Hon. Denis Coderre (Bourassa, Lib.)
|| That, in the opinion of this House, the provision of a locally or regionally produced news service must be part of the operating conditions for general interest television licence holders.
He said: Mr. Speaker, first, I wish to advise you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Honoré-Mercier. I also want to thank the House for proceeding with this debate.
Obviously, this is not the only place this debate has been held. There has been debate in other committees, and there have been question periods as well. I want to recognize and congratulate all the political parties that have worked on this issue with honesty and in a non-partisan way.
As a matter of fact, this is a non-partisan situation. First, it affects the employees of TQS, and we are all concerned when there is a loss of jobs. Second, there have been meetings with the unions. The Bloc Québécois, the NDP, the minister, myself, everyone has met with the unions. Now it is time to move from words to action.
We made some headway yesterday in the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. We know that the Bloc moved a motion to this effect. I proposed some amendments, and there was unanimous approval. This is therefore a debate on the substance. It is an important debate. We are talking about the future of our airwaves, the future of our own general interest television. This will have an impact on all the regions of Canada. Nevertheless, the specific objective of this first motion was to discuss, in particular, the future of TQS.
It is not up to us to assume the role of the CRTC. We understand that it is a completely independent agency. We also understand, in the light of the CRTC decision, that after June 2 the government does have one power; the minister has the power to overturn a decision. Our role is to set out a direction and to send a clear message. Our role is to hold a debate on the future of general interest television but, above all, to define the role of general interest television.
For us, general interest television means having a news service in which there is local production and regional impact. In the case of TQS, local means Montreal, Quebec City, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières and Sherbrooke. It may be that, in the future, decisions will be made to that effect and they will have an impact on the rest of the country.
Let me be clear. It has nothing to do with playing the role on behalf of CRTC. It is about discussing it among ourselves and defining the orientation of what should be conventional TV. From the opposition's perspective, it is clear in our minds.
The leader of the official opposition said clearly for TQS, but also for the conventional TV as a whole, that we could not think about conventional TV without having news services and news services means at the same time that we will have local services and regional services.
It is not only about only Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. We need to ensure we will also have a taste on the ground, on the field, of what goes on through that, and we clearly need journalists to make it happen in those regions.
Surely we will all say that we met the unions at some point and supported the people from TQS. For my part, I want to send a very clear message today on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada. On behalf of our party and our leader to all the unions and the people of the Trois-Rivières area at an important meeting on April 26, the Liberal Party of Canada, which forms the official opposition to this government, said it thinks that TQS, a general interest broadcaster, would no longer be TQS without keeping a certain amount of news.
It is important to talk about this today. If we were to make a decision, I would want us to define together what the basic direction of general interest television is.
It is also important to us to ensure we send a clear message. When it comes to general interest broadcasters in the field of television and the sale of their licences, we do not think that the news should be considered just another commodity. We cannot allow ourselves, in the name of diversity and the very future of the regions, to send a message that if a broadcaster is losing money, for example, it can get rid of the news to cut costs. It is also a matter of diversity.
This goes back to 1999 and the new television policy. We must ensure that consideration is given to a news service reflecting what is happening in the region or in a community. It is not just a business decision. That is what worries me about all this. I have a feeling that when people talk about the news in those terms, they only think about financial matters.
I myself used to host a radio show on CKVL and I saw the loss of the news service. It is not easy for the journalists and their families but it is also not good for the future of the news itself.
That is why we decided to have a debate today in much greater depth on what general interest television should be. At the same time, we want to send the message that what really prompted all this was obviously the decision about the future of TQS.
Our thoughts are with the employees. What we want is not very complicated. We want Télévision Quatre Saisons to survive. That is important. At the same time, we also think it is important to send a message about the importance of keeping a certain amount of news.
In English it is like a basic level of information. One cannot think about conventional TV without thinking about having news service.
Whether I am in Sudbury, Winnipeg, Brandon or anywhere in New Brunswick, in Quebec, in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, Trois-Rivières or Sherbrooke, then for sure when we have what is referred to as general interest television, we would like to have an idea of what is going on around us. I find it hard to imagine constantly having a traffic report about the situation on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge in Montréal when my friends in Roberval are watching television. People want to know what is going on in their part of the world. They are not going to ask the CRTC what the percentage should be and have them give us an exact number of hours. But they are going to say that the principle of preserving this regional aspect and this news service is important.
The government has done several important things. I want to congratulate the Minister of Labour. I also have a news release from the CSN here. The Minister of Labour could have made an exception to the Canada Labour Code and eliminated the requirement that TQS employees get 16 weeks’ notice, but he did not do that. That is entirely to his credit, and it is what someone who is a minister should do: make a decision.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing for the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages. She cannot just say that she has written a letter to the chairman of the CRTC, that she went and shook hands with the employees and she thinks this is regrettable. Our role, and I have been a minister in the past, is also to set the direction. We know there is a Broadcasting Act. We know that there are parameters that have to be abided by. But if there is a power to reverse a decision, there is absolutely nothing to stop the Minister from showing what the direction is going to be from now on.
