Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
After having covered Parliament Hill and your committee for two years, I now find myself here on the other side of the fence. Today I am the one making the presentation rather than providing media coverage of it. It is very interesting. Thank you for the invitation.
Established in 1928, the La Survivance newspaper became the Le Franco newsweekly in 1967. The owners of the newspaper, the Oblates Fathers, transferred it several years later to the Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta. Although the paper is still owned by the association, it is not its own official mouthpiece. Le Franco is an independent newspaper from an administrative and editing standpoint.
The Le Franco newsweekly is a member of the Association de la presse francophone, and has a provincial and regional mandate. It publishes articles on Franco-Albertan news with a provincial and national focus, from the point of view of francophones, while meeting the needs of various francophone regions in the province. Like most provincial organizations, the newspaper is headquartered in Edmonton. It is distributed by mail to subscribers. The newspaper's team consists of three people and several regional correspondents.
Le Franco intends to take this opportunity before the Standing Committee on Official Languages to present its vision of the Action Plan for Official Languages, while also addressing other major issues with respect to francophone minority media.
The objective of your cross-Canada tour is to take note of communities' views on the Action Plan for Official Languages, a five year, $750 million plan.
The former official languages commissioner, Ms. Dyane Adam, on several occasions in her annual reports stated that despite a slow start, the action plan had undeniably allowed for certain positive steps in the francophone media industry.
Some sectors emerged. In health care, there is for instance the Réseau santé albertain, which you heard from this morning, and in the field of justice, the Association des juristes d'expression française de l'Alberta. These two examples from Alberta created indirect positive spillover for our newspaper. The leadership taken on by these organizations helped diversify our content. We cannot lose sight of the advertising side of events related to these organizations.
That being said, when we look at the Action Plan for Official Languages, we note the absence of a key sector, communications. There is nothing provided under the action plan for francophone media industry actors, like Le Franco or community radio, like CKRP in Rivière-la-Paix. Yet they are critical. Indeed, what would the Franco-Albertan community be without a communication tool like a francophone newspaper? It is therefore essential to pay specific attention to the communications sector when renewing the Official Languages Action Plan.
There is no doubt that the action plan contributes to the development and enhanced vitality of minority francophone communities but it is also clearly not a panacea. Print media in a minority setting are not only absent from the action plan, they also face several challenges unique to francophone media. The first example I think of is the Publications Assistance Program.
As you know, Canada Post announced earlier this fall that it would no longer be participating in this program. Yet its share amounted to 25% of the overall envelope. Although the Department of Canadian Heritage has yet to confirm how this might affect its own contribution, this remains a source of concern for francophone papers outside Quebec, mainly francophone newspaper like Le Franco, which serve an entire province.
We should not forget that the Department of Canadian Heritage's support for this program comes to an end in 2008. The disappearance of the PAP would no doubt spell the end of several francophone minority weeklies, at least as we know them.
Through technological development, e-news has become an interesting option. Le Franco has in fact decided to innovate by offering its subscribers, since last October, an electronic subscription option. That is an alternative we offer, but it would be surprising for it to supplant good old-fashioned paper copies of the newspaper.
With respect to federal advertising, the advent of an advertising moratorium in 2004 in the wake of the sponsorship scandal had a direct impact on francophone minority newspapers. The moratorium dealt a hard blow to newspapers which, instead of continuing to grow, had to streamline in terms of human resources and content. We had to decrease the number of pages published per week. Yes, the moratorium has since come to an end, but federal advertising campaigns have not gone back to the level they were at before the moratorium.
On the one hand, the new management framework on federal advertising created after the moratorium was lifted effectively led to a greater administrative burden.
And on the other hand, the fact that there were two federal elections in two years, not to mention to chance of a third within the upcoming year—who knows—hampered the industry, because these various advertising campaigns stop during elections.
Respect for the Official Languages Act is another aspect of the work of Le Franco here in Alberta; we work in close cooperation with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Indeed, it does happen that departments subject to the Act publish English or bilingual ads strictly in English language dailies. Generally, the Office of the Commissioner follows up and addresses the issue, which is often related to new officials stating that they were not aware of their department being subject to the Act.
Air Canada is the exception to this rule however; it has happened regularly over the last few years that the company has advertised major promotions in English dailies while having but a small generic announcement with very little additional information for francophone readers, urging them to go to the website in order to find out about various promotions.
Air Canada claims it is complying with the Official Languages Act in this way, but we disagree because francophone readers in a predominantly anglophone environment cannot access the same content as a person reading an English daily. The Commissioner of Official Languages received several complaints about it, and we are still awaiting a response and follow-up.