program and staff reductions so that its spending in 2014-15 and beyond will match its revenues.
Our government is committed to balanced budgets across federal institutions, and the CBC must do its part like everyone else. Budgets do not balance themselves.
The individual program, service, and staff reduction decisions have been taken and are being implemented by the CBC separately from our government. We cannot direct the CBC to retain a certain number of journalists for investigative programs nor can we tell the CBC to open new stations if the CBC does not believe it is the best use of its own resources, nor would my opposition colleagues want us to have this ability.
The CBC's mandate includes a number of key elements that its programming should reflect, such as regions, our English and French bilingualism, aboriginal peoples, and multiculturalism. However, the way in which the CBC delivers programs and services in response to its mandate is with a great degree of independence from government.
We have heard that the board approved budget reductions that are being carried out strategically to move away from business that it can no longer afford, to focus on regional services by letting go of some local programs, to consolidate its advertising strategy across media lines and platforms, and other measures. On May 1, 2014, at the Standing Committee on Official Languages, Mr. Lacroix reiterated that tough choices had to be made in order to balance its 2014-15 budget while maintaining priority investments in Canadian content, regions, and digital.
The reality is that the CBC/Radio-Canada is facing the same challenges as every other broadcaster: fragmentation of audiences, new content consumption methods, increased competition, and so on. All broadcasters are striving to adapt to this constantly changing new reality. Large groups are being formed, new strategies tested, and broadcasters are looking for new ways to keep audiences. CBC/Radio-Canada is no exception, and must produce programming that Canadians actually want to watch. Our government provides CBC with over $1 billion each year to ensure that the CBC fulfills its obligations as Canada's national broadcaster and fulfills its mandate.
Further, when the CBC/Radio-Canada's licences were renewed last year, the CRTC granted the corporation greater flexibility and allowed it to broadcast advertising on Radio 2 and Espace Musique as way of increasing its revenues.
Our government expects that the CBC will offer Canadians programming that interests them, programming that they want to see and hear, the kind of viewing that we are seeing today as we watch the trying his best to explain why he used taxpayers' money for partisan political purposes.
I would like to summarize my address by stating that our government respects the CBC's decision-making autonomy with regard to its journalistic, programming, and service choices to operate within its budget. The CBC continues to receive over $1 billion in taxpayer funds.
Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the member for .
I listened to the member for 's comments about the CBC, and I do not think he understands the difference between private broadcasters and broadcasters owned by the government, which are crown corporations. When he was asked whether there was enough money, he did not respond with a yes or no. Instead he replied that the government gives the corporation a lot of money—about $1 billion.
The CBC has had its share of cuts in recent years. For example, in 1994, the Liberals cut $400 million from the CBC/Radio-Canada budget. The Liberals took $400 million from the CBC. When the Conservatives came to power, the cuts did not end. Last year's budget included $115 million in cuts over the following three years, in addition to the indexation of salaries and spending. This means that the CBC lost millions of dollars.
The CBC is a public crown corporation whose objective is to provide services to all Canadians. If not for the corporation, francophone minorities would have to do without a lot of things, including those from home. I am also thinking about Newfoundland and Labrador; Edmonton, Alberta; and Prince George, British Columbia. The CBC plays a big part in our culture, among other things, since it is a public television and radio broadcaster.
All other countries in the world think it is important to have a public broadcaster, and not just private channels whose owners can choose to align themselves with a particular political party. Public broadcasters are there to give us the news.
Let us look at who will be most affected by the 657 jobs eliminated at CBC/Radio-Canada. For example, seven jobs were eliminated in Moncton. RDI in Moncton had two reporters. If you cut one of those positions you are losing 50% of their reporting team. We lost the Espace musique music service altogether. It will not be found on CBC radio, since this was a Radio-Canada service.
In reality, the Conservatives do not care about the country's minorities, including francophones in the rest of the country. This was made clear when they voted against mandatory bilingualism for Supreme Court judges.
The Conservative Party does not believe in public television. It should be run like a business. I listened to the hon. member for , and I understood that the CBC should be run like a business. Oh yes. CN was sold to the private sector and now we have to fight to get money to keep the railway lines between Miramichi and Bathurst. CN is being run like a business. If we ran it like a business, we would put money in the bank. This is a public service for all Canadians across the country.
Canada is among the countries that do not pay much per capita for a public broadcaster, as compared to Europe. In fact, Canada is third from the bottom. Compared to various European countries, which pay up to $59 per person, Canada pays only $29, which is very low. Some countries pay over a dollar per person for their public television.
