Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Transport and Communications

Issue 1 - Evidence - February 17, 2004


OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications met this day at 9:35 a.m. to consider a draft legislative budget; and to consider a draft budget with respect to a study on the current state of Canadian media industries, emerging trends and developments in these industries, the media's role, rights, and responsibilities in Canadian society, and current and appropriate future policies relating thereto.

Senator Joan Fraser (Chairman) in the Chair.

[English]

The Chairman: Honourable senators, there is a camera crew here that would like to film the opening portion of our proceedings. A documentary is being done on Senator LaPierre, and knowing him as we do, we can be sure it will be a terrific documentary. Since this is such an important part of Senator LaPierre's life, if it is agreeable to you, honourable senators, the camera crew will film the opening portion of this session.

Today's session will be divided into two parts. In the first, the public hearing, we will be considering draft budgets. The second part of the meeting, a discussion about future business of the committee, will be held in camera.

Honourable senators should have before them the draft budgets that were sent from the steering committee. The first one is headed "Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications: Legislation." This budget, which will cover our study of legislation that is sent to us, is usually a straightforward and modest budget. I will ask the clerk to give you the details of it.

Mr. Till Heyde, Clerk of the Committee: Honourable senators, on the third page of the budget package before you are the details of the budget. As the chair said, it is a relatively minor budget. It envisions 12 working meals and some miscellaneous expenses for unforeseen events. Given that the committee does not know the schedule of legislation that will come to it, 12 working meals will probably be sufficient from now until the end of this fiscal year.

The Chairman: I would think so.

Senator Corbin: I was not a member of the committee when you started your examination of these issues, but why are we providing money for researchers and consultants?

The Chairman: Could you hold that question until we get to the next item? We are looking at the legislative budget right now, Senator Corbin.

Will someone move approval of this draft budget?

Senator LaPierre: I so move.

The Chairman: Is that agreed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chairman: The motion is carried.

Our next order of business is consideration of the draft budget in connection with the mandate we received from the Senate last week to continue our study of the Canadian media. This draft budget is entitled "Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications: Study of the Canadian Media." I will ask the clerk to go through that.

[Translation]

Mr. Heyde: Page one of the draft budget before you for your consideration contains a summary of expenditures. Details of the various budget items are provided on page three.

As noted, the budget makes provision for the committee to hire a researcher, if necessary, as well as a communications adviser. Funds have also been requested for working meals.

[English]

There is a doubling of the meals because of the way the budgets work. If the committee does some of its work from one budget and some from the other, we have to have the full funds predicted from each budget for possible meals. It is not that it is envisioned that there will be 24 working meals in the period under consideration.

[Translation]

The draft budget also makes provision for retaining the services of a person to revise the report. A total of $1,000 is also earmarked in the budget for the purchase of books and periodicals, if required. The budget request totals $26,800.

[English]

Senator Corbin: I reiterate my previous question, which was out of context. We do not currently have, if I understand, the services of a research consultant or a communications consultant. This is for the future. The people who assist us currently are from the Library of Parliament; am I correct?

The Chairman: Yes.

Senator Corbin: The other item I wish to raise briefly is "All Other Expenses," such as the purchase of books and periodicals.

You will recall, Madam Chair, that I expressed to you in a private conversation sometime last fall my desire to have access to the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement figures, BBM, as well as the Audit Bureau of Circulations, ABC, publication audits of various periodicals, TV stations — whatever concerns our researcher. I understand these do not come cheaply, but I cannot see ourselves doing a profound examination of the issues if these are not available to us. I have just recently hired a researcher in New Brunswick for myself. My researcher tells me that it is essential to have access to these figures to do a proper job of examining the question of ownership of the media in New Brunswick, which is a major thing. What is your response to that?

The Chairman: If memory serves — and the clerk may correct me — the committee did get some material, which was circulated. However, as you rightly observed, the full bundle was horrifically expensive, many thousands of dollars. I guess only rich media companies can afford to get it.

