Kevin Waugh (Saskatoon—Grasswood)
2017-02-17 14:06 [p.9122]
Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure this afternoon in the House to speak to the private member’s bill, Bill C-308.
As an almost 40-year veteran of CTV, it may seem a little peculiar, I am sure, that I would rise today to plead the merits of keeping the CBC as a crown corporation, but I am here to do it.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as we know, has functioned as Canada’s public broadcaster for over eight decades. Private broadcasters, and I have worked for them all my broadcasting career, need competition. CBC gives a different perspective and certainly gives private broadcasters that much needed competition. When we have competition, I believe we have innovation. I believe we have diversity. That has elevated, I feel, the quality of journalism in this country and added to our freedom of speech.
As we have heard this week in the heritage committee from the Competition Bureau, there are concerns about not enough competition in this industry. The big private telcos have dominated the private radio and television sector.
Now, being a traditionalist, I respect the fact that the CBC is the oldest existing broadcasting network in this country, with certainly a unique mandate. The mission statement of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as set out in their annual report from the year 2007, is to present programs “designed to inform, enlighten and entertain…. that reflect Canadians and Canada’s regions” in both official languages.
Independent polls conducted by Forum Research back in 2011, and again in 2013, revealed that really, the majority of Canadians, 53% in 2011 and 51% in 2013, support the public funding of CBC. Back then, only 25% believed in its privatization.
Privatization of the CBC, as we all know, could save the federal government well over $1 billion, $1.2 billion and more. However, let us ask this question before we talk about the money: what would we lose? We would most certainly lose local broadcast news in many remote regions of this country, plus in minority language communities. Believe me, the private industry has no appetite, zero, to serve these regions in our country. I know, because I have worked for them.
The CBC, with its distinct programming, excels in the educational component of helping Canadians learn about this country, showcasing Canadian culture, showcasing our art, our literature, our history, and probably most important, our geography.
For example, let us just take last summer. Over 11 million people, on a Saturday night, tuned in to CBC to watch the concert by the Tragically Hip. They performed with lead singer Gord Downie. The almost three-hour performance was carried live on CBC TV and CBC Radio and streamed online on its website. It was an opportunity for many to say goodbye, their final farewell to Gord Downie, who had bravely announced earlier in the year that he had terminal brain cancer. No surprise, Gord gave his first interview after the tour to CBC.
To me, this was a prime example of Canadian culture at its best. Private broadcasters had absolutely zero interest in producing this distinct Canadian historic moment. May I say this? Eleven million tuned in. That is nearly a third of the population in this country.
As technology, consumer preferences, and market conditions have changed, the CBC has had to adapt to maintain its role as a leading creator and distributor of Canadian content in this country. There is no doubt that in today’s ever-evolving news market, with Canadians increasingly consuming non-traditional media and utilizing non-traditional news sources and social media sites, the appetite for both news and information in this country, believe it or not, has never been higher. Canadians want to consume a variety of sources of information.
The CBC has also nurtured significant talent in this country in the journalism and the entertainment industries: people like Barbara Frum, Lorne Greene, John Candy, Don Cherry, Pierre Burton, Tommy Hunter, Wayne and Shuster, and I could go on and on. Let us not forget the three women who went on to become Canada’s governors general: Jeanne Sauvé, Adrienne Clarkson, and Michaëlle Jean are all CBC alumni. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not pay tribute to the award-winning author, journalist, producer, and professor, Stuart McLean, who just passed away on Wednesday. Who will ever forget his humorous stories from Vinyl Cafe?
It should be also noted that the CBC has been and continues to be a source for Canadian expats just to keep up to date with news from home. Back in 1978, I know that seems like a long time ago, CBC became the first broadcaster in the world to use an orbiting satellite for television service. It linked Canada from east to west and, maybe more important, to the north.
Let me quote Hubert Lacroix, president and CEO of CBC, who, in the corporate plan summary from 2016-17 to 2020-21, stated:
The evolution of our regional services also reflects the changing pattern of audience consumption, with mobile and digital services telling stories in new ways and engaging with our audiences. By leveraging web and digital platforms, and adjusting the length of TV supper-hour news shows, we were able to find resources to provide audiences with news updates at different times throughout the day, segments from local morning radio shows simultaneously broadcast on TV, and more news coverage on regional sites and social media. As important as web and digital platforms have become, TV continues to be the place where the majority of Canadians watch content, especially in the evening. In Strategy 2020, we promised that we would not leave TV and radio behind as we transform ourselves into a modern, more relevant public broadcaster.
Lacroix goes on to say CBC/Radio-Canada currently has local programming from its 21 television stations; 88 radio stations; one digital station; two main television networks, one in English, one in French; five specialty TV channels; and four Canada-wide radio networks, two in each official language.
Advertising is CBC/Radio-Canada’s second largest source of revenue. In the fiscal year 2015-16, it generated over $250 million. It was only 16% of total revenue and sources of funds. CBC is witnessing some profound shifts in the advertising market that are negatively affecting the outlook of traditional media companies like CBC/Radio-Canada. CBC, though, is not unlike the private broadcasters, which are all experiencing a downturn in advertising revenues. This is an industry-wide problem. We have heard that for the last year in our Canadian heritage committee.
TV is still the king of media. Time spent with it surpasses time spent with any other media. However, some viewers are now watching TV on the Internet, which is becoming particularly evident in the English market. Over time, the CBC expects, and I think we all do, that the Internet and online TV will continue to grow. According to Lacroix, as well as being Canada’s largest cultural institution CBC/Radio-Canada is one of the most influential brands in Canada across all industries. Believe it or not, it is the highest-ranked media. Recent tracking shows 57% of Canadians consider one or more of CBC/Radio-Canada’s services to be personally important to them, and 73% of Canadians strongly agree there is a clear need and a role for CBC/Radio-Canada in the future.
The media landscape is changing and we all know that what the future holds for any public or even private broadcaster is uncertain. I will say this. We know Canada is a big country; it needs to be serviced with unique Canadian programming. Canadians have enriching stories, and they need to be told so the future generations have a better understanding of how greatly this country has evolved. All of these important points should be taken into consideration when we are looking at Bill C-308.
To view the full debate online go to; http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Pub=hansard&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=42&Ses=1