A good democracy is required to have public television. That is what I want Canadians to understand. If they were asked whether they would like cuts made to the CBC, I am certain they would say no.
If we were to ask Canadians if they want the government to cut the funding to CBC, I say they would say no.
We have a responsibility in Ottawa to support our public radio and television. A good democracy needs to have that. Other countries that do not have it are losing out on their democracy.
In Montreal, for example, the minority anglophones in Montreal and Quebec are happy to have CBC. They are happy to have CBC in Riviére-au-Renard en Gaspésie. They are happy to have CBC to bring the news into their homes. That is the responsibility of CBC.
However, the cuts made have not been done because Radio Canada is not running as a business. It is an arm's-length public corporation of the government. The arm is just as long as it is bent and one can touch it at the other end because we feel the cuts the government has made to CBC-Radio Canada today. People have been cut all across the country in stations where they could give the public the service it needs.
I have a little story about the French channel. One time, when the games were in Vancouver, I was in Prince George at that time listening to RDI. I know the president of CBC, Hubert Lacroix, is sick and tired of hearing this story, but I was watching the French channel and all of a sudden I decided to turn it to the CBC English channel. They were already on the boat going to Nanaimo with the flame. We were still on the tarmac waiting for the plane to open the door. People were missing. There was just a camera person there servicing Radio Canada.
That is why it is important to have this discussion today. We must take a look at our expectations of public broadcasting. Even the president of the CBC said so.
Under section 41 of part VII of the Official Languages Act, the government is responsible for promoting both official languages, communities and culture. Radio-Canada plays that role for our culture and our artists. However, with the cuts made by the government, Moncton has lost various shows, such as La Revue Acadienne, Luc et Luc and the Belle-Baie TV series.
All Canadians were able to get a glimpse of the Caraquet region of the Acadian peninsula in the Belle-Baie TV series. This series was in demand and was very good, but it was eliminated. We lost the local programming improvement fund, the LPIF, which used to support the corporation and its radio stations with money from cable companies. Which government was in power when we lost the fund? The Conservative government.
The Conservatives are the ones who made the cuts, and Canadians are suffering the consequences today. The people are the ones who are suffering.
We have to ask ourselves whether Canada wants a public broadcaster. Are we going to lose it just because the Conservatives do not like it?
We were in public, on TV, when the member for asked Hubert Lacroix, the president of the CBC, whether he felt the broadcaster was too liberal.
That was the real issue.
The question came from the Conservative member. His only question was whether the CBC was too liberal. Is that why we are going to lose our national public broadcaster?
He should instead ask Hubert Lacroix how the cuts are affecting the corporation, communities and specifically minority communities across the country. That is the job of the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Its job is not to figure out whether the CBC is too liberal, new democratic or conservative. I, for one, would be tempted to say that the private television networks are all conservative. That is life.
The government is going after the CBC. Last year, it cut $115 million. It did away with indexation and, today, we are paying for it. It is not just us here paying the price. We are all paying the price. Each and every Canadian is paying the price.
We hope that the government will change its mind and support CBC/Radio-Canada.
Mr. Speaker, CBC is an extremely important institution for all Canadians. As a public broadcaster, CBC has a unique role to play. I want to emphasize the word “unique” because it is a role that the private sector cannot play, and I have nothing against the private sector. The CBC's role is unique because it involves educating and informing Canadians, as well as promoting culture.
Unfortunately, we know that the Conservatives are not really willing to stand up and fight for information, education and culture. They do not really like to talk about those topics. That is likely why they have been making cuts to CBC for years now. This year alone, there have been nearly $130 million in cuts.
The cumulative effect that these cuts have had on both CBC and Radio-Canada has been absolutely devastating. A group of experienced French-language journalists at Radio-Canada said it better than I ever could. Before I read this quote, I would like to take a moment to commend everyone at Radio-Canada. Since being elected, I have gotten to know many of them and I am struck by how dedicated and professional they are.
This is what those journalists are saying:
As creators of French services, we are concerned about the erosion of the resources made available to us to provide a quality public service. With cuts after cuts, Radio-Canada is slowing dying. There is no denying it: in the past six years, close to 20% of the French news budget has been cut.
But we are reaching a breaking point. These cutbacks will of course affect our news programming. This is a direct attack on what makes us unique and sets us apart from the competition.
Coverage of international news, which was one of our strengths and a reflection of our openness to the world, is now in jeopardy.
Sports broadcasting is disappearing. The staff covering culture has been drastically cut.
