Remarks by Ian Morrison, FRIENDS' spokesperson at an event in Calgary to keep the ownership of Canadian media in Canadian hands.
Art Gallery of Calgary
Ian Morrison remarks
Welcome to this beautiful gallery and the launch of the "Keep It Canadian" campaign, a joint project of the Alliance of Canadian Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) and Friends of Canadian Broadcasting (FCB).
On behalf of these three sponsors, I want to acknowledge and thank the Council of Canadians, The Directors Guild of Canada - Alberta District Council, United Steelworkers District 3 and the Writers Guild of Canada for their support.
My name is Ian Morrison and I speak for Friends. Today you will hear from five speakers: Senator Tommy Banks, Wendy Sol, a Vice President of the CEP responsible for telecommunications, Steve Waddell, National Executive Director of ACTRA, Peter Murdoch, Communications VP of the CEP and myself.
As you may know, ACTRA represents Canada's actors, the CEP is Canada's largest union representing media workers and journalists and Friends is a watchdog for Canadian content and a voice for listeners and viewers. So when we hold hands, as we do today, we speak strongly for Canadian stories and cultural sovereignty.
ACTRA, CEP and Friends have launched this campaign because we are aware of credible threats to Canada's cultural sovereignty in order to benefit a few billionaires who control Canada's cable television monopolies and some media companies. Through the Keep It Canadian campaign, we are sending a powerful message to the Canadian government that Canadians care about Canadian ownership and control of media and communications. And where better to do that but in the beautiful city of Calgary, which is also action central for our Conservative government?
I want to set the scene by describing some of the evidence for this threat, although most of the evidence, like the mass of an iceberg, lies beneath the surface.
Here is some background...
In 2003, when the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage issued its famous "Our Cultural Sovereignty" report under the leadership of Clifford Lincoln, it recommended that "the existing foreign ownership limits for broadcasting and telecommunications be maintained a current levels" (page 631).
The then Canadian Alliance Party, whose leader was Stephen Harper, issued the following dissenting opinion: "The Canadian Alliance disagrees with (this recommendation). The Canadian Alliance supports relaxing foreign ownership rules on Canadian industry, including telecommunications and broadcast distribution. We suggest conducting an immediate review to determine whether to reduce or completely remove these rules". Those very same words found their way into a briefing note circulated by the new Conservative Party of Canada to their 308 candidates during the 2004 election campaign.
Since its election in 2006, the Conservative minority government has been largely silent on this topic, although former Industry Minister Maxime Bernier made noises about relaxing the rules. Just last week, the current Heritage Minister, Josée Verner told the Commons Heritage Committee: "Our government has no intention of changing anything with respect to foreign ownership. I can assure you of that."
However, last month the government appointed a committee to provide it with advice about competitiveness, including reviewing restrictions on foreign ownership including media and telecommunications. So, from this government, Canadians have heard mixed and muffled messages.
As I mentioned, the push for allowing foreign ownership of broadcasting comes mainly from four family-controlled cable monopolies: Vidéotron, Cogeco, Rogers and - right here in Calgary -- Shaw. Why are they pushing so hard? Within Canada, there are not many potential buyers of their controlling positions. Opening up broadcasting to foreign control would vastly increase the number of potential bidders for their controlling shares. This would drive up the value of their shares. So, if you raise foreign ownership levels, it ultimately would mean a major payday for those families, including J R Shaw and his children. It's just that simple.
Here is what Gordon Pitts, a Globe and Mail reporter and author of "Kings of Convergence" has written about the Shaws:
"Industry speculation is that if the rules are changed to allow higher foreign ownership of cable companies, an opportunistic US player, perhaps John Malone, would take a much bigger stake in Shaw Communications, and possibly buy out the Shaws entirely. That suspicion is reinforced by the sense that J R, Jim and Heather Shaw are above all pragmatists. They love the business, but they aren't married to it. In the long run, the Shaws will likely be sellers, and they will do very well for themselves." (End of quote.)
The point is that one effect of the relaxation of foreign ownership rules in this regulated industry would be to put billions of dollars into the pockets of the members of four families - at the stroke of Her Excellency's pen.
Now, you might say, that's not all bad. The Shaws live in Alberta, so some of the money might jingle out of their pockets here. Don't count on it. When J R Shaw and Izzy Asper bought out Mrs. Griffiths of Vancouver, who controlled Western International Communications, a few years back, she was out of Vancouver faster than a speeding bullet and most of the money ended up in Bermuda, even before the CRTC approved the transaction.
So, we have a small, powerful, well-connected group who stand to benefit, and a government sending mixed signals. That's why ACTRA, CEP and Friends commissioned a public opinion survey by Harris Decima on Canadians' views on Canadian control of media and communications which we have released here in Calgary today.
The message Canadians are sending to their government through this poll is loud and clear: "Keep media and communications in Canadian hands". Copies of the poll are on your chairs. A few highlights:
- 82% of Canadians think it is important for the Canadian government to work to maintain and build a culture and identity distinct from the United States.
- 61% of Canadians are opposed to foreign control of telephone, cable and media companies.
- 62% of Canadians are more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes foreign companies owning more of Canadian broadcasting and telephone companies. Only 19% are more likely to vote for a candidate favouring foreign control.
When politicians read a poll like this one, they are particularly interested in the views of those Canadians who support them, and those who MIGHT support them. There is a powerful message in this poll for Mr. Harper and his government. Conservative supporters, in common with other Canadians, strongly support Canadian control of media and communications.
Even more important, those Canadians who say that voting Conservative would be their second choice, feel even more strongly about Keeping It Canadian than other voters. And these are the folks the Conservative government would need to attract in order to attain a majority in the forthcoming election.
You can read the details on the handout pages.
Our next speaker is my colleague Stephen Waddell, National Executive Director of ACTRA. Steve…
I would like to conclude by drawing your attention to the final page of the handout. It contains the contact information for each of the eight MPs who represent Calgarians in the House of Commons. We invite you to contact your MP, express your concerns on this matter, and invite her or him to get back to you with a commitment to "Keep It Canadian".
A final point: all we are asking the government to do is - NOTHING!
The five of us will be available to speak with journalists right here as soon as we adjourn.
On behalf of my colleagues, thanks for attending the launch of the Keep It Canadian campaign, and have a great day.