Evidence of meeting #7 for Canadian Heritage in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was cbc.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Hubert T. Lacroix  President and Chief Executive Officer, CBC/Radio-Canada
  • Christine Wilson  Executive Director, Content Planning, English Services, CBC/Radio-Canada
  • Louis Lalande  Acting Vice-President, French Services, CBC/Radio-Canada

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Moore

Good morning, everybody. Welcome to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

We're very pleased to be joined this morning by Hubert Lacroix, president and chief executive officer of CBC. Also here is Mr. Louis Lalande, acting vice-president for French services. Welcome. We have as well Christine Wilson, executive director of content planning, English services.

It's wonderful to have the three of you here with us. We're looking forward to speaking with you and seeing your presentation.

Before we get started, I should say that there's going to be a video presentation. It's not going to be broadcast in the room, just through your ear pieces.

Welcome, and with that, we'll turn it over to you, Mr. Lacroix, for your opening remarks.

8:45 a.m.

Hubert T. Lacroix President and Chief Executive Officer, CBC/Radio-Canada

Mr. Chairman, good morning.

Good morning, members of the committee.

I would like to thank you for inviting us here to talk about our 2015 strategic plan entitled “Everyone, Every Way”. We welcome the committee's continued interest in what we are doing and I look forward to updating you on our progress. In front of you is a package of information which I will be referring to in a minute.

Before we go there, let's watch the video.

[Video Presentation]

CBC will continue its push to establish strong Canadian franchises. We will continue to build and sustain a vibrant star system. We will also increase hours of home-grown entertainment programs and reduce our reliance on American scripts. Radio-Canada will ensure the availability of high-calibre dramas in the French-language market. We will support the production of original dramas for the web. We will build on the success of models like TOU.TV as premier on-demand destinations. Music--we will transition to a comprehensive multi-platform presence in music to better promote and showcase Canadian talent. Sports--much like for drama, this is another genre for which our strategy will vary by market. CBC will reaffirm its commitment to Canadian sports and Canadian athletes in this new world of multi-platform through improved economics, strong revenues, and partnership opportunities. Radio-Canada will focus on multi-platform potential to establish leadership in sports news. Kids programming--we will explore new opportunities in specialty and online. Signature events--a new commitment to signature events is the most compelling change for the future. Both CBC and Radio-Canada will commit to producing and airing at least 10 signature events per year, events that bring Canadians together in large numbers.

Our network programming strategy is about ensuring that we will, without a doubt, be the home of high-quality content that expresses and enriches the Canadian experience from coast to coast to coast.

The second thrust of our strategy, and one I've truly believed in since day one, is the regional piece. For different reasons we haven't always been everywhere we needed to be, or able to do everything we needed to do. We will reverse that trend. Let's have a look at how we're going to do it.

[Video Presentation]

We will become, by way of multimedia services, a leader in all the markets we serve. We will expand service in select underserved markets to address gaps in coverage. We will adjust across markets with new delivery models. Radio-Canada will enhance its presence in regional life, reinforcing French-speaking communities outside Quebec, ensuring a diversity of voices and opinions in Quebec, and reflecting cultures and minorities across all platforms and across the country. CBC will continue to expand regional programming genres beyond news, and reflect local communities. And we will pursue new partnerships to enhance both our reach and our impact. While execution will vary by market and between English and French services, the strategy commits us to launching new stations, primarily radio; expanding others; and changing the way we deliver our services in some. We will introduce new local websites and services, new formats on radio, and increase regional news on television during the day in certain English markets. We will experiment with new hyper local web and mobile services tailored to specific neighbourhoods, for example the million or so people who live on the south shore of Montreal. And we will look at how we can better serve the 95% of the 1.5 million first nations people who live below the 60th parallel.

An expanded regional footprint and a robust multimedia presence in the regions, that's our commitment so that the national public broadcaster can strengthen its presence in the regions of Canada.

