Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Transport and Communications

Issue 12 - Evidence, December 2, 2014


OTTAWA, Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications met this day at 9:30 a.m. to continue its study on 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.

[Translation]

The Chair: Honourable senators, I call this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications to order.

[English]

Today we are continuing our study into the challenges faced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in relation to the changing environment of broadcasting and communication.

Our witness is Mr. Rodney Mercer, a councillor from the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor. I invite Mr. Mercer to make his presentation and then senators will have questions.

Rodney Mercer, Councillor, Town of Grand Falls-Windsor: Good morning. Thank you for offering me the opportunity to appear before your committee today as a witness in your examination of the challenges faced by the CBC in relation to the changing environment of broadcasting and communications.

The Town of Grand Falls-Windsor is a unique, historically rich community located in central Newfoundland. This beautiful town became established in 1905 and unlike most communities in the province, it came into existence overnight. A British family, fearful of impending war in Europe, came to Grand Falls-Windsor in search of an alternative source of newsprint to maintain their publishing domain. It was the rich timber resources, potential hydroelectricity and a near deepwater port that led to the creation of this pulp and paper mill town.

The Town of Grand Falls-Windsor can appreciate the challenges faced by the CBC as, in our opinion, technology changed the broadcasting world. It was similar to the changes in technology that devastated the town of Grand Falls-Windsor six short years ago when the former Abitibi Mill closed its doors for the final time. Just as quickly as our town had come in existence, it almost disappeared.

Due to advancements in technology, the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor fully understands and appreciates the challenges faced by the CBC today. As a result of this understanding, to strengthen the CBC's presence in central Newfoundland, the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor encouraged the use of technological advancements. More specifically, in the wake of the 2015 strategy, the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor extended an olive branch to create a partnership that would coincide with the strategy, but to focus on strengthening the CBC's presence in communities across rural Newfoundland. With this proposed partnership, the town offered space in one of the town's buildings known to most in the central region as the EXCITE centre, which was constructed with technology in mind. This building was constructed by the town as a proactive measure to diversify the economy of a pulp and paper mill town.

In keeping with the mandate of the 2015 strategy, the CBC recruited SNC-Lavalin to do an evaluation of the assets in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador from a building perspective. The location in Grand Falls-Windsor was determined to be the most advantageous due to functionality and energy consumption.

In May 2013, our town met with senior management of the CBC with respect to the possibility of creating a partnership that would include having the CBC relocate to the town-owned building if the decision were to be made to vacate the existing CBC-owned properties. Senior management was very intrigued with the possibility since they had indicated that one location within central Newfoundland would be more efficient than the existing two. The approximate rental rates would also be a fraction of the existing cost.

Almost one year later, the possibility of forming a partnership with the CBC came crashing down when senior management of the CBC informed our town that no suitable space was available in Grand Falls-Windsor.

After two years of discussion, senior management informed the town they were closing up shop in Grand Falls-Windsor, but this only occurred after a copy of a lease with the new landlord at the new location in Gander was leaked. The CBC informed our town that the real estate blueprint in central Newfoundland would be reduced from approximately 8,000 square feet to 1,500 square feet, and that the cost savings measure would come from a reduced square footage and reduction in the capital costs associated with maintaining a building.

What the CBC failed to mention were the enormous rates that they had signed onto in a 15-year lease agreement at the new location. As per the lease agreement with the new landlord, the rent would cost an average of $48 per square foot compared to the offer made to the CBC by the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor for $17 per square foot. As a town, we have a major problem with this decision. Regional management informed the town that the CBC realty division did not visit Grand Falls-Windsor, nor did they study prospective locations and that due diligence had been done in determining this move. The CBC insisted they could not find suitable competitive space in Grand Falls-Windsor, and no choice was left to be made but to relocate.

The mayor, on my request, called all commercial real estate companies in central Newfoundland and none was ever approached by the CBC realty division, nor were they ever contacted by another company doing third party research looking for this amount of space. To add insult to injury, it wasn't until I started asking questions of senior CBC management about the very aspect of not one of our local companies being contacted for a price that CBC decided to backtrack on their work and start to create a paper trail. It appears that CBC management decided to contact an independent third party — in this case, SNC-Lavalin — to make inquiries and have it appear that the decision was made by a third party decision maker. Unfortunately, CBC did not cover their tracks very well because the independent realty company did not start asking questions or inquiring with local commercial landlords until January 2014, five weeks after the lease had been signed for the new location.

