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The Future of CBC/Radio-Canada by Thomas Mulcair

Nov 15, 2014

Speaking Notes
Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the Official Opposition
Convention for the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec

Length: 15 minutes (followed by question period)

Hello. I would like to start by thanking the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec for their invitation. It’s a wonderful privilege to have access to this forum to present the NDP’s vision for the future of the CBC/Radio-Canada.

Today, I want to speak not only as a federal-party leader aspiring to become Prime Minister – I would also like to take the opportunity to express my own personal views, as a concerned citizen committed to the public institution that is the CBC.  

As a Quebecker having grown up in a bilingual family – I have an English-speaking father and Francophone mother – I was raised with the duel influence of the CBC and Radio-Canada.

I still remember the shows that we would watch as a family back in the day:  from la Famille Plouffe to Don Messer's Jubilee.

RADIO-CANADA: A PILLAR OF FRANCOPHONE CULTURE IN CANADA

Our public broadcaster’s programming forged my vision of Canada, just as it contributes to forming all Canadians’ sense of identity – both Anglophone and Francophone.  

For Quebeckers, Radio-Canada has been a centrepiece in the development of French-Canadian culture, and its programming has influenced the collective imagination of several generations. This makes it all the more shocking to learn that the latest cuts will affect services across the board – including the historical Costumier department.  

Fanfreluche and Bobino are symbols…artifacts of Quebec history that will now be forever lost in the name of budget restrictions. Francophones outside Quebec are being hit even harder, where this issue has become a matter of linguistic and cultural survival. In Western Canada especially, Radio-Canada is the sole source of French-language regional news and cultural content.

As we speak, the bilingual and bicultural face of our country is under threat from the ongoing cuts to public funding for CBC/Radio-Canada.  

CBC CUTS: LIKE LIBERAL LIKE CONSERVATIVE

The cuts and dismissals at CBC/Radio-Canada have been so extensive these last few years, that it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.

But let’s review the facts:  from 2012 to 2015, the Conservatives cut parliamentary appropriations to the CBC/Radio-Canada by almost $115 million.  

Of course, these cuts have come as radio and television markets around the world are being faced with an unprecedented technological transformation. Just when the CBC needed our help navigating this challenging digital transformation, we conjured up the perfect storm….

When it’s all said and done, the Corporation will have cut 1,300 jobs between 2012 and 2016 alone. There is no way such massive cuts can go through without seriously affecting programming.

Now, the tangible impacts of these cuts are being increasingly felt: less overseas journalists, less sports coverage, less documentaries and less local content.  Of course, the Liberals, unfortunately, are in no position to point fingers. 

In 1995, under the dual leadership of Chrétien and Martin, the public broadcaster faced its worst cuts in history, as a total of $440 million was slashed from the annual budget. In fact, since the 1980s, the Liberals and Conservatives have continued to cut the Corporation’s budget as they see fit.  

IDEOLOGICAL CUTS, INFILTRATION & POLITICAL MISMANAGEMENT

The big difference with the Conservatives’ ways is that they are driven by an ideological, partisan philosophy. Several Conservative backbenchers have even expressed publicly that they would like to see CBC/Radio-Canada disappear for good!

Let’s take a closer look at the appointments made by high-ranking government ministers to the CBC’s Board of Directors. My colleague and NDP Heritage critic, Pierre Nantel, sounded the alarm on this issue just a few days back.   

When reviewing the donations received by the various political parties, we noticed that:

  • Nine members of CBC’s Board of Directors had previously contributed money to the Conservative Party.
  • One of them made a personal donation to James Moore’s riding association when he was still Canadian Heritage Minister.  
  • Three members even continued to donate to the party after being nominated.

This raises serious questions about collaboration between the government and CBC administration. It also makes it less surprising, when this kind of political infiltration is taking place, to hear Mr. Saulnier cite Conservative mismanagement regarding CBC programming.  

One would think that the Conservatives are unable to differentiate between a propaganda machine and a public broadcaster. This kind of political meddling is just the latest example in a long list of interference with democratic institutions since coming to power in 2006.  

GIVING BACK CBC'S AUTONOMY AND MOMENTUM

Now, more than ever, we need a well-funded public broadcaster with no outside interference, to play the role of democratic watchdog. Of course, despite an unfavourable media climate and repeated attacks from the Conservative government, Radio-Canada has managed to assume that role in Quebec.  

Who would broadcast a program like Enquête or Marketplace if CBC wasn’t around? The answer: No one.

Without Radio-Canada’s investigative reporting program, Enquête, there would be no Charbonneau Inquiry, and we wouldn’t have been able to clean up the construction industry and reform political-party financing in Quebec.  

The NDP understands the value of the CBC/Radio-Canada, and therefore we have called for the $115 million cut announced in the 2012 federal budget to be immediately cancelled.

And it was this same vision that led us to commit to cancelling the $115 million in cuts and re-establishing this financing over a three-year period to ensure stable, multi-year, predictable financing for our public broadcaster. 

Changing the CBC’s financing scheme is the best way to ensure its protection from advertising-market fluctuations.  

This is also a means to reassert the institution’s editorial autonomy vis-à-vis the government. The CBC needs to get its autonomy back… but we must also give it back its inertia.

The CBC needs to remodel its financial structure to ensure its financial stability and a long-term vision to carry it through this digital transformation. This will be essential to maintaining the Corporation’s significant role in Canadian and Quebec culture and in feeding the collective imagination of future generations. It is also crucial to informing young Canadians across the country and encouraging them to participate in public debates.  

CBC/Radio-Canada can be an important means to increasing young Canadians’ participation in elections as well, after this demographic reached anemic levels in 2011. As a politician, I can’t help but be concerned when I see electoral participation levels reach historic lows under 40% for 18 to 24 year olds.  The best solution to reverse the trend is to offer young people quality information through familiar channels and platforms.

The CBC will also require new means with which to fulfill its mission towards linguistic minorities and Canadians in remote areas, as set out in the 1991 Broadcasting Act. Our public broadcaster must offer programming that “reflects the multicultural nature of Canada and accounts for its regional diversity.”

Currently, the CBC/Radio-Canada is well on its way to failing in its mission towards rural regions. The cuts have already led to the dismissal of staff in these areas, with several studio closures and reduced airtime for regional broadcasts. The Corporation’s five-year “Everyone, Every Way” strategy was meant to put the focus back on the regions, but faltered as a result of the cuts.  

AN NDP GOVERNMENT: PARTNERS WITH THE CBC

In a country as vast and diverse as Canada, it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that all voices are equally represented in public institutions. As Prime Minister, I would make it my duty to ensure that the CBC has the financial resources it needs to fulfill its objectives on local and regional content.

Although the communications market has gone through a rapid change, requiring all media outlets to adapt, our public broadcaster’s mission has remained the same. In its drive towards its future goals, the CBC need only look to its past and remember the reasons that led to its creation back in 1936.  

At the time, the government implemented its first public broadcasting system in an effort to bolster the country’s cultural sovereignty and offer quality information to all Canadians.

In 2015, I hope that the CBC/Radio-Canada will have a new partner in Ottawa – an NDP government – to help it carry out this fundamental mission.  

Thank you very much.

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