Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Transport and Communications
Issue 8 - Evidence, October 7, 2014
OTTAWA, Tuesday, October 7, 2014
The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications met this day,
at 9:30 a.m., to continue its examination of the challenges faced by the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in relation to the changing environment of
broadcasting and communications.
Senator Dennis Dawson (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, I call to order this meeting of the
Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications.
Today, we are continuing our study on the challenges faced by the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation in relation to the changing environment of broadcasting
and communications. Our witness today is Marie-Linda Lord, Researcher and
Vice-President of Student and International Affairs, Université de Moncton.
I invite Ms. Lord to make her presentation, which will be followed by
questions from senators.
Marie-Linda Lord, Researcher and Vice-President of Student and
International Affairs, Université de Moncton:
Honourable senators, I want to begin by thanking you for the privilege of
appearing before the committee and the opportunity to discuss the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation with you. As you know, in my capacity of university
researcher, I have been interested in this topic for a number of years.
I want to clarify that, when I talk about the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation, I am talking about the French- language network exclusively, and
not the CBC. Of course, this is an umbrella corporation that actually manages
two autonomous and mutually independent entities, whether we are talking about
television, radio, the web, and so on.
My presentation today will focus on two main issues. The first issue I will
raise is the regional representation on the SRC national network. I will then
talk about how important it is for Canadians to have access to a proper public
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was created in 1936. As the national
public broadcaster, it has for a mandate to, and I quote:
. . . provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of
programming, that informs, enlightens and entertains; the programming
provided by the Corporation should reflect Canada and its regions to
national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those
That excerpt is taken from the 1991 Broadcasting Act, which you are familiar
To better focus on regional needs, Radio-Canada has created regional stations
across Canada. Those stations broadcast regional newscasts, radio programs and
update a regional website. We all know that the national programming, be it on
television or on the radio, is Montreal-centric — in other words, so-called
national programs are produced in Montreal, and their content heavily focuses on
Former Société Radio-Canada Acadie journalist, Quebecer Marjorie Pedneault,
stated the following in an essay published last week in Acadia, titled Le
nombrilisme québécois — and I do have a copy, Mr. Dawson:
The French public television waves have become the property of Montreal and
French-language networks, including the Société Radio-Canada network.
Francophones outside Quebec account for 14 per cent of the country's
francophone population. Do they have their share of the Radio-Canada national
network? The answer is self-evident. Since its creation, Société Radio-Canada
has never fulfilled its mandate. Moreover, its Quebec coverage has successfully
contributed to the Quebec society project.
Imagine what the situation would be if the same efforts had been invested for
the Canadian Francophonie across the country. The members of that community
could have been given an opportunity to talk to one another, see one another,
have discussions, and pursue a joint project by benefiting from that public
space provided by the national television and radio network. The regional silos
would have been broken down further. Imagine what the Canadian Francophonie
would look like today had that been the case. You will appreciate that a major
opportunity to make history has been passed up.
However, it is never too late to do the right thing, and that brings me to my
second point. Radio-Canada is facing a number of challenges. The corporation's
CEO is currently on a country-wide tour to discuss SRC's future. Last week, he
was in Moncton. The French-language branch of the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation must redefine itself and become what it should have always been: a
national radio and television network.
The 1991 legislation should be revised, so that its provisions can be clearer
and more specific regarding the public broadcaster's role and responsibilities.
The French-language branch is a Canadian and not a Quebec network.
The coverage and programming on the Radio-Canada television and radio must
absolutely change course and become Canadian. The CRTC must ensure that
Radio-Canada is fulfilling its mandate to provide programming that reflects
Canadian realities and showcases Canadian diversity. Let us be clear, for that
objective to be achievable, the headquarters must be moved out of Montreal. The
network headquarters should be set up elsewhere in the country. The Montreal
station should become a regional station.
In closing, the country's francophones are entitled to a national public
network just like all other Canadians, including Quebecers.
To achieve that, the federal government must provide the French-language
network with funding that is adequate and specific to that network in compliance
with the Official Languages Act and its resultant services.
Thank you for your attention. I would be happy to answer your questions.
Senator Verner: Good morning and welcome, Ms. Lord. I just want to ask
about the last part of your brief. Where do you think the network headquarters
should be moved from Montreal?
Ms. Lord: It should be outside Quebec — somewhere in the Canadian
Francophonie. The first location that comes to mind is Ottawa, as it is at the
country's centre and has a francophone minority community, which would also be
on the lookout for all other federal institutions and authorities on site that
are already operating on a national scale. That environment would be conducive
to cultural change. The national Radio-Canada network needs a cultural change.
Efforts will have to be made. The network headquarters must be moved away from
Montreal. That much is clear, as it has been confirmed repeatedly in various
studies. This is more than a perception; it is a reality. That is why the
network headquarters must absolutely be moved.
