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Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, thank you for your invitation to come to talk with you today about CBC/Radio-Canada’s plans and priorities. We appreciate your interest in, and your support of, public broadcasting.
Before moving to the main topic of our meeting this afternoon, I would like to take a few moments to talk about your recent study on the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada.
Since becoming President and CEO, I have spent a lot of time listening, reflecting on written materials and ideas, talking with our employees and meeting with various stakeholders who work in our broadcasting environment, and focusing on the issues that are currently confronting your national public broadcaster. Obviously, I have also read your report and its 47 recommendations. I must tell you that I find many of your conclusions and recommendations absolutely on the mark.
So, first off, thanks to all of you — for your efforts, and for your success in capturing the views expressed by Canadians across the country about public broadcasting and CBC/Radio-Canada. In doing so, you have successfully highlighted the importance of public broadcasting in our country, and the belief, that I strongly share, that CBC/Radio-Canada should continue to play a pivotal role in the social, cultural and democratic life of this country.
It is particularly significant that so many of your report’s conclusions are unanimous. Interestingly, you clearly recognise the importance of secure funding for the Corporation over more than its current twelve-month cycles. And your call for a cost of living adjustment to this funding is a necessary first step towards stable financing.
Most importantly, this Committee has made a clear call for a new relationship between CBC/Radio-Canada and Canadians, which would be articulated in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
I cannot overstate the importance of the MOU proposal.
This document will clarify for all Canadians the services we will provide and the resources necessary to deliver them, and it will allow us to meet Canadians’ expectations. It will enable CBC/Radio-Canada to evolve as a critical cultural institution in this country — according to the needs and objectives identified for it by Government and Parliament.
This is imperative. If public broadcasting is to remain relevant in the modern broadcasting environment, it cannot stand still or offer a less compelling package of services to Canadians. Its competitors are not. Their new programs, products and technological offerings are not. Your national public broadcaster cannot stand still. Status quo is unacceptable. CBC/Radio-Canada must move forward. It must grow. It must adapt to the changing cultural diversity of Canada. It must be flexible .
I believe your MOU proposal will enable us to do so, to meet the needs of Canadians in an effective manner, and to be accountable for it.
From an operational viewpoint, an MOU based on a seven-year period is the framework that we need. This longer-run horizon will enable us to plan more efficiently, organise ourselves more effectively, better forecast capital spending, re-think our infrastructure, and therefore link our strategic objectives to our resources over the entire seven-year period.
Overall, your report is a blueprint for action and we are ready to work immediately with the Government to begin developing the Memorandum. We, like you, are looking forward to the Government’s response to your report at the end of June.
I would like to emphasise the urgency of implementing your recommendations and, in particular, putting in place the MOU.
The CRTC’s proceedings on the renewal of our seven-year licenses will likely take place in the second half of 2009. In the interests of good governance and efficient planning for all of the services we offer to Canadians, the contents of the MOU should set the stage for the CRTC proceedings.
We therefore suggest that work on the drafting of the MOU begin as soon as possible.
Now, let me move to our plans and priorities.
In the four months since I became President and CEO, I have begun a number of formal initiatives that I believe are vital for our Corporation. All of these initiatives are focused around three key priorities: our people, our programs and the need for this Corporation to push forward strategically if it is to meet the challenges of the new broadcasting environment. All of our actions and decisions will revolve around these three “P”s: people, programs and pushing forward, all in ONE national public broadcaster.
At CBC/Radio-Canada, everything we do — Television, Radio and digital content; programming ideas and journalistic excellence — everything depends upon the creativity, intelligence and dedication of our employees.
Our people are therefore key to our success. We will only succeed if they are engaged and supportive of our directions and initiatives.
In January, I began meeting regularly with employees from across the Corporation. I visited various facilities from Vancouver to Québec City, walked the floors and spent time in mobile units and production facilities. I will continue to do this throughout my term.
What I am discovering is that, not only do our employees have a commitment to excellence in public broadcasting and a passion for CBC/Radio-Canada, but that they are also committed to change as they all realise what is happening to our environment. They are ready for it. They are willing to embrace it. We need to show them how to get there. They understand that if we do not keep up with the rapidly changing environment, we will be left behind.
Harnessing the enthusiasm for change that our employees have expressed is essential in helping to shape our strategic directions — not just within each department, media line or linguistic side of the Corporation, but across the entire Corporation and each of its components.
Because, while CBC/Radio-Canada carries out numerous activities, is present on numerous platforms and works in a very big country, we often forget that we are part of one Corporation. We must think and act as a single entity if we want to achieve our strategic objectives.
This way of acting provides us with numerous advantages and permits us to distinguish ourselves from our competition. Let me give you a concrete example of this.
When I was in Vancouver, our News team there had just produced a story on the use of tasers by police. The journalist was a bilingual Francophone based in British Columbia. The cameraman was a bilingual Anglophone working for Radio-Canada. The researcher and Radio producer were Anglophones living in Toronto. Their story ran that evening on both French and English national Television networks. The following morning, it was adapted for English and French national Radio. There was more in-depth information on our French and English websites, including streaming audio and video and podcasts. In the end, their story was picked up by other news organisations around the world.
The point is that by working together, pooling our strengths and resources, we provided a better service to Canadians — a service that no other broadcasting entity can offer in this country. Great things do happen when we work together. This is where we become distinctive, this is where we have an edge, this is what your national public broadcaster will exploit.
As I indicated, strengthening this aspect of our operations is now one of our key priorities.
You have just finished studying our mandate. You know that the broadcasting industry is defined by change: changing technology, changing audiences, changing demographics, and thus changing demands on the public broadcaster.
You also know, as we do, that when it comes to their public broadcaster, not all Canadians are comfortable with change. You have heard some of the reaction we’ve had to our upcoming changes to CBC Radio Two, and to the disbanding of the CBC Radio Orchestra.
We are sensitive to that. But we cannot shy away from making the tough choices and, consequently, the changes we think are necessary for us to serve all Canadians.
In a few weeks, CBC/Radio-Canada will showcase our athletes as they compete against the best in the world at the Summer Olympics in Beijing. It is the pinnacle of our commitment to Canadian athletes all year round. For some years now, we have been the recognised leader in developing new and more efficient and effective technology for our coverage of the Olympic Games. This is one of the ways in which our expertise clearly stands out.
At the same time, we must continue to use our limited resources in our daily operations in a way that ensures our services remain relevant to the changing needs of Canadians.
We are currently trying to find the resources we need to enhance our services; to make the transition to digital and high definition television; and to make more programs. Our parliamentary appropriation is lower today, in real terms, than it was ten years ago; yet the number of platforms on which we are expected to deliver our services continues to grow, and the cost of making programming has exploded. We have had to adjust. But we cannot stop innovating or taking risks. We need to make sure that the widest range of unique Canadian programming is available to Canadians when and how they want it. In this regard, the Canadian Television Fund (CTF) is a crucial resource.
While I am President of this organisation, we will pursue this creative agenda as one Corporation, building bridges between our employees, building bridges between Canadians, innovating, and serving the interests of all in this country.
Now, we would be pleased to answer your questions.