Hon. Andrew Cardozo: Honourable senators, it is indeed a great pleasure to speak here on Bill C-11, the online streaming act, which updates the Broadcasting Act of 1991.
While this is my first speech in the Senate, I hope I will have the opportunity to provide something more like a maiden speech in the near future when we’re not as pressed for time. Indeed, I think we all agree here that it is time to be updating the Broadcasting Act when the technology it regulates has advanced so far in the last 32 years.
I should start by telling you that I had the good fortune to spend six years as a commissioner at the Canadian Radio‑television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, around the turn of the century — that is, the turn of the recent century, not the other one.
During this period, my job was to be working under this act, day in and day out, and I have to say that, even then, it was beginning to be out of date as the internet was just taking hold. Yet, it was a very comprehensive law with flexibility that allowed us to regulate the changing scene.
Now here’s the thing I’ve always found to be so special about the Broadcasting Act: It is uniquely Canadian.
The legislation governs a unique society: Canadian society. There is no other country that has all of our unique qualities. Other countries may share some of our broader characteristics, but we are the only country to have them all. I would say that generally speaking, the Broadcasting Act worked well all these years.
Now, just to age myself, I will note that, in fact, I did appear before the House of Commons committee that was working on the Broadcasting Act during the Mulroney government back in 1991 when I was a very young man. I’m happy to say that some of the changes we advocated back then around the definition of “the Canadian people” were indeed added to the bill at that time. Little did I know that six years later I would be at the CRTC implementing the act, not to mention speaking on the review of that act in the Senate 32 years later.
I would like to focus my comments on section 3 of the act, the unique aspects of the Canadian people that the Broadcasting Act works to enhance. Here are some of the main characteristics that are key to our society.
We have two official languages, and the commission constantly works to ensure that we have a robust broadcasting scene in both languages. While at the CRTC, I was pleased to be part of the decisions to ensure TVA became available across Canada, to ensure that the Société Radio-Canada — TV and radio — was made available in all provincial capitals and to significantly increase the number of specialty channels in French. Indeed, with the advancement of digital technology, the commission has been able to ensure more fulsome broadcasting in both languages with a large number of French channels from coast to coast to coast.
Canada also has a well-developed, multilingual broadcasting scene, which rivals any other in the world, broadcast for the benefit of and produced by a variety of Canadian ethnocultural communities. The first multilingual broadcasting was begun by the legendary Johnny Lombardi in Toronto in the 1960s, and, gradually, programming in radio and television expanded across Canada with the CRTC licensing more multilingual services.
The most recent addition to the television scene was the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, or APTN. Certainly, its licensing in 1999 was one of the most significant hearings during my six years at the CRTC. The hearing was memorable. We heard from some great Indigenous leaders in the field. Abraham Tagalik, from Nunavut, chaired the board of what was then Television Northern Canada. The accomplished grande dame of Indigenous film, Madam Alanis Obomsawin, reminded us of our obligations, and the award-winning actor Adam Beach highlighted the significant talent that exists in Aboriginal culture.
But I remember thinking of the irony at the time that it was the First Peoples who were really the last people to get a television network. Today, 23 years later, APTN continues to grow and expand its services across the country, surpassing all expectations, while there are many other Indigenous radio and television services.
Since around 2000, the CRTC has also focused on ensuring diversity in programming by English and French broadcasters so that what all of us see and hear on mainstream radio and television reflects the Indigenous, cultural and racial diversity that makes up our country.
Now, layer on top of this uniqueness the following. Unlike many other countries, we are located beside the most dominant cultural machine in the world, the American cultural juggernaut. And unlike any other country, even those who consume a lot of Hollywood’s product, we share not only a language, but we share a culture, an accent. We share sports, like football and hockey, and we share expressions. Therefore, distinguishing Canadian music and programming from American content is harder, and Canadian viewers have less reason to be loyal to the Canadian product.
On the French side, French-language broadcasting has unique challenges. While our francophone nation lives in a sea of English-speaking North America, the silver lining is that francophone consumers are uniquely loyal to the French‑language programming produced in Quebec and the rest of Canada. The Quebec star system is vibrant, entrenched and followed widely by fans and viewers. The English Canadian industry can only wish it had the same following in Canada.