Since these surveys are done quite regularly, it would seem prudent to me to wait, if we were only going to get a chance to buy them or even a fraction of them once, because I could not see the budget continuing. We might be able to wait, to get slightly more up-to-date material. Am I wrong?

Mr. Heyde: You are quite right, Madam Chair. I looked into this in October and I seem to recall that it was quite expensive. It certainly could be an item we could investigate including in the budget for the next fiscal year. This is only up until the end of March, which is the budget honourable senators have before them.

The Chairman: I will have the material dug out so that we will be able to furnish you with a more complete response on that, Senator Corbin.

Senator Corbin: I am not suggesting that we have the full figures for all of Canada, but there may be times or regions where this sort of information is pretty basic to the discussion of this issue, and then we could do it on an ad hoc basis.

The Chairman: We will look into that.

Senator Graham: With respect to whether it is ABC or BBM results, I do recall that one of our witnesses volunteered to provide us with the numbers. Whether or not that would be appropriate, or whether we would have to subscribe to get those numbers, is another question. I believe Senator Merchant raised some questions about whether they had figures for Saskatchewan in various market areas there.

Since I have the floor, could I ask a second question, similar to questions that came up in another committee, about the Senate administration reviewing the budget? We simply have the signatures of Heather Lank and Hélène Lavoie, Ms. Lank being the Principal Clerk of Committees Branch and Ms. Lavoie being the Director of Finance. Their signatures attest to nothing beyond the fact that they have reviewed the budget application. They do not say "We reject it," or "It is in order," or "The process is correct." This may be standard form now, but this issue did come up in one of the other committees. That committee was taking steps to see if they could get something more definitive.

The Chairman: It is not the task of Senate administration to judge the policy implications, or the political implications of budgets. What they do, I am informed, is go through the budgets we draft to confirm that everything is spelled correctly and that the titles are proper, to check to be sure the numbers add up the way we thought they did and the ensure that nothing was left out, that kind of thing. In other words, they check facts, if you will. On that level, I would not have any quarrel with the word "reviewed"; I would not wish them to say they have approved it.

Senator Graham: No, but perhaps they could say "The process is in order," or something to that effect.

The Chairman: We can forward your suggestion.

Senator Graham: Thank you.

Senator Carney: On that point, since it was the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs where this matter came up, we would like a standardized process. I wish to amend your suggestion to say that the wording should apply to all committees that Ms. Lank and Ms. Lavoie sign off on — that the wording be consistent for all of the budgets, so that we do not have one set of wording for Foreign Affairs Committee and another set for another committee.

Senator Graham: I would agree very much with that, as I normally do with you, Senator Carney.

Senator Carney: My next question is much more mundane. It is this: Why have a research consultant and a communications consultant between now and the end of the fiscal year? I do not understand. If we have people from the Library of Parliament, why are we hiring $8,000 worth of consultants on communications and $9,000 worth of research at this point?

The Chairman: Those are maximum amounts, as you know. We may not spend that much. Both cases relate to the interim report that this committee has agreed it would like to produce by the end of the fiscal year. The researcher would probably be needed for slightly less time than is set out here — probably for about one-third of that time — but it seems prudent to allow for emergencies.

Senator Carney: I can understand why the Liberal government would need 10 days of communications consultants at this time.

My point is that 10 days of communications consulting between the middle of February and the end of March to me seems to be excessive.

The Chairman: Again, that is the maximum.

Senator Graham: I withdraw the comment I made earlier about agreeing with Senator Carney.

The Chairman: I thought you might.

If we produce an interim report, we will wish to have a reasonable communications program — not a dramatic neon-lit, star-spangled plan — to let the Canadian people know about it, as we did when we launched this inquiry. We engaged some very efficient communications consultants who got an amazing amount of work done for a modest amount of money. I think, and the steering committee agreed, that it was appropriate to plan an appropriate, modest communications scheme in connection with the publication of an interim report. That is what this is about.

