Mr. Yves Forest (Stanstead):
Mr. Speaker, if I congratulate the hon. member for Port Arthur (Mr. Fisher), the sponsor of this bill, it is for the interest he has shown in this very important matter and the opportunity he is giving us to discuss, in this house, the necessity or inadvisability to submit the community antenna systems and the like to the supervision and control of the board of broad-
cast governors, with the results we know and might expect, especially as regards programming and other non-technical questions.
It is the second time that a motion for second reading of this bill is brought before the house. Last November 29, the hon. member introduced Bill No. C-30, of which Bill No. C-40 now before us is an exact replica. I had the opportunity then to take part in the debate and I am glad today to add new comments to the few remarks I could make before the time allocated to the examination of that proposal had expired.
As the hon. member himself pointed out at the time, it is not sure either that the bill is complete or constitutional and that parliament has the authority to legislate in that respect.
This is a burning question at the present time and it could have great repercussions on Canadian t.v. viewers; it concerns, as well it might, several hon. members. It was discussed in the press throughout the country.
Indeed, all the newspaper accounts I have read were against any measure which would restrict individual freedom. One has to be jealous of one's freedom and be especially alert in that respect these days because governments have taken the habit of enacting legislation and regulations which often infringe upon the fundamental rights of citizens.
Like many others, I received from my constituents several communications showing concern on their part and the desire to get information or to make representations to me. Though a good number of them were perhaps prompted by people who had an interest in the matter, I am sure that many of them wrote to us of their own accord.
However, I can understand, as the hon. member has put it, why he is concerned and disturbed by the fact that these systems may, providing certain circumstances and in certain places, facilitate the reception of American broadcasts and promote the participation of foreign capital in the setting up and managing of corporations or companies which operate systems of that kind.
Since the first bill was introduced and while waiting for the report requested from the board of broadcast governors, the ministers concerned, that is the Minister of Transport and the Secretary of State, then in office, decided to stop issuing licences in some cases, everything following the press release of last December 30. I think that order has now been cancelled. However, since then the requested report was tabled in the house last
March 19 and printed in Hansard. I agree with the hon. member that, in the not too distant future and in the interest of all those concerned in those operations, the government will announce the future policy it intends to follow in that field. Many people or corporations already have invested rather considerable sums of money and are waiting impatiently for the government's decision to proceed. Personally, I feel that this policy or decision will not necessarily follow the recommendations made last March 19 by the joint committee of the board of broadcast governors and the Department of Transport.
I think that many hon. members would be opposed to that body being granted the right to decide what our fellow citizens can see on their television screen, especially when such regulations could apply to only a certain part of the population.
I know that the government, the Minister of Transport (Mr. Pickersgill) and the Secretary of State (Mr. Lamontagne) are studying that matter seriously, and I am confident that they will find a logical and realistic solution, in keeping with the best interests of Canadians, taking into account the special circumstances surrounding that case, which is very complicated and hard to solve.
The systems involved-and I am still referring only to the community television networks, which in fact are only an extension of the antenna any individual can instal on his house and which are used only to get a better reception of the signals which are already there, in the air, and which play a totally passive role and are no substitute for any television broadcasting of signals-do not transmit any program and, therefore, from the logical and practical viewpoint, cannot be subjected to the same standards and regulations which are provided or set up by radio and television broadcasting stations.
It is one thing to control what programs can be broadcast, but it is another thing to tell the people what programs they will be allowed to watch on their set.
Also, we know that everything that concerns the field of communications is very important here in this country and plays a leading part in what is called "The search for national purposes or objectives".
We must take into serious consideration and not exaggerate the role played by those systems as regards the transmission of signals coming from our neighbours to the south. As
a matter of fact, 30 per cent of all cable systems in Canada do not transmit signals from the United States, but are used only to provide a variety and an improvement of programs already picked up in an area, or else they increase the capacity to pick up programs of Canadian stations which could not be seen otherwise.
Moreover, the subscribers of these networks represent only 5 per cent of all homes having television and even in this small percentage, one has to take into account all those who, like myself, live near the American border and can pick up television shows with an ordinary antenna or even without any.
It is obvious that in our country, the great majority of our people are concentrated in more or less narrow strips of land in the southern part of the country along the borders and can easily pick up the powerful American television stations. Such is the case in the eastern townships and except channel 7, the excellent station operated by the newspaper La Tribune in Sherbrooke, we can easily pick up American channels but hardly French and English stations of Montreal if we did not have the cable transmission services which are much appreciated by some 20,000 subscribers to the dozen of networks operating in our area.
Such is the situation of about half of the Canadian people. Regulations restricting the freedom and rights of a class of citizens would, in my opinion, only be unfair and discriminatory.
We appreciate the efforts and the contribution of the national network and of all private stations which are indispensable to us, and we acknowledge their merits. They actually offer us several interesting programs which are sometimes of great value.
It must be recognized, however, that our fellow citizens often look at programs originating south of the border and which our neighbours, with their unlimited means and greater facilities in every respect, can offer us in a more complete and elaborate manner.
At a time when, as evidenced by the Tel-star experience, we shall soon be able to see programs coming from any country in the world, television viewers in Canada should not be prevented from seeing programs of interest to them. In my opinion, attempts should be made rather to encourage, help and prompt the C.B.C. network, as well as t.v. and radio stations and our artists, to present choice programs of prime quality and likely to hold the attention of Canadians who,
in general, are interested in their country, in their culture, in our projects, in our artists, and who gladly watch our programs when they satisfy their legitimate aspirations.
That solution would perhaps be more practical, more realistic and easier to apply. I know that we are already immensely contributing towards the operations of the C.B.C., the national film board, etc., corporations promoting a Canadian culture and a Canadian mentality, but we sometimes wonder if the best means are being taken to achieve this highly desirable purpose.
I do not want to imply that I am against all controls; wire television systems now have to comply with regulations established by the Department of Transport which controls the issuance of licences and which can, beforehand, give particular attention to stations receiving and relaying programs, the area covered, etc., and, above all, it is reasonable to expect that those networks have the obligation to broadcast Canadian programs when it is technically possible to do so.
I have no objection either to corporations or companies which operate such systems and want to obtain a licence being owned and controlled by Canadian interests in a large proportion, if not entirely.
However, we must avoid passing regulations that would deprive an individual of the right to watch on his t.v. set what he might pick up himself by using or erecting a more expensive aerial, which he avoids by becoming a subscriber to a community system. A regulation to the contrary would be an undesirable change. Our present legislation provides and assures that our country has broadcasting means under Canadian control and requiring a certain amount of Canadian content.
The objectives and purposes mentioned in section 10 of the Broadcasting Act passed in 1958 certainly did not forbid to listen to or watch programs from foreign countries, in order to seal off our culture against outside influence, when on the contrary it can develop and improve through contact with the views and the clash of ideas from all parts of the world.
Topic: BROADCASTING ACT
Subtopic: AMENDMENT PROVIDING CONTROL OVER COMMUNITY ANTENNA