Mr. Speaker, I do not want to waste precious time, so I will begin speaking about Bill C-60.
The measures set out in Bill C-60 concerning the CBC could not have come with more ironic timing. Last Friday was World Press Freedom Day.
Throughout the world, May 3 serves as a reminder of the important role a pluralistic, free, independent press plays in a democracy. However, this year also marked Canada's drop in the world press freedom index rankings. Last year, Reporters Without Borders, a respected organization, ranked us 10th. This year, Canada is ranked 20th, behind Costa Rica, Namibia, Andorra and Liechtenstein. We fell 10 spots in one year.
Reporters Without Borders mentions a number of factors to explain this astonishing drop. It noted the Government of Canada's actions, specifically the threats to the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. Take note, members opposite.
The government finds itself in a serious and surprising situation. This is another brick in the wall of shame that is actively being built here in Ottawa. Our international reputation is all but destroyed. Do I need to point that out? Moreover, the government is steadily attacking the CBC day after day, which is only making matters worse.
Those attacks continue with Bill C-60, which allows the government to have a say in employees' working conditions and certain journalists' salaries. That is a shocking infringement on the public broadcaster's independence. It is clear that Bill C-60 challenges the CBC's independence, particularly its journalistic and editorial independence.
Canadians across the country have been writing to us—to me and my colleagues—for days to express their dismay and anger over the government's attempt to hijack management of the CBC. The CBC has been at arm's length from the government for nearly 80 years; it is a democratic tradition.
Liberal and Conservative prime ministers have done what they had to do throughout that time; that is, a number of governments from both parties have taken the opportunity to cut the CBC’s budget, but they all have chosen to respect the independence of the public broadcaster. Governments come and go, but they do not meddle with the independence of the CBC.
Today, it is clear that it is not very difficult to tear that down. It takes an insidious bill, a bill like this one, that gives the government the right to impose collective agreements, to decide the terms of employment for non-unionized employees and the salaries of journalists, bureau chiefs and news anchors.
To date, every government had restrained itself and chosen to respect a broadcaster funded by taxpayers, yes, but accountable not to the government, but directly to the public. It is that very restraint that characterizes the conduct of democratic governments toward the public broadcasters they fund.
Over the last few days, hundreds of Canadians have written to me as heritage critic for the official opposition and to my colleagues. I am sure that members in the government benches across the floor have also received a lot of emails about this. Canadians are angry about this attempt to threaten the independence of the CBC. Canadians are angry about the government's attempt to end 80 years of independent public broadcasting in this country, free from interference from the government.
I have the feeling that people are frankly outraged that the government would dare to meddle with what is actually a democratic tradition in Canada: the healthy distance between government and public broadcaster.
It is that distance that means that a CBC journalist can report that $3.1 billion simply disappeared from the government’s books and still know that his employer will not be asking him to tone it down in the next report because the minister is twisting its arm. It is that distance that means that a news anchor can decide that such information deserves to be given to Canadians, without having to worry that the government thus tarnished might decide to interfere in his next employment contract.
We see that the government wants to apply the same medicine to other cultural crown corporations like the National Arts Centre, Telefilm Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts. The cultural community is speaking out against this. The Independent Media Arts Alliance, in particular, has denounced the threat to the statutory independence of the Canada Council for the Arts. In a letter to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the alliance states that doing this is harmful to the spirit and principle of a crown corporation.
I note that these principles of independence are laid out by the Canada Council for the Arts. In its fundamental values, it states that it maintains “an arm’s length relationship from government, which allows the Council to develop policies and programs and make decisions without undue political pressure or influence”.
The Canada Council also supports “freedom of artistic expression from control or dominance by external forces such as governments and markets”, a value to be reinforced by the arm’s length relationship.
We know that these measures will have a negative effect on the delivery of the services provided by these cultural agencies and their ability to attract personnel.