Senator Verner: I would like to talk about a study you conducted in
2009, where you concluded that the anglophone newscast had more regional news
than the francophone network. That is quite a paradox.
When Hubert Lacroix appeared before the committee on February 26 of this
year, Senator Mockler asked him about SRC's true willingness to end the
''Montrealization'' of the French network's television newscasts and, more
specifically, of the Téléjournal. Mr. Lacroix said that the appointment
of Michel Cormier, an Acadian — combined with the multiplication of digital
platforms, which make it possible to broadcast more news stories — made it
easier to meet the needs of the Acadian community, particularly in eastern
It has been five years since your study was published. If you were to conduct
the same type of research today, taking into account Michel Cormier's
appointment and the recent ''Téléjournal'' overhaul mentioned by Mr. Lacroix,
would you conclude that improvements have been noted since 2009?
Ms. Lord: Hardly. We are all aware of the huge mistake made last June,
as well. Michel Cormier went to Moncton to apologize, but to be honest, that was
not quite well received by the community. I would also say, in defence of Michel
Cormier — a former colleague who spent 10 years as a journalist with
Radio-Canada's Atlantic branch — that this is a lot to put on his shoulders. We
cannot expect a news service that had been focused on Montreal culture since its
beginning to change overnight just because an Acadian was appointed as its head.
Moreover, this particular Acadian has lived outside the country and especially
outside Acadia for decades, as he was a foreign correspondent.
This is also a matter of culture. I will come back to your question, but here
is an example we see on a daily basis. When the time of day is announced on
Radio-Canada's radio, they always use Montreal time. Why are managers and
employees not made aware of the fact that they are addressing a country that
stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific? They are living in a Quebec bubble,
since they are in Montreal. They receive no comments or criticism. They do not
make any adjustments, either. This is how it has been for decades. There is no
concern about the fact that the broadcast is national. To come back to my study,
that is where we see what the culture is like and note that the tendencies are
I actually spent some time yesterday evening with a Radio-Canada national
journalist, who is a former student of mine, and he reminded me of an interview
I had with Michel Désautels following the study published in 2009. Mr. Désautels
was saying that he did not have six hours a day to waste on finding a black
francophone somewhere like Halifax to discuss issues such as President Obama's
election. I told him that the chair of the art council of Halifax or Nova Scotia
was a black francophone and that all major Canadian cities had some black
francophones. I also said that, since Radio-Canada has regional stations in all
major Canadian cities, it was very easy to call up our own colleagues in various
regional stations. Moreover, people who work at regional stations across the
country are very familiar with their community. They know who the stakeholders
are, who the social actors are, and so on. These journalists are not in the
habit of reaching out to professionals working at their own regional station. It
would have been easy — and this is an example provided in the study — to find
four young black francophones across the country, as the CBC did, in four
Canadian cities. There could have been an individual from Quebec — not
necessarily from Montreal, but from Quebec City, Trois-Rivières or Sherbrooke —
and three others from elsewhere, but that effort was not made. They think this
is a waste of time, but they never even tried. They know very little about the
Canadian Francophonie and think that our numbers are much lower than they are.
They have a preconceived idea that we are less dynamic than we really are.
However, our communities are very vibrant, especially since the francophone
reality of our communities is very different from that in Quebec, as we live in
minority situations. As soon as we rise in the morning, we are at the fore of
the language front. That much is clear! You could say that we are something of a
fortress for Quebec. That is sort of the reality of the situation.
Senator Verner: As former Minister of Official Languages, I definitely
agree with you that francophone communities outside Quebec are vibrant and
energetic. As a Quebecer, I discovered that when I was appointed minister, since
we do not wonder whether we will have to deal with a language issue when we rise
in the morning. That being said, this is a personal comment.
Since Radio-Canada is evolving in a complex and changing broadcasting and
telecommunications environment, do you think the Acadian community is truly
benefiting in terms of regional information thanks to the multiplication of
digital platforms, which were mentioned by the likes of Mr. Lacroix as a way to
counterbalance traditional television newscasts such as the ''Téléjournal'' in
the evening? By late evening, we have often already seen everything on various
Ms. Lord: I really appreciate your question, as it will enable me to
discuss an issue toward which Radio-Canada has shown very little good will. I am
talking about Acadians, for instance, wanting to receive Acadian news. That is
not the problem, as we do have a regional station that provides that kind of
information. We want Canadian news. That was sort of the focus of the study.
