Hon. Mauril Bélanger (Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.)
|| That, in view of the ratification by Canada of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the House insist that the government, its departments and agencies maintain the program policies and regulations in support of Canada's artistic sector and cultural industries, in particular, by maintaining or enhancing: (a) existing Canadian cultural content requirements; (b) current restrictions on foreign ownership in the cultural sector; and (c) financial support for public broadcasting in both official languages.
He said: Mr. Speaker, first of all, it is important to remind the House what the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions is and how it was created.
Last fall, on October 20, 2005, to be precise, a very large majority, more than 100 of the eligible countries present, voted to adopt that convention. Only two countries voted against it, namely, the United States and Israel. All other countries present, including Canada, voted in favour of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
As I was saying, on October 20, 2005, the convention was adopted by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The convention recognizes the dual nature of cultural goods and services that have both economic and social value. It underscores the right of governments to take measures to support the diversity of cultural expressions. The convention is on an equal footing with other international treaties—and that is very important.
Before going any further, I would like to thank and congratulate certain individuals for their hard work over a number of years.
I want to refer in particular to the past member of Parliament, Sheila Copps, former member for Hamilton East, when she was Minister of Canadian Heritage. She undertook this formidable task of creating or bringing together nations to create a convention, a new international instrument.
I remember when Madam Copps invited a number of countries to Ottawa in 1999. They met at the National Arts Centre. There were about 20 countries at the time. I remember that Greece and Mexico participated actively because the following meetings were held in those countries respectively.
To the credit of Madam Copps, she saw, and the government at the time saw, the necessity for such an instrument. The world is embarking more and more on international treaties for the liberalization of trade, for free trade areas such as NAFTA, the WTO, and the current rounds of negotiations on a number of fronts. At the time, the cultural and artistic milieu or industries were being threatened as well. There was a recognition that their economic and social importance was indeed missing.
After a number of meetings and years it came to be that the nations of the world indeed recognized the dual nature of cultural industries. They are important economically, as we will see, but they are also very important socially.
Following Madam Copps we had other ministers of heritage also supporting this, in particular Madam Liza Frulla. She was the one who actually helped bring it to fruition in October 2005.
I would be remiss if I did not recognize the active and very important participation of the Quebec ministers of culture, who have always supported the efforts made. There has been considerable reciprocity between the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec in this regard.
There has been a great deal of support and collaboration. The arts community has definitely been involved. Coalitions for cultural diversity have been established and have been very active, with support from the Quebec and Canadian governments and from their own communities. Their approach is very constructive and they wish to ensure the survival of cultural industries in Canada and throughout the world.
Congratulations and thanks must be extended to these people for their perseverance and also for having discerned the needs and the instrument required. In Canada this instrument, the convention, was ratified on November 23.
Canada was the first country to ratify this international convention, and we are waiting for a number of other countries to do the same. Indeed one of the questions the government may wish to address, and which I would hope it would address in this debate today is what exactly the government is doing to encourage other nations to ratify this very important convention.
The convention recognizes the dual nature of cultural industries, on the one hand the economic impact and the importance of the initiatives of these industries and on the other, the social impact.
Let us look at the economic impact. I will give an example from this area which is not the hotbed of television production. We would find more television production in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver for instance. In national capital region, I am aware of three companies. They are Sound Venture Productions with Neil Bregman, Knight Enterprises with Chris Knight, and Les Productions R. Charbonneau with Robert Charbonneau.
In the past few years those companies have grown. They have become more important to the local economy. They have hired a number of graduates from Algonquin College, la Cité collégiale, the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. They have studied in this environment. They have produced television shows and are looking into the production of movies as well. Some productions have been broadcast on our public television network. Some have been broadcast on privately owned specialty channels and some have been broadcast on educational networks that are owned by the provinces. Most of the productions have been sold abroad.
This very active industry is having a significant impact economically in terms of job creation, investments and exports. This can be applied one hundredfold when we look into the television and film production that occurs in the Toronto area and the television and film production that occurs in other parts of the country from coast to coast.
Montreal should not be discounted. It is a very active centre for television and film production.
The same thing applies in other cultural industries. Book publishing is one. Canada has a very good reputation in book publishing. We have worked at it. We have worked through the granting program of the Canada Council and through programs in the Department of Canadian Heritage to support publishing, to support artists, to support authors, to support the export of books. We have managed to build ourselves a great inventory of authors but also an industry that can actually thrive in this environment. The same thing applies in other areas of cultural industries, whether it be magazines or the theatre.
This is also the case for the visual and performing arts. These are all industries that provide jobs, boost the economy and gross domestic product, if I may call it that.
We must recognize that in terms of national importance, cultural industries hold a place of honour, just like the other industries, such as the forestry, automobile, fishing or agricultural sectors. Taken together, the cultural industries are a very important component of Canadian industry.
That, however, represents only part of the importance of these industries, as the international convention recognizes. The other aspect of their importance is the social and cultural aspect, the aspect that defines us as a nation, as citizens and as individuals. This other aspect adds to the value of everyday life. In a way it is what makes life worth living, when we can sample cultural expressions, such as literature, one of Canada's art galleries, a film, a television series or dance or theatre. These are activities in which we can become involved, either as active participant in presenting the event or as spectator, the passive participant appreciating the creative work of artists. They are of equal value. You cannot have one without the other. Together they give life its meaning.
We can see that the more a country develops its cultural industries, its artistic areas and communities, the richer its society. This is what the convention recognizes.
We have a situation where governments now have the right, and I would argue the duty, to protect cultural industries and to do so on an even keel in terms of other international instruments, be it the World Trade Organization or free trade instruments such as NAFTA. The situation now is that a convention has been ratified overwhelmingly. Canada has ratified that convention as well. Hopefully other countries are in the process of doing the same so that it will have force very soon.
Before anyone jumps on the anti-Americanism bandwagon, let me assure the House that is not what is driving this. It is absolutely not. Let us look at the situation in Canada. Movies are possibly the most extreme. Of cinema screen time, we see Canadian movies 1.2% of the time. If anyone were to argue that we are trying to restrict access into Canada of American made films or films made in other countries, that is not the case. There is ample access. There is hardly any room on our screens right now for Canadian made movies. The same does not apply in Quebec and in francophone Canada.
Quebec's film industry is flourishing. Last year, it enjoyed phenomenal success. It increased its share of the market to some 27%, primarily in Quebec.
Francophone and anglophone production combined has captured only 4% or 5% of the country's market. That is very little given that American film production occupies over 90% of it.
There is no question of blocking American cinema. Rather, the idea is to create a space for our own cinema.
The situation is the same in the case of books. We need only wander around any airport, bus terminal or train station to see that American best sellers are everywhere.
We are not trying to restrict access to American books, American music, American theatre, or any other artistic endeavour that is prepared in and exported from the United States into Canada. That is not the point of this exercise. It is absolutely not anti-Americanism. It is pro-Canadian. It is to make sure that we have certain restrictions and safeguards so that Canadian cultural products and images can be enjoyed by Canadians in their own country.
I would therefore like to make sure that during the debate today, members do not accuse us of anti-Americanism. because that is not the case.
We focus on three items.
We mention in particular three items that we want the government to maintain, such as the current Canadian content requirements. We are not suggesting that things stay fixed in cement forever. We understand that technology evolves. We understand that new methods and new means of communication are created. We understand that there may be a need to adjust, to innovate and to strengthen.
What we are looking for collectively I hope in the House is that we do not go backward, that we do not withdraw from requiring minimum Canadian content, be it on radio, television or in other cultural industries. We have demonstrated over time the usefulness and the appropriateness of requiring a minimum of Canadian content on our public airwaves for instance.
If we look at the most celebrated songstresses in the world, four or five Canadians could be named who benefited greatly from the Canadian content requirement. I think of Sarah McLachlan, Avril Lavigne, Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette and Céline Dion. They are perfect examples to justify requiring a minimum of Canadian content on the radio. It generated incredible support and enthusiasm for the Canadian music industry. This is the kind of result that requiring Canadian content yields. I would hope that all members in the House would support maintaining Canadian content requirements.
It is the same kind of argument on foreign ownership.
It is the same kind of argument on foreign ownership restrictions. We have maintained over the past, a number of restrictions on foreign ownership of broadcasting facilities. Now we are looking at a situation where the government may put that into question. It is very important to reaffirm our desire to maintain the ability to own our own distribution networks and our own broadcasters, because if we have given up on that, then we have given up on everything, and I do not think that is where Canadians want to go.
I understand that the private sector, and those who would benefit directly from lifting such restrictions on foreign ownership, want them. That is human nature and one can understand that. But we have a duty here and the CRTCs of the world have a duty that goes beyond that. We have a duty to protect the interests of Canadians and the interests of Canadian cultural industries. That is why it is important that before we embark on the lifting of any foreign ownership restrictions, which is something the government is hinting at, we be very careful and establish protection policies.
We recognized that some arguments can be made, for instance on the telecom side, that there may need to be some consolidation and greater foreign ownership. Having said that, there have to be allocations made to keep the broadcasting industries under Canadian control and in Canadian hands. If indeed we are looking at a convergence situation where all the telecom companies own the broadcasters, then we would have a situation where we could end up with foreign interests owning all our broadcasting capacity. Therefore, the need to maintain restrictions against foreign ownership is very important.
This is a topical issue because the government apparently intends to lift these restrictions.
Lastly, there is public television and its funding by taxpayers.
We say that we want to maintain the level of funding, and perhaps even enhance it, of public broadcasting. In this case, we are talking principally about CBC Radio-Canada and its various guises and manifestations.