The space at the new location is in a commercial mall and beyond expensive. The location is suspected to bring high visibility, but how can it do so when the "Central Morning Show" — a local morning show — is on the air from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday and the mall doesn't open until 10?

The "good solution" that the CBC refers to is not good for the Canadian taxpayer and is only good for the landlord.

The CBC is one of the biggest beneficiaries of federal tax money, but they are not really accountable to anyone. In conclusion, I think it is safe to say that most Canadians, especially those living in rural areas of the country, support the CBC and the concept of public broadcasting. As most are aware, it is not the billion dollar direct subsidies or blank cheque from Ottawa that is needed to fix the issues we are currently facing. Rather, it is the basic principles of everyday business practice that must be adopted, not necessarily with the idea of making a profit, but breaking even. From what I have discussed today, it appears to me that the CBC has failed miserably in its responsibility to the Canadian government and to the Canadian individual.

I believe our broadcasting system would be better served with accountability and proper due diligence. What we have experienced in Grand Falls-Windsor is the polar opposite of what should be happening. My fear is if this is the practice in a small town in rural Newfoundland, what could possibly be happening in larger centres such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver?

Thank you for the opportunity to appear, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Mercer.

Senator Plett: Thank you for being here, sir. You are a councillor in the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor. Are you appearing on behalf of the town or as an individual?

Mr. Mercer: I'm appearing on behalf of the town.

Senator Plett: Were you involved at all in the negotiations with CBC?

Mr. Mercer: The negotiations with CBC started prior to my getting elected to town council. The mayor, on behalf of the town, started these negotiations with the CBC. Negotiations were ongoing for about 18 months and it was when we started getting rumours that CBC was closing up shop in our town that the mayor asked me to take this file on.

Senator Plett: Closing up shop, yet they are still in the mall, though. They aren't closing up shop; they are just closing up where they were?

Mr. Mercer: There are two locations, one in Gander and one in Grand Falls-Windsor. For economic purposes, they decided to reduce it to one location. As a town, we support that. But it seems right now that they've signed a lease with a landlord in a new location, they are still in the old locations in Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor and, in addition, they have also leased another space for the technical side of the operations. They went with a plan to reduce from two to one, but have expanded to four. We find this very difficult to comprehend given that they were in the process of trying to save money and be more proactive with expenditures. But in actual fact quite the opposite is happening.

Senator Plett: The Chair and the President of CBC are going to be appearing here again. We may want to add that to the list of questions that we wish to ask them.

We have toured around a bit, over the last year and a half or so, and been in a fair bit of the country. We have not been to Newfoundland, but we were in Halifax and discussed some of what they are doing there. As well, we have been in Toronto. We were told that overall what the CBC is doing is selling much of their infrastructure and starting to lease space.

In Toronto, we visited the 10-storey building that they have. They recognize that they don't need that and they're trying to rent out much of their space. In our tour I asked the individual who was touring us around if they were to build that building today for their purposes, a 10-storey building, how big would the building be? He said five storeys. That is in part, I hope, because they have become more efficient. We no longer need the large production studios that we have. Production studios can almost be done with iPads and so on.

Are you feeling that in Grand Falls? I realize that temporarily, at least, they have gone to larger spaces, but do you see them, down the road, doing what they are saying they want to do, or do you see this continuing the way it is?

Mr. Mercer: I would hope that they would continue with this plan to reduce space, because with technology I don't think, like you said, that there is a need for these large studios anymore. From what we've seen in Grand Falls-Windsor, they have got a plan in place but executing the plan seems to be something totally different. We understand that they want to reduce their square footage blueprint from 8,000 square feet to 1,500 square feet. But given the enormous rental rates that they have signed on to, we're comparing $48 a square foot at the new location compared to 17 that the town offered in partnership with CBC Grand Falls-Windsor. That to me is appalling that the CBC would be so open with its chequebook. It's not like there wasn't a proposed partnership put in place. Our mayor and the senior management of our town have been in contact and meeting with the CBC on a regular basis. We find it's very appalling that —

Senator Plett: The $48 a square foot, is that at the mall location?

Mr. Mercer: It is at the mall location and in all honesty I should explain that a little bit. The flat rate is $24 a square foot, but with the extras, the electricity and the renovations, on average it works out to $48 a square foot over the term of the lease.