When we watch a CBC station or go on their website for news, we have access to
Canadian news. We want to receive news from Canada. That is the problem, as we
do not want to be navel-gazing. The national Radio-Canada network has created
Montreal navel-gazing, and the same phenomenon in the regions. When I watch
local programming or use the web platform back home, I only have access to
Acadian news. It is a good source of information, but that is not the issue. I
never hear anything about Franco-Albertans or Franco-Manitobans, and it is not
just a matter of francophones, but also of what is happening in Saskatchewan,
for instance. We are also Canadian citizens, and Radio-Canada is failing to
recognize that. I think that we are lacking the information we need to be good
Canadian citizens. We need to work hard to find that information elsewhere. We
are asking that Radio- Canada provide that information, as the corporation is a
public broadcaster funded, in large part, with taxpayers' money. So the SRC is
accountable to Canadians, and it is not meeting its mandate. Our expectations
are entirely legitimate, and that is why we are so critical today. Radio-Canada
must report to the federal government through Canadian Heritage, and that is why
we have the right to ask for a better national network, which we are currently
lacking. We exist in a silo, and we are told that we have our national news and
our regional programming. That is fine and good, but as soon as I leave my
region, all the news stories relate to Montreal. That is not what being Canadian
The situation is not the same at CBC. I experimented by listening to CBC
radio for a whole week, and I realized that the programming provided is
constantly moving around the country. The speakers come from all over, not to
mention those who come from abroad. You can hear all sorts of accents and all
sorts of stories from Canada. The same experiment conducted for the Radio-Canada
side yields entirely different results.
I will later submit to Mr. Dawson a booklet — containing an essay and not a
scientific study — where former journalist Marjorie Pedneault gives us the
example of the unfortunate murder of Moncton police officers last June. In the
Montreal coverage, Sûreté du Québec police officers were analyzing RCMP tactics
to track the murderer from a Quebec perspective. This was not happening in
Quebec, but in New Brunswick!
The entire culture needs to be changed, and that is no small task. But it is
possible. The broadcaster needs to establish guidelines, move the headquarters
from Montreal, adopt a proper motto and initiate a change of attitude. Those
people need to be reminded that they are Canadians and that they are addressing
the whole country.
We are talking about francophones, but many francophiles are also interested
and watch and listen to Radio- Canada. The network is not exclusively addressing
Senator Plett: Thank you, Dr. Lord, for appearing here. Before I ask
any questions, I want to make one correction to a statement that you made.
Ottawa is not the centre of Canada; my little village of Landmark, Manitoba, is
the centre of Canada. Let there be no doubt about that.
Ms. Lord: We agree.
Senator Plett: Thank you.
The riding of Provencher in Manitoba is also the largest francophone riding
outside the province of Quebec. That's where I come from. There are indeed a lot
of francophones in my area.
We from Manitoba west I think feel the same way about CBC as you do about
Radio-Canada: It is Toronto, Toronto, Toronto. Everything is focused around
Toronto. For that reason, those of us in the West — and I think Senator Unger
would certainly agree — don't hear about what's going on in many parts of the
country either. What you feel about Radio-Canada I think many of us feel about
CBC as a whole.
As you've mentioned, the CBC is supposed to provide more Canadian content.
They're supposed to be a national broadcaster and they seem to be a regional
broadcaster. Far be it for me to stand on a soapbox and support the CBC.
However, they have difficulties that have come up. One of the larger ones is
that they no longer have ''Hockey Night in Canada,'' which was huge revenue for
them. In light of losing that, how do we continue to ask them to provide more
Canadian content, be a national broadcaster and speak to everybody in Canada?
Certainly, in years gone by, they were one of the only broadcasters that went
into many parts of our country, the northern part. That's no longer the case. We
have satellite television, the Internet and all these things.
In light of the revenue streams, how should they be what you are suggesting
they are? I don't think any government has the appetite to give them more money,
so they need to make do with what they have, and maybe even less. How do they
continue to do what you're suggesting?
Are they indeed relevant in today's society with the Internet? We've heard
before, both from colleagues around the table as well as witnesses, that
Radio-Canada seems to be more relevant in Quebec than the rest of the CBC is
outside of Quebec. Could you answer some of that?
Ms. Lord: Concerning the matter of revenues, yes, Hockey Night in
Canada was a huge deal. However, I do not think this is a money issue. Some
people may disagree with me, but this also has to do with programming — with
making priority choices that are relevant to national programming.
Radio-Canada is successful and relevant in Quebec. Lately, the corporation
has often been criticized for imitating the private model and competing with the
TVA television network. TVA is a ratings leader right now. The quest for ratings
explains one of the issues Radio-Canada is facing. The corporation decided to
define itself based on ratings. It is true that advertising revenues are an
issue, but this approach leads to a major shift in the mandate of Radio-Canada,
which should be a public broadcaster. Things need to be redefined in that area.
A public broadcaster should not have to depend so heavily on ratings. This
problem mainly affects Radio-Canada and not the CBC, where the situation is
Basically, revenues are an issue, but the programming itself should be
redesigned. Radio-Canada has become greatly diversified and it is now offering a
number of different platforms. Choices will definitely have to be made.