A program like Enquête, without which the Charbonneau commission would not have happened, is one of the most striking examples of Radio-Canada's contribution to our country's democratic health. Without the resources we had, the revelations that saved tens of millions of dollars would have been impossible.
Clearly, Enquête, the program they mention here, is a good illustration of what is at stake. Obviously, there are costs associated with producing Enquête. However, the benefits far outweigh the costs, and we would not have those benefits if the journalists and researchers at Enquête were not given the resources they need to do their job.
The same is true for international news, as was mentioned earlier. We know that the private sector often does not have the resources to send correspondents abroad. However, the work that the public broadcaster's correspondents do abroad is essential to keep Canadians informed about what is going on in the world. This is increasingly important in the globalized world we live in, even though the Conservatives are trying to build walls around Canada and isolate us completely.
Other countries, and I think in particular of Great Britain where I lived for a few years, understand the importance of their public radio and television and give it the necessary means to do its job. Let me give a few examples: Great Britain, $97 per person per year; Norway, $180 per person per year; Germany, which is not this little weird country, generally knows how to manage things and does not throw money away, $124 per person per year.
The international average is $82 a year. The average for Canada is $29 a year. Here again we are at the bottom of the class.
When I asked a colleague a question earlier, I said it was 9¢ a day, but it is in fact 8¢ a day. Every Canadian gives 8¢ a day to our public broadcasting service, Radio-Canada/CBC. It is about one coffee a month, or something like that.
These countries understand that public radio and television play a role in creating a more healthy, a more vibrant, a better informed, and a better educated population. We all gain from this. That is why I do not consider paying for Radio-Canada/CBC a cost; I consider it an investment.
These countries understand that public radio and television are part of the public debate and are therefore an essential tool for democracy, but here again we are talking about culture, education, and information, which are not the Conservatives' strong suits. Unfortunately, democracy is not either, as we have seen the Conservative government trying to undermine our democracy again this week with the unfair elections act and repeatedly over the last few years.
It is not only under the Conservatives that the government has been eroding CBC/ Radio-Canada's capacity to fully play its role. It started well before. It started under the Liberals.
The gradual erosion of CBC and Radio-Canada's ability to fulfill their role, including the critical one of connecting with francophones across Canada and anglophone minorities in Quebec in particular, began under the Liberals. That role is integral to our national institutions.
We have to put an end to this erosion, this slow demise. We have to stop this death by a thousand cuts. We have to ensure that the CBC has the stable, adequate, multi-year funding it needs to function properly. It is not that complicated.
I would like to call on everyone and thank the thousands—not dozens or hundreds, but thousands—of people from Laurier—Sainte-Marie who have written to me about this. Together, let us save the CBC.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to stand in the House and speak on this motion that has been brought forward by a colleague of mine from the NDP.
The relationship between the government and CBC/Radio-Canada is an arm's-length relationship, and that is for good reason. I would like to spend some time to clarify the nature of that particular relationship.
I will begin with a reminder of the origins of CBC. When the corporation was created back in 1936, Parliament provided for a great level of autonomy from the government to ensure the independence of the corporation's broadcasting and programming decisions and its freedom from any political interference.
Since then and over the years, the Broadcasting Act, the legislation governing the corporation, has been amended a number of times to adapt to the changing broadcasting landscape. These various amendments were made in full respect of the necessity for an arm's-length relationship between CBC and the government of the day. It is a relationship that is defined fundamentally by freedom of expression, a cornerstone of Canadian democracy.
The CBC's independence is explicitly underscored in three sections of the Broadcasting Act:
The Corporation shall, in the pursuit of its objects and in the exercise of its powers, enjoy freedom of expression and journalistic, creative and programming independence.
The corporation reports to Parliament through the . It is governed by a board of directors consisting of 12 directors, including the chairperson and the president, who is appointed by the Governor in Council.
The board provides overall stewardship of the corporation. It is responsible for the fulfillment of the mandate and directing the business, activities, and affairs of the corporation. It holds its senior management accountable for its. It is also responsible for providing strategic guidance to the CBC. The public broadcaster's current five-year strategic plan is an example of the how the board interprets its public mandate and provides guidance to the CBC in developing media strategies, programming and other initiatives.
It is important to take a few moments to speak about how the board's strategic guidance impacts the CBC.
CBC's mandate states that:
...the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;
...the programming provided by the Corporation should:
i. be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,
ii. reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,
iii. actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,
iv. 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,
v. strive to be of equivalent quality in English and French,
vi. contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,
vii. be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and
viii. reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada.