Senator Plett: You talked about the morning show being on from 6 to 9 o'clock in the morning, so clearly they are not getting a lot of exposure. In your opinion, is it important that they have a location where they have exposure? If I want to see CBC then I watch it on television. I don't go to stand and look at their building.

Mr. Mercer: Absolutely. I think it's a good concept, if you could go to a public space and see these on-air personalities. But it serves no purpose. It's nice to do advertising and it's a nice form of advertising, but if you're paying these rates and you have a morning show that is on the air from 6 to 9 and your mall doesn't open to the public until 10, then what is the purpose of this space? It defeats the purpose of public visibility. It's just as well to have a little sign up for the CBC. What purpose is it serving?

I think what they've done is that they're paying prime space in a prime location. I don't think there is any need for it.

Senator Plett: One more question, if I could, chair. In Grand Falls-Windsor, you are not opposed to the CBC downsizing and trying to keep up with the times? Clearly they have lost huge revenue by losing "Hockey Night in Canada." As every taxpayer in the country needs to tighten their belts a bit because economically things are tough out there, and certainly you've experienced it. So you are not opposed to them downsizing, going from two locations to one, going from whatever, 4,000 square feet to 1,500 square feet, if at the end it saves taxpayers some dollars and they remain efficient and a visible presence in your area?

Mr. Mercer: We fully support the CBC plan to downsize from 8,000 square feet to 1,500 square feet. No doubt that we support this plan. But we were concerned that there would be no visibility with the CBC in central Newfoundland. The result of these enormous numbers that I've presented, with regard to rental rates, our concern was that we want to maintain the CBC. It doesn't matter if they have a certain size of building or not. We feel the CBC has had a historic presence in the province, in rural Newfoundland, and we would like to maintain that. The CBC does wonders in our community in terms of getting the message out and broadcasting.

The people listen to CBC. It's not like it's a secondary radio station. It provides a great service.

Senator Plett: On that, you say people listen. Do you have some numbers? Many of us believe that the way to measure success in the broadcasting industry is viewership. We've been told by some people that that's not really that important. You don't measure success by viewership. I don't know how else you do.

We've heard numbers that 5 per cent of the people watch CBC. We have heard in my colleague's province of Alberta that only about 2 per cent of the people watch CBC. Do you have any numbers for your area, what the viewership is, and what the listenership is to CBC?

Mr. Mercer: Unfortunately, I don't have the numbers for our region of the province. I know they are competitive on a provincial basis, but that also takes in a larger centre in St. John's. From our central Newfoundland location, I don't have those numbers.

Senator Plett: Thank you, sir. If there is a second round, I might have something.

Senator Demers: Thank you very much for being here, Mr. Mercer. In this committee we have heard that CBC Radio-Canada has too much emphasis in Toronto and in Montreal. Do you feel the people from Grand Falls agree with that? In your opinion, do you feel that CBC Radio-Canada is well represented in Grand Falls?

Mr. Mercer: On a national level, senator, we feel we have been neglected. It may be due in large part to population. We don't feel that we need the services of a CBC Toronto or Vancouver, but we love the option of having the CBC. We appreciate the morning show and news reports that come from our location. I think over the years they've been doing justice to news and media in our area, but our fear is that we once had six employees with CBC in Grand Falls-Windsor from video-journalists, reporters and the morning show, but now we find that we're down to one.

Senator Unger: Thank you, Mr. Mercer. Your presentation is very interesting. In your opinion, did the CBC negotiate in bad faith? First of all, would you tell me how long they had been in Grand Falls-Windsor?

Mr. Mercer: CBC has been in Grand Falls-Windsor longer than any other rural location in the province — so essentially since Confederation in Canada, in 1949.

Senator Unger: Were they leasing from you during that time?

Mr. Mercer: No, not at all. They had a fairly new building that was constructed, 20, 25 years ago, which was very modern with the times. I can understand why they wouldn't want to keep that building now, given the changes in technology, but in terms of negotiating and looking for an optimum location, I don't think they have done due diligence in looking at Grand Falls-Windsor as an option.

I wonder if they looked at the two locations being Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander, and just randomly selected one. I'm thinking that they possibly didn't do the research that they said they had done, given that in the grand scheme of things in all of Canada, you compare Grand Falls-Windsor and central Newfoundland to Toronto, and it's just minute, but to the people of central Newfoundland and Grand Falls-Windsor, it's much more than that.