It is important to mention that the CBC, with its French- and English-language television and radio networks, has become an extremely important institution to Canada. The CBC tells Canadian stories. It is therefore important that this institution maintain its autonomy and its ability to plan.
As the government prepares to review the CBC's mandate, I think it is important that the House give its opinion on the importance of this institution and its funding, and I hope that will happen today.
Regarding the CBC's mandate, the other day in this House the minister answered me that she would bow to the will of the committee or body that will be reviewing the CBC's mandate and will have a say in its parameters. I hope that we will have the opportunity to discuss this, because this is a significant debate. I would hope, for example, that Canada will look at funding models for public television and public broadcasters elsewhere in the world.
These are the issues I wanted to define today.
These are very significant debates in our country. We have extremely important and delicate issues before us. In my view and hopefully in the view of this House, as we go forward it is important that the House establish some parameters, some areas where we wish the government to go and where we do not wish it to go in terms of Canadian content, in terms of restrictions on foreign ownership and in terms of public broadcasting.
Mr. Jim Abbott (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Abbotsford.
I rise today to address the motion brought forward by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier. Before I do that, I reflect on the fact that this is the fifth time I have had the privilege of being the member for Kootenay—Columbia. I thank the people in my constituency for their continued confidence and commit to everybody, whether they voted for me or not, that I am their member of Parliament and I will reflect their views and their wishes in this chamber.
As I have also suggested on another occasion, Mr. Speaker, I think you look just fine in that chair. It is a job well overdue.
I cannot support the motion for a number of reasons, but since I only have 10 minutes to speak, let me concentrate on its potential effect on one of Canada's most important cultural industries, broadcasting.
The member's motion fails to consider the pace of technological change faced by broadcasting. The pace of change is bewildering, everything from TV on our cellphones to digital satellite radio. I suggest that the challenges and the changes are probably only restricted by the size of our imagination.
The government is committed to addressing those changes, but to do so, we need to develop a new policy framework. I cannot say exactly what the framework would look like and neither could the member opposite. The government is committed to work with the industry, the producers of television, radio and the people of Canada to develop those solutions.
There are many good ideas on these new challenges and the motion would slam the door on most of them. Just because something may have worked in the past, there is no guarantee that it will continue to work in the future.
Make no mistake, the government will not abandon Canadian content requirements, restriction on foreign ownership or financial support for the public broadcaster. We will keep those tools ready, but we will use them when appropriate. None of them are a complete solution to the challenges we face in the broadcasting sector. This is the essence of good public policy: consider the issues and adopt focused measures, a lesson the former government could have learned.
The motion seeks to deny the government the freedom to adapt those new policies or to modify old ones. I consider it an irresponsible motion. While I am prepared to accept he is an honourable gentleman, as I want to be, he probably did not have any intent for it to be irresponsible. The fact is, it ends up trying to paint the government as somehow being un-Canadian.
He protested a couple of minutes ago that the debate should be above politics. The motion basically attempts to create the impression that somehow the Conservative Party is un-Canadian and that it is not committed to cultural options. I will not take any lessons from the member on how to protect Canadian culture.
The motion talks about ensuring or expanding funding for the CBC. Where was the member when the government, led by his party, slashed the funding for the CBC in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 or 1998? Where was he when his party presided over a government that denied the CBC stability in the years since then?
It is truly sad that the member tries to pose as a friend of the CBC when his own party failed to deliver stable funding to the CBC, even when the stable funding was supposedly part of his election platform. Again, we are faced with the meaning of Liberal promises: much committed; little delivered.
The government will not be bound to fund the CBC at any level, especially in light of the fact we are about to undertake a review of the CBC`s mandate. The kind of commitment contained in the motion will not allow the CBC to develop a strategic plan. The government will ensure that the CBC breaks out of the cycle of short term plans that it has been locked into for the past decade by the former Liberal government. Based on a mandate review, we will ensure the corporation plans ahead and then we would deliver the appropriate support.
The government is committed to provide the needed funding for the CBC. In the last days I think we have shown we keep our commitments.
We will go further than simply promising cash to the CBC. We want to ensure it is truly working as a public broadcaster. We intend to ensure that not only does the CBC continue to exist. We want to ensure that it is genuinely relevant to Canadians. A public broadcaster that does not have the support of the public cannot be called a success.
With respect to commercial radio, there is no doubt that Canada's broadcasting sector is healthy. We know the numbers. There are more than 750 radio and television stations delivering news, entertainment and information to Canadians. Those stations use conventional signals, cable and satellites to get their programming into Canadian homes and as stated earlier, there are many more new, technological advances and challenges that are facing that industry.
In that respect the distribution networks are changing and changing dramatically. TV over the Internet is not with us yet, but I would be prepared to guess that it is only just very likely around the corner. If this motion were to pass, it would deny the government the tools needed to face that challenge. New solutions will be needed to solve these new problems and this motion denies the government the freedom. It puts us in handcuffs.
Much more is at stake than simply Canadian government policy. The industry employs thousands of Canadians and generates some $11.5 billion in economic activity each year. The opposition motion would jeopardize all that just to make a political point in the House.
The hundreds of broadcasters who make the industry vital know that we have to develop new business plans and strategies to ensure future success. I would advise the hon. members opposite to take the example of the broadcasters and to withdraw this backward motion.
The best way to ensure that there is Canadian content on the airwaves is not solely through regulation, though regulation has its part. It is through ensuring there is a vital broadcasting system. The government believes in finding a place for Canadian voices on the airwaves and we believe those voices must be heard.
However, there is also a place for healthy competition on the airwaves. We do not believe in monopolies. We believe in necessary government regulation, but we do not believe that all regulation is a good thing. We want to encourage Canadian talent so that it wins a place on the world's airwaves.
We will invest in artists to ensure that they can reach a level of excellence that sees the world coming to their doors. Canadians will have more choices in the future. Technological change makes that almost certain. We cannot simply pass a motion today that would ensure a significant number of those choices would be Canadian.
The government is committed to a strong Canadian broadcasting system which is why I cannot support this motion. It sounds like a proposal that will help Canadian broadcasters and cultures, but in reality it denies the government the tools it needs to develop the policies that will take our broadcasters to new levels of success.
Canadians always rise to the challenge. Canadians always succeed when they are challenged, and we want to maintain an open door for Canadians to succeed, not be tied down and handcuffed with a motion such as the member has proposed.
Mr. Ed Fast (Abbotsford, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the motion presented by the member for Ottawa—Vanier. I also want to thank the member for Kootenay—Columbia for sharing his time with me.
The intent of the motion is to compel the government to maintain the existing program policies and regulations:
||--by maintaining or enhancing: (a) existing Canadian cultural content requirements; (b) current restrictions on foreign ownership in the cultural sector; and (c) financial support for public broadcasting--
Let me state from the outset that we do support the convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions. The issue for us is its misuse and misapplication in the motion before the House.
I would suggest that the motion is misguided and should be defeated for three reasons. First, it is premature and prejudges the outcome of numerous mandate reviews which have been requested by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
Second, it essentially restates the status quo when, in fact, on January 23 Canadians voted for change.
Third, it completely ignores the time and effort which went into the preparation of the Lincoln report, a comprehensive and time consuming report on Canadian broadcasting which was completed in June 2003.
Let me first address the issue of mandate reviews. As the House knows, the Minister of Canadian Heritage is in the process of initiating a complete review of the CBC's mandate. The results of that review are critical to determining the future direction of Canada's biggest public broadcaster.
In fact, as recently as May 16 the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage unanimously passed a motion that the minister provide committee members with an opportunity to review and offer modifications to the terms of reference for the CBC mandate review.
The government is committed to long term, stable funding for Canadian broadcasting and the arts. Unlike the previous government, which promised to support the CBC and then slashed its budget, we will continue to deliver on our promises.
I also note that at the same May 16 committee meeting the members unanimously agreed to review the mandates of all crown corporations under its purview to ensure their capacity to carry them out properly.
The purpose of course of mandate reviews is to determine whether new policies and approaches need to be implemented to allow Canada's artists and creators to adapt to rapidly changing technology and fierce global competition.
Sadly, if the motion before us today were to pass, it would essentially render the mandate reviews meaningless, since the motion prejudges the outcomes of those reviews.
On the second issue, I note that the motion is focused on preserving the current status quo. It demands that existing Canadian content requirements be maintained. It demands that current foreign ownership rules be maintained.
What the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier conveniently forgets is that on January 23 Canadians voted for real change. Canadians rejected a Liberal agenda that ignored new technological realities and failed to help Canadian artists compete on the international stage.
The Conservative government on the other hand is committed to working with the cultural sector to develop policies that will ensure that this sector thrives. It is important that we work with cultural communities to ensure that they are equipped for the new technological realities of the 21st century.
The old solutions no longer work, yet that is exactly what this motion does. The motion guarantees that Canadian artists and cultural communities will fall further behind the rest of the world in pursuing their aspirations and their artistic goals.
My third reason for speaking against this motion is perhaps the most troubling one. It is the complete disregard, which this motion shows, for the comprehensive work done by a previous heritage committee. Case in point is the Lincoln report which was issued in June 2003 and is a sweeping and exhaustive review of the broadcasting industry in Canada.
The report highlights in great detail a host of challenges facing the broadcasting industry as it seeks to reflect our cultural identity and heritage while remaining viable and competitive in a global environment.
Audience fragmentation; loss of local, community and regional programming; rapidly changing and emerging technologies; consolidation and convergence of broadcasting entities; and challenges to our Canadian cultural identity are all issues that received extensive treatment in the Lincoln report.
Furthermore, the report makes numerous recommendations aimed at preserving and enhancing the viability of a distinctively Canadian broadcasting industry. The recommendations also address many of the needs of the producers and artists who deliver the product to Canadian televisions, radios and computers.