I am thinking of francophone stations such as ARTV — which is a specialized
network — as well as Explora. Is it part of Radio-Canada's mandate to provide
specialized networks? The question arises because a number of specialized
networks are now provided on cable. Radio-Canada was allowed to get involved in
that area. Was that necessary? The question is the following: has the SRC become
too diversified instead of focusing on its public broadcaster mandate?
Canada is a multicultural democratic country, and it would benefit from
having a solid public broadcaster, especially since our neighbour is the United
States, whose mass culture is a real bulldozer, as we know. There are some
inspirational role models around the world. One that comes to mind is BBC, in
Great Britain. Some other countries also have effective national networks that
are relevant to their citizens.
A lot of content is available on the web nowadays. Some content is accessible
in countries around the world, but not all of it. I tried to access the website
from certain countries, but some of Radio-Canada's content was blocked, as it
was made by production companies and not by Société Radio-Canada. Be that as it
may, the website serves as a showcase that gives other countries an opportunity
to learn more about Canada. Its role as an international showcase is another
reason Société Radio-Canada is important.
Now, is this still relevant? You asked me this question. My answer is yes. It
has to be. Based on comparative studies between Radio-Canada and the CBC, we see
that the situation at CBC is not perfect, either. It is however less outrageous
than the situation at Radio-Canada. To have access to Canadian content, we need
to send very clear messages and let the Radio-Canada management know that their
mandate is national in scope and that they must fulfill it. That is how
Radio-Canada will become more relevant. I think that Canadians want to see
themselves represented in the broadcaster's content.
I would like to share something with you, if I may. Not everyone may know
this, but I chair the board of directors of TV5 Québec-Canada and the new
network Unis. On the air for just over a month now, Unis is a French-Canadian
network that has mandatory country-wide distribution, as established by the
CRTC, and gives francophone communities a forum where they can see themselves. I
made an effort recently to watch what the network was airing — my television is
always on now — and, in one week, I saw all of Canada. I was taken to British
Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba. I was shown Ontario and the Mingan Islands, in
Quebec. I went to Nova Scotia and the Acadie region. When do you see that on
Radio-Canada? On CBC, you see a bit more of Canada than you do on Radio-Canada.
Unis, obviously, has fewer financial resources then does Radio-Canada, so it
proves that it is possible. Of course, the Unis network does not deliver
newscasts, given what an incredibly expensive undertaking it is to report the
news and run a newsroom. Nor does it provide sports coverage. In fact, as far as
quality goes, Radio-Canada could be given a very specific mandate to deliver
news to Canadians.
That is one of its roles, and Radio-Canada has already set itself apart when
it comes to news quality. It could be held even more accountable in the news
arena and asked to develop a very worthwhile niche for Canadians.
Senator Plett: You've talked about other countries and their public
broadcasters. Have you done studies as to how Radio-Canada or CBC as a whole
stacks up against the BBCs of the world or others?
Ms. Lord: No, not any comparative ones. The BBC has a much higher
budget than Radio-Canada does.
Senator Unger: Thank you for all of your comments. You've actually
answered two of the questions I had.
I would just like to say that, being from Edmonton, I certainly agree with my
colleague that when you referred to moving from Montreal, I thought Winnipeg,
which is what I would consider the centre of Canada.
With regard to how the CBC compares with the BBC, there is an example I'd
like to mention. This was years ago; I think it was the last time the Oilers
were in a Stanley Cup playoff. My husband and I were in Europe and I put the
radio on out of curiosity. To my astonishment, I found parts of the game and the
score on BBC. I was very pleasantly surprised.
I wonder if you would comment on citizen journalism now and the way news
information is being disseminated globally, which I think is a game changer.
One more comment: Out of habit, I listen to CBC news in the morning when I am
coming in. I was astounded when I heard them talking about Alberta and Fort
McMurray, and their comment was the EU has labelled oil from the oil sands. For
a change, it was not ''tar sands'' but ''oil sands,'' not dirty oil. That was
certainly good news for me and Edmonton.
Would comment on this new type of journalism?
Ms. Lord: That is a topic that interests me. I have spent a lot of
time studying changes in journalism. The big game changer was the arrival of CNN
and 24/7 news. A perpetually hungry beast was created. And, as a result, a
constant stream of news was needed to feed it. Whether it is Newsworld,
RDI-Réseau de l'information, CTV or TVA, nowadays, everyone has their own
all-news network. The phenomenon led to unparalleled speed in the news world.
The need to produce news content and feed the beast news coverage is perpetual.
And that has had an impact on ethics in journalism and fact checking. Today,
witness accounts and people's perceptions are much more prevalent in the news.