She is being asked to do what our leader called for at the convention of the Association des producteurs de films et de télévision du Québec on April 29 at the Quebec City Hilton. We understand that the CRTC has a job to do, but we are asking that the minister take a position immediately. Does she think that a general interest television station should have a news service? That is what we think. Obviously we cannot talk about general interest television without having that service; otherwise, it becomes more and more of a specialty service.
On a more personal note, I hope that TQS will not have 24 hours of Bleu nuit and The Flintstones. First, because it is what it is and I do not agree with it, but second, and more seriously, a lot of young men and young women, journalists and technicians, are not sure at the moment whether they will be able to find new jobs, be it at TVA or at Radio-Canada or elsewhere. We have to think about how TQS has been an exceptional school for the last 20 years. TQS had chosen this regional niche to make sure that this kind of diversity had a showcase.
I therefore ask my colleagues to give this motion their unanimous support and show that we are sensitive to and aware of the future of general interest television, and that this includes a news service. Long live TQS with its news broadcasts.
Mr. Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on what I consider a subject of very great importance. I want to thank and congratulate my colleague from Bourassa for taking the initiative of moving the motion we are debating today.
This debate is important because it is about respecting diversity in terms of the news and promoting the requirement for local and regional content. It is also about strengthening our democracy.
Our society is complex and diversified and our broadcasters must take this into account. Our social fabric is made up of many strands and realities differ from one region to another. Hence the significance of this motion, which states that “the provision of a locally or regionally produced news service must be part of the operating conditions for general interest television licence holders”.
I would also point out that this concept was recognized and reflected during the original discussions that led to the granting of a broadcasting licence to the TQS network.
I would therefore like to spend a few moments on the specific situation of TQS since, to some degree, that is what led to the debate on the present topic.
When it was established, more than 20 years ago, TQS, which is also known as the “black sheep of television,” wanted to handle the news differently. It wanted to deliver news in a different format that focused on local realities. Over time, TQS succeeded in building up its news network throughout Quebec, thanks in large measure to the creation of numerous regional stations. Those efforts, it must be admitted, played an important role in the diversity of news available.
The TQS network has also experienced its share of financial challenges over the years and now finds itself in a critical financial situation. Ownership of the company is changing and the new owner has decided to introduce draconian measures with serious consequences. Indeed, even before taking possession of the station, the new owner has decided to eliminate the news service in order to reduce operating costs as much as possible.
The closure of the news service and of the regional stations will result in 270 employees being laid off. We are talking about job losses in Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and elsewhere. Quebec, and particularly its regions, is losing an important source of information and, frankly, this is going to have a very negative impact on the local and regional content of the news reports.
The closure of the TQS news service has sent shock waves through the province. I am going to quote a few reactions.
The Union des municipalités du Québec says that “reducing in this fashion the diversity of regional information sources will definitely not allow towns and regions to be better heard and known”.
As for the Conseil de presse du Québec, it said: “This decision jeopardizes the diversity of Quebec's information voices, which is already too restricted by the concentration of ownership in the media.”
The National Assembly of Quebec also expressed its view on this issue, through a unanimous motion which says:
|| THAT the National Assembly reiterate the importance accorded to diversity of information as well as regional information in a democratic society, and enjoin the Government of Québec to demand that the CRTC maintain the TQS news media services.
This united front shows the importance for a society to have access to various sources of news. We must be able to get our information from different sources. It also shows the importance of having access to local and regional news that reflect regional variations and realities. Finally, it must also be a reflection of who we are.
The case of TQS is important, because it could apply elsewhere. It could apply to the whole country, and that is why today's motion is so critical.
The governments and the bodies that regulate communications and broadcasting have a role to play. We are not trying to get involved or to interfere in a specific market or another. We simply want to ensure that the rights of our fellow citizens and their access to diversified information that reflects local and regional realities are not curtailed.
The new owners of TQS made a cold business decision based strictly on the numbers. This debate, however, is about much more than numbers. It is about democracy, excessive media concentration and the right to objective, impartial, diverse news.
This debate is about the choices we make as a society. We in this House—and very certainly the Liberal members—are here to improve our society so that it reflects our aspirations and values. As parliamentarians, we certainly have a role to play in this regard.
Unfortunately for the Conservatives, government is a necessary evil. They think we should refuse to interfere, no matter what, and just allow market forces to rule. We have seen them withdraw from some very important things, such as Montreal International. We have seen them move with troubling insensitivity and on a purely ideological basis to eliminate such things as the court challenges program. A government, though, is never elected just to make cuts. A government is never elected to gag people who do not think like it.
This motion gives us an opportunity today to send a very clear message. Finally we will be saying loud and clear that news is an essential part of our democratic way of life. We will also be saying, as the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec pointed out, that the vitality of our democracy is based on a diversity of views and news sources.
To achieve this, today’s motion is very clear. Its goal is to emphasize the fact that broadcasters who want to get a general interest television licence must provide locally produced news.
It is clear to both the hon. member for Bourassa, who was the architect of this motion, and us Liberals that it is very important in our culture to have locally or regionally produced news. It is also very clear that our culture needs not just protecting but further strengthening.
TV broadcasters play an important role in the dissemination of the culture, language and values of the society they serve. We want to ensure that local broadcasters are up to the challenge of representing these cultures and values.