The motion, on the other hand, ignores several years of painstaking committee work and consultation. The motion simply reintroduces an outdated set of platitudes which serve no purpose other than to perhaps promote the particular political objectives of the tabler.
The motion is quite unnecessary. If there were any question as to the government's commitment to invest in culture and the arts, one would need look no further than the government's recent budget which provided an additional investment of $50 million into the Canada Council for the Arts. It also introduced tax exemptions that would help create a pool of donations to charities equal to approximately $300 million. It is also important to note that it was this government that dealt directly and effectively with Quebec's participation at UNESCO.
The timing and content of the motion do not bode well for the future work of the heritage committee. It is important to note that the motion does not emanate from the work of that committee. I perhaps had naively assumed that the work of our committee would be conducted in good faith with the interests of all Canadians at heart. I had assumed that the usual process of examination and review would be followed. Unfortunately, the motion appears to be a brazen attempt to circumvent the committee's mandate by reasserting a failed Liberal agenda.
If the motion passes, it places the work of the committee in a box. It implies that the minister and the committee members cannot be trusted to act in good faith and in the best interests of Canadians. Essentially, the motion renders useless any further work of the heritage committee. In that sense, it is vexatious and I ask members of this House not to support it.
Mr. Maka Kotto (Saint-Lambert, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, from the outset I want to point out that I personally do not consider this motion a platitude, nor do I consider the comments and arguments of my colleagues platitudes.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the motion. It is nonetheless convinced that it would be more realistic to consider that Quebec, in matters of cultural regulation, is better positioned to properly defend issues related to its own culture.
The Bloc Québécois considers it essential to regulate broadcasting and telecommunications. The Bloc Québécois reminds hon. members that the worst attack on Canadian content was carried out under, and with the approval of, the Liberals in the satellite radio case. Although the Bloc Québécois is in favour of appropriate financial support for public radio and television, it is nonetheless opposed to their use for the purposes of federalist propaganda.
The Liberal motion is based on the convention on the diversity of cultural expressions.
The official title of the proposed UNESCO convention is “Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions”. It will:
|| Recognize in international law the distinctive nature of cultural goods and services as vehicles of values, identity and meaning.
|| Clearly affirm of the right of countries to have cultural policies to ensure genuine diversity of cultural expressions domestically.
|| Include provisions by which developed countries undertake to support developing countries in nurturing the development of their own emerging cultural industries.
|| Assert the principle of non-subordination—meaning the legal status of the convention in international law will be equal to that of other international treaties, including trade agreements.
|| Commit countries to take the provisions of the convention into account not only when entering into other international agreements, but also when applying and interpreting agreements to which they are party.
|| Include a basic dispute settlement mechanism, creating the potential that in the years ahead the convention will accumulate a body of written decisions on issues of cultural policy that will ultimately influence how culture is treated in trade agreements.
This introductory text being what it is, until Quebec's sovereignty becomes a reality, the viability of major aspects of Quebec's cultural interests is unconstitutionally and intimately linked to the position the federal government will take in each issue related to culture and communications domestically and abroad.
As far as UNESCO is concerned, it is too bad that Quebeckers are unable to make the necessary representations directly to the other member nations of UNESCO so that we could encourage them to ratify the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
This Convention needs to be ratified by 30 countries to become operational. At this very moment, there are only two countries that have ratified it: Canada and Mauritius. Does its inaction in convincing other nations to ratify this convention mean that the federal government, traditionally an international leader in this area, has already given up on the matter? I wonder.
Are we in this House once again going to be the privileged witnesses of the Asia-Pacific axis syndrome regarding this sensitive issue, as we were for the Kyoto protocol?
Let us briefly recall the crucial details that informed the debates surrounding this convention during the 38th Parliament.
The Bloc Québécois, nurtured and supported by the Quebec wing, its cousin and ally, the Parti Québécois, has waged a battle precisely to defend this issue, because it was important, decisive for its identity, for its culture, within this large North American family dominated by our large neighbour, the United States. So with tremendous passion we initiated representations among figures other than Canadians to raise their awareness so that, once back in their own countries, they could carry the message that this is a convention that will help to save us from cultural homogenization and standardization, from alienation and acculturation.
Because, what would we be tomorrow if by chance we let ourselves get lost in the cultural frames of reference and products that come to us from our big neighbour, which exports close to $7 billion worth of cultural products annually? What would become of our children’s and our grandchildren’s identity if we allowed ourselves to be nourished by these references and models of identification?
That was the rationale for our struggle and we were glad to see that the previous government did not drop the ball until we found satisfaction on our side.
With its accountability neurosis, the new government, the Conservative government, should begin to set its own house in order by demonstrating its “sense of state”. In other words, it should honour and actively promote the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, secured with hard work, and signed and ratified by the previous government. It should make sure in particular that this convention is not sacrificed on the altar of the WTO and that it keeps a mechanism for settling disputes so as to ensure that trade tribunals do not end up determining what an “acceptable” cultural policy is.
If culture were regarded as merchandise, we would end up with a form of cultural Darwinism in which only the strongest and the most powerful would survive.
The federal government must therefore confirm that it will not take part in such an undertaking by taking specific action here and now. This means—for us, until Quebec deigns to say yes—that federal government departments and agencies must maintain the programs, policies and regulations that support the artistic sector and cultural industries, specifically by maintaining or promoting the current requirements for Canadian cultural content. This point warrants a little fine tuning. In this regard, I will revive the matter of satellite radio.
The main problem in developing Canadian and francophone content in commercial radio arises from the advent of satellite radio. If it remains on the fringe, the licensing conditions set for it are considerably less stringent than those set for commercial radio and have considerably impressed conventional broadcasters, who have every opportunity now to call for relaxation of their own conditions of licence.
We must remember that the Liberal government could have rejected the CRTC's decision, and that by not doing so, it in fact supported its decision. In other words, the Liberals, who today are presenting this fine motion—I am not saying that ironically, but quite sincerely—helped weaken Canadian cultural sovereignty and struck a hard blow against cultural diversity.
The Liberal member for Bourassa, who disagreed with the position of his own government and with the CRTC, advocated the abolition of the CRTC, purely and simply.
In an open letter in September 2005, with the matter not yet settled, I set the problem out clearly, as heritage critic. The letter was entitled The Threat comes from Space. I will quote part of it.
|| The decision by the CRTC in June to award licences to Sirius Canada and CSR satellite digital radio services is most definitely bad news for radio in Canada and Quebec, but worse still, it illustrates the position of the federal government in its decision of September 8 to refuse to ask the CRTC to review its decision, as the law permitted it to do.
By deciding to ignore the many joint requests for review, in particular that of ADISQ, the Union des artistes, SOCAN and five other signatories in the entertainment sector, and by deciding not to instruct the CRTC to re-examine its decision, the federal government, by its own initiative, has surrendered both Canadian and—despite our best efforts—Quebec cultural sovereignty.
The Liberals modified the satellite-use policy to allow licensing, thereby enabling two U.S.-run companies, Sirius Satellite Radio and XM, the parent companies of SIRIUS Canada and CSR, to basically control this new medium.
I repeat that the worst blow to Canadian cultural sovereignty was dealt barely a year ago by the party that introduced this motion today.
I remember introducing a motion before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to encourage my Liberal, Conservative and New Democrat colleagues to react to what was going on behind closed doors. I did not intend to go on at length about the circumstances surrounding the decision ratifying the CRTC's move to issue these two operating licences. However, I must point out that the committee unanimously adopted the motion, which read as follows:
|| That in the opinion of the committee, the federal government must tighten its policies in broadcasting, as the Committee said in the report named Our Cultural sovereignty: The Second Century of Canadian Broadcasting, so that Canada entirely controls broadcasting in radio and television on its territory.
This motion was adopted unanimously by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on November 22, 2005.
I would now like to discuss foreign ownership. As my colleagues across the way no doubt expect, the Bloc Québécois is against any loosening of the foreign ownership rules in telecommunications. Because the telecommunications system is vital to any nation's sovereignty, it must be controlled by countries.
In its June 2003 dissenting report on Our Cultural sovereignty, the Bloc Québécois pointed out that
|| In our opinion, increased foreign ownership would not solve the problem of media concentration. On the contrary: weaker restrictions on foreign ownership and an influx of new capital would accelerate the concentration process.
Quebec creators who testified before the committee agreed unanimously with this position. I quote:
|| Without Canadian ownership of broadcasting companies, it would be impossible to maintain the integrity of the system and its fundamental mission, which is to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social, and economic fabric—
We are extremely concerned by the fact that the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology has recommended the liberalization of foreign ownership in the telecommunications sector and indirectly the liberalization of ownership rules for broadcasting distribution undertakings.
At the time, the Bloc Québécois recommended that the Minister of Canadian Heritage actively lobby her industry colleague to maintain the existing foreign ownership rules for telecommunications and broadcasting.
However, the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel, which submitted its report in March 2006, recommended relaxing controls on foreign ownership, as indicated in a March 26 article published by the Canadian Press:
|| The three experts also issued a series of recommendations regarding two more controversial topics that did not fall within their mandate, namely, broadcasting policy and foreign ownership.
|| According to them, it is extremely important that a group of independent experts take a close look at those two issues because they are inevitably linked to the telecommunications sector.
|| While awaiting the report, Ottawa should authorize foreign investments in telecommunications companies that are not subject to the Broadcasting Act.
|| The industry minister could therefore use the report as an opportunity to open the debate on foreign ownership, to which he claims to be somewhat sympathetic. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, the industry minister said that he would be open to discussion on that issue.