In order to provide Canadians with a wide range of Canadian cultural programs, the public broadcaster must provide content on multiple media platforms. Canadians expect to have access to media content at the time and place of their choosing, be it on a mobile device or on their television set to video on demand. They also want to contribute content, to participate, and to be able to express their own opinions back to the corporation.
The CBC must strive to meet those needs by focusing on creating and delivering original and innovative high-quality Canadian content, by reflecting and bringing together Canadians in its regional and national programming, and by engaging with Canadian audiences through special events such as town halls. Most importantly, the CBC must strive to be cost-effective, transparent, and accountable.
The CBC must offer high-quality national programs that inform, enlighten, and entertain Canadians, just as its mandate requires it to do. The CBC carves out space, forums, or opportunities for Canadians to connect with one another and share stories, experiences, and opinions.
It must maintain and, where applicable, increase its presence in regions and must continue to do so in an innovation fashion, using all or some of the various services, depending on the specific circumstances. It must also seek to reach communities that do not have access to many channels or cultural services. It also offers news programming produced in the regions.
The CBC has recently expanded its reach to certain communities in our country, including Kelowna, Edmonton, Hamilton, and northern and southern suburbs of Montreal, as well as Newfoundland.
The CBC is also investing in the digital programming of its corporation. The CBC is already recognized as a leader in digital offering with its new websites and innovative applications, such as the CBC music web portal and others. The corporation now offers a broad suite of digital programming that can be accessed by Canadians when and how they want it. Digital programming can also mean an increased presence in the regions.
The corporation must continue to strive to be a presence in these regions in digital media and offering Canadian content at prime time, during the day. It must also continue to seek to diversify and to increase revenues.
The CBC should continue to form partnerships and pursue avenues to maximize its own resources. The corporation is responsible for establishing performance indicators to monitor how well, according to Canadians, its programming and services fill the main elements of its mandate.
Our government strongly supports the emphasis the corporation is placing on measuring its performance, as it is imperative that all corporations demonstrate the results they achieve using Canadian tax dollars.
In terms of meeting its mandate, according to a recent survey commissioned by the corporation, CBC's English and French language radio and television services scored an average of 8 out of 10 for being informative, enlightening, entertaining, and available on new platforms.
When asked how English and French services fare against the corporation's strategic priorities, it received an average, again, of about 8 out of 10 for being high-quality, distinctive, diverse, and reflective of Canada's regions.
Like all broadcasters, the corporation continues to measure audience share, revenues, subscribers, production costs, and adoption to new platforms. Noteworthy results include the performance of French television, its network radio services, and its process on digital platforms.
On the other hand, the CBC must find ways of attracting Canadians aged 25 to 54, which is a key demographic sought by television advertisers. It is in decline in viewership, and the decline of advertising revenue is causing a number of challenges for the corporation.
To conclude this example of governance, it is critical to underscore that the corporation is responsible for the day-to-day operations, including its strategic objectives. It is up to CBC to ensure its strategic plans are fulfilled and that they meet the needs of Canadians.
The president, as chief executive officer at the head of the senior executive team, is responsible for the overall management of the corporation. He is accountable to the board of directors for the efficient operation of the corporation in accordance with the plans and priorities established by the board.
The board of directors has a proper mix of skill and experience to manage the CBC and ensure it fulfills its mandate. Considering the legislative framework and regulations surrounding the broadcasting sector, it is also important that the board fulfill its roles and responsibilities. The board has the knowledge, skills, and experience required to do a proper job, including in the areas of media, legal, accounting, community, and business sectors.
I would like to get back now to the nature of the arm's-length relationship with government that the corporation has, and the terms of accountability that Parliament has in ensuring the accountability for the Canadian public.
As we know, the Financial Administration Act governs the administration of public funds, and part X of the act provides a broad accountability framework through which most crown corporations normally engage with the government. However, CBC is exempt from certain sections of part X of the Financial Administration Act. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation shares this exemption with a very few select crown corporations, and this exemption is put into place to ensure that some cultural activities and decisions are completely free of any political involvement. While this exemption from the portion of the Financial Administration Act gives the corporation a high level of autonomy from government, it still has to comply with key reporting requirements that apply to all federal crown corporations as well as under its own legislation, the Broadcasting Act, or under other legislation such as the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, and labour laws, among others.
