Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda's fundraising activities were back in the spotlight yesterday in the House of Commons as NDP Heritage critic Charlie Angus expressed concern that Oda's fundraising activities may have played a role in the government's decision to delay the renewal of an important television development fund. Angus asked whether, in light of funding from the broadcast industry, is the delay "a case of he who pays the piper is calling her tune?" Oda responded:
Mr. Speaker, the government supports the production industry and our broadcasting industry. We understand the importance of the television fund and the role it plays. The fund is being processed in consideration. We want to ensure that the money will be used and that it provides value for the dollars.
Given that non-answer, Angus then asked Treasury Board President John Baird whether "first, the cheques for last week's cancelled fundraiser collected in cash? Second, would he give us a list of who gave those cheques so we can at least know who is helping to write the broadcast and copyright policy in our country?"
Baird replied that the cheques were returned, but did not respond to the request to provide a list of those who submitted cheques. In an NDP press release following the exchange, Angus added:
Today the President of the Treasury Board flatly denied that any of the cheques for the cancelled Oda fundraiser were cashed. The NDP plans to follow up on this matter and find out whether or not the cheques were cashed or cancelled. Given that the Minister has completely frozen out the artistic community in terms of broadcast and copyright issues, we would at least see which lobbyists have her ear.
It appears that the controversy associated with the Canadian Heritage Minister's fundraising activities are not going away. This should not come as a big surprise given that the list of her campaign contributors during the last election campaign included the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the Canadian Motion Pictures Distributors Association, the Canadian Music Publishers Association, the Entertainment Software Association, Universal Music, CRIA President Graham Henderson, and individuals associated with Rogers, CHUM, and Standard Radio. The list of contributors to her riding association in 2005 is even longer as it includes every major record label. With that history – along with the recent attempt to seek more funding from these same sources – questions about the link between contributions and government policy are likely to persist.
I might be missing a nuance here, but as far as I can tell Minister Angus seems to be mixing apples and oranges with his question – and Minister Oda missed the logical reply which would be to clarify the misunderstanding. The Canadian Television Fund has a private component (the money that is provided by broadcasters as dictated by the CRTC) and a public component (the money provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage). I’m not sure what impact a delay in decision making on the public component would have on potential future decisions by the CRTC to maintain or decrease the broadcaster requirement. It seems to me that television broadcasters would want to see the public amount go up if they were to decrease their own contribution, since this fund is in essence a subsidy to the broadcasters (allowing them to pay very low license fees for their Canadian content), not a direct contribution to the production community.
None of that diminishes the issue at hand; it would just be best if the arguements made to highlight the issue were a little more solid.
Bev Oda replied to my letter this week. In her reply, likely a standard form letter for these types of responses, she assures me/us that her time in the telecommunications industry means she naturally developed friends in the industry. She then states that this doesn’t mean she’ll agree with her industry friends all the time. She says her “heart is in the right place” when working for her constituents and what is right for Canada. So, there you go. No worries here, move along. Bev has our best interests at heart.