Naturally, the Bloc Québécois will fight against any relaxing of controls that will inevitably affect telecommunications in Quebec.
Let us now speak of current restrictions on foreign ownership in the cultural sector. When ordering a report with recommendations on the issue, some questions must be asked. In what direction were the Liberals really headed? Would foreign capital be seen more favourably? The question bears asking. Another step closer to the destruction of Canada's and Quebec's cultural sovereignty? This other question must also be asked.
The Conservatives have inherited this file. What will they do with these recommendations? In the event that this new government relaxes or eliminates restrictions on foreign ownership in the area of telecommunications, I am absolutely convinced that it will be creating serious difficulties for generations to come. With regard to the convergence of radio, cable and telecommunications, changes in ownership of telecommunications equipment will have serious repercussions for the current broadcasting legislation.
If the Bloc supports the Liberal's motion today, it is worthwhile remembering that, in September 2005, the Liberal Minister of Industry—the current Conservative Minister of International Trade—stated that he was open to more relaxed foreign ownership rules, as I mentioned earlier. That is what we were looking for in their election platform during the campaign: their vision for a cultural policy, and more specifically, their vision for broadcasting.
It should be noted that it is because of this Conservative perspective—that of integrating the market, bringing in the private sector and lowering our guard with respect to our neighbour, a large exporter of cultural products—that members of this House anticipate this weakening of Canadian, and consequently Quebec, cultural sovereignty. I know that the opposition will vote unanimously in favour of this motion.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to once again rise in this House and represent the people of Timmins--James Bay and the New Democratic Party in a discussion on the importance of maintaining cultural diversity.
I appreciate the motion put forward by my hon. colleague, the member for Ottawa—Vanier, because it is clear we need to give direction as the majority in this House to the government on where we need to go in terms of our obligations with UNESCO. Certainly over the last dozen years we have seen a mere lip service paid to cultural programming in this country. While we had some of the biggest surpluses in Canadian history, we saw steady cuts to the Canada Council, the CBC, regional programming and other arts programming.
In Timmins—James Bay, for example, under the Liberals, organizations that worked to promote Franco-Ontarians' language and identity lacked support. These organizations—the ACFO, ARTEM and the La Ronde cultural centre—fought for the vitality and heritage of families living in rural, isolated northern communities. The government must make commitments to these communities and these programs.
There is an obligation for governments to be committed, but we have to look at this in terms of a larger issue which is taking place right now, which is the trade component and foreign ownership issues related to cultural practices. All over the world countries are struggling against an ever-decreasing gene pool of cultural experience. They are fighting in every country to maintain a sense of regional identity and regional voices in the face of this mono-cropping Disney culture.
What we have seen in Canada is that paying lip service is not enough. Clear policies have to be in place. It is meaningless to talk about our support for UNESCO if we as a Parliament do not, number one, support our cultural policies very clearly on the ground, and number two, give very clear direction to our trade negotiators to insist that our cultural rights will not be traded away. What is very clear is that after UNESCO the United States has moved much more aggressively to get cultural issues on the table in terms of bilateral agreements. The U.S. does not support what is happening at UNESCO, and we see at the GATS in Geneva the ongoing efforts to undermine these rights.
The negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services run counter to our commitments to UNESCO. For example, why offer Quebec a seat at UNESCO when the Conservatives have already eliminated our cultural diversity?
The ongoing negotiations taking place at the GATS right now will have profound implications on our ability to maintain a cultural identity. For example, in March, when the industry minister received the recommendations on changes to telecom, he said that it would take weeks and months to study and to come back with recommendations on lifting foreign ownership restrictions. Yet we know that at the same time he was receiving that, Canadian trade delegations in Geneva already had been given very clear instructions.
Canada is part of a pluri-lateral request to the countries of the GATS to strip foreign ownership restrictions on all telecom industries. The trade request, as put forward by the Conservative government, is a radical change in telecom policy. It runs counter to present Canadian law and it will have profound implications on our ability to maintain domestic cultural policy in Canada. The Conservative government has already begun pushing ahead with these talks without a debate in Parliament, without input from stakeholders and without telling Canadians what is on the table.
We must look at the Conservative agenda for restrictions on media, telephone and cable ownership. I think that the Conservatives will want to open the markets to foreign ownership.
The NDP recognizes that Canada must support cultural industries. It must support broadcasting, the arts and magazines because they are vitally important to Canada's identity and its survival in a privatized global market.
When the telecommunications review was going on, questions were asked. We have not heard answers. GATS discussions are ongoing, but we have not heard any answers.
We have to look at who are the main people on the file. We look at the industry minister. Before he was elected, he was with the right-wing Montreal think tank that was committed to the complete free market deregulation of telecommunication. The other key player on the file is the member for Vancouver Kingsway. The pluri-lateral request had to have been initiated when he was the Liberal minister in charge of the review of telecom. Now he is the key figure on the trade talks on deregulation of telecom. Perhaps he did not have to cross very far on the ideological floor to fit in with the Prime Minister's agenda.
The question that has to be asked is, what do changes to telecom have to do with our ability to maintain cultural policy and our obligations at UNESCO? Given the convergence of telecom, the same companies that are open for foreign takeovers in terms of cable television and Internet services are the same companies that provide most of our radio, television and even newspaper services. Would we expect that these companies will divest themselves of their broadcast obligations if we change the foreign ownership restriction. It is a joke to suggest that somehow we will be able to maintain domestic Canadian content quotas, build a firewall around our domestic industry, if we allow the sellout of the ownership of that to U.S. giants.
In light of this, whatever promises we get from the government in terms of its support, it is meaningless. At this point Canada is on the receiving end of a GATS pluri-lateral request in Geneva in the area of audio-visual services. The ongoing discussions, which we are not privy to and which we have no idea what mandate the government has given its negotiators, include questions of stripping domestic content, erasing the favourable tax policies that have encouraged the domestic film production in Canada and ending all foreign ownership restrictions in the delivery and production of audio-visual services.
Parliament has set very clear limits on foreign ownership in broadcast and telecom. We need to insist that our trade negotiators, who are undertaking to represent Canada on the international level, understand that they have to be in compliance with present Canadian law. If the government wants to come forward with an agenda to change our laws on broadcast and telecom, it should then come into the House and open it to debate, but it cannot partake in this in Geneva and then bring it back as a fait accompli.
Any changes to domestic ownership in Canada, any changes to who controls telecom or broadcast, has to be brought before the House. I am very pleased that the motion has opened up this issue because it allows us for the first time to bring these issues forward to the Canadian people.
Therefore, I would like to put forward an amendment to aid us in our discussions and I think also aid the government in understanding its obligations to Parliament. I move:
|| That the motion be amended to insert the following immediately after “that the government”:
||“provide direction to trade negotiators to ensure that domestic cultural rights are not undermined in any trade talks and”
Then we continue on with the motion “the House insist that the government...”.
Ms. Peggy Nash (Parkdale—High Park, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today on the important motion put forward by the member for Ottawa—Vanier. My riding of Parkdale—High Park in Toronto is home to many artists and others who make their living in the cultural sector. They are our friends and neighbours and they make our community a unique and indeed better place for us to live.
Former NDP critic Wendy Lill once said that “art is the soul of any great nation”. She was right, and for the city of Toronto, it is also more than that. Culture and the arts represent jobs for Canadians. In Toronto, 25,000 jobs are tied to film and television production alone. Hundreds more are in the broader cultural sector.
Toronto recently commissioned a cultural plan for the city which clearly outlines that much of Toronto's wealth is “generated by people who work with ideas, and studies have shown that such people prefer to live and work where they find a vibrant cultural scene”. It goes on to say, “In fact, Toronto's cultural sector is the dynamo that turns the biggest economic motor in the country”.
However, unlike commodities that rely on non-renewable resources, the creative sector is in fact an infinite resource, and I submit that it is the key to a thriving 21st century economy. Our mayor, David Miller, recently said that Toronto's cultural sector is a $1 billion industry but that we need to do much better in this sector. For example, he said, there are federal tax incentives that are “so out of whack that it actually makes more sense for producers to shoot a show about Toronto in Regina or Winnipeg”. He said:
|| When you undermine the viability of the industry in Toronto, you undermine the industry in the whole country...you drive hard-working men and women...out of their chosen profession...[and] you reduce the talent and diversity of that talent throughout the country....
The cultural sector is also one of those unique economic engines that leaves a very small ecological footprint. Investment in the arts creates jobs, strengthens our national identity and gives us all our voice in an environmentally sustainable way. It is a win-win if ever I could think of one.
Despite this, the arts and cultural sector has been under attack after years of cutbacks, deregulation, unfair trade rules and partisan patronage appointments to our public broadcaster. That is why in this caucus we not only support the motion today but have proposed an amendment to strengthen it. That is also why our caucus has proposed substantial amendments to the federal accountability act, to stem the tide of partisan patronage appointments that tarnished the reputation of the CBC under the previous government.
The decision of the CBC to cancel programs like This is Wonderland is having a profound effect on employment, but also on our collective identity. Now there is no hour-long, Toronto-made drama on the air. As well, the decision of the CBC to cut its design department, which will axe almost 100 jobs and inevitably affect the quality of our public broadcaster, is also profoundly short-sighted.
I was pleased to join with CBC employees last Friday to oppose these cuts, but it is appalling to think that if these cuts are allowed to go through, the CBC will no longer be able to design sets or make costumes, props or special effects in the Canadian epicentre of English public broadcasting. They will no longer be able to produce complete shows inside the CBC. This is yet another CBC sellout and we are losing our public broadcaster cut by cut. We need to have our Minister of Canadian Heritage step forward and stop this sellout.