Every year, the corporation informs government what it intends to do by submitting to the responsible minister, for information only, a corporate plan and a five-year outlook. A summary of the plan and the annual operating and capital budgets are tabled each year before Parliament.
Like every other broadcaster in Canada, the CBC has to comply with regulations set out by the CRTC. In addition, the CRTC established specific licensing conditions for the CBC and Radio-Canada television and radio services to encourage the national public broadcaster to deliver on key elements of its mandate and contribute to a strong Canadian broadcasting system.
To give even more strength to the crown corporation's accountability to Canadians, our government, in 2007, expanded the scope of the Access to Information Act so that more federal organizations, including the CBC, are required to respond to information requests. It also brought the corporation under a proactive disclosure requirement, which means that the travel and hospitality expenses of its executives and the members of its board of directors must be published online on a quarterly basis. We expect that the CBC will fully comply, and that it does fully comply, with the requirements under both of these acts.
We went even further to encourage an exchange between Canadians and the board of any crown corporation. To encourage the CBC to engage directly with Canadians, we provided Canadians with an opportunity to speak directly to the boards, including the board of CBC. In 2009, our government added the requirement in the Financial Administration Act that crown corporations hold annual public meetings. The purpose of the annual public meeting is to give the public an opportunity to ask questions and express concerns that they might have over the programming directions, the fiscal management, or the overall stewardship of CBC. As principal stewards of the corporation, the board must hold meetings attended by the chair and the president and chief executive officer, as well as the chief financial officer. They are expected to speak about the plans and the spending of the corporation over the previous year, and about its future direction.
There are also mechanisms for Canadians to pursue complaints about CBC or Radio-Canada news or public affairs coverage. They may contact the corporation directly through any of its stations or here at the head office in Ottawa. Where the complainant feels that the concern has not been resolved by the corporation, the complainant has the recourse of an ombudsman. There are two independent ombudsmen, one for the CBC's English side and one for the Radio-Canada French service. The ombudsmen act as an appeal authority for the complainants who are dissatisfied with the responses from the corporation's program staff or management. The ombudsmen review complaints regarding journalistic and current affairs material. The ombudsmen determine whether the journalistic process or the radio, television, or Internet content involved in the complaint does in fact violate the corporation's journalistic policies, and may subsequently recommend corrective action such as an on-air apology or some other type of follow-up.
The ombudsmen are independent of the corporation's program staff and management. After investigating complaints, the ombudsmen report their findings directly to the president and CEO of the CBC and, through him, to the board of directors. Hence, Canadians can expect that when the corporation's journalistic and public affairs policies are not respected, they have a recourse and an unbiased resolution method.
Our Conservative government believes it is important for Canadians to have direct avenues to hold CBC to account. The CBC receives a significant amount of funding from taxpayers. The more than $1.1 billion that the CBC receives in direct and indirect funding is sufficient to fulfill its public mandate to reach Canadians as prescribed under the Broadcasting Act.
As the House knows, Canadian audiences now have a number of high-tech electronic devices and hundreds of television and radio services that allow them greater freedom to choose and access the content they want. The CBC must continue to invest in the programs and platforms in which Canadians want to invest their time watching. It has the independence to decide how best to invest the funds received from Parliament in programming to achieve its mandate.
The corporation has always operated and will continue to operate at arm's length from any government. The corporation's reporting obligations are necessary to ensure that CBC remains accountable to all Canadians and delivers high-quality programming that Canadians want to enjoy.
Mr. Speaker, from the time many in this House can remember, there has been CBC/Radio-Canada. It has meant the national news at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., Hockey Night in Canada
, the Wayne and Shuster Comedy Hour
, Mr. Dressup
, Anne of Green Gables
, great dramatic series, and stars such as Eric Peterson, Gordon Pinsent, Mary Walsh, Tommy Hunter, and Cynthia Dale. We were and are able to be engaged by the news, to be enthralled by the drama, and to laugh at ourselves with the likes of Rick Mercer.
Today we have an important motion before this House, a motion that speaks to the survival of CBC/Radio-Canada. Our national broadcaster does indeed play a key role in informing, entertaining, and uniting Canadians. However, over the past 20 years, our precious CBC has been the victim of many rounds of cuts, whether it was the $400 million cut in 1995 by the Liberal finance minister or the $160 million in budget 2012, the CBC is now clearly wounded and staggering under the impact of these cuts. It has meant lost programming and lost jobs. In the last week, we have seen an additional loss of programming and jobs. Canadian productions such as Arctic Air are no more, and over 600 people have lost their jobs at the CBC. These are creative people who told our stories and added so much to our sense of community and culture.