However, with the enormous popularity of American music and programs, there is a critical need for the state to help French‑language programming, whether it be the federal government, the Quebec government or any other provincial government. This is why Bill C-11 is so popular in Quebec. It brings more revenue for Canadian-made content in our traditional and online broadcasting.
Now, section 3, especially proposed subparagraph 3(1)(d)(iii) directs the CRTC to regulate and to accommodate this diversity in clear, contemporary ways.
On another matter, various comments have been made recently about the way the CRTC operates, and some of these comments I consider to be a bit gratuitous. I can tell you from my experience that I found it to be one of the most open and transparent agencies in the federal government. Yes, they are not perfect and, occasionally, they are bound by some of the confidentialities they must keep when there are commercial, competitive issues at stake. But I would say to you that it is one of the agencies that works hard to hear from a wide variety of voices and will always work to balance out the powerful corporations from ordinary Canadians.
They were also certainly open to being challenged on how they do hearings and consultations. I would suggest that they do public hearings as good or better than any other federal agency or commission.
There were some comments yesterday about what was termed as “identity politics” which had entered into the affairs of culture. I am a permanent student and teacher of Canadian history and politics, and my reading of Canadian history is that it has always been about identity. Some may call that identity politics. Much of it is positive, some negative.
From the beginning of our history, the First Peoples — Indigenous people — have always been diverse, and they were proud of their diverse identities. Indeed, they have taught us to engage in land recognition where we recognize the history of the territory of the particular peoples on whose traditional lands we find ourselves anywhere across Turtle Island, and we pay respect to them. But with the arrival of the settlers, we should be reminded that they came from England and France, and based on their identities — English versus French — they had a battle back in 1759 on the Plains of Abraham. As they say, the rest is history.
Over many years, the colonizers imposed their identities, languages and religions on this land and spent centuries trying to submerge the identity of Indigenous peoples — sometimes, as we know, using rather unfortunate means.
In a related historical matter, let me talk about the Fathers of Confederation. Yes, it’s the fathers — no mothers. They were just men of British and French origin. Quite pointedly, there were no Indigenous people, even though there had been the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which recognized them and their land rights. Their Indigenous identity was not included in Confederation, certainly not as founders of the Canadian state.
There were also many Black people. They were loyalists who had moved here from the United States — indeed, the ancestors of former senator Don Oliver and Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard — and who had been in Canada for well over a century by then but, again, were not among the Fathers of Confederation.
Let me touch on the British North America Act. Remember that name. What kind of North America? A British one. A foundational document is all about identity. The English and the French had guarantees of Protestant and Catholic schools that were absolutely conditional to the signing of the document. Had those identities not been carved in stone in our Constitution, there would have been no Canada.
Here’s another thing. In the 1800s and early 1900s, when land was being given to English and French settlers and to those from Eastern Europe, the government was specifically taking land away from Indigenous people. The children from one group were being taken by the state and the church and subjugated to horrendous conditions.
So here we are now, and we wonder why some people are rich, and some people are poor; some people have power, and some people don’t. Outside of this chamber, there are people who ask certain groups to just stop going on about their identities, get over it and just be like the rest of us.
So I come to section 3(1)(d)(iii) and want to say that is why it is needed. This is how we’re building the great Canadian nation where we respect Canadians of all identities and origins.
I just want to touch briefly on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 15(1) says we are all equal. Section 15(2) says that government programs that aim to ameliorate inequality are permitted to create equality. Indeed, the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, also falls directly under the powers of section 15(2) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Now we see that Bill C-11 also will respect UNDRIP.
As I close, I want to say that ameliorating inequality and advancing equality of all Canadians are some of the fundamental reasons for governance, whether it be in matters of cultural, social or economic policy. Bill C-11 aims to do this. It takes us further on the path to advancing this great country. For the future, it enhances the ability for more Canadian-made content in the online media world. The world needs more Canada, and the increased revenue will allow for increased Canadian-made content in the world.
For that reason and for many others that were explained by my colleagues, I would be honoured to vote in favour of Bill C-11.