We need a strong cultural sector in order to tell our stories as Canadians and to protect our sovereignty. The spirit of this motion, as amended, needs to be respected by the government and the minister needs to take this seriously. If so, we will have gone a long way to protecting and enhancing our cultural rights and our cultural sector.
I am calling on the minister to seize the opportunity today to signal to the CRTC that TV drama content requirements be imposed on Canada's private broadcasters and that we strengthen our public broadcaster. As a former CRTC commissioner and a television executive, the minister, we know, understands the industry well. In 2004 she recognized the need for stable funding, saying that “they have to have confidence and stability that those dollars of support are going to be there year after year”.
It is also my hope that the minister will push for increased long term investment in the CBC. It is the only way that we can tell our own stories and protect our own jobs in the cultural sector.
Ms. Tina Keeper (Churchill, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.
I am honoured to speak before the House today on this very important issue of the support for and maintenance by the government of Canada's artistic sector and cultural industries.
Before I begin, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of the Churchill riding for electing me as their representative here in Canada's Parliament. I also recognize that the riding of Churchill is the ancestral home of my family at the Norway House Cree Nation at the top of Lake Winnipeg.
I mention this as it is pertinent to what we are discussing here today. I am a Cree woman and I have had an opportunity to participate in the arts and cultural sector of Canada in an extraordinary way. I have worked as an actor and producer in the arts sector and I have participated in the cultural industry of this country.
As an actor, I was lucky enough to be part of one of Canada's most successful television series. North of 60 was a CBC series that ran for six seasons and focused, for the first time in Canada, a dramatic series on an aboriginal community. This program became part of the cultural fabric of this country.
It is significant in its success not only as a Canadian television show, but also in the story it reveals in its inception, development, production and impact. It was the creation of independent writers and producers, and a leap of faith by a production company and a broadcaster led this project through development.
Questions were asked in 1992 about whether a project of this magnitude could possibly be suitably written, cast and directed. The many trained and skilled aboriginal individuals who were eventually employed in these creative capacities were available, as many of us had been extensively trained through the arts sector. Aboriginal people were involved from the development phase in writing and casting and as creative consultants, as the production reflected a specific cultural group.
The awareness by the production team that the South Slavey Dene were to be represented in a culture-specific manner was groundbreaking in mainstream arts. It reflected, I believe, the consciousness of a country that puts an emphasis on the cultural industry.
For many individuals throughout our great country, it is this consciousness that defines us as Canadians. It is the consciousness of diversity that takes root and provides each of us the opportunity speak to one another and to hear each other. It is what made this country great.
Without a doubt I would not be here today if it were not for the arts and the cultural industry, not only because it has provided me with the opportunity to see this great dynamic at work, but also because this sector provided me with the opportunity to participate and to be employed as a youth through theatre and art. It was the economic sector that had a place for me as a young Cree woman when so many industries throughout the 1970s did not.
As a woman who has worked in and dedicated my life to the cultural industries I have been able to identify the importance of an emphasis on strengthening and protecting this industry in Canada. Last October, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. I was personally touched when, on November 23, 2005, the previous Liberal government, under the leadership of the former prime minister, approved this convention.
The convention recognizes both the economic and the social value of cultural goods and services and the right of the state to take measures in support of diverse cultural expressions. At that time, the Liberal government initiated a lead to build international support.
This convention recognizes the impact of globalization through the rapidly changing technology of our day and the challenges it presents to ensure that cultural diversity is respected, valued and maintained as a right. UNESCO says:
|| In spite of its moral force as a milestone for international cooperation, the Declaration was regarded by Member States as an inadequate response to specific threats to cultural diversity in the era of globalization. For this reason, a binding standard-setting instrument on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions is being currently considered.
It has reflected on the 1972 convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage and also the 2003 convention concerning the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage.
At the international level, the effort is consistent regarding culture, and the preservation and promotion of diversity. They are pillars of our societies. Together, these instruments reinforce the notion enshrined in the UNESCO universal declaration on cultural diversity, namely, that cultural diversity must be recognized as the common heritage of humanity and that its defence is an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity.
There are cultural goods and services, diverse cultural expressions, and an intangible cultural heritage. We are speaking here today about the imperative of the preservation of creative diversity. It has never been more timely than now that we seek to participate in and lead this effort. As I have mentioned, I had an opportunity to participate in the production of what would be considered cultural goods and services in Canada. This was to become part of the cultural landscape and it is a testament to the cultural expression and heritage of this country.
There are two elements I would like to address at this time which are pertinent to this convention. First, it was as a result of the position which Canada took in its commitment to multiculturalism and the protection of a culture through arts and the cultural industry that this production was even possible; and second, it was a time when the Canadian television industry was not so threatened by globalization.
The impact of globalization makes it difficult to conceive that this project could be done today. This is why we need to adhere to the tenets of this convention more than ever. As an individual raised in a culture of a nation of people who have had a difficult and inequitable history in Canada, where even today people in this House have had the audacity to say that my nation is not real, this is the very reason that we must remain committed to this convention.
In order to strengthen our cultural industries at home, we must ensure compliance of the convention abroad. We see no effort from the Conservative government to convince other countries to ratify the convention. Canada has had the opportunity and capacity to lead by example in this regard, yet is failing to do so.
The reality of foreign ownership challenges is quite real. To this end, the Liberal Party places a strong emphasis on maintaining the current level of foreign ownership to preserve our cultural identity. Let us not underestimate the consequences of neglecting our responsibilities to this sector and to the country.
Mr. Scott Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the honour to stand here today to talk about culture and Canadian content.
I want to pick up on the question that was asked earlier by the hon. member for Calgary West on Canadian content rules and regulations. As a former broadcaster myself, I remember filling out many forms and going through the motions of doing the 30% Canadian content when it came to radio broadcasting.
It is a very good question because we have to ask ourselves whether it is a question of instilling this in order to put upon the public restrictions as to what they can listen to. The point is to promote our culture. The point is to expose the talent that we have to all three coasts. That is not an easy task to do when we are in the second largest country in the world.
For example, Great Big Sea, a band from my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, is a very popular band all over North America, but would it have succeeded in the absence of Canadian content rules? That question will probably remain unanswered, but it certainly did give it a start to go across the country. Recently, it has had great concerts in British Columbia and south of the border. Part of its success is due to the Canadian content rules that we have.
I do not think the purpose of it is to put restrictions on citizens, particularly our youth. The point is to promote what it is we have, to promote Irish, Newfoundland and Labrador folk music across the country. It is something that is now being seen in CD sales across North America.
To me, Canadian content rules and regulations are less about the rules and regulations and more about the promotion of the culture that we have, and in particular in this case the culture being Newfoundland and Labrador which I always say is over brimming with culture, one that Canadians certainly do appreciate and enjoy.
I have been on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage for quite some time. Right now the bulk of broadcasting and the bulk of film production is done in the major centres, whether it be Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver. However, there are other regions in the country that have a story to tell. We have to achieve the widest audience possible for them to tell that story. It is a good story and it is successful.
My hon. colleague from Churchill is a fine example of a show that she was on called North of 60 which I enjoyed very much. It was a good insight as to the culture of that region of our country, a part of the country with a small part of the population that probably would not have been recognized because the capital was not there to do this in the private markets. So as a government we helped. We helped them tell their story to the world.
Recently, there was a documentary about the seal hunt. It was based at Twillingate which is in my home riding. With the fuss going on and of course the arguments back and forth between the activists in the United States and Europe and we as seal hunters, and I fully support the seal hunt, our story had to be told. It was told from the viewpoint of an area that is rich in culture, rich in heritage, and dependent upon a way of life that we continue today. That story was told and thanks to the investment by the Government of Canada, we have done it.
When it comes to Canadian content, I have a few points to make. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or the CRTC as we know it, is the central body for regulating and overseeing the Canadian broadcasting industry. The Liberal Party remains confident that the CRTC has successfully helped the broadcasting system to achieve its objectives. When I talk about regions, I remember seeing a documentary some time ago about the architecture of churches in the small towns of northern Quebec. I watched it in Newfoundland and Labrador and what a good story it was.
Even though some people may think our Canadian content rules are restrictive, they are not. They are a promotion, a promotion of the French culture in Quebec where churches were the focal points of smaller communities. The architecture of these churches in small communities is unbelievable and a great story it is, and that is the key.
Canadians are best served by a broadcasting system that offers an ample supply of high quality, distinctively Canadian content that enlightens, entertains and informs citizens. I just gave the example of the interviews of sealers in Twillingate, Newfoundland and Labrador. This is programming that brings us together from coast to coast to coast. It is investments that we make to bring Canadians from places such as northern British Columbia, to the oil fields in northern Alberta, to the salmon rivers of New Brunswick.
We find that in a country this large with a population of only 30 million people, we need a crossroads of communication, one that is essential for a country this size and the culture that we have. That is our responsibility to the people of this country and, to me, that responsibility has to be emboldened within our Canadian content rules.
It is not so much a restriction upon content but it is the promotion of expression from all areas of this country, whether it be a terrible situation on the east side of Vancouver when it comes to homelessness, or whether it is the plight of a small village in Newfoundland and Labrador dependent upon the fishery, which has recently seen a downturn.
Some of the goals that we stress in Canadian strategy are: to put more emphasis on high quality Canadian content that reaches wide audiences and reflects Canada in its diversity, diversity of people and diversity of region; to put emphasis on funding Canadian drama, children's programming, cultural programming and documentaries that reach wide audiences; to provide the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, with specific funding for the provision of high impact programming consistent with its public service mandate; and to consider a number of measures to simplify funding in order to provide greater economic efficiencies and improved priority setting.
