Speaking notes for Kirstine Stewart, English Services Executive Vice-President, CBC/Radio-Canada, to Toronto’s Empire Club

March 31, 2011


Thank you Tim, thank you to the Empire Club, and thank you ladies and gentlemen for joining me here this afternoon.

I am very honoured to be with you today.

I think it’s fitting that my first major address as EVP of CBC English Services is here at the Empire Club.

For over 100 years, the Empire Club has been the pre-eminent speakers’ forum to support and encourage active discussion and debate. And through its history it has featured at the podium remarkable Canadian thinkers and Canadian storytellers, reflecting the ideals and values of Canada.

Likewise, CBC was created out of the ideals and values of our great country. And we take pride in that. As a media organization, we believe it is our duty to build a forum for active discussion and debate - reflecting a diversity of voices - and ensuring a diversity of opinion.

So this is, I believe, an appropriate platform for me to share our vision for the future of the CBC.

The CBC acts as facilitator — distributing and analyzing news, exchanging information — and connecting to people through the telling of stories made for, and made by, Canadians. And we too are the home of great Canadian thinkers and Canadian storytellers.

Very sadly, this week we experienced the loss of one of our own great storytellers, Roger Abbott, founder and star of the iconic Royal Canadian Air Farce. We will miss him terribly.

Looking back on the man and what he brought to the CBC and to the millions of Canadians he made laugh every week, I realize that Roger's life is truly a shining example of a life lived in the service of Canadians and a great illustration of what the CBC is all about. 

Royal Canadian Air Farce was actually one of the first 'multiplatform' shows - it got its start on CBC Radio in the ‘70s, and its wry satire of politics and life in Canada soon moved to television where, for 28 years, it continued to provoke laughter out of the reality of Canadian politics.

Roger was a pioneer, and his legacy – which his team will continue –in my opinion really exemplifies the role of a public broadcaster: to take issues that are important to all Canadians, and explain them in a way that engages the audience. It accommodates the audience by moving between mediums, and adapting the content to new technologies along the way. Because a 'legacy' is not just your history, but it is actually what you bring forward from your history, into the future.

Because whether it is our comedy, our dramas, the 59 years of Hockey Night in Canada or the 50 years of the Nature of Things, CBC has always celebrated the best of Canada.

What Roger and so many others have created throughout the past 75 years of the CBC is what we build upon every day.

And, just as the Empire Club is changing with the times, we also look at our future at the CBC - and how we can change and adapt and serve Canadians better, how we can matter even more.

What we envision – and what I have both the privilege and the challenge of turning into reality – is nothing less than a redefinition of the CBC as a truly modern public broadcaster. And we will strive to be the standard bearer for public broadcasting and media everywhere.

For 75 years, the CBC has carried the voice of Canadians, as it is often said, from coast to coast to coast. 
We have been the place Canadians have turned to in good times and in bad, for information, for reassurance and for 'the whole story'. 

From Matthew Halton to Knowlton Nash to Peter Mansbridge, from Adrienne Clarkson to Adrienne Arsenault, there is at the CBC a truly dedicated family of individuals both in front of and behind the cameras and microphones. People who understand the importance of our role in this country and have kept the spirit and the integrity of public broadcasting alive while they do their very best to bring Canadians what it is they need – and deserve – from their national media.

Within Canadian boundaries and around the globe, the men and women of CBC work every day to bring Canadians into the story for a first hand view of events at home and around the world.

CBC has played an important part in both documenting and sometimes in provoking Canada’s evolution.

We as Canadians are proud of the place our country holds for many around the world. Canada has long been the home for those escaping persecution poverty and unrest; we have nurtured innovators and provided opportunities for entrepreneurs, and outside our borders we support our NATO allies and other governments when help is needed. Today, our country is no longer shy about our contributions and Canada’s confidence shows. 
We are a country that has come of age. And CBC is there, every step of the way.

Today, as a modern public broadcaster, it is our responsibility to learn and to adapt to the ways that Canadians want to engage; to do what they feel is important for us to do; and to be there where it matters.

Moving forward, our focus needs to be even more precise - it is less coast to coast to coast , it's now built from neighbourhood to city to town to province and to territory and to all the parts that make Canada great.

What I see as the next stage of evolution for the CBC is a complete transition into the modern public broadcaster who truly knows and recognizes and delivers on the needs and desires of what truly matters to Canadians. We will be the place to nurture, to exchange, to debate and to ensure accessibility and a diversity of ideas – and ideals. We will be the platform for the development and growth of great Canadian culture and great Canadian stories. We will not forget that content comes first, and it is our job to use all means, ways and devices to get the greatest, highest quality of Canadian content into the hands and homes of Canadians.

And the CBC has been working hard at a plan “Everyone, Every Way”, so that we can deliver on that promise.

It is Canadian to be infinitely curious about the world around us, and crave not just news and information but also look for the stories that tell our own experiences of living in this great country. And where CBC's past is bursting with great radio and television shows that have touched the hearts of Canadians, made us cry, made us angry, made us cheer and made us laugh, the medium can no longer be a passive form of information or entertainment. No longer can anyone in media take a patriarchal view and dictate what their audience “should want” nor presume to know what it needs. The former one-way communication out from a broadcaster ‘on high’--as it has been said ‘from ivory towers’--is outdated, it’s unpopular, and can be downright dangerous.

