Ms. Lynn McDonald (Broadview-Greenwood):
Mr. Speaker, the broadcasting Bill before us today gives us an opportunity to look at the state of broadcasting in Canada. Broadcasting is very important to Canadian culture. Watching television is a major form of recreation for Canadians from coast to coast as, of course, is listening to radio. People spend many hours a day watching television and it is said that children spend more hours before the television set than they do at school. Therefore, the type of material which is sent out to Canadians on our public airwaves is extremely significant.
Unfortunately, the Bill before us today is a step backward in the evolution of our broadcasting system. It is a great disappointment. There are some good things in the Bill but it is a severely flawed Bill. My list of congratulations is comparatively short and my disappointments comparatively long and relate to the most significant items.
We do not legislate in the area of broadcasting very often, only about every 20 years. Therefore, the fact that the Minister has missed the opportunity to bring in a good Bill is doubly disappointing. It is even more so since the Standing Committee on Communications and Culture gave a great deal of attention to the issue of broadcasting. We had an excellent
task force report. The Caplan-Sauvageau report was thorough, comprehensive, detailed and exciting. That task force held hearings all across the country. It listened to Canadians and came up with a dynamic report.
Our committee studied that report and held hearings again to listen to Canadian consumers of broadcasting as participants, directors, performers, and broadcasters, private and public. All sectors of the system spoke to us and we listened carefully. Our report on changes in broadcasting contains some very good items, many of which did not make it into legislation.
Moreover, the Minister has tried to give the impression that this is a step forward and will result in more Canadianization. That, however, is not the case. There will be less. The standards required for Canadianization are going down. It is of what we do not see in the Bill and the slight changes in wording that we have to be most careful because that is how this deceptive act has been performed. They are small changes in terms of the number of words but critical changes in terms of the standards we set for the use of the public airwaves.
For both the private and public sectors in broadcasting there has been a diminution. We are not aiming as high as we could. Standards previously set, although not reached, are not even being set. One of the jokes that went along with the Caplan-Sauvageau report was that rather than making recommendations for a new Broadcasting Act the committee should recommend the re-legislation of the old Broadcasting Act with the added clause, "This time we mean it". Well, the Minister did not take that advice and this time she is not aiming even as high as the 1968 Broadcasting Act.
With regard to the requirements for Canadianization, Clause 3.(1 )(d) says:
-each element of the Canadian broadcasting system shall contribute in an appropriate manner to the creation and presentation of Canadian programming, making maximum use of Canadian creative and other resources;
We know that in the case of private broadcasting "making maximum use" has been paltry indeed. They are making enormous profits yet not contributing their fair share. Our committee said that in no uncertain terms and pointed out, as had the Caplan-Sauvageau report, the extensive profits and the availability which existed for Canadian programming. The Minister does not require that at all. Consistent with the financial and other resources available to private networks and programming undertakings they are supposed to, as indicated in Clause 3.(l)(p)(i):
-contribute significantly to the creation and presentation of Canadian programming-
How much is "significantly"? They will tell you that it does not have to be very much at all because Canadians do not like Canadian programming. They do not have to be predominantly Canadian as was the requirement under the old Act. The 1968 Act said that the CBC should be predominantly Canadian, and private broadcasters at least had to be predominantly Canadian in their creative and other resources. The CRTC
July 25, 1988
interpreted that to mean at least above 50 per cent. The Act of 1958 said it should be predominantly Canadian for all, public and private, in content and character.
We see this watering down. In 1988 the content and character requirement is gone for the whole system, with the CBC the only one which has to be predominantly and distinctively Canadian. That is a real disappointment. I believe that our committee showed very adequately that the resources were available to the private sector to enable them to be really Canadian in their content and character. We know that the artistic resources are there. We have excellent performers, writers, producers, directors and so forth.
The CBC has also had a diminution in its role. Taking out only one word from the aims of the CBC results in a change of direction which is extremely important. The word "enlightenment" has been taken out. It used to be information, entertainment and enlightenment.
Information is, of course, news and public affairs programming. We all know what entertainment is. The CBC previously had a requirement to provide programming for enlightenment. This was a very important role. The CBC was the only source of this kind of programming for many people in Canada. By dropping this one term as a requirement for the CBC the Minister is telling us that the CBC does not have to fulfil this goal. Information, entertainment, and enlightenment remain a goal for the whole system, but the programming which will provide this enlightenment could be relegated to only the alternative broadcasting sources. We do not know very much about what will be provided. We do not know when they will be on stream or what they will do.
We question why that enlightenment function should be in the alternative sector rather than in the main thrust of the CBC, our public broadcasting system. It is a dereliction of duty and shows the sneaky way in which the role of the CBC is being diminished. It will be forced into a greater role of simply news, public affairs and entertainment programs. It will not have to perform nor be funded to perform the role it has played in the past.
Another significant failure of the Bill is in the area of human rights. The Standing Committee on Communications and Culture was very clear in what it recommended. The important issue for women across the country is that they have been absent or badly represented in many news and public affairs programming, and shown in idiotic roles in much other programming. There have been task forces, committees, resolutions, there have been policies and programs to change this. Visible minorities have been asking for more fair treatment in the media, on the airwaves as well as in the boardrooms that govern them.
Our committee said that the programming carried by the system should provide a balanced representation of Canadian society, reflecting its multicultural and bilingual realities, its
aboriginal peoples and the composition of its population with regard to sex, age, national ethnic origin, colour, religion and mental or physical handicap. There must be fair representation in order for broadcasting to be fair and realistic in reflecting Canadian society.