To ensure efficient and effective practices for monitoring Canadian content, the Liberal Party would focus the mandate on the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office and task it to conduct Canadian content certification on behalf of the federal agencies and programs.
In a letter dated September 30, 2005, Guy Mayson, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, or the CFTPA, proposed a new policy framework for Canadian television content. Among other things, the CFTPA requested that structural amendments be made to the Broadcasting Act and that the CRTC's 1999 television policy be revised to reintroduce compulsory expenditure thresholds on programming by conventional broadcasters.
One of the issues we need to get back to is Canadian drama when it comes to the content we have. We contribute a lot to Canadian drama and over the years we have been extremely successful. Many Canadian shows, such as the one my hon. colleague from Churchill was on, North of 60, are prime examples of stories that are seen around the world and have touched many people around the world. Even though they started out as distinctively Canadian stories, the themes were attractive to everyone because of their human content and the perseverance of the human spirit.
If there were any message from my home town that I would like to bring to this House it would be that I believe in the promotion of our regions across the country. I also believe that our Canadian content rules help to promote the expression of our cultures from coast to coast to coast.
Hon. Bev Oda (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for this opportunity to address the issue in the motion before this House today.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Perth—Wellington.
The member for Ottawa—Vanier is, of course, well known in this House for his continuing interest in cultural matters.
His motion raises a number of important points, and I will give them due consideration.
The members on this side of the House do support UNESCO and the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. In fact, the government and the Prime Minister turned a new leaf and dealt directly and effectively with the question of Quebec's presence at UNESCO.
The Bloc and the Liberals continue to take positions which undermine the recognition of a more important and cooperative role for Quebec within an organization that addresses linguistic and cultural issues.
Open federalism means inviting Quebec to take its place and express its voice at UNESCO and complement Canada's efforts within the UN family of nations. I am proud to be part of a government that believes in a new era of progress within a strong, united Canada and a confident and proud Quebec.
On this side of the House we support our artistic communities and cultural industries. In fact, we believe in strengthening the opportunities for these sectors, both at home and internationally. As such, we cannot support the motion as it is written.
In many cases the existing programs and policies do not reflect the new realities, the new technologies and the new world. Rather than agreeing to maintain the status quo and just talking about solutions, we believe in implementing effective meaningful solutions that can improve things. In order to support the artistic and cultural sector in Canada, we need to move forward, recognizing the realities of the new world.
As we all know, an artist's dream is always for a bigger stage, a bigger canvas and a bigger audience. The members on this side of the House will continue to work with the cultural communities so they can see their dreams realized.
Regarding the specifics of the motion, we have always supported and continue to support Canadian content on our airwaves, in our broadcasts and across our cultural and artistic sector.
What I cannot support is the suggestion that by maintaining the Canadian content regulations as is, it is the best way to advance the need for this important segment of our population. Existing Canadian cultural content requirements, as written in the motion, would limit the ability to ensure that cultural content requirements can be adjusted to meet the changing realities in many sectors. We are talking not only about broadcasting, but the arts, publishing and new media, as well as many new technologies and techniques not yet even conceived of.
Regulations regarding broadcasting are in the purview of the CRTC which, as all members know, is an independent body. We cannot commit to maintaining existing regulations when they are not in fact made by us. In fact, the CRTC is currently doing a review of radio regulations to reflect the new technology and the realities of the radio industry. We think this is good. We need to strive to advance these industries to ensure they remain relevant and competitive here in Canada.
Regulation is only part of the story. We also need to address the programs that support Canadian culture and artists.
Our party is committed to working with artists and creators to ensure that the money we have spent to support them goes to the people who need it and to ensure that the money is spent accountably. I am proud that in the recent budget our government made a commitment to exempt donations of publicly listed securities to public charities from capital gains tax and also committed $50 million to the Canada Council for the Arts. The publicly traded shares' new measure has generated, according to my unofficial account, over $60 million within a matter of days. This is projected to have the potential of adding some $300 million to $500 million annually toward non-profit organizations.
Again, our government is implementing real solutions, not just talking about them and not simply maintaining the status quo.
The question we must all ask ourselves is: How we can maintain or improve the market share of Canadian cultural products in the new reality of the 21st century?
If Canadians are drifting away from traditional radio listening patterns, acquiring music and audiovisual works off the Internet, what effects will this have on Canadian content rules? If audiences are going directly to the websites and downloading episodes of their favourite shows, what does this mean for the traditional television networks?
As the reality of these industries change, we must allow, indeed we must drive, our policy responses to reflect these advances or risk being left behind. For these reasons, the status quo is not good enough.
At present the CRTC is in the midst of a commercial radio review. The Department of Canadian Heritage has put in place a culture and technology task force to identify and assess the potential impacts of technology on our policies and programs. At some point in the coming months we will be responding to many questions being raised by Canadians regarding the role of our public broadcaster, CBC and Société Radio-Canada, in our Canadian broadcasting system.
All of these exercises have something in common: they are essential for the continued production and access of Canadian cultural products. We will build on the old and enter into a new dialogue with these communities. Our vision is one of dreams, growth and stability. Just as important, we must also identify if other new mechanisms are needed to foster long term growth.
The second point raised in the motion has to do with the restrictions on foreign ownership. Maintaining current restrictions on foreign ownership is important to the cultural sector. Currently there are no plans to change anything in this regard. We believe that our cultural industries, artistic communities and broadcasting system must continue to support Canadian content in all its aspects. We should also make sure that each one of these sectors is valued and maintains relevance to all Canadians in every region of this country.
Finally, I would like to ensure that we support a strong public broadcaster for our country. We know that it faces many challenges. Consequently, we will be undertaking a response to those concerns.
We have to ensure that our broadcasters can meet the new technologies and demands for digital broadcasting and respond to the high definition technology that is being introduced in the United States and Europe.
I want to assure the House that we are committed to a clear vision for our artistic and cultural communities and to our Canadian broadcasting system. We will play our role. We will perform our due diligence. We will also make sure they remain strong and can grow as we move forward in this century.
In conclusion, I once again thank the member for Ottawa—Vanier for presenting the motion. It has allowed me to address some of the concerns that I have with the motion as it is written.
Mr. Speaker, let me assure you that the Conservative Party and the government believe that the artists and creators in this country deserve more than status quo. We believe they deserve a strong voice, strong activity and strong presence in the 21st century. I look forward to working with all of the members in the House as we move forward on these important issues.
Mr. Gary Schellenberger (Perth—Wellington, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today about the extraordinary quality of Canadian artistic achievement and how this plays such an important cultural and economic role. Before I get to the point of my speech, I want to say what a privilege it is to speak after the hon. Minister of Canadian Heritage.
Unfortunately, this motion is seriously flawed. As such, this government will not be voting in favour of it. What strikes me as odd is why the party opposite, with such an abysmal record, would bring forward this motion in the first place. After 13 years of instability in arts funding, the official opposition has the audacity to try to champion Canada's artistic sector and cultural industries.
This government recognizes the arts' fundamental contribution to the lives of all Canadians, to individual Canadians, whether they are in small northern remote settlements or in large metropolitan centres, or in places like Stratford, Drayton and Mitchell in my riding of Perth--Wellington. In fact, one could argue that the defeatist sentiment expressed in this motion is typical of the approach taken by the previous administration. It says nothing about the vibrant artistic and cultural community that makes up this great nation we call Canada. This is the typical government can do it better attitude that Canadians have flatly rejected.
Essentially this motion tells Canadians that Canadian artists cannot compete globally. It says that Canadian talent is not as viable as American or European talent and that without government assistance, arts and culture in Canada could not survive. I simply do not believe that government does everything best and I definitely do not believe that Canadian artists cannot compete globally.
The arts do so much to transmit our stories, project our cultural heritage and showcase our distinct identity on the world stage. Arguably, some of the most famous Canadians internationally are our actors, singers and writers. One needs only to look at Shania Twain, Céline Dion, Keifer Sutherland, Jim Carrey or Margaret Atwood, to name but a few.
The arts not only captivate and enrich us, but they also make it possible to survive and thrive in what is fast becoming an increasingly technology driven world. Through the arts we see the reflection of our past, present and future. We not only gain a better understanding of who we are, but how others see us. The idea that increasing Canadian content somehow protects and cultivates homegrown talent is dubious and shows how out of touch the Liberals are when it comes to the very community they profess to defend.
This type of artistic protectionism would have us believe that Canadians are not up to the task. This is simply not true. The arts are a driving force that helps to fuel our economy. The undeniable contribution of the arts is reflected in our achievements attained through creativity and innovation.
The Canadian arts sector can be viewed as the research and development wing of Canada's thriving cultural industries. It contributes an estimated $39 billion annually, or 3.4% of the country's gross national product. This translates into more than half a million workers, or 3.9% of total employment.
In fact, economic indicators tell us that the arts sector is increasing at a greater pace than overall growth in the total labour force, but more importantly, arts and culture draws tourists. I am not sure if members have seen the recent series of ads on television where citizens of different parts of the world are standing in front of identifiable foreign locations, such as the pyramids or the Eiffel Tower. Those ads challenge Canadians to investigate their own heritage before they travel abroad.
The message is clear. Canada has a great deal to offer, and not just landmarks like the CN Tower. Our arts and cultural communities are among the most vibrant in the world. We can build on what drives the creative force behind them without taking the typical Liberal patronizing approach.
The government recognizes both the quantitative and the qualitative value of the arts. We need to provide long term stable support that will lead to clear results. The federal government seeks to stimulate the conditions that allow our arts and culture sector to produce uniquely Canadian artistic works and to flourish regionally, nationally and internationally. We understand that the arts make a positive difference in our lives.