Two years ago, a reporter came to interview me at Université de Moncton as
the international students were arriving. She had spoken with an international
student who had been in Moncton for some time and she asked him how many foreign
students arrived every fall. He told her a figure that was wrong, and
Radio-Canada reported that figure.
So I asked the reporter why she did not check with the school to verify the
number of foreign students. Fewer international students come to the university
than the students might think. The reporter told me that the number was the
student's perception and that people needed to know what the perceptions were. I
pointed out that I had spent 10 years as a reporter and 22 years teaching
journalism and that I had always taught fact-based journalism. So the network
retracted the story and then provided the factual information.
It is a widespread phenomenon, and this is just one example among many. The
problem lies with journalistic quality, and we are all the worse for it.
Coming back to CBC's role, I would say that the broadcaster had long set the
journalistic benchmark within the country, as well as abroad. It had an
excellent reputation, so yes, it would be held to a much higher ethical
standard. Certain journalistic practices should probably be reconsidered.
Things are tough in today's world. We have Twitter and Facebook, and all
kinds of things are said on such social networks. If we look at the massacre
that happened in Moncton, you will recall that we were getting better
information on Facebook and Twitter. I learned of the incident the same night on
Facebook, not on Radio-Canada. The other networks were all there, but not
As for journalistic practices, there could certainly be a dialogue with CBC
to be different, not to do the same as the others and to ensure that the quality
was restored to its former level. Again, the corporation has taken up practices
that put ratings and the need to attract audiences above quality. A whole
discussion or dialogue on the matter could be initiated with CBC's senior
I am not sure whether that answers your question, but it is indeed an issue
Senator Charette-Poulin: Thank you, Ms. Lord, for joining us today.
I was the vice-president of French-language Regional Radio and Television
Broadcasting at CBC from 1983 to 1988. I knew the head of the regional services,
who was not in Montreal, but in Ottawa. Mr. Juneau undertook a major
restructuring, and the organization was restored to its former structure in
You very clearly and passionately spoke to the very heart of public radio and
television in Canada, and I thank you for that. Canada faces the same issues and
challenges today that it did in the 1930s, owing to physical distances as well
as language and cultural differences.
What is the board of directors' responsibility? The board and its members
represent all of the country's regions. So what is its responsibility? Where is
its collective desire to properly fulfill its mandate under the enabling
statute, the Broadcasting Act? Have you ever met the members of the board of
Ms. Lord: I am quite glad to hear you talk about the board of
directors. No, I have never met the board members; nor have I ever met the CEO,
Mr. Lacroix, in person. I am wondering the same thing as you, and I was asking
myself the question again this morning.
I have examined the board's makeup and where its members come from a number
of times. And I am talking not just about the region they are from,
geographically speaking, but also about the professional setting they come from.
And it did not seem to have anyone with enough knowledge to appreciate the
cultural subtleties and the role of a public broadcaster.
I know the role a board of directors is supposed to play, being on one
myself. Finances are always of the utmost importance. Then come human resources
issues. Very often, boards of directors do not have the right knowledge because
the membership does not include professionals familiar with the day-to-day
workings of the organization, who have a clear understanding of operations from
a strategic planning standpoint, knowledge that is also very important for a
board of directors to have. That is where CBC's board of directors could play a
CBC and Radio-Canada are a single entity, and that alone is problematic, as
we are seeing right now. It is possible to have the same board of directors for
the two organizations but two strategic plans, one for CBC and another for
Radio-Canada, in light of the fact that they each have different needs. Each has
different demographic challenges. For Radio-Canada, the francophone population
is concentrated in Quebec, which is home to an English-speaking minority as far
as CBC is concerned. So they have opposite challenges. Right now, the strategic
plan covers both organizations. But there is no question that two strategic
plans are needed, even two budgets. A single board of directors can vote on two
As for the budget cuts in the wake of the loss of ''Hockey Night in Canada,''
Radio-Canada is paying the price for CBC's losses. That could be rectified. That
is the kind of decision that the board of directors could make. Who is there to
explain Canada's francophonie to the board members? Coming from a minority
language community does not necessarily give you that understanding. I cannot
fly a plane just because my father is a pilot.
No one on the board has the sociological or socio-cultural expertise coupled
with the media knowledge to understand what public radio and television mean or
appreciate the impact of being seen and heard in the public space.
In our world, if you are not visible on TV, then you do not exist. Now we
have social networks. It has always been said that the Internet — and the
Netflix of the world, which are now mentioned daily in the papers and other
media — would cause a decline in television watching. But the exact opposite is
happening in Canada. Canadians are watching TV more than ever because social
media sites are serving as platforms that promote TV programming. Shows,
celebrities and other types of news are frequently discussed, and that is the
exact opposite effect of what was predicted; the phenomenon is a consequence of
the new technological reality. The same is true of people going to the movies.
According to an article I read last week, more people are going to the movies.