There were always questions in regard to why there were such punitive cuts by this government and the previous one. I have an answer. It could be that the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada to inform Canadians upset government.
It is true that on this side of the House, the official opposition has felt the sting of exposing Conservative and Liberal corruption, and so too has the CBC. Whether it was the in-and-out scandal, illegal election fundraising, robocalls, the Senate scandal involving both Liberal and Conservative senators, temporary foreign workers, maligning a Supreme Court justice, or creating an unfair elections act, the government has been determined to undermine the CBC and its reporting mechanisms with witch hunts and budget cuts.
Today I want to speak on behalf of our national broadcaster and the immeasurable value that comes with providing sustained and stable funding for the CBC to fulfill its mandate, legislated by this House when that was a value we all held in common. That was before ideology trumped democracy, transparency, and giving every Canadian a voice.
The mandate of the CBC, and I quote from the Broadcasting Act of 1991, is to:
...provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;
(m) the programming provided by the corporation should
(i) be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,
(ii) reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,
(iii) actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,
(iv) 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,
(v) strive to be of equivalent quality in English and in French,
(iv) contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,
(vii) be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and
(viii) reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada;
Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time with the member for .
The Conservatives like to claim that the CBC operates at arm's length from the government as a crown corporation but at the same time have no problem hauling departmental officials from the CBC into committee to appear on behalf of the CBC. This happened at ethics committee and status of women, just to name a couple.
The has stood in this House to claim that the cuts to programming and staff at the CBC are a result of decisions the CBC made on its own, not the government, and that it is basically up to the CBC to keep up with the market and provide programming Canadians want to watch, as if the death by a thousand cuts that began with the Liberals has nothing to do with the government underfunding. It is a little like claiming that someone who walked away from the food store died from starvation because they refused to eat. It is technically true, but it misses the bigger picture by a country mile.
Over the past weeks and months I sat in the heritage committee and listened to Canadian musical artists, creators, performers, producers, and distributors speak on the issues faced by the Canadian music industry today. They all speak to the same sentiment that Lawren Harris acknowledged a century ago, in 1921, that the arts represent a fundamental building block in the identity of a country. He said, “The greatness of a country depends on three things: Its Words, its Deeds and its Art”.
We consistently hear arguments against public funding of the arts that go along the lines of, “Let the market decide”, “These are austere times”, “We need to focus on the fragile economy”, and “We don't want tax increases”. I have heard members of the Conservative Party at committee say things like, “I would love to be paid to play the violin” or “I'd love to be paid to play hockey”. However, we know that only a small percentage of people are paid to play hockey.
While I agree that it is the government's mandate to promote heritage, it is also the government's mandate to make sure that people make a living promoting that heritage. If it is not profitable, then why do music creators create?
What I have heard from the witnesses at committee is that these arguments leave out the very real and measurable benefits of creating a healthy, sustainable economy based on exploiting the gifts of every citizen, including those who create the art that defines us as Canadians and those who work to make it accessible worldwide. We consistently heard from expert witnesses in the study that the arts have value, not only for the pleasure they provide but for the real and substantial contribution they make to economic development in Canadian communities and right across the globe.
Refusing to recognize this fact is narrow-minded. Conservatives who hold to the idea that we cannot afford to invest in the arts or Liberals who cut funding in order to pad corporate tax breaks are being penny-wise and dollar foolish.
Mark Monahan of Bluesfest, in his April 29, testimony to the heritage committee, stated that the one thing missing from the federal funding picture right now is the focus on economic development with existing funding for the arts. Those funds are not really focusing on the deliverables like economic development and tourism.
On May 6, Tracy Jenkins of Lula Lounge stated:
...we need to simultaneously foster a culture of professional music journalism. With changes to the publishing industry and cutbacks to the CBC, many of the writers and broadcasters who used to celebrate and critique Canadian musical arts are no longer active....
Finally, going back to the importance of supporting a diversity of musical cultures, we would like to point out that CBC Radio has been crucial in helping us to develop audiences for our programming and the artists we present. We have really felt the impact of the loss of the initiative to do live recording for a future broadcast as this was an effective vehicle for reaching new listeners across the country and affirming the importance of artistic contributions being made by culturally diverse Canadian artists.
It seems to me that if the Conservatives understood that they would not be slashing funding to the CBC; rather, they would be making our national broadcaster part of their economic action plan. We hear about that action plan all the time. What about culture? What about art? What about the CBC?