Artists are crucial contributors to the quality of life that Canadians enjoy and the depth and clarity of our experience and understanding of the world. Artists are creators, visionaries, critics and teachers. They link us to our past and to our future. They challenge prejudices, break down barriers and prompt us to do the same and to make the world a better place. In so doing, the arts provide a safe place for citizens to engage in a democratic dialogue and contribute to cultural and socio-economic changes. They are the hallmark of this country's diversity and the expression of its distinctive identity, vast geography and landscape.
The arts are at the core of the mandate of the Department of Canadian Heritage. They are also central to many organizations within the Canadian Heritage portfolio, engaging other federal institutions and departments. Together with the private sector, all levels of government play a significant role. The government intends to develop these relationships to the maximum of their potential. Our goal will be to ensure that funding to the arts and cultural community flow directly into the hands of those who create the art. The government does not believe in the Liberal mantra, which seems to have been to dictate that half the money needs to be spent on administration.
The momentum of the work of the not for profit arts and cultural organizations requires significant and ongoing support to meet ever changing needs and challenges of the future. We need to determine what this practically means, working in collaboration with other funders, both public and private, to accomplish real results. Our approach of providing tax incentives to encourage Canadians to make donations is an important first step.
Investment in the arts generates direct and indirect economic growth. This is why the government included specific announcements for the arts in its recent budget. A total of $50 million in additional support was provided for the Canada Council, thus reinforcing the government's commitment to arts and culture. In addition, the budget will exempt from capital gains tax of charitable donations of publicly listed securities to public charities. These are first steps toward developing new relationships and to securing support from private donors. In fact, this tax break should lead to new donations of roughly $300 million annually to the not for profit sector. A good portion of this will go directly to arts funding.
The government believes that adequate support for the arts and artists requires strategic collaboration between government funding and private sector support. Our tax assistance program for both cash donations and donations of listed securities to registered charities is the highest in North America and an example for other nations.
I want to be very clear that the government is committed to a shared approach to the arts involving artists, all governments, the private sector, volunteers and cultural workers. This will ensure that all Canadians in every community will benefit from the arts to Canadian society.
Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.
In many respects it is the culture of the nation that defines its values and its character. Nations across the world are often associated with the cultural institutions they have nurtured and supported.
One has only to mention institutions like the British Broadcasting Corporation and immediately there is a multitude of thoughts that come to mind. High quality news coverage, documentaries, outstanding dramas and humourous comedies, all of which reflect the essence of British culture and the perspective that the British people have on the world.
It should be noted that even during the days of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who maintained a solid commitment to privatization, the institution of the BBC was essentially retained as she had found it.
It is in this respect that we today examine, among other things, the importance of arts and culture to the preservation and promotion of our national values and vision, of institutions like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Since it was brought into existence, the CBC has been the epitome of Canadian culture and the values of this society. It is really quite remarkable when one reflects over the years upon the enormous contribution of the CBC to Canadian life. It is an institution that brings all parts of this enormously diverse country together, both geographically and in the spirit of Canada.
Whether a person lives in a remote community in Newfoundland, or in a large Ontario urban centre, or on our country's beautiful Pacific coast, the CBC carries the same message to Canadians, demonstrating that, although we may be far apart, we are all linked by this great national institution.
Today, as we discuss issues of arts and culture, we must remember that we are cheering on the Edmonton Oilers, the last Canadian team now in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and we are watching it on the CBC.
If at Remembrance Day we are marking the great sacrifices made by Canadians to preserve freedom, we are watching the ceremony on the CBC. It is the same whether it is Canadian comedy, Canadian music, Canadian talk shows, Canadian political broadcasts, Canadian drama, and the list goes on.
We need to continue to fund the CBC. In fact, we need to increase the support it requires to continue to grow in service to Canadians. We need a strong and vital CBC. To achieve that, the CBC needs the proper funding. To help sustain our cultural fabric, the CBC needs the funds required to provide the level of broadcasting that will be competitive, interesting and informative for Canadians.
As Canadians, we inherently know the value of the CBC to Canadian life. We must also match this recognition with a commitment to provide the kind of funding that makes the CBC viable and pertinent in an ever increasing competitive market.
Today's debate also brings our attention to the issue of support for our official languages policy. Language is the essence of much of our communication. Through it, we express ourselves, our beliefs and we share our identity.
Our great former prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, recognized the importance of our two founding cultures to the character of our country. It is for this reason that he facilitated the implementation of our official languages policies. They help to accentuate the character of the two founding nations of modern Canada. Across the world we are known as a nation that speaks both French and English.
Indeed, when I travel, people across the world simply assume that as a Canadian I speak both languages. It is quite a laudable ideal and one that perhaps one day will be a reality, every Canadian having the ability to communicate in both of our beautiful languages. Since language helps to define who we are, it is imperative that our official languages policies are not only retained but nurtured.
I am concerned that the new government may lack the level of commitment to official languages policies that have characterized the beliefs of Canadian governments, both Liberal and Conservative, for quite some time now. I encourage the hon. members in the chairs opposite to join with us in maintaining a solid and abiding commitment to Canada's two official languages.
Similarly, as we look at funding issues in respect of the arts, we must also continue to expand our support for the Canada Council for the Arts. This agency is an arm's length body that supports the arts in Canada through grants, services and awards. Many individual groups over the years have benefited enormously from the support they have received from the Canada Council for the Arts. Across Canada the message of what it means to be Canadian expressed in arts and culture has been supported by the great work of the council.
The previous Liberal government had committed to doubling the funding for the Canada Council for the Arts to $301 million by 2009. We do not see a commitment of this kind, or anywhere near it, from the current government.
Indeed, following the last Liberal budget it was Karen Kain of the Canada Council for the Arts who said that the budget was wonderful news, as indeed it was. In practical terms, it provides the financial resources that are so essential to continue to promote our cultural growth and diversity, these being indispensable foundations of our Canadian identity. All of these institutions play an important role in fostering the multicultural identity that has become the envy of the world.
I am pleased and honoured to represent the people of Davenport. Davenport is located in the heart of Toronto, which is widely recognized as the most diverse city in the world. This diversity is one of the city's greatest strengths. It is also one of our country's greatest strengths. It is a great honour to be recognized like this across the world.
Whether it is the CBC, the Canada Council for the Arts, or the Canadian Television Fund, we must continue to support their work, work that promotes Canada to the world, work that sustains our great multicultural identity known throughout the world. These are the foundations upon which our cultural identity rests. Time does not permit a long discussion of the many other institutions that help promote the arts and culture of Canada but we certainly are very lucky with the importance of the arts in this country.
Mr. Michael Savage (Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to today's motion on a very important topic in Canada.
When I saw that the motion was to be debated it brought back a pleasant memory from the 2004 election campaign, the election in which I was first elected. It was a warm summer evening in June and I was sitting in Mildred Richardson's backyard with a number of people, a number of whom were former Progressive Conservatives who had come together to talk about issues of importance to them.
We talked about a lot of things. I remember most clearly, and it was a pleasant night as it always is in Milly's backyard, Joan Forshner, a great champion of arts and culture in the community, leaning over and quietly making the plea, “Don't forget about arts, culture and heritage. Nobody ever talks about it in Parliament and they should”. She was right. I think about that episode quite frequently.
I was pleased that the first official function I had as a member of Parliament was to welcome Madam Frulla, the minister of heritage in July 2004, to a round table in my community to talk about arts and culture. There were participants from Neptune Theatre, Symphony Nova Scotia and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. There were people from the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia and people representing the Mi'kmaq community. We talked about the contribution to Canada that is made by the arts and cultural community both economically and socially.
I know there are people who will ask why we are talking about this subject when there are so many other important issues. That may well be a good question, but the simple fact is there is always something more pressing and more urgent that requires more immediate attention than this. That is why arts, culture and heritage, as well as the cultural industries, always get put on the back burner.
I remember being on the board of Neptune Theatre in Halifax about 12 years ago. We were raising money to build a new theatre. The provincial government of the day, wisely led by my father as premier, committed money to the project. I remember somebody asking him, “How could you do that? The economy you inherited from the Conservatives is probably the worst in Canada. Premier Buchanan left you nothing. We need the money for health. How could you put money into Neptune Theatre?”
His answer, and I believe he was right, is that we cannot segregate everything out in life. We are composed of lots of different things. There is a holistic approach in communities, just as there is in individuals. We need health. We need universities. We need economic development. Today we need a better budget than the one that was delivered in the House to work on the productivity of Canada and a more equal distribution of wealth in Canada. But we also need to focus every now and then on arts and culture. I applaud the member for Ottawa—Vanier for bringing this motion forward.
We need to recognize our heritage and understand that studying our heritage will help us make better decisions about the future.
A perfect example of this holistic approach has been taken in my province by the faculty of medicine at Dalhousie University. Obviously it is an institution where medical professionals are trained. Their training is important. That is what they do.
In the last number of years, under Dr. Jock Murray and Dr. Ron Stewart, a former health minister in Nova Scotia, and through the department of medical humanities, the Dalhousie medical school chorale has been developed. Health professionals who are being trained at Dalhousie have formed a choir of more than 100 students and faculty members. They perform all around Nova Scotia and around the world. The point they are making is they are using arts and culture, in this case music, as a way to complete the training of health professionals. It is the holistic approach to training health professionals.
In the same way, we as a society need to make sure that arts, culture and heritage are recognized and integrated into our communities and into ourselves. It is a mistake to ignore the importance of arts, culture and heritage.