Senator Unger: When the realty division came to town, were there any discussions from the town officials with CBC realty discussing this new building? Were they ever a part of those discussions?

Mr. Mercer: The CBC realty division, I think it was 2012, did an assessment of all their properties across the province. This was when the plan came out to the best of properties that they had owned. That was when the plan was being evolved to start renting. It was at that time that they identified the location that was built in Grand Falls-Windsor approximately 20, 25 years ago as the best and most efficient in all the province, but when the realty division came to Grand Falls-Windsor in search of a new location, nobody, and I mean nobody, was aware of their presence, not the commercial landlords nor the town. We were the ones engaging CBC management in creating a partnership that would see the CBC remain there.

Senator Unger: The issue then is between CBC management and CBC realty. You were negotiating with one division and it was the other one that came into town and left without obviously consulting with their own people at all.

Mr. Mercer: Yes. In addition to that, when I took this file on with our town, in light of all this information I asked our mayor to contact the commercial realty division owners and inquire, because it's a small town. If you get an inquiry from an individual, whether it's the CBC or somebody representing a privately own company, and they're looking for a quote or asking questions on 1,500 square feet, that's very specific information. Of the commercial landlords in Grand Falls-Windsor, not one was ever asked for any amount of space of that nature.

Senator Unger: One could argue that they never did have any consideration whatsoever of your building, although to you it made very logical sense.

Mr. Mercer: Absolutely. In addition to that, once I started asking these very questions, why weren't commercial landlords in Grand Falls-Windsor consulted, the CBC realty division then sent out, I think it was SNC or a division of SNC, to start asking questions. This was when they started sending emails to commercial landlords asking questions. I was able to obtain copies of emails just for my own proof that they were trying to backtrack. This was at least five weeks after the new location had been signed.

Senator Unger: Do you have any idea why they did that?

Mr. Mercer: I wish I knew.

Senator Unger: In addition to being a town councillor, you're also a teacher. Do you notice any differences in the way different generations, from young people to adults to seniors, use media and especially the CBC? Another comment you made was, "We love the option of having the CBC." To Senator Plett's question about listeners and viewers, what's the feeling in town? Does everybody watch it or listen to it or is it just the morning show? Is it a nice thing to have?

Mr. Mercer: It is the morning show because that's the only option we have in central Newfoundland right now for radio. There are video journalists who report, but getting back to your question about students and demographics and middle age and older generations, there is a variety. With the teenage generation, would I say that they listen exclusively to CBC? No. Like any generation, the issue faced by the CBC today is technology. One of the biggest issues or big things I see with kids today is constant downloading of videos and songs with their iPads and iPhones. It's changing times and we understand and appreciate the changing times.

Senator Unger: In the world in which we live today, there are thousands of satellites with fibre optics. With all the cable that's available, these days anyone with a cellphone can become a journalist. Do you think that the CBC, let's say five years, ten years from now, is going to be relevant in any way?

Mr. Mercer: That's a very good question. Given technology, I guess the CBC video journalists can report from their vehicle if they're reporting on the road. I don't think there is a need to be exclusively in a studio for any reporting purposes, but having a presence, having staff, having a location, means a lot to rural Canada.

In Grand Falls-Windsor, for example, we get the CBC morning show on the air. It talks about local issues. It has local content, but after 9 it connects into the wider range of CBC; we connect into St. John's. We appreciate that. We understand that our CBC location cannot be on the air 24/7. We just like the option of having a presence in central Newfoundland.

Senator Housakos: Thank you to the witness for being here with us today.

Sorry for the fact that I was a few minutes late, so I didn't hear the beginning of your testimony. Maybe you will have answered the question I have. Your main concern is with regard to governance. You feel the CBC is not transparent enough right now or responsible enough in managing taxpayer assets. A number of witnesses have come forward, both favourable and not so favourable to the CBC, that constantly use the BBC as an example of a public broadcaster that should be a model for the CBC to follow.

If you contrast their transparence and governance and the way they put forward information, you go to the BBC website — and we have highlighted this on many occasions at this committee — every bit of information regarding their spending and management is put online. The CBC has not done that to the extent that the BBC has. Do you have any comments as a taxpayer and as a public official from your part of the country in regard to that?

Mr. Mercer: Public disclosure would be a proactive measure for any organization, especially given that it's funded by the taxpayers with these large subsidies given to the CBC on an annual basis. With trying economic times, people would appreciate knowing that the information is made available.