This modern era demands information and craves entertainment on a scale like never before. It's fitting that Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian, said "the medium is the message". Technology has put the power of the medium - the power to create, to comment and to communicate - directly into the hands of the people. Now that anyone anywhere has the tools at hand to literally become a broadcaster themselves, then traditional media starts to look somewhat obsolete.

But, surprisingly, media instead is propelled into a role even more important today. Because media has an opportunity, and an obligation, in this time of instant communication, to become the place, the forum, the facilitator, the fact checker and the great equalizer - media is there in both traditional and new platform space, to provide the needed balance, we ensure diversity of voice and diversity of opinion. The job is not to 'play cop' on the content super-highway , but to create a space – we widen the road and provide multiple opportunities for exploration and for the depth of examination and context that no single voice can provide.

That is why - when fact and fiction travel around the world at lightning speed - a strong and independent modern public broadcaster - matters more than ever before.

We will continue to provide Canadians with a snapshot of life in Canada, for families who have been here for generations, and for those who have chosen to make Canada their new home. Canada is a country made strong by its diversity, by recognizing our differences and celebrating our similarities. CBC is here for all Canadians and provides the forum for all to exchange ideas and stories, and we strive to be authentic in our representation of Canada today.

We have the first fully diverse Toronto newscast on television with Anne Marie Mediwake and Dwight Drummond. Matt Galloway has long been a strong voice on CBC radio and moved last year to the illustrious Metro Morning spot. Jian Ghomeshi, Suhana Meharchand, Sook Yin Lee and the many many others behind the desks at CBC now look and sound like the many Canadians of different backgrounds we are talking about and talking to.

Our program development insists on a diversity plan from every producer, and our shows such as Little Mosque on the Prairie build success not just from the faith of the people represented on the series, but by relating what essentially is the immigrant experience of so many Canadians. Because Canada is made up of many different people, from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, CBC knows our best snapshot of Canadian life is in vibrant technicolour. People are the core of CBC - it's who we are, it's the news we give, it's the stories we tell and it is the people that CBC serves. CBC is indeed Canada, and Canada is CBC.

And that is at the root of our Strategy 2015 plan - Everyone, Every Way. It is an ambitious plan to serve all Canadians to the best of our abilities, Everyone, Every Way. We will maximize the funding we receive and the revenues we self-generate, and invest them back into the priorities that Canadians have for their modern public broadcaster - what they expect from the CBC. This is a plan that builds upon the great CBC legacy. This is a plan that learns from the mistakes that have been made. This is the plan that focuses on the three clear pillars we have heard Canadians want from us. As Canadians we have always expected that the public broadcaster reflect, engage and inspire us – and with this commitment the CBC further respects this country’s unique attributes and qualities.

Over the next five years we will be more Canadian, more local and more digital in order to serve more Canadians more of the content they want from the CBC.

Putting Canadian content first hasn't always been at the forefront of the CBC. In those early years of Air Farce on CBC Television, it could have easily been scheduled before Mork and Mindy and after Joanie Loves Chachie - both were on the CBC prime time schedule. So you can say, we've come a long way baby…today, it's clear that Canadians do want Canadian news and entertainment. The same democratic system that votes in a government votes every time a viewer or listeners clicks, changes a dial or tunes in to a Canadian show. Even more satisfying is when those choices are made against foreign programming. Canadians are voting to see more of themselves, electing to watch and listen to the stories of the places, the people and the issues that reflect their own experiences.

Whether it's the fifth estate, this year earning its biggest ever audience, or Dragons’ Den, stirring up the spirit of entrepreneurship and investing literally millions of dollars across the country - whether it’s Afghanada dramatically representing the experiences of our brave servicemen and women, or The National, As It Happens and The Current giving Canadians quality journalism and current affairs through ongoing news and analysis. For every click, turn or even counting the millions who cheer for Hockey Night in Canada when a favourite team scores, we know and have learned that when the CBC connects Canadian shows to more Canadians, it does a better job serving as a modern public broadcaster.

So the first pillar of this plan is to be even more Canadian, to be "Canadian First".

We made a move just three years ago to be 100 percent Canadian content in kids - when we serve parents and their kids under 5 we think it is important that they learn first and foremost in a 100 percent Canadian and 100 percent commercial-free environment. For those of us who proudly had our own tickle trunk like Mr. Dressup (as I did) And today anyone whose kid is a fan of Mamma Yamma, knows what I'm talking about.

