Mr. Fernand Robichaud (Westmorland-Kent):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased with this opportunity to take part in the debate on Bill C-20, an Act to amend the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission Act, the Broadcasting Act and the Radio Act.
I must say 1 find it interesting and most gratifying to speak to a Bill initially tabled and introduced in the House of Commons by the Liberal Government in the spring of 1984. The Government at the time and its Minister had worked very hard to promote the development of our communications industry and its specific role in serving Canadians.
Its role is, of course, to promote the development of Canadian culture across the country while considering, and this is very important, Canada's cultural diversity.
On the basis of this experience, the Liberals proposed in Bill C-20 that the Governor in Council have the right to issue certain directives to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. This is in fact repeated by the Minister of Communications (Mr. Masse) in clause 14.1. However, the difference, and there is a vast difference between the former and the present Governments, is that the previous Government had won the confidence of the industry and the CRTC by initiating legislation and bills aimed at expanding communications in Canada. The problem is that today, the Party opposite does not have that expertise in communications, nor does it have the confidence of the communications industry.
Mr. Speaker, I think it is very difficult to win the confidence of the industry when the Government has announced an
unconscionable number of cutbacks, and nothing else. I am thinking of the budgetary cutbacks affecting cultural agencies such as the National Film Board, the CRTC, the National Arts Centre and the Canada Council.
As far as the Canada Council is concerned, the Minister of Communications has decided to close the Council's Atlantic office located in Moncton, New Brunswick. I am sure the Minister must have received, as 1 did, a number of letters from the Conseil de promotion et de diffusion de la culture in New Brunswick, expressing their dissatisfaction. Mr. Speaker, I must explain that this organization regroups 14 associations directly involved in promoting and disseminating culture. 1 would add that our part of the country is relatively sparsely populated and our culture, the Acadian culture, is that of a minority. If we did not have those cultural organizations we would lose contact with other groups in Canada and we would be unable to make our culture known in other parts of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether the Minister realized that by closing the office in Moncton, he was in fact cutting off artists in Atlantic Canada from those in the rest of the country. If our Atlantic artists are to make a career in the arts, they must go outside the Atlantic provinces and make a name for themselves in the rest of Canada. By closing the Canada Council office, the Minister is compounding the isolation of the Maritimes and their people. Mr. Speaker, if we consider that the key role of the Department of Communications is to promote Canadian culture across the country, let me tell you that the Government is not going in the right direction.
That is not all, however, since the Minister has decided to proceed with further, equally disastrous, cutbacks. For instance, the new Government slashed $7 million off budgets to promote cultural projects. And, of course, they keep chanting: Hurrah for Canadian culture! Next, we will be asking: What Canadian culture? At the rate it is being stifled, we will soon be hard-pressed to maintain our own culture throughout the country.
As a matter of fact, I am afraid I denote a growing trend towards the isolation of the various cultures. This comment is strengthened by the fact that the party in office has pared the budget of the Crown corporation whose original mandate was to upgrade Canadian culture throughout the country. I wonder how the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will be able to live up to its mandate now that its operations have been curtailed by S85 million. One cannot talk about reduced
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funding without mentioning lay-offs in the same breath. Most lays-offs involved the main centres, but the fact remains that back home, in the Maritimes, quite a few employees of the Crown corporation lost their job. Need 1 emphasize that reduced staff in administration and especially in programming has a direct impact on the overall operations of the Crown corporation.
In a region such as ours, the Acadian region, it is essential that a corporation such as the CBC be in a position to operate without restraints. First, to us the CBC means a Canadian or national presence but, more than that, it maintains the French fact and the French culture in the Maritimes through its French network, Radio-Canada. We do have other francophone media in the region, Mr. Speaker, but not as many as we would wish. The CBC cutbacks gave rise to immediate reaction from organizations such as the Federation des francophones hors Quebec and Nova Scotia's Federation des Aca-diens. Quite rightly, those associations spoke up against the cutbacks.
People have always praised the CBC for its contribution to cultural minorities. It was Radio-Canada that opened the first francophone TV stations in the Maritimes and, to this day, there are still no private television stations broadcasting French programs in the Maritimes-only Radio-Canada does. Most local programs and productions originate from Radio-Canada.
If I may, Mr. Speaker, I should like to say a few words about consultation. They used to say that there would be no cutbacks without consultation first, but I must point out that again those were empty words.
In concluding my remarks, Mr. Speaker, still on the issue of consultation, I happen to have here an interesting note about-
The National Director of the Canada Council, Brian Anthony, told reporters that the arts community was never consulted about the budget reductions.
And finally, Mr. Speaker, I am concerned about the fact that the party across the floor is still busy making further cutbacks in the field of communications, again without consulting the groups involved. I can only decry this unilateral approach and I am firmly convinced that leaders in the communications industry will never have confidence in a Government which shows so little concern for their industry.
IVIrs. Therese Killens (Saint-Michel-Ahuntsic): Mr. Speaker, I was anxious to speak in the House today because in my riding Saint-Michel-Ahuntsic, we have a very specific problem that concerns the CRTC. About three years ago, a community group came to my office with a community radio project called Radio communautaire du nord de Montreal. In a big city like
Montreal, people who stay home like to hear local news. It is like a local newspaper. In my riding there are four local newspapers, and I know my constituents would rather read these papers than the big Montreal dailies.