In our case, when we were researching the CBC and the decision to condense two locations in central Newfoundland into one, we went in search of information. I was able to track down a copy of the lease. I was astonished — what would the public say if they knew the CBC could get a location for $17 per square foot, taxes in, all included, but then go to another location and have a base rental rate of $24 a square foot, plus, plus, plus, which works out to $48 a square foot over the term of the lease? If there was proactive disclosure, I don't think this would be happening. If this were the private sector, we all know the private sector revolves around the almighty dollar and making profit. We understand that. We appreciate the need to spend wisely, but spending recklessly, as in this case, is something totally different.

Senator Housakos: In this particular case that you brought to our attention, did you take any steps to reach out to the CBC management? Did you take any steps to write to the minister responsible for the CBC, and what were the responses you got back?

Mr. Mercer: In all honesty, we sent a letter to every single sitting member of Parliament, every cabinet minister, every senator. Thank you to those around this table who responded. We appreciate it. But my letter from the minister that I received referred the question back to the President of the CBC, Mr. Lacroix.

Senator Plett: That last comment is very interesting. Again, as I said earlier, we are going to have Mr. Lacroix back here. We'll have Mr. Racine here in a few days. I apologize; I did not respond because I don't remember seeing the letter from you. I'm going to go back to my office and we're going to do a little bit of research because I do respond to letters of that nature. Maybe you want to make sure that you've sent it to all of us, and I'm going to further check to see whether I got it.

I don't know that I have a lot of questions, chair, other than I do want to make an observation here. When I came in here today, I had done a very quick view of your presentation, and I thought you were coming in here to tell us that CBC was cutting back too much, and now I really find the opposite. So I certainly appreciate the comments that you have made in this regard in saying that they are being inefficient as opposed to they are cutting back too much. We hear it over and over again. I hear it in my province and I'm sure you hear it in yours, that we want people to cut, we want organizations to cut back, as long as they don't cut back in my area, and so I appreciate the comments that you made.

Senator Eggleton: He did say they cut back.

Senator Plett: He said cutbacks and he appreciated the cutbacks. That was my comment or question here. Thank you, Senator Eggleton, maybe I'll ask you the questions, but right now I'll ask the witness.

You did talk about where you once had six employees you now have one. What is the total staff that CBC has in Grand Falls-Windsor? Is that one staffer? Is that what you said?

Mr. Mercer: I think the full complement of CBC staff in central Newfoundland, which would include video journalists, radio and technical division, is eight. I know in the grand scheme of things if you're comparing Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, eight staffers in Grand Falls-Windsor may not seem like a lot.

When this new lease with the new location was signed, we had six full-time staffers in Grand Falls-Windsor and two in Gander. What we've found in recent months, in light of all this information coming forward, is that like any organization you have employees who move on to bigger and better jobs. We find that in Newfoundland. There are employees with the CBC who use Newfoundland and Labrador as a steppingstone and then they move on to Toronto or the national scene and do well in their careers.

What we've found in recent times is that the jobs aren't being replaced in Grand Falls-Windsor are being replaced in Gander. I don't know if that's a result of the new location being in Gander, but they've had the new location in Gander since July 2014. They're paying rent, and no renovations, no operations, nothing. It's been a total waste. Like I said earlier, they've gone with a plan from reducing from two locations to one, but they've expanded to four.

Senator Plett: I come from a village much smaller yet than your town, and so I very clearly identify with losing two people in a company is significant. So I support that.

I've been told many times don't ask a question if you don't have a pretty good idea of what the answer will be, but I'm going to ask it anyway. In light of the comment Senator Eggleton made, I will ask this question.

Clearly, the federal government has asked CBC to do with 100 and some million dollars less this year than they had last year from the taxpayers' money, along with the cutbacks on "Hockey Night in Canada." Nowhere in your presentation did I understand that you felt that the federal government should not ask CBC to tighten their belts as well and that this might be fair for them to do that. Would you like to make an observation in that regard?

Mr. Mercer: I would definitely love to see the CBC asked to tighten their belts and be more frugal with their spending. We've researched in small-town Newfoundland and Labrador proper due diligence hasn't been done, resulting in spending like a drunken sailor. And in the grand scheme of things, if we can identify a savings of $1 million on a 15-year lease in central Newfoundland, what can be saved across Canada in much larger centres? We've identified a location savings of $31 per square foot. In terms of the grand scheme of things, there are a lot of savings that can be made, but I'm only looking at our location in central Newfoundland.