The movie world has adapted to the new reality by adding a lot more special
As far as the board of directors is concerned, I would say it is fine to
include business people, lawyers and accountants among the membership. But at
some point, it has to have people who can explain the unique realities of a
public broadcaster and the importance of having a public space where people have
an opportunity to be seen and heard. That is very important.
Senator Charette-Poulin: Are you saying that the board should have two
subcommittees, one for Radio-Canada and one for CBC? One for French-language
services and another for English-language services?
Ms. Lord: Absolutely. As far as strategic planning is concerned,
Senator Charette-Poulin: Over a number of years — and my colleagues
mentioned this — public broadcasting gradually became more and more dependent on
Ms. Lord: That is correct.
Senator Charette-Poulin: As you said, it is more dependent on sweeps.
If you had to give the board of directors or government a recommendation on
reducing that commercial revenue dependence in order to ensure that the unique
service of public radio and television broadcasting truly remained public for
Canadians, what would you say above all else?
Ms. Lord: My first recommendation would be to completely rethink
programming. With its current resources, the broadcaster could certainly offer a
lot more Canadian content without necessarily spending more.
Some will argue that I am dreaming in technicolour, but I can tell you it is
true, now that I have seen how Unis, a new network, is doing it. Unis has a lot
less resources than CBC and is still managing to broadcast programs from all
over, programs that require teams to travel to produce content, and travel is
expensive. Already, CBC uses numerous private production companies. That is the
Unis network's business model.
Radio-Canada has to find its own personality again. It has chosen the
approach of imitating private networks, such as TVA, which it is always
competing with. We are used to Radio-Canada's standard of quality. That is a
choice the public broadcaster should make, instead of trying to do everything
while endeavouring to offer quality national programming. Some of the things it
is currently engaging in should probably be scaled back.
Senator Charette-Poulin: Have you had a chance to compare the per
capita investment in public broadcasting of various governments around the
world? For instance, in places that have a public broadcaster such as the United
Kingdom, France or Australia, how much does the government spend per capita as
compared with the Canadian government?
Ms. Lord: In Canada, per capita investment is declining. Here it is
declining, whereas in the case of the BBC, in the U.K., which has double our
population, the government invests considerably more per capita.
Senator Charette-Poulin: Could we have those numbers from the Library
of Parliament, the investment per Canadian compared to other countries where
public radio and public television exist, a comparative study?
The Chair: They've been tabled.
Senator Charette-Poulin: Oh, they've already been tabled.
The Chair: We will send you a copy.
Senator Housakos: Welcome, Ms. Lord. Your appearance before the
committee is very appreciated. You are not the first witness to point out to us
the fact that CBC and Société Radio-Canada have vastly different needs and yet,
are now overseen by the same board of directors.
You noted that they were two entities with different challenges but that they
operate under a common strategy. We have yet to get a clear understanding of
Radio-Canada's strategy. We are still trying to figure out where it is headed.
Do you agree with the fact that the government should start looking at the
possibility of creating two entities with two independent boards of directors,
one to address the needs of French-speaking Canadians and the other to address
the needs of English-speaking Canadians?
Ms. Lord: Of course, that is an option, but there is no doubt that
having CBC and Radio-Canada share resources saves money. In regional stations,
they share space and studios. So savings are being achieved in that regard. By
the way, and this is perhaps less important, but as far as correspondents abroad
are concerned, certain aspects could stay the same. The correspondents are often
bilingual and cover stories for the newscasts of both entities.
It is possible to keep a single board of directors and a single entity, but
two strategic plans and two separate budgets are needed so that one does not
suffer the consequences of the other. That is what happened in terms of the
broadcaster's most recent financial situation. Radio-Canada is paying the price
for a significant loss of revenue by CBC. That is what is not working, and it
affects what Radio-Canada can offer Canada's francophone community.
I am not in the shoes of those running the public broadcaster, but I do not
think the government would necessarily want to have more administrative bodies.
I do not think this is the right time to do that.
It is well and good to say that Canada has a public broadcaster in each
official language, but the governance structure itself could be divided under a
single head. That would make the public broadcaster stronger and more
representative of the country. A certain degree of separation is needed between
operations and the governance mechanism, yes, but not total separation. That is
Senator Housakos: In terms of English-speaking Canada, CBC has a
serious ratings problem. CBC's biggest challenge is to figure out why Canadians
are not interested in tuning in. In terms of French-speaking Canada, there is a
massive need and Radio-Canada is not meeting that need.
What can the federal government do to fix that? CBC's administration operates
at arm's length from the government. When we visited Manitoba, we heard that a
French-speaking population with significant needs existed outside Quebec and
that it had very few options.
Apart from investing money year after year, are there other solutions the
federal government could put in place to address this community's needs
Ms. Lord: The biggest difference between Radio-Canada's success and
CBC's is Quebec's star system, which is tied to its concentrated population.