The problem as I see it is not that Canadians do not appreciate the contribution of the arts to a healthy society or of the CBC as Canada's national broadcaster in uniting us in identity. The problem is that we have not done a very good job in making the connection between the thriving arts community and a thriving economy, between stable, secure funding for a national broadcaster as a fundamental building block to a Canadian society that we can all enjoy, prosper from, and share in. Why do the Conservatives not get that?
Mr. Speaker, although we often say that we are pleased to speak on an issue, we are not pleased, in fact, because we do not like the fact that we have reached such a point, as so often happens. However, I am very pleased to speak to the motion moved by my colleague from about the $45 million in cuts in the Conservative budget this year. I am not counting the $130 million or so that has been cut since 2008-09, if I recall the dates correctly.
This is an important issue to me because, in just the past few months, I have received hundreds of letters and emails from people in my constituency of Chambly—Borduas, not to mention the several thousand pieces of correspondence I have received since I was elected in 2011, when the Conservatives won their majority. There is no getting around the fact that the biggest cuts have coincided with that Conservative majority. Because of that majority, they are finally able to fulfill the objective they have had for so long. They make no secret of it: Conservative members have spoken publicly about abolishing the public broadcaster. It is also no secret that, at a Conservative convention, resolutions have been passed calling for the public broadcaster, CBC/Radio-Canada, to be privatized.
The people back home are worried about this for a number of reasons. Clearly, we cannot ignore the French fact. I believe it is one of the unique characteristics of Radio-Canada, especially in Quebec, where there is a large population of francophones, but also in francophone communities outside Quebec. There is a certain solidarity in the francophonie. Although we are fortunate in Quebec to have a francophone majority and to be able to defend the French fact, that is not so much the case outside Quebec. There has been a certain solidarity in that regard. We see it in the way groups representing francophone areas outside Quebec—communities where there is a linguistic minority—are denouncing the cuts because those cuts are jeopardizing a service that is vital to the validation of their identity. That is the role of the public broadcaster. With its truly unique mandate, it validates several elements of our identity.
That brings me to my next point. Some of us had the opportunity to watch the episode of Tout le monde en parle that aired a few weeks ago, which featured some well-known and very respected journalists. Among them was Alain Gravel of the program Enquête. They talked about the impact that these cuts will have on Radio-Canada's news service. There have already been some unfortunate and rather draconian changes to the Enquête team because of these cuts. When we consider the important role that this program has played in Quebec's legal and political landscape, with the various revelations made by its excellent team, we see that this is not just about identity. It is also about getting the information out and making sure that we have a healthy democracy.
We heard the minister say that, although the government is making budget cuts, the public broadcaster is an independent crown corporation and it is not the government's fault if the corporation decided to cut back in that way. It is hard to swallow the fact that the government does not seem prepared to recognize, at least not publicly, that these decisions are being made as a result of the budget cuts. It is all well and good for the government to say that it was not involved in Radio-Canada's decision to cut one producer and two journalists from the program Enquête, but the fact remains that this happened because of these budget cuts.
I heard some Conservative members say that CBC/Radio-Canada will have to adapt and look for private sector advertising revenue.
However, if a private company decides to buy ad space, it is more likely to do so during the broadcast of an American film at 7 p.m. than during the broadcast of a half-hour show or an hour-long show like Enquête. That is why it is important to have a public broadcaster, because at the end of the day, the taxpayers are paying for this. They do not have to negotiate with private companies that are looking to pay the best price for the best ad space. I am not saying that there is no room for that at Radio-Canada, but it is important to realize that this cannot be the only solution or the public broadcaster will become a channel like all the others. I mean no disrespect to the other channels. However, we must recognize Radio-Canada's unique mandate.
The impact on news services has not just affected shows like Enquête. There is always something interesting to read on the Influence Communication website, which looks at media trends in Quebec in particular. When we look at how different issues are handled in Quebec media, we unfortunately see that international news seems to be lacking. That is one thing that both Radio-Canada and the CBC do rather well. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to do so because they are lacking resources as a result of the budget cuts. Obviously, when a public broadcaster that relies on taxpayers' money is suddenly left to cope with a smaller budget, the first thing to go is the services abroad that send information back here. That is rather important.
Once again, getting the information out is part of a healthy democracy, but it also important to properly equip the broadcaster so that people are able to access that information.
Most of us have different plans with cable companies. Channels are becoming increasingly specialized. For example, there are sports channels and news channels. There is another debate right now over the unbundling of cable packages.