This brings us to the third thrust of our strategy--platforms. New digital platforms, including social networks, are surging and have made huge inroads in recent years. When it comes to new platforms, we can't only be a source of content, we have to be more than that. We have to be leaders in getting it to Canadians where, when, and how they want it, and TOU.TV is a great beginning for what we mean by that. Let's take a closer look.

[Video Presentation]

Over the next five years we will strengthen the competitive position of our existing multi-platform offering. We will judiciously expand our specialty channel offering. For example, Radio-Canada will launch a new specialty channel devoted to health, science, nature, and the environment. And CBC will look at specialty options for kids, sports, and A and E. We will experiment with new platforms and new ways of doing things to better engage with Canadians and allow them to personalize their experience of our content. We will increase development of original online content. We will use social media to engage with our audiences on a personal level and drive them to our content. We will aggressively pursue new partnerships, and most significantly, we will double our current level of digital investment to at least 5% of our media budgets by 2015.

Clearly, if we're going to be the leader in expressing culture and enriching democratic lives, we need to be at the forefront of digital media. We need to partner with other players wherever we can to lever our brand, our platforms, and our content. That sums up where we're going, and we will get there, mark my words.

By 2015 we will be more financially flexible and agile. A fund of core elements will translate this strategy into action. As a corporation, we will have to adjust our size to the ways in which we deliver our services. Everyone, every way, commits us to balancing the overall five-year plan and enhancing the level of service we provide without abandoning our existing audiences. It also commits us to pursuing revenue growth initiatives, significant cost improvements, resource redirections, and to pouring over our existing assets to extract as much value as we can.

Let me close on how our people will be affected by all of this. People will still always be my number one priority. Without our people, this will not happen. So we need to position CBC/Radio-Canada as a rewarding, progressive, and diverse workplace that builds professional teams of innovative and highly skilled people who are dedicated to accomplishing our vision for the future, who will develop and sustain a leadership climate that encourages collaboration, decisiveness, and trust while recognizing risk-taking and inviting accountability.

To accomplish all of this, we need to push down decision-making in the organization to employees and managers. We need to distribute leadership, empower people, and delegate more. Our people will need to deal with the challenge of change, to know what to keep and what to leave behind so that we can invest, adopt, and adjust as quickly as the other media companies around us, every one, every way.

This is our promise to this country and to its people, and it's the measure by which we want to be judged. We will judge ourselves along the way by monitoring and reporting on our performance twice a year, so that every Canadian may hold us to account. If we get it right, we will deepen our relationship with Canadians. We will be the publicly owned, publicly minded space where Canadians can meet and exchange with each other, their communities, their country. They will come to know CBC/Radio-Canada as the leader in expressing culture and enriching democratic life on their behalf.

We have a tremendous opportunity before us, and now is the time to seize that opportunity and push forward. That is our commitment. That's our focus. That, ladies and gentlemen, is our road map for the future. It's how we ensure that our services remain relevant to the changing needs of Canadians. It's how we ensure that Canadians know exactly what they can expect from their public broadcaster in return for their investment in us.

When we launched our plan in February, I said that we would be reporting to Canadians on our progress every six months. A progress report is already on our website, and a copy is in your folder. Let me give you the highlights.

In addition to offering great Canadian shows like Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays, and coming this winter, a new comedy called Pérusse Cité, we've been producing great signature events, unique programs, and events with significant cultural impact.

A show called 1 Day, 1 jour, one day in the life of 34 million Canadians, is a documentary snapshot of Canada all shot on one day: April 30, 2011. It is the product of more than 730 submissions we received from the public, which we compiled into a very special program connecting these stories in a very emotional way.

This fall we brought Canadians John A: Birth of a Country, a political thriller tracing the passionate struggle between John A. Macdonald and George Brown that changed our history.

For me, another example of what “Everyone, Every Way” means is the way we brought classical music to Canadians at peak hours in mid-week last September.