Of course I understand, as we all do, the challenges our broadcasters face in a market that is ever more competitive and in which television’s share is continually being eroded by the advent of new media. The challenges are substantial, and we are very aware of that.
We should therefore support our broadcasters. We should help them grow, develop and be profitable, but never at the expense of our basic democratic principles. We should always continue to work for a more open society. We should always facilitate access to objective, impartial, diverse news. We should continue to encourage general interest television that takes local realities and the importance of regional diversity into account.
That is the spirit of this motion. That is what is all about.
I want once again to thank the hon. member for Bourassa for taking the initiative to introduce this motion, which will be discussed and supported by all the Liberal members. It is an important motion in our eyes and in the eyes of all Quebeckers and Canadians. I hope that my colleagues in the other parties will join the hon. member for Bourassa, me, and all the Liberal members in supporting this motion.
Mr. Denis Lebel (Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to tell you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.
I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member of the opposition for this opportunity to debate a public policy issue that is so important to the social and democratic vitality of our society in general and to the regions that comprise it, in particular, as our hon. colleague just mentioned.
I would like to point out that while the government supports this motion in principle, we have no intention of making any comments about matters that are currently before the CRTC.
As everyone knows, the TQS issue is complicated and we will not take a position regarding this commercial transaction. It is the responsibility of the CRTC, an agency that operates at arm's length from the government , to regulate so as to ensure that the objectives of the legislation are met.
Our government is committed to ensuring a strong Canadian broadcasting system, a strong production sector and the creation of quality Canadian content that is accessible to everyone.
It is typical that a Liberal member would suggest interfering in CRTC decisions, something we would not do, but I am happy to listen to my colleague here today. That is why I feel I must remind the House that the CRTC plays a quasi-judicial role and we must let it do its job.
Despite undeniable progress in communications and information technology, communities basically remain attached to a given geographical area. We have a large country, and the communities at the heart of our nation are scattered across this vast land.
The Canadian broadcasting system is probably one of this country's greatest achievements. Broadcasting helps define who we are and who we want to be. Broadcasting is a tool that enables us to: find out about current issues; share and discuss our ideas and dreams; innovate and take advantage of our entrepreneurial spirit; give our children the opportunity to discover our world; and give families a chance to spend time together and be entertained.
More importantly, broadcasting provides some of the greatest support for our democracy by helping citizens become better informed. It is a forum for exploration, discussion and awareness.
There are many ways of reflecting a regional reality. Maintaining a “locally or regionally produced news service” is certainly one of them, but one must not overlook the contribution of public and educational broadcasters, which reflect regional realities through various means.
This brings me to the key part of my speech, namely the contribution of broadcasting, and public broadcasting in particular, to the development of a free, democratic and economically strong society, which builds on the strengths of its regional components.
Let us start by our national public broadcaster, whose current mandate is set out in the 1991 Broadcasting Act. Section 3(1)(m)(ii) states that the programming provided by the CBC should reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions.
This goes to show that, at the very heart of the corporation's mandate, there is the idea that the national public broadcaster has to be rooted in the daily reality of Canadian communities. This mandate was recently ratified by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, of which the hon. member for Bourassa is a member, in its report on the CBC/Radio-Canada.
There are many ways to reflect a country's regional diversity. Maintaining a “locally or regionally produced news service” is not the only way. For example, it seems that region-network interaction preceded the current move toward platform integration that characterizes existing CBC Radio-Canada programming. As part of his testimony during licence renewal hearings for CBTV-TV (Quebec) in 2004, CBC Radio-Canada's executive vice-president of French television at the time commented on what had been happening with Cogeco-affiliated stations since the newsrooms were separated in 2002.
He described how program segments broadcast across the network had been incorporating more and more reports produced by regional stations. He also said that integrating the newsrooms had resulted in greater interaction between network headquarters and the regions and had increased collaboration.
In francophone markets, our national public broadcaster produces local news programs, and also reflects regional realities on a larger scale through locally produced programming broadcast nationwide, thereby proving that local vitality need not be confined exclusively to local communities.
The national public broadcaster is not the only one offering a regional perspective in its programming. There are six provincial educational broadcasters in Canada. These services fall within the purview of provincial educational authorities that determine their mandate and provide part of their funding. They are still subject to the provisions of the Broadcasting Act.
These services must be distributed free of charge as part of basic packages by cable distributors in their province of origin. These services are included in satellite distribution lists and are provided by satellite distribution companies. They may be provided by cable distributors outside of their province of origin, but distribution conditions may vary.
These networks are dedicated first and foremost to education. They play a significant role in their home provinces and communities.
When it renewed their licences in 2001, the CRTC praised educational television services, such as TVO and TFO in Ontario.
The regulatory body stated that they “provide programming distinctly different from that which is generally available to the public. The Commission fully supports the unique and valuable role they play in the Canadian broadcasting system”.
Networks like these provide rich and diverse programming.
For example, from Monday to Thursday, TFO, Ontario's French-language educational television network, broadcasts PANORAMA the only live public affairs program for Ontario francophones. TFO also broadcasts magazines and documentaries.
In Quebec, one of the objectives of Télé-Québec is to “reflect regional realities and the diversity of Quebec society”, which it does without a newsroom and by broadcasting documentaries and current affairs programs on society, science and culture.