Even today, in prime-time television, we have depended on foreign programs like Jeopardy as a crutch to develop and showcase our own Canadian stories on television. And low and behold, it was a plan that worked. These past few years have fostered new relationships with producers - both independent and within CBC - and from all across the country, who create great new Canadian hit shows on television, and reinvigorate CBC classics. Our viewership is the highest it’s been on CBC Television in 15 years – that’s a lot of people voting with their remote! So now we don't need those crutches anymore. We work with thousands of creative people across the country who now form a strong industry of content creators who are showcased not just on CBC but also outside Canada's borders - on a world stage. And it is that talented group that has given us the hits now entertaining millions of Canadians like Republic of Doyle, Heartland, Battle of the Blades and the Rick Mercer Report. CBC is made stronger by Canadian shows and Canadian shows are made strong at the CBC. It's a valuable relationship that works and by increasing our Canadian content on television and online, together we will bring Canadians more of the Canadian stories they want to watch.

And now that we have built back a relationship with the Canadian audience through our breadth of ongoing series, we can punctuate our success with more special event programming, and we’ll bring that new audience along with us. 

Signature programming, using multiple platforms to build an important message and reach out to Canadians will be featured more than ever on all CBC outlets, and we will build on the business partnerships we have in the community to support these initiatives which are often in line with their own priorities. And we connect with organizations such as Participaction, and with concerned citizens on our “Live Right Now” campaign, aimed at giving Canadians the tools they need to live better lives. It’s CBC News’ “Champions of Change”. It is Kraft Hockeyville, celebrating the spirit of our national sport in the towns across the country. It’s Canada Reads now on radio, on television and online, network and local working together highlighting the best of Canadian authors. It’s the Genies celebrating great Canadian film with more audience last month than in the last 15 years combined, and trended #1 in Canada on twitter. And now, I’m thrilled to announce our newest partnership with Jack Rabinovitch, the Scotiabank Giller Prize which is now moving to CBC Television, CBC Radio and all our platforms every year for the next five years (thank you Jack).

There's a common thread among the shows I mentioned that have been hits for CBC television, and it’s a truth borne out by the endearing popularity and engagement of people across the country for CBC Radio. CBC Radio has long recognized the value of Canadian programming to Canadians, and built its relationship with the country - community by community. From “Island Morning” on PEI CBC Radio to “Mid-day CafĂ©” in the Yukon to “Blue Sky” at noon in Saskatchewan to “All Points West” in BC, the radio programs carry the tradition of neighbourhood building and connection, now even more important to us who live in a country so vast and with today’s proliferation of ‘World Wide Web’. Local connectivity and reflection means something more than ever to us in Canada.

So this is the second pillar of our plan - to be even more local.

Whether its Jake Doyle running criminals down the streets of St. John’s, or the stories of the Heartland ranch outside of Calgary, or the Nature of Things’ examinations of all different parts of Canada, the shows that work best for Canadians, and therefore best for CBC, have a local focus. So we will give Canadians more of the great programming they've been enjoying on CBC, set in the great towns and cities across the country reflecting a modern Canadian life.

Local content for a local audience, like in our supper-hour television shows and our afternoon and drive times on CBC radio, tells people in the cities and towns across the country the important news and information they need to know from their own neighbourhoods. It's a vital connection in areas across the country, and CBC has not been able to serve as many Canadians locally as we have wanted to. But with modern news gathering and new technologies allowing for better ease of distribution, we plan, with Everyone, Every Way, to serve six million more Canadians locally by 2015 than we do today. Just a few years ago this was not possible, but by investing in ways to reach more Canadians more economically that we have before, we will be able to better serve people locally online, over the radio, via the television than ever before.

And that brings us to our third pillar in our plan - to become more digital. Whether through Canada’s first 3D broadcasts, to the invention of instant replay first used anywhere worldwide by CBC Sports, to the millions of Canadians who click and read and view and listen on cbc.ca, to CBC’s status as most downloaded podcasts in Canada for George Strombouloupolos Tonight or Q with Jian Ghomeshi, CBC knows the importance of a public broadcaster’s ability to harness and nurture innovation in technology.

And today, technology allows for the speed and breadth of information on a more economical scale. Over the next five years we will continue to be at the forefront of technology that Canadians want to use, and reach them in their towns, communities and homes with even more information more quickly, deeper context and opportunities for people to explore more about what excites and motivates them – to be the virtual forum for all.

We will also use new technologies to make the content more affordable in its creation. We've seen this through CBC's ambitious news renewal this past year and we will look to other areas where technologies can provide us with the edge we need to make more content within the relatively stagnant funding we have at our disposal. We will learn how to do more, and make more, with less. And technology will get us there by providing ways to save resources while not scrimping on the quality Canadians expect from CBC - on any platform. It will give us the ability to better serve a variety of genres, for example in music, on new streams and CBC will create more opportunities for radio programming on multiple platforms, building on the success of CBC Radio in its traditional form on a dial and exploring the possibilities for radio programming on all new media.

We're excited about this plan, and about all of the possibilities ahead of us. A modern public broadcaster is one that serves all its public, Everyone, Every Way. We will be that broadcaster, and we will be here, serving more Canadians than ever before. If it’s important to Canada, it’s important to the CBC.

By creating even more great Canadian content on multiple platforms, by reaching and serving more Canadians in the towns and cities in which they live, and by being a broadcaster at the forefront of technology we will connect to Canadians, and connect Canadians to each other - Everyone, Every Way.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, thank for being here and thank you for listening.

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