The long-awaited opening of the new home for l'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal was a huge event for Montrealers and a great success. We broadcast the opening concert, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, on all of our platforms, i.e. on television, radio and the Web, both on CBC and Radio-Canada. It was the first time in our history that we attempted an initiative of that scope.

I would now like to discuss another one of our wonderful initiatives by referring to a press release we issued yesterday.

On Sunday, Espace Musique and CBC Radio 2 will be celebrating a day of Canada in concert.

This will be a full day of concerts from eight Canadian cities featuring symphony orchestras, musical groups, singers and instrumentalists from among the most celebrated in the country. These captations will be from Halifax, Ottawa, Quebec, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Banff, Toronto and Montreal.

We do the same thing with hockey. We don't just broadcast games. We've turned hockey into a community celebration of the hockey passion we all share. We started Hyundai Hockey Nation, which this year brought more than 3,000 children out for skating, coaching clinics, and skill development with our Hockey Night in Canada hosts and celebrities at seven locations across the country. We also created our Hockey Day in Canada, now an annual showcase of amateur sport and community spirit. This year it will come to you from Prince Edward Island.

This is what your public broadcaster is all about.

Let me tell you now what we've been doing to enhance our regional services.

In September, at CBC Kelowna, Rebecca Zandbergen began hosting our newest afternoon show, Radio West, two hours showcasing the people behind the news in the B.C. interior that also gives listeners a chance to share their stories. It also means that our afternoon program in Victoria can focus more on the things that matter to people living on the island. These regional services will be joined this spring by CBC Kamloops, with new radio and online services. I was there last week. The response of our communities is overwhelming.

Canadians also told us that they missed their local news on the weekend, so we're responding, and we've adjusted. With the help of the local programming improvement fund, we've re-established local weekend news on Radio-Canada in 12 of 13 communities. On the CBC side, Toronto's already up and running, and weekend news will also be available in Calgary this winter. But actually, there's much more.

Last month we announced the next phase of our 2015 local service improvement plan. It includes weekend local news for Edmonton, Ottawa, the Maritimes, and Newfoundland and Labrador by next spring and new radio and online services for the Waterloo region and London, Ontario, by next fall. We've also accelerated by six months construction of our new multimedia station in Rimouski. We'll be offering better regional services across all of eastern Quebec by next fall.

There are also regions like the suburbs on the North and South Shore of Montreal that have seen a tremendous growth in population. People in those areas have needs and interests that are not always the same as those who live in downtown Montreal. When traditional services, like local TV and radio stations, are not available because of a lack of available frequency, we are looking at new ways to serve the community using new technologies. We will be announcing details of our plans on November 21.

Our goal is to expand local services to an additional six million Canadians over the next five years. This is what we are offering Canadians.

The third component of our plan involves digital technology. Our increased investment in digital platforms has created new mobile apps for CBC News and for Radio-Canada, giving Canadians better access to the information they need, no matter where they are.

Radio-Canada has also developed original programming for our web audiences. Three-minute webisodes like Les chroniques d'une mère indigne, based on the mommy blog chronicles by Caroline Allard and En audition avec Simon are creating new audiences for Canadian programs online, and new programs for our television.

Last June, we launched ESPACE.MU, a mobile music service which makes available the largest offer of francophone music on the Web; more than 81,000 musical selections tailored to fit your mood. It's a great place to discover new Canadian artists, and it is one more example of what the public broadcaster is offering to Canadians.

Is this an ambitious plan? Absolutely. How are we going to do all of this? It will be by managing smartly, by focusing all of our resources and efforts on these priorities, by continuing to do what we do every year in finding new efficiencies and using new technology and new methods of production, and by shifting resources and staff. We are not asking government for any additional funding.

CBCers and Radio-canadiens are very proud of what we continue to create with the resources we have, proud of our contribution to the Canadian broadcasting ecosystem.

And let's be clear; in this ecosystem all broadcasters receive economic support from the government. CBC/Radio-Canada receives by far the most support, and we are thankful for that. But we also do the most.