Michèle Fortin, President and CEO of Télé-Québec had this to say in the 2006-2007 annual report:
|| Originality, openness to the world, freedom of thought—Télé-Québec has been able to retain, and even refine, its unique and vital signature in the Quebec television scene...adding episodes of the magazine Méchant contraste, a program completely produced in the regions and a voice for all of Quebec.
According to Télé-Québec, it broadcasts “programs that have sought to reflect the reality of the regions as a whole and individually.”
In western Canada, the Saskatchewan Communication Network, the public educational television network in Saskatchewan, has the mandate of providing cultural, information and educational programming. SCN rebroadcasts CBC regional and provincial news broadcasts. SCN also broadcasts local news from the Southwest TV News network and other programs that it places in the broader category of news.
In the end, there is no doubt that the underlying spirit of the motion moved today by the member from Bourassa is motivated by a deep commitment to the social, economic and democratic vitality of communities throughout the country. It is this spirit that we support today by standing behind regional and local programming.
Mr. Pierre Lemieux (Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to debate the issue of local news and programs within general interest television stations. This debate provides us an opportunity to look at the existing public policy with respect to this issue and to the current investments private general interest television broadcasters make when it comes to the news.
I would like to point out that the government supports this motion in principle. However, we do not intend to comment on matters that are currently before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC. The TQS issue is a complex issue and we are not taking a position on this commercial transaction.
It is the responsibility of the CRTC, an agency that operates completely independently from the government, to regulate in a way that ensures that the goals of the legislation are met.
Our government is committed to ensuring that we have a strong Canadian broadcasting system, a strong production sector and good Canadian content that is accessible to everyone.
The motion moved by the opposition reads as follows:
|| That, in the opinion of this House, the provision of a locally or regionally produced news service must be part of the operating conditions for general interest television licence holders.
In fact, the content on television reflects how communities perceive themselves and direct their actions.
In broadcasting, over the years, the Parliament of Canada has defined a Canadian broadcasting policy that states the major objectives related to providing television and radio programming in Canada. The Broadcasting Act stipulates that our broadcasting system is made up of public, private and community components, makes use of radio frequencies that are public property and provides, through its programming, a public service essential to the maintenance and enhancement of national identity and cultural sovereignty.
Section 3 of the Act states that the programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting system should provide a reasonable opportunity for the public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern.
The Broadcasting Act also states that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, an independent agency, shall regulate and supervise all aspects of the Canadian broadcasting system with a view to implementing the Canadian broadcasting policy.
The Act lists the general powers of the CRTC. It can, among others, establish classes of licences, issue licences for such terms not exceeding seven years and subject to such conditions related to the circumstances of the licensee, amend any condition of a licence, issue renewals of licences for such terms not exceeding seven years, and suspend or revoke any licence.
That is what is very interesting about the motion we are debating here today. Indeed, the Canadian broadcasting policy as outlined in the act includes objectives regarding local and regional programing and news services. It is also clear about the powers granted to the CRTC in the regulation of licence holders to that effect.
It is also important to mention that the CRTC established the regulations governing general interest television, based on public consultation. This regulatory framework dates back to 1987, and was amended in 1999 and more recently in 2006.
It is important to note that during its review of this regulatory framework in 1999, the CRTC looked into the issue of local programs and news. At the time, the CRTC said that news is a key element in establishing identity and viewer loyalty for a local station. The CRTC also said that general interest television stations could not solicit local advertising in a market without providing local news coverage or other local programming.
The CRTC decided that it would not impose quantitative commitments for these types of programs. However, the licence holders shall henceforth have to prove how they meet the demand for this type of programming and how their content addresses the concerns of their local audiences. This will be done on a case-by-case basis. The CRTC may resort to imposing specific licence conditions for local news and broadcasts.
Private general interest broadcasters contribute to news production and broadcasting. In this regard, general interest television stations have invested more than $325 million in 2006-2007 in this type of programming, an increase of $35 million over 2001-2002. News production and broadcasting represents 53% of their total investment in Canadian programming.
The Broadcasting Act sets out the objectives of the Canadian broadcasting policy. The CRTC is responsible for governing the broadcasting industry and ensuring that the objectives of the act are met.
The CRTC will examine the licence of each private general interest broadcaster in 2009. This process will be public and will allow all interested parties to inform the CRTC of their views. The issue of local and regional programming will be examined at that time. Licence holders with privileged access to the broadcasting system will have a role to play in attaining the public policy objectives.
The Canadian broadcasting system is certainly one of our greatest achievements. Broadcasting helps us define who we are and what we want to become. Broadcasting is a tool that enables us to: find out about current issues; share and discuss our ideas and dreams; innovate and take advantage of our entrepreneurial spirit; give our children the opportunity to discover our world; and give families a chance to spend time together and be entertained.
Even more importantly, broadcasting supports our democracy by helping citizens become better informed. It is a forum for exploration, discussion and awareness.
The news is a key component of that vitality. Geographical proximity to the news is also fundamental, but it is not the only way to enrich Canada's social fabric because the system is made up of a variety of elements that come together to provide Canadians with a wealth of diverse points of view that we need to maintain and improve.
