Bev Oda Under Continuing Fire over Heritage

Valentine’s Day is known for being a holiday for love, but there is increasingly little of that in the Canadian House of Commons during question period – especially for actions by the minister in charge of copyright reform.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

It was only a few months ago that the minister of heritage held a fundraiser for major Canadian broadcasting lobbyists. Now the minister is under even more scrutiny over more than just an issue with broadcasting.

Perhaps one of the biggest highlights of Bev Oda’s activities is a not-so-flattering case of her usage of limousines during the Juno awards. While some give her credit for paying $2,000 Canadian for the bill she ran up in 3 days, she left the remaining $3,000 for Canadian taxpayers to pay. While this may be just another political scar, other developments have occurred as well.

A Canadian broadcasting watchdog known as FRIENDS in Canadian broadcasting recently aired a campaign to make major companies like Shaw “honour their commitment to contribute to the CTF.”

They suggested that “Back in 1993, the CRTC allowed the cable monopolies to keep a special fee that they had charged their customers in previous years. The only condition was that the companies contribute half of that amount to a cable production fund, which became the Canadian Television Fund in 1996. Since agreeing to this arrangement in 1993, Shaw, Vidéotron and other distribution companies have pocketed the other half of their subscribers’ funds – amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars – with the blessing of the CRTC.”

According to the CTF, “The creation and exhibition of distinctively Canadian programming has become a fundamental principle of Canada’s broadcasting policy. However, Canada’s small domestic market makes it extremely difficult to finance television programming made primarily for Canadian audiences. Left to pure market forces, certain types of distinctively Canadian and culturally significant programming would simply not be made.”

While FRIENDS of Canadian broadcasting have asked Canadians to petition the government, it seems the concerns have already made their way to the floor amongst MP’s. Interestingly enough, a lot is coming from the French separatist party (BLOC). On the 12th of February, Maka Kotto asked, “Mr. Speaker, the decision made by Shaw and Vidéotron to suspend their contributions to the Canadian Television Fund based on the current formula is creating a major problem for the television industry, and the production of many programs is being compromised.

Does the Minister of Canadian Heritage not realize that Shaw and Vidéotron’s refusal to contribute to the Canadian Television Fund is seriously jeopardizing television production in Quebec and that it is her duty to intervene?”

Bev Oda replied, “Mr. Speaker, as I have said before, we understand the seriousness of the situation. We also understand that the fund is the responsibility of the government but the regulation is a CRTC regulation. The responsibility of enforcing that regulation lies with the CRTC.

We are working on our options. We will do our job. We know that the CRTC will do its job.”

This wasn’t a good enough answer from Maka Kotto as he simply responded, “Mr. Speaker, the minister must intervene. She must assume her responsibilities and ensure that the conditions of Shaw and Vidéotron’s licences are respected. No matter what she says, she can do this, she does have that power.

Also, until this dispute is resolved, I ask the minister why the government refuses to make an interest-free loan to the Canadian Television Fund for the sums unpaid by Shaw and Vidéotron, and then take measures to ensure that the licence conditions are respected? That is a simple solution and one that the minister can implement.”

The Minister simply replied, “Mr. Speaker, I again reiterate that we need to have an informed government. This informed government knows that the power lies with the CRTC, not the minister and not the government, in enforcing its regulations. It is very clearly laid out in the Broadcasting Act.

I know that the CRTC recognizes its responsibility just as we recognize our responsibility. This is a serious situation and we are going to be doing something about it.”

Given that one activist group is trying to bring focus to the government and the MPs, this was probably not what they wanted to hear.

It seems that Bev Oda’s day wasn’t over. The Canadian Liberals seemed even more frustrated with her over her use of limousines. Raymonde Folco asked, “Mr. Speaker, Quebec’s culture minister was in Ottawa today to discuss cultural diversity. Unfortunately, the Minister of Canadian Heritage does not recognize the cultural specificity of Quebec.

While the Government of Quebec gives supplementary funding to Quebec cinema, the Minister of Canadian Heritage prefers to spend Canadians’ money on her limousine service.

Does the minister realize that she is the most disappointing and ineffective minister this country has ever known?”

Bev Oda appeared to refute the last bit by responding, “Mr. Speaker, I am proud to report that Minister Beauchamp from Quebec and myself had a very productive meeting this morning. In fact, I am proud to say that the Declaration for Cultural Diversity has been ratified by over 45 countries. It will now go into the implementation stage.

Canada will be looking for a seat on the intergovernmental committee. We have indicated that we want to host the first meeting of the intergovernmental committee here in Ottawa and that we will support the resources needed for the important work of that committee.”

Raymonde then said, “Mr. Speaker, this is totally unacceptable. We are talking about money, not theory. The minister is sitting around doing absolutely nothing. She has already managed to derail the Canadian Television Fund, and now her next victim is Quebec cinema.

The role of the Minister of Canadian Heritage is to preserve Quebec cinema, not destroy it.

When will she finally loosen the purse strings of her department? There are words, but there needs to be action.”

Bev Oda replied, “Mr. Speaker, I also had an opportunity to speak with the Quebec minister regarding the film industry. She is very supportive. I commended her on the actions taken by the Quebec government. She is very supportive of the work that we will be doing in a collaborative method to ensure we have a strong film industry in every province, including Quebec.”

Clearly, it seems that some of the issues have become a running theme with the minister. Michael Geist, who was following the issue closely, noted that during Bev Oda’s limousine escapade, she was busy meeting with CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association). Michael Geist said how CRIA has “unparalleled access” to the Minister of Heritage compared to organizations like the CMCC (Canadian Music Creators Coalition).

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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