Women make up roughly half the population of the country. They ought to be well represented and not just appear as an occasional minority group on television. The legislation states nothing along the lines we recommended. Instead, Clause 3(1 )(c)(iii) states that the broadcasting policy should:
strive, through its operations and programming, to reflect the circumstances and aspirations of Canadian men and women, including the linguistic duality and multicultural nature of Canadian society and the special place of aboriginal peoples within that society,
That is very weak and far from what was recommended. Its intention is unclear.
Women have been dealt with unjustly and unfairly for many years. The long struggle to correct that has been totally ignored by the Government. Visible minorities who have taken courage by women's organizations are demanding better treatment. Their needs have been similarly ignored.
Sex is not even mentioned as one of the objects in Clause 3(l)(g)(i), which states that the Canadian broadcasting system should:
be varied and comprehensive, providing a balance of information, enlightenment and entertainment for people of different ages, interests and tastes,
Sex is not even mentioned.
The discrimination against half our population has been the subject of major lobbying efforts, yet research and task force reports are not even mentioned in the Government's agenda. That is wrong. Canadian women expect better. Women represent half of Canadian society and the airwaves belong to the public.
I am also disappointed with the Government's approach to the right to service. We were very clear that it was wrong that Canadians did not get full broadcasting services, particularly in the public sector, because they have paid for those services with their tax dollars. While people will get some kind of CBC service in many parts of the country, be it radio, television or something of each, they will not get all of the services. FM radio is not available in many places, even though it could be provided at not too significant a cost. We heard that many areas get English but not French, and people feel left out because they are not getting the services for which they have paid and which other people in the country are receiving.
Our recommendation 26 was very clear about what we believe should be the case. The Bill should reaffirm that all Canadians are entitled to Canadian broadcasting services in French and English, with this right being implemented if necessary by means of concerted action by the public sector.
If it takes some special measures through public funds to see that people get these services, then that ought to be done.
July 25, 1988
Instead, the Government has done very little. The Government states in Clause 3(h) that:
a range of broadcasting services in English and French should be extended to all Canadians as resources become available;
That is not very specific. It states that these services should be available, rather than making clear there is an entitlement to them, as a matter of right. Obviously these services must be provided as resources become available, but I thought there would be some urgency on that issue. It is very vague with respect to the regions.
The clause states that the CBC should reflect Canadians to the nation and the regions to themselves. It has also been relegated as a minor function for the alternative service, to reflect Canada, the regions and its multicultural nature.
The committee was clear that the regions ought to be in the system for the nation as a whole as well as reflecting the region to itself so that people would get the full services in their areas as well as the programming from their own area.
What is the reason for this disappointing situation? The rumour is that the Government had better legislation and would have gone further with the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Communications and Culture, but the draft measures were sent to the trade negotiation office and were vetoed by the American Government. That is the rumour I heard. I would like to see what clauses landed on the cutting room floor and for the Minister to show us what she had planned. While we have come a long way in developing our culture, we have not stopped developing in terms of our artistic qualities, our character and the contribution Canadians can make to the world. We need all of the resources at our disposal to see that our talents and our contribution is developed.
There are measures in Bill C-136 that reflect the free trade agreement. It is one of the first casualties of the free trade agreement. The Government is stating through this Bill that it does not have confidence in Canadians to move forward. Not only will we stay still, we may even move back in some respects. That shows a lack of confidence in Canadians that I do not share.
Our culture has made enormous strides. Different sections have developed at a different pace. It is wrong that we will not even have the tools to develop in the future. As Simon Reisman said, only those measures that are consistent with the free trade deal will go ahead to help develop Canadian culture. He was confident that there were many measures consistent with the free trade deal that could be taken. But the point is that we should not be asking permission to implement our own measures. We should not have a piece of legislation that ties our hands. Instead of making decisions about what is good for Canada, Canada's regions or Canada's cultural community, we first have to ask if this legislation is consistent with the deal we tied ourselves into in 1988. That is a shameful situation to be in, and I think that the far better approach would be to say that we will keep our ability to make decisions.
Let us have confidence in our artists, broadcasters, writers and performers. Let us see to it that the public's airwaves are used for this dynamic expression of Canadian culture. Let us keep all the legislative tools we need to develop policies to protect and promote Canadian culture in broadcasting and in all of the other sectors we would want to protect and enhance in the future.
If the film distribution Bill was the first cultural casualty of the free trade agreement, this broadcasting Bill is the second cultural casualty of the free trade agreement. There will be others in other areas of life as well. I think this is extremely unfortunate, particularly when our culture is booming. We have an enormous amount of talent and we should be supporting and enhancing that talent at this stage. We should not be looking back, freezing the situation where it is now. We should have confidence and we should look toward the future.
I am extremely disappointed about having to talk about this Bill on second reading stage, approval in principle. I have worked on this subject for years. I participated in the hearings held across Canada by the Standing Committee on Communications and Culture, a committee that did listen to Canadians. The Bill reflects a Minister who did not listen to Canadians. It reflects the influence of the trade negotiations office which has certainly not listened to Canadians.
If we were listening to Canadians, we would be having an election right now on all of these issues. I look forward to that election. In the meantime, I am very disappointed that now, in the middle of summer, the Government is pushing forward such a broadcasting Bill. This is one of the few opportunities we have every couple of decades to look seriously at broadcasting and to plan for the future. The Government is missing that opportunity. Instead, it is tying Canadians' hands for the future because it would rather pursue Ronald Reagan's vision of a North American market. It would rather deny the opportunity for us Canadians to develop our own culture as a part of our very exciting Canadian society.
Subtopic: BROADCASTING ACT
Sub-subtopic: MEASURE TO ENACT