As stated in the Broadcasting Act, the Canadian people must have a broadcasting system that provides access to diverse viewpoints and news from many sources.
That is why the government supports the principle underlying the motion moved by the member for Bourassa.
Mrs. Maria Mourani (Ahuntsic, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, my Bloc Québécois colleagues and I support this motion because we believe it is critically important for elected officials to make their position clear to the government and the CRTC. Providing locally or regionally produced news services must be part of the operating conditions for general interest television licence holders.
Nobody is trying to interfere with the CRTC's work. The CRTC must remain independent and must continue to apply the required telecommunications and broadcasting regulations. With this motion, we are discharging our responsibility as elected representatives of the people and expressing our vision for the evolution of general interest television, which has, historically, played a major role in the cultural development of our societies, particularly in Quebec.
Yesterday, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage unanimously passed a Bloc Québécois motion calling on the government to defend the notion that local news and production must be maintained in general interest television. I will not read the motion, which is more or less the same as the one before us today.
Although I have not yet heard from my NDP colleague, I am pleased to conclude, based on what I heard yesterday, that he too will support this and that the motion will be agreed to unanimously, just as it was in committee. I think that everyone here wants to support it. We are all working toward the same goal: maintaining local news and production services.
Parliamentarians decided to take action on this matter yesterday and today because of the lack of leadership shown by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages in response to the statement by the new owner of TQS about getting rid of news services. We would not even be talking about this had the minister acted on the questions we asked in the House and given some direction to the CRTC.
She may claim to sympathize with the 270 workers that were laid off and lost their jobs—we saw what happened—but let us not forget the major impact, be it social, economic or cultural, this is having on the regions. Despite the sympathy she expressed, she kept repeating that this was a private transaction. That is disturbing. I think that comes from the old Conservative habit of looking at everything from a consumerism perspective, thus making everything a private transaction. That is disturbing.
Airwaves are public domain, and general interest television broadcasting has its own set of requirements. I could quote lawyer, journalist and Laval University Department of Information and Communications professor Florian Sauvageau, who recognized that it was inconceivable to maintain general interest television while at the same time eliminating all news content.
Let us ask ourselves a few questions. Will the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages have a burst of common sense and the sudden desire to listen? Will she give directions to the CRTC concerning TQS? It is all fine and well for the Conservative government to say that it will support this motion in principle, but it is not saying anything about TQS. It remains silent on that issue, which is very disturbing. We have just heard that it will support the motion, but will not discuss TQS and cases before the CRTC. It is one thing to approve in principle, but action is required. This reminds me of the motion on the Quebec nation; the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party supported it in principle, but no action followed. Principles are fine, but we want action as well.
In the case of TQS, for instance, like it or not, the minister's initial reaction was consistent with the rationale behind past statements of hers.
I am going to go back in time for a moment. On October 28, during the ADISQ gala, 18 artist and cultural business groups, including 17 that work mainly in Quebec, called on the minister to use her power to issue policy directives to the CRTC to avoid what they called the laissez-faire attitude of that body, which was shifting toward policies that put market forces ahead of the duty to protect culture and society. What was the minister's reaction?
We got her true response on November 6, when she addressed the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. The minister said, and I quote: “There must be an increased reliance on competition and market forces...”. She added: “I challenge you to be open to change, because change will come...”. That is scary. She then went on to say: “The status quo is no longer an option. We must create an environment that rewards excellence.”
In my opinion, the minister could not be clearer. She rejected the call that came primarily from Quebec' cultural community.
In this sense, the decisions of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and of the Conservative government are very consistent with the policies of the Canadian Alliance, their founding party. In fact, some excerpts from the dissenting opinion expressed by the Canadian Alliance in the Lincoln report are quite telling about their deregulation philosophy. That party said, and I quote: “We would remove content definition regulations.” It also added:
|| Canadian Alliance supports relaxing foreign ownership rules on Canadian industry, including telecommunications and broadcast distribution. We suggest conducting an immediate review to determine whether to reduce or completely remove these rules.
So, they are very consistent and I respect that.
The current Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was then the Minister of Industry, applied the same philosophy when he issued an order calling upon the CRTC to regulate telephony as little as possible. That action was condemned by Quebec's Union des consommateurs and by small providers of telephone services.
As we can see, where there is a will, there is a way. We are talking here about an order saying that the government is going to deregulate the industry and keep it that way. Now, we are told that we cannot do anything and that we must wait.
Will the minister and this government defend general interest television, not only in principle but also in action as we asked it to in the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and as the motion calls for today? The question is there. We can give the government a chance, and we will see. Earlier, the critics did not want to broach the subject of TQS. So we are no further ahead in terms of information about TQS. I am a very optimistic person, and I believe in people's goodwill. I think then that the minister could perhaps listen not only to workers, but also to those of us here in the House who are asking her to act. I could also say that history tends to repeat itself, but we should not be pessimistic. We must stay positive and believe that, perhaps, the minister will do something.
In a completely different vein, but still fundamental to this debate, there is the issue of Quebec's jurisdictions. We believe that Quebec can no longer play the role of lobbyist. We have had enough. We have a unanimous motion from the National Assembly, and we are bringing the minister a message. We want full jurisdiction, and we are convinced that Quebec would be in a better position to properly defend issues related to its own culture, especially in terms of broadcasting and diversity of information.