This past summer, production crews have been shooting new CBC/Radio-Canada television programs and bringing economic benefits to every region of the country. Arctic Air, a new drama, which will be airing in January, is being shot right now in Yellowknife and Vancouver. Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays was shot in Ottawa.

And there is Ici et Maintenant, shot on the North Shore.

Heartland is still shooting outside Calgary.

Belle-Baie is shot in Acadia.

And there is The Republic of Doyle shooting in St. John's.

We tell Canadian stories. This is what we do to showcase our country.

I'd like you to take a look at the charts you will find in your folders, the red and the blue charts. These are the prime-time schedules for the major Canadian broadcasters in French and in English. The red represents Canadian programs; the blue, foreign programs.

Look at our schedules. They are Canadian schedules. As part of our 2015 strategy, those two blue programs that you see in prime time, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, will be replaced by Canadian programs starting next year.

CBC/Radio-Canada invests more in programs made by Canadians than all of the private conventional broadcasters combined: $696 million, compared with $681 million last year. That investment supports local businesses, independent production companies, caterers, designers, electricians. In fact, a study by Deloitte & Touche last June found that every dollar invested in CBC/Radio-Canada creates almost $4 in value to the Canadian economy.

Our plan, “2015: Everyone, Every Way”, is our way of ensuring that we keep improving on the value we deliver to Canadians in return for their support. Our only objective is to meet their expectations.

You've now seen our plan. We'd like to hear what you think.

Thank you for inviting us this morning.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Lacroix. Thanks for the video and your presentation.

We are now going to have seven-minute rounds of questioning. This first round will lead off shortly. In the first round of question there are seven minutes for the member to ask the questions and for the answers; then we'll move on to the next questioner. The next round, when we get to it, will be of five minutes.

The first person with a question is Mr. Brown.

October 25th, 2011 / 9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

Mr. Lacroix, in an earlier tour of duty on this committee when I was on it, you came before the committee when you first became president. I know you've done a lot of work since that time.

Welcome today, and thank you for that presentation. I think it was a good insight for us as a committee and for Canadians, to see what the CBC is doing.

I will say I was impressed with the chart that showed that most of your programming in the evening is in fact Canadian content. I think there may be a perception out there that it is not, so thank you for that chart.

Recently you ran John A: Birth of a Country. Far be it from me or anyone in the government to tell you what to put in your programming, but I thought it was an excellent program. I try to take my son to historical events and places in eastern Ontario on a regular basis. Recently we did a little tour in Kingston, and it is good to see the Sir John A. program bringing it to life and to see that in your programming.

However, it ended in 1864. I was left wanting much more. I for one—speaking for many Canadians, I'm sure—want to see more. I'm sure that might be on your potential programming for the future.

Thank you for being here today to talk about the five-year strategic plan you have put forward. Of course, it was developed with the assumption that CBC/Radio-Canada will have stable funding within the next five-year period. While government could potentially have a reduction, it would not really change the path of your new strategy, but it could force you to make some adjustments.

Can you give some examples of some adjustments that potentially you could make? You talked a little bit in your presentation about being financially flexible. Maybe you could address that for us, please.

9:15 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, CBC/Radio-Canada

Hubert T. Lacroix

Thank you for your comments on Sir John A. I think that was also a very good story.

Having stable funding and the ability to continue, like the other broadcasters, with the same rules being applied to all broadcasters under the Canada media fund and the local programming improvement funds are important assumptions towards our being able to deliver to Canadians the program that you saw.

Should government, in its quest to balance its books, choose to take dollars away from our government appropriation, that will not deter us from the three priorities that we have, which you heard: more national, more regional, and more digital, and all of that in an environment of transparency and accountability.