Obviously, the Conservatives’ goal is to diminish the independence of these public institutions, which play important roles for creators in particular. The Conservatives seem to be exhibiting a complete lack of interest in the very concept of an independent crown corporation: the space there has to be between government, politics and crown corporations.
The leader of our party, my colleague from Outremont, summarized the problem well yesterday afternoon. When it comes to advancing its ideological agenda, the government is not the least bit bothered about interfering with independent crown corporations. For example, it tells them how to manage their employees, how to administer collective agreements, what salaries are appropriate and how many pencil sharpeners and paper clips they should buy.
However, when a problem arises in those crown corporations, the government waves the white flag and says it has nothing to do with them. When a crown corporation makes a mistake or its managers do something wrong, all of a sudden the government cannot do anything. They are independent crown corporations. That is very handy. Suddenly, the statutory independence and arm’s length status of crown corporations is back in fashion, according to the government.
But it gets worse. As members undoubtedly know, Library and Archives Canada is our national archives. It is an institution that is the guardian of our most precious historical documents and even a few artifacts from the War of 1812—for the pleasure of Library and Archives Canada. However, things are not going well over there. In the opinion of the archivists, librarians, archaeologists, historians and numerous professions that have previously been represented at Library and Archives Canada, things are even going very badly.
Acquisitions of historical documents have virtually come to a halt. There has been a full stop in document lending to other libraries, researchers and historians not based in the national capital.
Let us talk about this code of conduct imposed on the employees, professionals, experts and scientists at Library and Archives Canada, prohibiting them from attending conferences without authorization, one of several faux pas—including the one we talked about earlier—of a public institution out of control.
When we went to see the Minister of Heritage, who incidentally seemed embarrassed, and we asked him whether he was going to intervene and whether he thought, as we did, that all this was going too far, he dared answer us that Library and Archives Canada is an independent crown corporation. That is what he said in the House and subsequently in Le Devoir.
Once again, if a problem arises that makes them uncomfortable, they quickly hit the panic button and say it is not their fault.
In this case, however, the minister is on the wrong track because Library and Archives Canada is not at all an independent crown corporation. Not at all. According to its mandate, it is part of the federal government under the administration of the Minister of Heritage. There is nothing less independent than that, unless the minister himself fills the coffee machine.
It seems difficult for this government to grasp the concepts of crown corporation, independence from government, arm's length and independence. They seem subtle. These crown corporations are independent. This is not complicated. For better or for worse, whether or not it pleases the government, they are constituted as entities independent of the government, in the public interest, because they must have some distance from political power.
As for the government, the Conservative Party may make a show of many principles, but I would like it to show a little consistency. Are crown corporations independent or not? They will have to make a choice.
In conclusion, apart from this budget that hurts the Canadian economy, apart from these same old solutions, as the Parliamentary Budget Officer has shown, these same old austerity measures that will slow growth and cost thousands of jobs, apart from this economic shambles and lack of vision, hundreds of people have written to us because they are concerned about the independence of their public broadcaster, the CBC.
Ian Morrison, the spokesman for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, recalled that the difference between a public broadcaster and a state broadcaster lies in its distance from the government.
In addition, tens of thousands of signatories to petitions, including that of friends.ca, have reaffirmed their support for the independence of the CBC.
CBC management clearly questions the relevance of this government initiative. It states that its employees are neither public servants nor servants of Her Majesty, and it says it needs flexibility so that it can attract the necessary talent.
CBC unions have denounced the attack on free collective bargaining and the fact that the government is taking control, violating the Telecommunications Act and giving itself the right to intervene in the CBC's production operations, finances and day-to-day business.
Like many other crown corporations, in particular cultural ones, the CBC must remain free of political interference. Public broadcasting, by its very nature, means that the broadcaster represents and speaks on behalf of our culture, not the government.
I join the legions of Canadians who are opposed to this attempt to undermine the independence of public broadcasting in this country, and I urge the government to abandon this measure.