The Broadcast and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel report calls for a massive overhaul of Canadian communications law including significant changes to the CRTC that even include a name change to the Canadian Communications Commission. Yet more significant – and seemingly more controversial – is a change to the requirements for commissioners. The current CRTC Act provides for the creation of regional commissioners, who must reside in their region with the expectation that they are better positioned to raise regional concerns. The panel recommends dropping regional commissioners altogether, requiring instead that all commissioners reside in the Ottawa/Gatineau region:
Recommendation 4: We recommend that sections 3, 5, 6, and 10.1 of the CRTC Act be amended to reduce the maximum number of Commissioners to a Chair, a Vice-Chair, and up to seven additional Commissioners, each appointed for a single term of up to seven years. For the term of their appointment, Commissioners should reside in the National Capital Region or within a prescribed distance thereof.
That recommendation has sparked anger among some Members of Parliament. Conservative MP Martin Shields raised the issue with panel chair Janet Yale at the Canadian Heritage Committee:
Ms. Janet Yale: We thought a lot about what it takes to have effective collegial decision-making and how we can enhance the collegiality and effectiveness of decision-making at the CRTC, which is embodied in recommendation 4. However, we recognize that in terms of ensuring the CRTC has a broad perspective on what the interests, views and Canadians from all different sectors and parts of the country are, including accessibility requirements, linguistic diversity and diversity of other types, we recommended the formation of a public interest committee of up to 25 members, whose composition would enable the CRTC to have that broader perspective.
Mr. Martin Shields: I got that, but when you read number 4, do you know what that says to me? It says that you’ve just excluded my part of the country as being able to participate, and I have a real, real problem with that. That’s what it says to me. I read that, I know what you just said, but you just excluded the vast majority of the country when you said that.
Ms. Janet Yale: It’s up to nine commissioners with broad representation from different parts of the country. The only change we’ve made is really that they should be required to live in the national capital region for the term of their office, because—
Mr. Martin Shields: I understand where you’re going with this, but understand—
Ms. Janet Yale: However, that doesn’t exclude people from different parts of the country. It just says that it’s very hard for the CRTC, with commissioners based in the region, for them to really build relationships of trust and collaboration. It does not exclude people based on their geography.
Mr. Martin Shields: You’re telling me I have to move here. You’re telling me I have to move to be part of it; I have to move to the central part of Canada, the capital region. That’s not what I accept. I don’t accept that. That exclude people and is discriminatory against where I live. You say I have to move here to be part of this process. If you don’t understand where I’m from, you don’t understand the flames that statement creates, and you have to be very, very careful how you write things like that.
It would appear that the panel hopes that a public interest committee will address the representation concerns, but Shields was not having it. In fact, he raised the issue again days later in the House of Commons during question period:
Mr. Martin Shields (Bow River, CPC): Madam Speaker, the new CRTC guidelines in the Yale report that the minister is reviewing are deeply flawed. I have strong concerns about the journalists being licensed and registered. I am also very frustrated about Yale report recommendation number four that would have nine board members live or move to Ottawa for seven years. That is discriminatory to western Canada and just plain wrong. Will the government commit to rejecting recommendation number four of the Yale report or will the government continue to alienate western Canada?
Ms. Julie Dabrusin (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Lib.): Madam Speaker, our government thanks the members of the Yale report for the work they did. The panel has undertaken a wonderful final report, and we are looking at the recommendations in the report and plan to take action as swiftly as possible. The report recommendations that are proposed are all being considered, and we support a strong, competitive broadcasting media sector. We intend to move swiftly to ensure all players, including web giants, support Canadian culture. We are reviewing them and are looking at them right now.
It is notable that the final Broadcast panel featured no representatives from Western Canada. In fact, with the resignation of Hank Intven before the panel began crafting its recommendations, it was left with six members, all of whom reside in Ontario and Quebec. For a government without elected MPs from either Saskatchewan and Alberta, racing toward legislative reform premised on greater CRTC powers and eliminating regional representation may carry significant political risk.