Historically, Quebec has always asked that broadcasting be recognized as part of its jurisdiction.
In 1929, Quebec premier Alexandre Taschereau held a vote on the Quebec broadcasting act. The federal government responded by adopting the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act on May 26, 1932. It provided for the establishment of the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, which was instituted that same year and was the forerunner of the CRTC.
On February 25, 1968, Daniel Johnson clearly expressed why Quebec had to have a say in communications:
|| The assignment of broadcasting frequencies cannot and must not be the prerogative of the federal government. Quebec can no longer tolerate being excluded from a field where its vital interest is so obvious.
This vital component of Quebec's development has been defended by Quebec governments of all political stripes. In fact, for all Quebec governments, it is a cultural issue and, like the creators, the news people in conventional television contribute, in their own way, to the evolution of culture and the identity of a nation, which is shaped over time and by all regions of Quebec.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives are allowing Canada to be driven by market forces—we have several examples and I provided a few earlier—rather than defending national identities. Our nation should not be led down a path that does not serve it well.
We will reiterate that supporting our national culture urgently requires, at a very minimum, the application of telecommunications and broadcasting policies that are the responsibility of the Government of Quebec, our national government, which must establish the regulatory framework in its territory. We now need a CRTQ and it is legally possible to establish it with people of good will. I refer my colleagues to our Bill C-540 and urge them to support it.
Quebec could put in place its own policies, particularly with regard to the definition of conventional television, diversity of news and approval of transactions in the broadcasting sector that reflect the values of Quebec society.
By recognizing Quebec as a nation, the federal government must take concrete action in that direction. It is not just a question of principle or hollow words. They may say that we have been recognized, that we should be happy and that things are good. No. Responsibilities and actions must accompany the recognition of our nation.
Unfortunately, the federalist members from Quebec, including the minister and my colleague, the Liberal heritage critic, whom I respect, have nothing to say about this.
The most incomprehensible of all, in my opinion, is the current Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, a former minister in Robert Bourassa's government, who had quite a bit to say about this issue and said it with a great deal of passion and panache. When he served as Minister of Communications from 1990 to 1994, he said:
|| Quebec must be able to establish the rules for operating radio and television systems, and control development plans for telecommunications networks, service rates and the regulation of new telecommunications services... Quebec cannot let others control programming for electronic media within its borders...To that end, Quebec must have full jurisdiction and be able to deal with a single regulatory body.
He also wrote to the federal ministers at the time:
|| While telecommunications are important to Canada's identity, they are even more vital to Quebec, whose future on this continent will demand greater effort.
Today, in his public statements, he is comfortable with a situation that he previously condemned. To my way of thinking, it is no surprise that Premier Bourassa lost the battle.
It is clear that this motion refers to the difficult situation facing TQS. As we have said before, the Bloc Québécois intends to submit a brief to the CRTC calling on it to keep the licence requirement to provide appropriate news coverage.
I therefore invite the minister and all my colleagues in the other opposition parties to follow our lead, even though I am beginning to have doubts about the Conservatives, because earlier the spokesperson did not want to go any further in the debate. I hope with all my heart that the minister will submit a brief to the CRTC.
In conclusion, I believe that the approval of the transaction between Cogeco and Remstar to purchase TQS will be a test of the effectiveness of the new policy on the diversity of voices that the CRTC introduced in January 2008. It is to be hoped that the CRTC will take the broadcasting policy for Canada into consideration. The 1991 Broadcasting Act provides that:
|| 3(1) (i) the programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting system should
||(i) be varied and comprehensive, providing a balance of information, enlightenment and entertainment for men, women and children of all ages, interests and tastes—
That truly is diversity. In interpreting that section, we, like many experts, understand that a general interest television station must inform and enlighten, in other words, provide informed and enlightened news bulletins. As an example, I am convinced that the disappearance of the CKAC newsroom had a significant impact on the diversity of voices—and it would be equally significant if the TQS newsroom were to disappear.
I would remind the House that, sadly, in 2005, despite another unanimous motion in Quebec's National Assembly, the CRTC authorized the disappearance of the CKAC newsroom and, unfortunately, the Liberal heritage minister at the time did nothing to stop it. Thus, there is cause for concern. CKAC is one example, and I hope the same thing does not happen with TQS.
I would like to close on a topic—my colleagues will call it unrelated—that is very painful. I must mention it, because it is a very current issue. Speaking of nations, I cannot help but mention that the Quebec nation—without wishing to digress—has asserted itself perfectly well. When the government sends the Governor General of Canada to France to launch the festivities for the 400th anniversary of Quebec, one must wonder whether we are celebrating Canada's birthday or that of Quebec. Excuse me: ridicule has never killed anyone, but it certainly hurts. It is very upsetting for me, for many Quebeckers, and for my country, Quebec.
Hon. Jim Abbott (Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, perhaps I could take my own comments down a peg or two and extend the same kind of courtesy that the member extended to me.
However, the difficulty that I am having, particularly, in this debate, is the fact that Bloc Québécois members, unfortunately, come to this place with a lack of information and a lack of understanding.
