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 network.

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 regions.

That excerpt is taken from the 1991 Broadcasting Act, which you are familiar with.

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 that city.

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 Canada.

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 totally undeveloped.

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 platforms.

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 means.

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 francophones.


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 different.

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 Radio-Canada.

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 management.

I am not sure whether that answers your question, but it is indeed an issue as well.

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 1988.

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 directors?

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 role.

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 separate budgets.

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 effects.

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, definitely.

Senator Charette-Poulin: Over a number of years — and my colleagues mentioned this — public broadcasting gradually became more and more dependent on commercial revenue.

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 my opinion.

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 throughout Canada?

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 entity?

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 there.

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 Quebec exclusively.

That is only one point, and the resources are available. That would be a first recommendation.

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 recommendation.

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.)

Back to top