Quebec established institutions that could support a star system, so tabloids,
celebrity magazines and such. They are very effective at creating stars. In
English-speaking Canada, however, that did not happen. Why do people want to
watch TV? Because they see their stars in dramas, television series, Quebec-made
movies, galas and the like shown on Radio-Canada, stars in the world of music,
theatre, comedy and movies. All of them can be seen on Radio-Canada, and that
keeps a star system that captures the audience's interest in place. Just look at
the influence of Hollywood's star system, in the U.S. It is highly successful,
even internationally renowned.
English-speaking Canada has not been able to create its own star system. And
that has a direct impact on CBC's lack of popularity. The English-language
network has not created any Canadian stars. Radio-Canada has been very
successful at it, and with the arrival of TVA and contribution of others, the
system has had a real and significant impact on the blueprint of Quebec society.
It has been a success. Having a population concentrated in an area smaller than
Canada's also helped it happen, but that system is really the reason behind
Radio-Canada's popularity in Quebec. Furthermore, when you look at island
populations, you see that Great Britain, Japan and Quebec are three of the
world's top TV-watching places. Quebec is like an island owing to its language
identity. Its population behaves like that of an island. It comes with other
island characteristics, but Canada will not react the same way. Coming back to
the star system, I will say that when people watch a program like ''Tout le
monde en parle,'' Sunday nights on Radio- Canada, they tune in to see the stars
who are there every week to talk and share the latest scoop, and the formula
works well. It is a prime time show. Sunday night is now the most watched TV
night, and that represents a change in TV viewing behaviour. Sunday night did
not used to be prime time. It is, however, understood that the content is very
Montreal- and Quebec-centred, certainly not Canadian, again because it revolves
around the Quebec star system.
Senator Mockler: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for allowing me to ask a
question, since I am not a committee member. It is a pleasure to be here, and
this is an issue I feel very strongly about. I have a few questions.
Mr. Lacroix was in Moncton recently to meet with stakeholders. Were you
invited to share your views?
Ms. Lord: No, I was not invited. So I was not there.
Senator Mockler: Frequently, Canadians are able to access TV shows and
movies on a number of platforms. You mentioned them: conventional TVs,
computers, smart phones, tablets and so forth.
Do you think that Radio-Canada is at a disadvantage, since it does not have
that type of mechanism or infrastructure in place?
Ms. Lord: This is where Radio-Canada can offer something more specific
and original. We do not have to do what everyone else does. People like
diversity, and that is where Radio-Canada can stake out a different space and
play a different role in its capacity as national broadcaster. This is where,
also, Radio-Canada attempted to do what the others were doing and strayed from
its mandate by having specialty channels. Others have licences for that, like
Canal D, Historia and VRAK TV. These are specialty channels.
Radio-Canada should focus on its mandate, that would be better for everyone.
We have to be careful. Just because others are doing something does not mean
that we should be doing it. I do not think that is the role of a public
broadcaster. A public broadcaster can find its voice, know its mission and
objectives very well, and determine the needs and expectations it must meet —
and meet them. In the final analysis, this is a service we offer Canadians; we
must never forget it.
Senator Mockler: I always take the time to check out what experienced
people have said about their experience at Radio-Canada or CBC.
In 2012, the former chair of the CRTC stated in an interview that the
Internet and wireless telephony have deprived federal organizations and
regulatory bodies of the tools they used to have to protect cultural identity.
In light of that comment, what role could community radio play within that
Ms. Lord: Which entity are you referring to?
Senator Mockler: Radio-Canada.
Ms. Lord: Community radio is a matter I examined also. The success of
community radio varies considerably in various locales across the country.
In some regions it has had phenomenal success. I am thinking of Acadia. Radio
Beauséjour sprung from the southwest, the broader Moncton metropolitan area — it
will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year — and it has had
unprecedented success throughout the country. Three-quarters of the potential
listenership tune in to this community radio station. No radio station anywhere
in the country has such an impact on an audience. Why is that one a success? The
reasons are quite simple.
The managers were visionaries. They dared say: ''We are going to hire people
who are going to speak into the microphone in their local accent.''
Radio-Canada had been present for a long time in this vast region with its
francophone minority, but with the Radio-Canada accent. This is quite far
removed from the Acadian accent that is found in southeast New Brunswick, and
far from ''Chiac''. At CJSE, they said no. They did not even hire people from
Caraquet to go on air. So these were really people from the southeast.
Today, the audience for that community radio consists of people who had
always listened to English-language radio stations, not Radio-Canada. The
listeners made a beeline back to French radio because they heard themselves,
whereas they had never heard themselves on radio before in their lives. On
Radio-Canada, they never heard themselves. We always come back to this issue of
visibility and hearing yourself.