The court, at the highest level, has systematically confirmed that the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over issues of broadcasting. This was a Supreme Court decision from 1994. Yet, the members come to this place and say why do we not do this and why do we not do that. The fact is that this has been established clearly by the Supreme Court in 1994.
Also, perhaps the member is not aware of the fact that heritage minister Dupuy, also in 1994, lost his job over the fact that he was interfering inappropriately in matters before the CRTC.
The minister of this government has written to the CRTC, as she may under the regulations and the laws of the land, and has asked to be kept abreast of exactly what is going on with respect to TQS. However, she will not and the government will not interfere in this commercial transaction which is currently before the CRTC.
If at some point in the future it is determined by the minister and she advises the cabinet and the cabinet agrees that there should be intervention, there is a place for intervention, as designed by law.
It is really unfair. It is really inaccurate that this member along with other members in this House are suggesting that the minister has been inactive. It is quite the opposite. She has been engaged, as she may be by law.
I just wonder if the member might want to reflect on that and perhaps just back off a bit over what we will call accusations of the fact that the minister has not been engaged. Quite candidly, she has.
The reason why the members of the government have been saying during this debate today that they are not going to comment on the TQS is because it is inappropriate for the government members to do so. As a matter of fact, it is against the law for the government to comment on this commercial transaction that is before the CRTC at this point.
I wonder if she wants to reflect on my comments.
Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate this afternoon in this debate. We are debating an opposition day motion sponsored by the member for Bourassa, which reads:
|| That, in the opinion of this House, the provision of a locally or regionally produced news service must be part of the operating conditions for general interest television licence holders.
This has been before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as well. In fact, yesterday the member for Ahuntsic, who just spoke in the debate, tabled a motion that was amended slightly by the committee but passed unanimously. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage expressed its concern that conventional television must support a basic level of information services, including quality regional information services and local production.
That is the motion that was passed yesterday at the standing committee. Everyone can see there is interest in this important issue percolating around Parliament Hill, through the House of Commons today and the standing committee yesterday. That is because this is an issue of importance and it has come to the fore because of the situation at TQS, the television network in Quebec that also serves other areas.
I know my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst had hoped to speak in the debate but because Wednesdays are short days, we are not going to have the entire time period this afternoon and he was not able to participate. This is important to folks in Acadie—Bathurst who also enjoy the programming of TQS.
The situation with TQS is that it is a network that has had its financial difficulties. It is in the process of changing ownership and the new owners have announced that they will be gutting the information services of the network and that 270 journalist jobs and people who provide that service are going to be lost.
All of us in this place and certainly in this corner of the House want to stand in solidarity with the workers who are losing their jobs. Sadly, it is a situation we see repeated all too often in so many sectors where good, well paying jobs that provide good benefits are being lost in very many parts of the country in different sectors. Here it is happening again.
We want to stand in solidarity with those workers and their union as they work to ensure the continuance of their important employment. However, it is more than just that. It also relates to the conditions of licences that are granted and awarded to broadcasters in Canada and the conditions of a conventional or general interest TV licence that requires that the provision of new services be part of that endeavour.
That is what is at the heart of all of this. New Democrats in this corner will be supporting this motion, by the way. It sounds like all parties in the House will be supporting it. For the NDP, the crux of the matter is that the conditions of the licence be respected, that the importance of a local and regional news service be respected, and that a general interest or conventional TV licence be respected through this process with a change in ownership.
I know the workers who lost their jobs and their union understand the financial situation of TQS and have struggled to be responsive to that. They have said that they are willing to negotiate with the knowledge of the financial situation of that network. However, at the same time, they also believe that the broadcaster has an obligation to abide by the terms of the licence and the provisions of broadcasting in Canada, and it is very important that it continue. All of this discussion is happening as a result of those changes at TQS.
It has been noted a number of times this afternoon that the National Assembly of Quebec has also passed a motion. I believe it passed unanimously, pointing out the importance of a diversity of news sources and regional news services in a democratic society and the importance of maintaining the news services of TQS, in particular. It is very important to realize that this was not an insignificant step by the Assemblée nationale and the government of Quebec to make this kind of statement about the importance of this service to the people of Quebec.
I think all of us understand that it was a strong statement that came from the Assemblée nationale and from the government in Quebec. It just reinforces again the importance of maintaining this kind of service and maintaining the determination to see all aspects of a broadcast licence adhered to as these kinds of changes happen in the industry.
It is very important that we show respect for the CRTC and the conditions of the licence. I think that is why it is important that in the House of Commons and in the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage we demonstrate that we want to see the conditions of the regulations respected, and that we want to see a healthy and vigorous local and regional news service provided by a conventional television broadcaster, by a general interest broadcaster.
It is very important that we reinforce that this afternoon by supporting this motion, and by supporting the Assemblée nationale in the motion that it made as well. I think that shows the respect that we have in this place for the CRTC and its work for the provisions of the broadcasting licences. I do not think there is any problem with us reinforcing our belief that those are important principles that need to be upheld.
