Does Quebec have too many radio and television stations? And if so, which ones should be taken off the air?
Those are some of the questions raised by the growing support among political parties in Quebec for provincial control over the licensing of broadcasters in its territory.
In February, the Quebec Liberal Party's policy commission proposed that Quebec be given a veto over decisions of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission affecting the granting or renewal of radio licences in the province.
The proposal was submitted to the Liberal policy convention in March but not considered there. It now is to be considered at a meeting of the party's general council in September.
While the CRTC now is an independent authority, the proposal calls for the Quebec government to appoint one-third of the CRTC commissioners "who grant or renew radio licences for stations broadcasting on the Quebec territory."
These Quebec government representatives would "have a veto right for all decisions exclusively pertaining to the Quebec territory."
So the Quebec government could, say, prevent new English-language radio stations from starting up or force existing ones to shut down when their licences come up for renewal. Or it could require English-language music stations to play the same proportion of songs in French as their French-language competitors.
The Parti Québécois would go farther, giving the province control over the licensing of television as well as radio stations while it is still part of Canada.
In fact, the PQ platform adopted in March, which suspended the party's commitment to hold another sovereignty referendum, calls for Ottawa to hand over to the province all "powers and budgets" over communications, culture and language.
So the Quebec government would have control over not only the licensing of English-language stations but also the funds allocated by the CBC for its English-language network in the province.
And on the weekend, the PQ's federal ally, the Bloc Québécois, reiterated its call for the CRTC to be replaced in Quebec by a new provincial authority, the CQRT.
In May, the Bloc introduced a bill in the House of Commons to amend the Broadcasting Act to allow the federal government to delegate regulatory power over broadcasting within its boundaries to any province that requests it.
When it introduced its bill, the Bloc said in an explanatory statement that its proposed CQRT "would be a body independent from the Quebec government and would have its own regulation related to the interests and concerns of the Québécois nation.
"With a CQRT, Quebec could by itself grant operating licences, modify them and renew them, or not."
But the provincial CQRT that would thus be created would be different from the federal CRTC.
It might not be as independent from government. When the Bloc announced its bill, Bloc MP Maria Mourani said that if Quebec controlled the licensing of broadcasters, "the Quebec government would not hesitate to issue the necessary instructions" to the French-language TQS network to maintain its news service.
The prospective new owners of the money-losing network want to eliminate the service. But the CRTC, which must approve their purchase of TQS, has told them to come up with a proposal to maintain it. That is, the CRTC has already done what the Bloc wants its Quebec replacement to do.
And for Quebec, the Bloc's bill would do away with existing explicit protection for English-language broadcasting. The Broadcasting Act now says the Canadian broadcasting system should reflect the "linguistic duality" of Canadian society. The Bloc's bill says that in Quebec, the system should reflect "the distinct character of Quebec society, its values, history, culture and language."
So the questions remain, for the Bloc and the other parties calling for Quebec control over the licensing of broadcasters: Should any stations be closed? And if so, which ones?
Too many English stations ?
Some Quebec politicians want control over radio and TV broadcasting
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