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Opposition parties throw down gauntlet on federal cultural policy

The minority Conservative government would have to go against the will of Parliament to make significant changes to policies relating to Canadian content rules, restrictions on foreign ownership in the cultural sector, and funding for public broadcasting. An opposition motion passed in the House of Commons this week calls on the government to maintain or enhance support and regulation in these areas.

The Conservatives unanimously rejected the motion, providing for the first time since the election some signals on where they are headed in terms of cultural policy. They appear to favour an approach of free international trade in cultural products and less regulation of domestic provision of those products, including through the broadcast system.

Heritage Minister Bev Oda said that the government must be free to come up with new approaches to cultural policy. She will appear today before the federal Heritage Committee to answer questions about her plans for the review the CBC’s mandate.

During the debate, Conservatives also signalled that the government’s approach is now being developed with the Prime Minister and that it would be unveiled in the next few months. Oda framed the challenge for the Conservatives as: “How can we maintain or improve the market share of Canadian cultural products in the new reality of the 21st century?”

Although Oda said she supports a “strong public broadcaster,” she did not make any commitments about CBC funding. And Conservative MP Ed Fast did not answer when asked directly whether his government refused to support the opposition motion because it wanted to be free to reduce funding to the CBC. His colleague, Dean Del Mastro, said that CBC needs a better business plan so that it can increase its revenue through commercials, not more money from the government.

Also during the debate, two Toronto-area MPs called for the reversal of CBC management’s decision to close the TV design department in Toronto. Peggy Nash and Olivia Chow called the planned closure this summer a loss for public broadcasting. Nash asked Oda to step forward and stop the sellout.

For more information on the Guild campaign to save CBC’s TV design department, go to www.stopthesellout.ca or contact the Guild (info@cmg.ca) at 416-591-5333 or 1-800-465-4149.

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