With this in mind, I agreed to support the community project I mentioned earlier because it covers about five or six ridings in Montreal North, not just my own. I gave the group a "Canada Works 1983-84" of $17,292. I gave them a "Summer Canada 1984-85" of $6,424. They also received a grant from the Department of the Secretary of State in 1984, for $5,700. 1 also obtained a "Section 38" for the fall of 1984, for $11,000. Mr. Speaker, the point I am trying to make is that it is particularly important to my riding that this project be approved by the CRTC.
Radio communautaire du nord de Montreal has held several neighbourhood meetings. It launched a leadership campaign and received many programming requests. It has concluded its viability study and sent its application to the CRTC. They were ready to submit their brief to the CRTC last fall, but, not surprisingly, considering what happened on September 4 last year, everything was postponed. Last week, I met Mr. Guy Jolicoeur, the project's promoter, who informed me he was very disappointed after receiving a letter from the CRTC advising him that his appointment for submitting his brief had been postponed for one year. This kind of delay is intolerable.
Mr. Speaker, my riding has 10 homes for the elderly, and 12.1 per cent of these people are over 65, while 23.4 per cent are between 45 and 64. I also have disabled people in my riding. Among the 10 per cent that are disabled, many are blind. It is a wellknown fact that people with this kind of disability listen to the radio all day and all evening, since they cannot watch television and few are able to read braille.
When I look at the cuts announced in the paper issued last November by the President of the Treasury Board (Mr. de Cotret), I find that $75 million have been taken away from the CBC's communications department; $7.5 million from the cultural agencies; $7 million from cultural projects, and $10 million from the CBC's high technology equipment budget. Finally, and this affects my own community project, $22 million have been taken away from the broadcasting licensing department.
I have attempted to give a concrete example of the frustration and aggravation experienced by a small community which had already given clear indication of its needs. I hope the Government will reconsider its decision, Mr. Speaker, because I am sure quite a number of other small communities across Canada are just as disappointed as I am.
I feel 1 have a responsibility to speak for the handicapped who will be severely affected by Government cutbacks in the communications area.
I was on the task force which considered the needs of the handicapped during the 32nd Parliament. At that time we had
February 14, 1985
hearings in 18 cities all across Canada; we received 600 briefs and produced the "Obstacle" Report, in which we brought forward 130 recommendations. The fourth chapter dealt with information and communications and contained 14 recommendations having to do with the needs of the handicapped in the area of communications.
Mr. Speaker, one out of ten Canadians is handicapped, and that means 2.4 million Canadians. It would be urgent for the Government to develop a national policy on their needs in the area of communications. One of the recommendations was that community radio stations should allocate time for the broadcasting of regional and local news. This is something altogether different from national news.
Recommendation 54 was that the CRTC should develop programs with subtitles, provided of course that a broadcasting permit be obtained within a reasonable time. Licensing would be conditional on the addition of subtitles.
Will the S10 million cutback in the CBC's high technology equipment allocation hinder the development of the new subtitling system? Present day technology now allows cable viewers using a special decoding device to watch information on the screen.
The spokesmen for the handicapped consider that method of communications as being essential to cope with a wide range of needs of the hard of hearing in the area of information and leisure. We should keep in mind, Mr. Speaker, that all statistics point to the fact that we will have to serve an aging population in the future, and that means an increasing number of persons with hearing problems, our older people being more numerous. In 1985, the average age is said to be 72 for men and 74 for women.
Another recommendation affecting the daily life of all our people with hearing problems is the prohibitive cost of longdistance calls. Because the method for receiving the message is slow, due to the fact that the message must be typed and received on a small screen, the Government should ask provincial governments and telephone companies as a priority to apply a rate reduction as soon as possible. I must say that Bell Canada has already accepted this, but the country is served by other smaller telephone companies.
I should like to touch on the question of the CBC regional service. In 1977, less than 10 years ago, the CBC was allowed to set up facilities in a city of the Lower St. Lawrence called Rimouski. How surprising! The entire population had to get involved beginning with Mrs. Eva Cote, then president of the Liberal Association and former Member for the constituency of Rimouski. She worked in close co-operation with Jeanne Sauve, then Minister of Communications. Some eight years later, the CJBR station in Rimouski is facing cuts and lay-offs. With 45,000 residents, Rimouski is an important city. Indeed,
it is considered as the economic center of the Lower St. Lawrence.
One has to wonder whether the Government opposite is not moving backwards. I could go on and on but the Speaker is now indicating that I should very soon put an end to my remarks.
Before closing, Mr. Speaker, 1 would like to mention that I am concerned about our Canadian artists. They are also affected by this legislation. Without programs such as Les beaux dimanches, there would have been no opportunity to appreciate the works of Marcel Dube, hear Maureen Forester, or see Karen Kain dance. Some people such as Toller Cranston, Louise Marleau, Anne Murray and many others would be known only abroad. Some 20 years ago, all our Quebec artists had to go into exile in France to launch their career. 1 will not speak of Rich Little nor of Paul Anka and all the others who went to the United States to become famous. We are pleased and very proud to say that all those people are Canadians. They belong to our culture. I think that it is a good reason enough to oppose that Bill.
Subtopic: CANADIAN RADIO-TELEVISION AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION ACT MEASURE TO AMEND