At the end of the day, regardless of how much we pay and what package we take, we can be sure to still have the CBC/Radio-Canada news channels and regular channels that are not all-news channels. We were sure to have those two channels without having to pay an additional fee. Now, as a result of these cuts, in the future CBC/Radio-Canada could unfortunately be forced to follow that trend. I find that very worrisome.
The government often talks about reducing the deficit. It does not seem very smart to be reducing the deficit at the expense of CBC/Radio-Canada.
Here is a good example. Look at the people who are going to lose their jobs. This shows the Conservative government's mismanagement. One of the groups that was hardest hit by the employment insurance reform—I mention this because there is a relevant connection here—was the set technicians. They are affected by the changes to the employment insurance regulations because of the nature and duration of their work. Sometimes they do contract work. These same technicians will be the first to pay the price of the cuts to CBC. In addition to losing their jobs, they are also going to be adversely affected by another file that has been mismanaged by the Conservative government and that is the employment insurance reform.
It is interesting because when we make all these connections, we see that the Conservative government does not actually care about the real impact that these cuts will have on our identity and on CBC/Radio-Canada's unique mandate as a news and culture broadcaster in our communities.
However, that is not all. These cuts will also affect the people who have jobs and who will now lose them. That is shameful. That is why I am rising today to support my colleague from , who does excellent work. We will continue to stand up and support our public broadcaster.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to talk about the CBC.
I commend the member for . It has been a long time since I heard the “hidden agenda” reference, so I congratulate him for being able to throw one of those into this debate. I am sure he will try in subsequent questions to throw in a “George W. Bush” because no debate he is included in would be complete without a “hidden agenda” and a “George W. Bush” reference. I want to commend him for that.
When we look at the CBC, it is important to look at it in a broader context. It is always difficult to hear the Liberals defend anything, and I am sure my colleagues on the NDP side will agree with me. When the Liberals were in office, and the NDP referenced this yesterday in another debate we had, their attacks on the CBC were legendary. They absolutely decimated funding to the CBC.
Now the Liberals get up in this place, on this debate, and talk about how important CBC is, and that “My gosh, if it wasn't for Mr. Dressup, they would not be here”. What did they think of Mr. Dressup and Finnegan when they cut $400 million and more from the CBC? I guess it was not important then, this national treasure of the CBC.
The member for called CBC a “national treasure”, but the Liberals decimated it with cuts. They did not just decimate the CBC, they also went after health care, social transfers, post-secondary education. What they did to the military was a decade of darkness for it. That is the Liberal record on just about everything.
The Liberals talk a good game, but when it comes to providing good government for Canadians, they push that out the door and focus on what is good for the Liberal Party and their pockets.
The Liberals talked about sponsorship, so let us talk about sponsorship and commercials. What did the Liberals do? We all know about the sponsorship scandal. Imagine what the extra $40 million, which was stolen by the Liberal Party, would do in the context of today. It would be there for Canadians to use. We are still looking for that money.
I want to take the opportunity to commend not only the current but also the current , who was the former minister of Canadian Heritage. We knew on this side of the House, unlike the Liberals when they were in government, how important arts and culture are to the Canadian economy, not just how Canadians felt about their country or their communities and the provinces.
We understand the pride we get from our artists, the pride we have when a Canadian artist is successful in other countries. We have pride when we go abroad and see Canadian artwork hanging in important museums. It is not just that, but it is how important it is to our communities. We understand that.
That is why in 2008, when the economy took a turn for the worst, when the global economy was at its worst and when every other country in the world was making cuts to arts and culture, we took a different path because we understood then, as we understand today, how important it was to protect and enhance that community, which gives us so much pride.
As I said, we increased funding to arts and culture. We are one of the only G7 countries that has augmented or increased funding to arts and culture, and the results have been spectacular.
I remember at one point a couple of years ago when the , who was the minister of Canadian Heritage at that time, referred to the fact that five Canadian artists were at the top of the Billboard charts.
I know some of the members of the NDP referred to the importance of jobs when it came to arts. Absolutely, it is important. Arts and culture is responsible for so many jobs in our country, more than 127,000 jobs across the country. It is not just, as the opposition sometimes likes to focus on, about the actors, it is not just about the directors, it is about the other people who help support these productions. These are the types of people we are providing assistance to through our tax cuts, which opposition members constantly vote against. This is about the carpenters, the electricians, the seamstresses, the hairdressers, the makeup artists, and all the people who help support productions in their communities across the country.
I will be happy to continue with my remarks after question period.