I repeat: These are maximum figures.

Senator Carney: I accept the chair's explanation.

The Chairman: Other questions or comments?

Senator Corbin: I wish to make a comment. I think it is regrettable that there was an injection of partisanship in Senator Carney's comments. This committee has been working, plodding ahead in a very cooperative fashion. This has nothing to do with partisan politics. I will not ask Senator Carney to withdraw her comments; she would not, in any event.

Senator Carney: That is true.

Senator Corbin: However, I wanted to put my comments on the record.

The Chairman: We have had one volley each way — no more volleys. Let us return to our amicable non-partisan practices.

Senator LaPierre: I just want to move that we adopt this and get on with life.

Senator Merchant: I did not understand about the BBMs. Is it inappropriate to obtain BBMs in a private manner? If I look at some BBM for Saskatchewan, is that proper, or do we have to subscribe?

The Chairman: Some witnesses have volunteered to send us, and have done so, their own material. I do not think it is appropriate for us to go out and solicit a whole very valuable packet from a private source.

Senator LaPierre has moved the adoption.

Senator LaPierre: On this point, it is like borrowing a book from the library. You just do not take it away. If we want information, we get it. We do not have to depend upon anyone. We certainly do not want it gratis, especially information that is so relevant to this entire thing. Consequently, I think we should have the money available to us to be able to purchase this information ourselves, so that it will belong to the committee and to the Senate.

The Chairman: For the coming fiscal year, which is rapidly approaching, we shall do that.

Senator Carney: I have a supplementary.

The Chairman: Before you do, I think Senator Adams has been trying to put forward a question.

Senator Adams: Concerning the budget that we are ready to approve, it is only the fiscal year for the communications study, or do you expect any other bills from the government? If so, do we have to ask for another budget, or how does that work?

The Chairman: No. That was the first budget that we approved, senator. The budget for $5,300 was the budget for studying legislation. For that, we do not need communications plans or extra research. We almost certainly do not need extra research capacity for any of the legislation that seems likely to come to us. A great deal of research has already been done.

Senator Carney: On the question of the BBM and the other measurements, common sense suggests that before we pursue that matter we find out what is available to the committee through the witnesses who promised it, which I remember was the institute or the association. It was not coming from a "private source"; it was coming from the association itself. I think that is politically neutral. For us to seek information from an association is not like asking it from CanWest or another group. Perhaps you would like to get clarification of what information is available to us, and what they have promised to give us, before committing generic funds for it.

The Chairman: It is on our to-do list.

Senator Corbin: I apologize for raising the matter again, but would this not be the sort of thing that the Library of Parliament should have on its shelves? I have been there many times. There is plenty of information about the stock market, for example, along with other areas. There is a reference section that one can consult at leisure. The funds for this should not come out of our budget. This information should be information readily available for all parliamentarians. It is a matter that is so close to our everyday life. I wonder if that could be looked into.

The Chairman: That is one of the items on the to-do list — namely, to look into precisely what the Library of Parliament can do.

Senator LaPierre, are you trying to get a vote on your motion?

Senator LaPierre: No, because people keep adding things to it. In my opinion, an association can be as prejudiced as an individual and can have an agenda as much as an individual can. It has been my view, humble as it is, that we should obtain our own information and not depend on an association. The broadcasters association will give us the information they think will pacify their case. The association representing authors, writers and actors, et cetera, will give you the information they think is best for them. We will have no chance of checking whether or not they have edited the material for the purpose of influencing the committee one way or another. Let us obtain our own materials so that we know that they are pure and virginal, Madam Chair.

The Chairman: All of these views will be taken seriously. We will come back to you with a report on what seems feasible and advisable.

Senator LaPierre has moved adoption of this budget. All in favour?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chairman: The budget is carried.

With that, senators, we conclude the first portion of this hearing. We will now move to an in camera session.

The committee continued in camera.


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