I know the government has been a little jittery that we are somehow trying to tell the CRTC what to do. I do not think that is happening this afternoon. What we are doing as parliamentarians is saying that the principles involved here are very crucial to broadcasting in Canada, to broadcasting in Quebec and to all regions in the country. We cannot let this slip by unnoticed. Everyone will be on notice that this is very important with the passage of the motion this afternoon.
I think folks in Quebec are a little skittish about this too. They have seen governments in the past fail to protect local news services. There is the example of CKAC, which is the oldest French language radio station in the world. Several years ago the company that owned it closed down its newsroom. We saw a public outcry about that, but sadly the government of the day, the Liberals were in power then, did nothing to ensure the continuance of that news service at that important radio station.
The government took no action and I think that folks are very determined to make sure that this does not happen again with the example of the television service of TQS. They want to make sure that the importance of local and regional news service in a general licence is understood and made clear, and that all politicians from all sides understand that.
I think folks in Quebec were burned by the closure of the newsroom at CKAC and by the failure of the Liberal government of the day to take any action that would support the continuation of that news service and the loss of diversity in viewpoints that it represented at the time. The concern is very directly that history may repeat itself now that we find this situation with TQS.
Over the past few weeks we have had this issue raised in the House a number of times in question period. The member for Outremont was one of the members who raised this issue in questions for the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages. I think he raised a very important point when he put this question to the minister. He asked:
|| Is the minister aware that, at the hearing on the future of TQS, the controller, who is appointed by the court, said that the buyers, namely Remstar, had no intention of asking for substantial changes to the licence?
He went on to say:
|| We now know that this is false. Indeed, the massive layoff of journalists and the death of the news services are in blatant contradiction with the formal commitments made by TQS, when it applied for its licence.
I think the member for Outremont put it very clearly and very strongly to the minister that day about the concern that something important was being lost. Even though, when the changes were first discussed, it was stated that there was no intention of doing away with the news services at TQS, that is indeed what took place not too long thereafter.
What a huge disappointment and sense of betrayal that this has caused among the workers, but also among viewers and among people who care about media diversity in Quebec and all across Canada. It is very important to remember that.
Part of our action today is to let broadcasters and potential investors in the broadcasting industry know that we are determined to see the principles of a general interest broadcast licence and a conventional broadcast licence maintained. There should be no compromise on those kinds of licences.
We are determined to ensure that anyone who invests in that industry, maintains that commitment and does not say one thing one day and then takes a completely different action the next day. We are determined to ensure people do not go back on those kinds of commitments. It is important we reinforce that. The member for Outremont did that clearly and articulately in his questions to the government in question period some weeks ago. When people are granted that licence and when they undertake operations under that licence, We have to ensure that commitment is maintained and no compromise is made to it.
This is an important issue. It is an important issue in Quebec, as we have heard from the debate today, as we have heard from the discussions at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and as we have heard from the debate at Assemblée nationale. The actions of the Government of Quebec have also shown this to be an important issue in Quebec.
However, it is not just limited to Quebec. It is an important discussion to have in all regions of Canada. One organization, one company, one voice in news services does not guarantee a democratic or diverse media. This is why it is important that we take a stand when any one of those regional media voices is on the verge of being lost. It does raise important issues of culture, of language and of information. The member for Outremont made that very clear in his questions in the House, when this issue first broke. We have to take our responsibilities seriously in all these areas.
Most acute is the situation surrounding broadcasters and broadcast licences in Canada. We have to do our utmost to maintain a diversity of viewpoints when it comes to provision of information and news in our country. That was driven home by the Lincoln report, a very extensive report on the broadcasting industry in Canada. Not many current members in the House worked on that report, but members who are no longer here worked on it a few years back. That report is considered one of the most important reports on the broadcasting industry in Canada.
In the chapter on community, local and regional broadcasting, the committee noted its concern that community, local and regional broadcasting services had become endangered species and that many parts of Canada were underserved. In its travels across the country, the committee heard from a surprising number of citizens who felt they had been neglected and even abandoned by the broadcasting system.
It is important to recognize that this concern has been raised for many years and in many different circumstances across Canada. The situation facing viewers in Quebec has raised alarm bells. The provision of regional news voices, regional information services, regional and local programming has been a major concern to Canadians from coast to coast to coast for many years. This is nothing new. When these situations arise, it is incumbent on us to make our position very clear. We stand in support of providing that important kind of local service.
The Lincoln report was clear, and we have been very clear here this afternoon. I hope the message is heard in the places where it needs to be heard.
It is crucial in any part of the country that there be a diversity of voices in the media. As someone from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, I know we are often given as an example of a place in North America where media concentration and ownership of media is at its highest. We are not always pointed out as a positive example.
The majority of people in Vancouver get their news and information from one source, from one company, and that presents a certain concern that there is not a diversity of voices that are heard.
Thankfully we have other competitors for that market, for the interest of those viewers and for the provision of that information, and others are doing a very valiant job of competing with the major organizations. However, it remains a concern when any one market has that kind of concentration of ownership and the development of a single major voice in the provision of information and news services.
We want to ensure we do not lose that in any part of the country. People in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia understand the importance of this. That is why we can stand in solidarity with the folks in Quebec who were concerned about the situation with TQS and with the workers at TQS. We know the kind of situation that is involved.