I come from a province, as does the member for Cape Breton—Canso, where arts and culture are very important. People have heard of the Rankin family, the Barra McNeils. Now they hear of Joel Plaskett. They hear of Matt Mays and El Torpedo from Dartmouth, the best rising group in Canada. They also know about the Cheticamp hooked rugs. They know about Maud Lewis, the painter who overcame such incredible hardship. They know about people who celebrated local cultures, created products based on their heritage and rooted in their communities. Nova Scotia even has a premier from the musical industry, an excellent fiddler, but he is not quite as good a premier. In fact, he is fiddling his way through an election campaign as we speak and he cancelled the Nova Scotia Arts Council a few years ago which was a shame. All this shows the importance of arts and culture to Nova Scotia.
I know that every member of the House can point with pride to arts groups, cultural organizations and heritage societies in their own ridings and communities that have helped to build Canada and make Canada what it is today.
In my own community of Dartmouth, the Eastern Front Theatre is a perfect example. It has become to some extent an economic engine of downtown Dartmouth, but more important, it is an expression of what makes Nova Scotia, Dartmouth and Cole Harbour so special. The former member of Parliament from the NDP, Wendy Lill, has had her plays shown and produced there, and rightly so, as she was always a passionate advocate for the importance of arts and culture.
One of the first things I spoke about in the House was the heritage of my community, as many members often do. In fact, as for Dartmouth, I am glad that the member for Kingston and the Islands is not in the chair today, because Dartmouth was in fact the birthplace of hockey. I am also glad the member for Kings—Hants is not here, because it is the only thing he often gets wrong.
The Shubenacadie Canal has an amazing history of commerce in the development of Nova Scotia. People like Bernie Hart, Allan Billard and Jake O`Connor are working to make sure that heritage is preserved. It is worthwhile. It is important work for a community where we had the famous Starr Manufacturing plant, which was a world leader in producing skates. Advocates like Paul Robinson have argued passionately, often in frustration, at the inability of governments to recognize how important art and culture is to a community.
At Alderney Landing this summer, we will be promoting the Dutchie Mason Blues Festival. We have had a large number of great prime ministers in the House, mostly Liberal, but there has been no greater prime minister than the prime minister of the blues, Dutchie Mason.
All members can speak to the importance of arts and culture in their communities, but I think it is pulled together nationally and forms the backbone of Canada. A lot of the artists I mentioned owe their success to Canadian content regulations, which gave them their start and enabled them to grow and develop in their own communities across Canada and now throughout the world.
I remember a few years ago asking somebody about what defines Canada. That is a tough question. What defines our nation? I remember a person saying to me that Peter Gzowski defined our nation. I think a lot of Canadians would say that was true, and maybe it still is true after his passing, but that speaks to the importance of the CBC. It binds us together, not just because it speaks to us, but because it comes from us and because it is important to us as Canadians. It speaks to Canadians and it speaks to Canadian diversity. It recognizes that Quebec is different from B.C. and Nova Scotia is different from Alberta, but there is a common bond, and I believe it is brought to Canadians through the CBC.
The CBC is a public broadcaster and it should stay as such. There have been cuts to the CBC. Our government made cuts and reductions to the CBC in times of difficult economic circumstances, but they have been restored. In a time of huge economic surplus, it would be a shame and a disgrace if the CBC were cut.
Arts and culture speak to Canadians because they come from Canadians, because they represent who we are, where we have been and, most important, where we are going. I am proud here today to stand to support the motion, and I congratulate the member for Ottawa—Vanier, so that for once the House discusses the importance of art and culture and puts it in its rightful place. I hope all members of the House will support this important motion.
Mr. Luc Malo (Verchères—Les Patriotes, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I will share my allotted 20 minutes with my colleague from Joliette.
Culture, a vital part of our national identity, is neither inert nor inviolable. To speak of it is to treasure it, to remember its fragility as well as its potential to drive and mobilize us. For these reasons, I am pleased to rise in this House to participate in the debate on a motion that reads as follows:
|| That, in view of the ratification by Canada of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the House insist that the government, its departments and agencies maintain the program policies and regulations in support of Canada's artistic sector and cultural industries, in particular, by maintaining or enhancing: (a) existing Canadian cultural content requirements; (b) current restrictions on foreign ownership in the cultural sector; and (c) financial support for public broadcasting in both official languages.
For everyone’s benefit, I would first like to review what the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions will do; it will: recognize in international law the distinctive nature of cultural goods and services as vehicles of values, identity and meaning; clearly affirm of the right of countries to have cultural policies to ensure genuine diversity of cultural expressions domestically; include provisions by which developed countries undertake to support developing countries in nurturing the development of their own emerging cultural industries; assert the principle of non-subordination—meaning the legal status of the convention in international law will be equal to that of other international treaties, including trade agreements; commit countries to take the provisions of the convention into account not only when entering into other international agreements, but also when applying and interpreting agreements to which they are party; and include a basic dispute settlement mechanism, creating the potential that in the years ahead the convention will accumulate a body of written decisions on issues of cultural policy that will ultimately influence how culture is treated in trade agreements.
When we read that, it is easy to understand why Quebec, its artists and everyone connected with its cultural industry have taken and continue to take a leadership role in promoting this convention.
While the Quebec nation is creative and endowed with a vibrant cultural heritage, it is also up against foreign competitors that have enormous production and distribution systems, and so it is crucial that cultural products and services not be regarded as ordinary, disposable products and services.
Who is in a better position to defend, explain and promote a nation’s culture, in all its forms, than the nation in which it originates? The recognition that Quebec is in the best position to do that is one of the key factors that is missing from this motion, which, all in all, is appropriate, and which the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of.
The motion addresses three related aspects of the convention.
First, there are the existing Canadian cultural content requirements. At present, 65% of musical performances broadcast by commercial radio stations must be in French, a requirement which, according to recent figures released by the CRTC on May 4, has not prevented FM broadcasters from increasing their profits:
|| In 2005, FM radio revenues grew by 11.8% over 2004, from $923.7 million in 2004 to a little over $1 billion.
ADISQ, however, recommends other criteria that would allow for a more diverse offering of French-language music. Valérie Lesage, a reporter at Le Soleil, wrote: “Out of an estimated total of 900 new Quebec releases between March 1 and December 31, 2005, radio stations broadcast only 137, barely 14% of the music available”. While she added that half of the artists on the list of the 50 top sellers between 2002 and 2004 were francophone, the Bloc Québécois agrees that broadcasters are entitled to want to increase their revenue, but disagrees with any reduction in Canadian and French-language content.
The big problem in the development of Canadian francophone content on commercial radio comes from the advent of satellite radio. Even though satellite radio is still only a marginal player, the licence conditions granted to it are clearly less demanding than those imposed on commercial radio, and conventional broadcasters are taking their cue from it now and are having a fine time demanding that the conditions imposed on them should be relaxed.
We know that the Liberal government had the power to send the CRTC’s decision back to it, and by not doing so, they approved it
In other words, the Liberals who are introducing this lovely motion today actually helped to weaken Canadian cultural sovereignty and dealt a heavy blow to cultural diversity, despite the deep concerns expressed in particular by the ADISQ, the Union des artistes and SOCAN.
The second part of the motion has to do with foreign ownership in the cultural sector. The Bloc Québécois is opposed to any relaxation of the foreign ownership regulations in telecommunications.
In its dissenting report on the Our Cultural Sovereignty report of June 2003, the Bloc Québécois stated that “increased foreign ownership would not solve the problem of media concentration. On the contrary: weaker restrictions on foreign ownership and an influx of new capital would accelerate the concentration process”.
The Bloc Québécois recommended at the time that the minister of Canadian Heritage should speak with her colleague in Industry and actively advocate the maintenance of the current foreign ownership rules in telecommunications and broadcasting.
That was our position then, and it still is. We will oppose any weakening, which would necessarily have repercussions on telecommunications in Quebec. The study group on the regulatory framework for telecommunications, which submitted its report in March 2006, advised for its part that the foreign ownership rules should be relaxed.
Rest assured that the Bloc Québécois will remain very vigilant in this regard because in September 2005, the Liberal industry minister, now the Conservative Minister of International Trade, said that he was open to relaxing the foreign ownership rules.
In an article published on September 22, 2005, it said that the minister had stated that he was open, however, to a relaxation of the current foreign ownership regulations in the telecommunications sector if that could ever help Canada become more competitive.
We are even more worried because a report signed by the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, then sitting with the Canadian Alliance, which today is the Conservative Party, supports the relaxation of rules on foreign ownership of Canadian businesses, notably those in the areas of telecommunications and the distribution of broadcasting services.
The final aspect of the motion touches on the funding of radio and television. The Bloc Québécois is in favour of sufficient funding for public radio and television.
Though they were behind this motion, the Liberals blithely cut funding to the CBC. In early February 2005, we learned that the CBC was imposing additional cuts of $13 million on CBC French television—$6 million in general television programming, $3 million in support and regional programming, and $4 million in news and information.
These restrictions have a very big impact on the production of public affairs programs on television. I would therefore point out that we condemn these cuts in news and information programming and remind the Minister of Heritage that she has a duty to hold the CBC to its mandate.
It is clear from part II of the Broadcasting Act that the cuts to the news and information budget are contrary to the CBC’s mandate. The 1991 Broadcasting Act stipulates 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”.
Obviously we want the CBC to have the funds it needs to fulfill its mandate. The Bloc Québécois is in favour of adequate funding for radio and television services that objectively reflect the reality experienced by people from here and elsewhere in all its subtleties, and that provide news that does not lapse into propaganda.
In closing, I would urge all the members gathered here to promote the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions among the representatives of all countries that have not yet signed this agreement, so that every nation can flourish and enrich the planet with the distinctive identities that make the world a beautiful place.