The audience finally heard their own accent. Certain ''flea market'' programs
were even hosted on air. In fact, studies were done on this matter at the
university. People phoned in and could express themselves as they liked. They
had been made comfortable. You could hear things like ''J'ai un washer et un
dryer à vendre.'' In order not to offend the person who was calling in, the
announcer would answer ''Vous avez un washer et un dryer à vendre? Donc, madame
a une laveuse et une sécheuse à vendre.'' Our studies at the time showed that
gradually, as these people called in, the words they used tended more toward
French and away from English. There was a francization effect, or a
reformulation that caused francization. So the impact was real, because we got
close to people, something Radio- Canada had not managed to do in Acadia because
of, among other things, guidelines coming from Montreal.
I am talking about the ratings for that station. There is another station in
northeastern New Brunswick which also has very good ratings and has a real
impact on the community. Since francophone populations are sometimes small in
other regions of the country, if you look at the data, you might think that the
impact is not real. When you look at all the programming and see what the
volunteers do, you can see that both groups and individuals listen. The numbers
are not important. We are engaging social actors who can hear themselves and
communicate. It becomes a public space.
We often hear that Radio-Canada could make room for community radio. There
have been projects in the past where both worked together. In Acadia there was,
for instance, the Tree of Hope Radiothon that collected money for the oncology
centre and to help cancer survivors and patients who were being treated at the
French-language hospital in Moncton. We broadcast the radiothon together.
Radio-Canada began doing it and then the community radio stations joined in. We
created that partnership because the community radio stations had an impact on
the communities that Radio-Canada did not have.
That is one example, but there are others. So, yes, the door could certainly
be open, because in some regions, community radio stations have a greater impact
than Radio-Canada, at least where radio is concerned.
The Chair: Before yielding the floor to Senator Charette-Poulin for
one last question, I would like to mention that a steering committee meeting
will take place immediately after this hearing.
At tomorrow's meeting, we will hear from the Canadian Media Guild.
Senator Charette-Poulin: Ms. Lord, since you have not had the
opportunity of submitting your recommendations to the CEO, Mr. Lacroix, if you
had three recommendations to make in order to attain the objectives you talked
about at the very beginning, that is to increase the presence and visibility of
the regions in programs that are broadcast nationally, both on radio and
television, what would they be?
Ms. Lord: Well, that is one already, because it is a recommendation in
itself to make room for the regions in national programming.
Senator Charette-Poulin: How?
Ms. Lord: How? The process can be simple. Regional stations already
exist. All we would need are programs, or even one program, that would deliver
news from Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, various Quebec regions — since the regions
of Quebec are also somewhat absent — and Nova Scotia.
There are some common interests. I am thinking of schools, for instance. The
resources are there and production is already happening.
When I was a journalist with Radio-Canada, the CBC had a newsfeed system.
Radio-Canada news reports in the regions were produced in the regions. Whereas
in Montreal, they were produced in Montreal for everyone. So there was little
space made for the regions. We could hear reports on CBC that came from other
provinces, even if the news was prepared in Moncton, because the resources were
At Radio-Canada, we never created this type of common newsfeed system that
would have allowed us to know, for instance, that there was a francophone
presence and interest in Manitoba. Let me cite an example that is close to me,
that of Université de Saint-Boniface. Today, most of the students in that
institution are young anglophones who were in French immersion, or international
students. Although I am in Moncton, I am interested in that. This topic may also
interest people in Alberta, at the Faculté Saint-Jean. However, we cannot know
that. I am convinced that Radio- Canada covers that issue locally. Why not
broadcast that nationally?
The resources are there, so it would be easy to do. However, there has to be
a will to do so. The will is not there because people think that Quebecers are
not interested. That is a petty opinion of Quebecers. It underestimates their
curiosity and capacity to understand what is going on outside of Quebec. In my
opinion, Quebecers do not wish to only discuss or hear about what is going on in
That is only one point, and the resources are available. That would be a
My second recommendation takes us back to the point that we have to move the
headquarters. We have to leave Montreal and move. Montreal should be a regional
station instead of a national one.
For my third recommendation, I have to think. Radio-Canada should concentrate
on what it has to do. It should not branch out as it has done over the past
years. It was as though it was making desperate moves. I understand that
Radio-Canada has some big challenges. The existence of other channels like ARTV
and Explora means fees for cable distributors. So energy then has to be devoted
to that that is not allocated elsewhere. Moreover, it has to support, supervise
and manage everything. When you think that we are only talking about one entity,
and the CBC is doing the same thing — perhaps in another way — you realize that
we are diluting energy rather than concentrating it. That would be my third
The Chair: Ms. Lord, I am sure that in our eventual recommendations
you are going to see a lot of the viewpoints you have expressed here this
morning. On behalf of the members of the committee, I thank you very much.
(The committee adjourned.)