Senator Plett: We've also heard that because of the $115 million cutback we've had witnesses say they've had to lay off 1,500 people. I don't really think that's the case, but I find it ironic — CBC isn't unique in that — that so many large corporations, when they have cutbacks, lay off a whole lot of people down at the lower end of the scale and don't lay anybody off at the upper end of the scale, and sometimes by laying one person off here, they could save 10 jobs over here. Do you have a comment on that? That is my last question, chair.

The Chair: Most judges would have said that was a very leading question, but since I'm here to chair and not to judge, I'll let the witness make a comment.

Mr. Mercer: Laying off employees is not really the answer. You can look at what an employee makes. I know there are times when you have to reduce staff and be more efficient with the staff you have, and it may include reassigning duties and responsibilities, but I think the CBC would be taking the wrong approach if they start slashing jobs. There are much bigger things within the CBC that need to be looked at. It's not just the jobs. It's not just the presence. It's not the video journalists or the salary of Peter Mansbridge or Don Cherry or whomever. It's the operations, not the salaries, because the salaries are only a minor part. It's the operations and efficiencies that must be looked at.

Senator Unger: I'd like to go back, Mr. Mercer, to the service that will be provided. Assuming the CBC goes ahead and moves to Gander, will they be able to serve the whole province of Newfoundland from that location? Or would the service have been better if they had stayed in Grand Falls-Windsor?

Mr. Mercer: What they're doing right now is reducing it to one location in Gander. You've still got Corner Brook with a similar location and the bigger centre in St. John's.

As for serving the needs of journalism in central Newfoundland, given the vast geography of central Newfoundland, I don't think they can do an adequate job.

Senator Housakos: I will uncharacteristically ask a very short question. If you can just share with this committee your view if the CBC is effectively promoting Canadian content and Canadian culture from the point of view of a Newfoundlander.

Mr. Mercer: Can you repeat the last portion?

Senator Housakos: If you can share your views with this committee if you feel the CBC is effectively promoting its role in supporting Canadian culture and Canadian content.

Mr. Mercer: In my personal opinion, I think they've done really well in recent years with the CBC and the production of "Republic of Doyle." From a provincial perspective and the viewership that "Republic of Doyle" was getting at the early onset, a million viewers on average per episode, you can't ask for better advertising. You can't ask for a better understanding of a different province. I know we're far off to the east, but it's with content like the "Republic of Doyle" — I know it's not looking at the artistic side of things, but I think the CBC does do a good job of looking at Canadian content and even content from our own province.

Senator Housakos: I have a strong point of view on this. I feel that when it comes to local news, national news, sporting activities, those are being covered en masse, as we say in French, by various other broadcasting outlets across the country. Like the example you brought up with the CBC, I've always felt that's exactly the domain they should be focused on, creating Canadian shows, Canadian documentaries, products for Canadians to see. They can certainly do a good job with that using taxpayers' money, which other Canadian broadcasters don't want to do and it might not be as profitable to do, but nonetheless it promotes Canadian culture, Canadian artists, Canadian dramas.

I've said this before and have been attacked by friends of the CBC, but I think we should be doing less cookie-cutting news that everybody else does and more of what others are not providing to the Canadian public. What's your view on that?

Mr. Mercer: I think you make a very good point. Grand Falls-Windsor and the "Central Morning Show" in Newfoundland is a prime example. They've cut out the cookie-cutting and reduced it to three hours a day, from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. I don't know if you want to reduce it any further, but there are stories and content that I think deserve the airtime and deserve to be at the forefront on CBC. But if you were to reduce, go to a larger centre and integrate the full province as one, you're looking at the clock when it comes to your morning show. If you had one morning show for the entire province, will the story that deserves airtime in central Newfoundland make the cut if the show is being produced from a larger centre in St. John's?

I'm sure that when the producers of the show in St. John's look at their stories and options for that day, they're cutting as well. Given the population and the dynamics of the province, especially in terms of the geography, it would be unfair to cut, cut, cut outside of the city and just keep St. John's content, because eventually that's what would happen.

The Chair: We will be going in camera to deal with future business.

Mr. Mercer, once again, thank you for your presence.

When we restart with future business, only staff will be allowed in the room. Thank you very much.

(The committee continued in camera.)


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