It might slow down the objectives we have. We told you that we think there are about seven million Canadians or a little more than that who are either under-served or unserved by local services of CBC/Radio-Canada. We might not get to the full number of six million, which is our projection in the plan. Funding reduction might slow it down, but it will not change the priorities that CBC/Radio-Canada will put out and has put out in this plan.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

This committee, over the next little while, is going to be doing a study on how we should celebrate the Canada 150 project in 2017 and how we go about celebrating that anniversary. I can remember the 1967 centennial celebrations. This is going to be an important milestone in our history. Is there any programming that you're planning that directly or indirectly is going to relate to Canada 150?

9:15 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, CBC/Radio-Canada

Hubert T. Lacroix

We understand the importance of those years coming. I'm going to ask Christine to tell you a bit about how we envisage our contribution to this. It's an important one.

9:15 a.m.

Christine Wilson Executive Director, Content Planning, English Services, CBC/Radio-Canada

Good morning, and thank you.

I loved Sir John A. too--same part of the country, right?

On our sesquicentennial, we're thinking of it as the culmination of five great years of big moments in Canadian history. Next year is the bicentennial of 1812. I know that the government has planned a tremendous number of activities around that, and we'll be covering and filming them. We're also planning a two-part documentary series just for 1812. It's a little bit of fun, if anybody wants to hear about it.

We're going to be putting people in red coats and sending them to those places along the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River where pivotal battles happened--where the generals fell, or whatever--even though those places are now Timmy's parking lots. Then we'll be talking to Canadians and asking them, “Do you know that this place where you're standing drinking your double-double is where the whole country changed, where the history of our country changed?” We think that's really great.

There's another thing that I think is really fun. We all know that we won that war handily. Coming from Brockville, I think that was one of my first childhood stories. But the Americans don't know that. We'll be going into classrooms, side by side, where the war of 1812 is being taught in America and in Canada, and we'll switch teachers to see if they can teach it the other way. We think that will be fun too.

But that's just the beginning of five years leading up the sesquicentennial. We have the Queen's jubilee anniversary coming up. We have the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup, and women getting the vote. We have the 150th anniversary of the Quebec and Charlottetown conferences coming up, so we'll get Sir John A. back in for you there. Then, of course, Vimy and Passchendaele will be coming up during that.

So it's an unbelievably important five-year period in the history of the country leading up to the sesquicentennial.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

Maybe you can tell us a little more about what you're going to do for the Queen's diamond jubilee.

9:20 a.m.

Executive Director, Content Planning, English Services, CBC/Radio-Canada

Christine Wilson

We haven't done all our work yet on the Queen's diamond jubilee, but we'll absolutely keep you informed on what's planned.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Moore

You have 45 seconds.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

I have to say I'm impressed by what I'm hearing about historical presentation. Only three out of ten provinces in Canada require high school students to take a history course to graduate, which I find hard to believe. I took a lot of history when I was growing up, in high school and in university.

What are the steps that the CBC is taking to ensure that historical content of broadcasting remains prominent and of high quality? I will say that what you've done so far is definitely of high quality.

9:20 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, CBC/Radio-Canada

Hubert T. Lacroix

Our mandate that comes out of the Broadcasting Act is to inform, enlighten, and entertain Canadians, and the enlighten part is exactly what we talked about. You heard Christine tell you about how these great moments over the next five years will be portrayed. We understand the importance of them. We understand that as a public broadcaster we have to be there and put these events into a conversation with Canadians. So we have a role to play, we understand it well, and we will play that role.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Moore

Thank you.

Mr. Nantel, you have seven minutes.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

We applauded because we felt all the dynamism in your presentation. French-speakers who live in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada have a very strong sense of belonging. It is unanimous: Radio-Canada's contribution to our culture is exceptional.

I like to make jokes. With your permission, I would like to tell you a wonderful anecdote. My 16-year-old daughter generally listens to American programs, especially on the Web. Recently she decided to rent all of the seasons of Tout sur moi which is in my opinion a very innovative comedy.

I would like you to explain what motivated your programming choices to make them so bold. I think it is part of Radio-Canada's mandate not to choose more run-of-the-mill, conservative—not in the political sense—entertainment programs. Radio-Canada often goes much further in that regard.