Speaking notes for Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO, CBC/Radio-Canada, at the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics

November 24, 2011

(Please check against delivery)

Madame chair, members of the committee,

You’ve invited us here to explain why we have been in court with the information commissioner.

As you know, the federal court of appeal released its decision yesterday. The court has ruled that the commissioner has the right to examine cbc/radio-canada records relating to journalistic, creative or programming activities, subject to certain exceptions including, most importantly, journalistic sources. The court said, quote: "in the event that a request seeking the disclosure of journalistic sources was made, a record – or the part thereof – revealing this type of information would be exempt from the commissioner’s power of examination"end quote.

We are still reviewing the judgment. At first reading, we feel that this judgment clarifies the ruling of justice boivin in a manner which might satisfy most of our concerns. This finding is extremely important to us. Protecting our journalistic sources was one of the most important considerations for pursuing this court challenge. As we have said from the beginning, the courts are the appropriate place for this issue to be decided.

This court process has triggered a lot of unprecedented action. However, through it all, i believe that what has been lost in the general confusion or has been distorted is our actual record with respect to public accountability and access to information, and what this court challenge was all about.

This court challenge was only about the jurisdiction of the commissioner. It was never, and still isn't, about the information that we release to the public under access to information. The court of appeal decision doesn't increase nor decrease a requester’s ability to access our "journalistic, creative or programming activities" nor increase or decrease the information that we will disclose.

That being said, let me now address our actual performance because accountability and transparency are central to our role as a public broadcaster, critical to our credibility. As is our arm's length relationship with government.

We have an independent board of directors, including an audit committee and a governance committee, all appointed by the government. It’s their job to oversee our budgets and our operations, and to ensure that our programming and journalistic resources are being spent wisely.

We also provide detailed financial information and reports to the crtc. This ensures that we are accountable to the public in relation to our licence conditions.

We have the auditor-general of canada, who reviews and signs off on our financial statements each and every year, and who conducts a comprehensive special audit, every five to 10 years. His report is tabled in parliament.

We also report to our minister and to parliamentarians on the fulfillment of our mandate and objectives via our corporate plan, our annual meeting, and our annual report. We even provide quarterly financial information to canadians, together with an analysis of our performance during the period.

And, yes, we are accountable under the access to information act for the general administration of our corporation.

That is how we are accountable. But, there is more. We have taken steps to pro-actively demonstrate our accountability.

Maybe you want to know how much i, as president and ceo, am charging to the company for working meals and business travel.

That information is already public and i’d like to walk you through it.

In your folder is a print-out of what you’d see if you went to our corporate website, clicked on "transparency and accountability" and then on "pro-active disclosure." you would see a list of names, including mine.

Pick one, and you’ll see the expenses each of us claimed every three months going back to 2007, when we became subject to the act.

Pick mine, and you’ll see, among other things, that my visit to quebec city and rimouski this past summer, where i met with staff and local stakeholders, cost the company $1,608.73. I also spent $5,472.29 to travel to calgary and saskatoon to meet staff and unions, speak at the university of saskatchewan and meet with various local opinion leaders.

But, there is more.

Maybe you want to know how cbc/radio-canada decides what to release under access to information; maybe you want to know what kind of information has already been requested and released.

We have already made that information public too. And, by the way, no other organization has done this yet. Last wednesday, treasury board president tony clement announced that, by january 1, all departments and agencies subject to the access to information act will post summaries of completed access to information requests on their websites. We post more than summaries. We post the actual documents for requests of general public interest, and have been doing so for one year.

In your folder is a print-out of what you would see if you went to our website – this section entitled "access to information"contains more than 27,000 pages of information requested under ati; it is available to anyone.

You will also see, if you click on my trips to ottawa, that i have stayed regularly at the chateau laurier – quebecor papers have called this information proof of my, quote "taste for fine hotel rooms and pricey lunches"unquote.

It is of course their right to take the information we have made public and to run inflated stories based on the information that we publicly release. Our responsibility, our commitment to accountability and transparency, is to make this information public. They can twist it and distort it in whichever way they want. That won't deter us.

You will also find on our website a copy of the guidelines we use in applying section 68.1 of the act.
The commissioner said she was concerned about the guidelines, concerned that we decide what information is excluded based on the nature of the request.

Our approach was designed to avoid charging fees unnecessarily for collecting documents that clearly fall under section 68.1.

Nevertheless, we have already gone ahead and changed our practice.

We have also made significant progress in reducing the number of our "deemed refusals", those requests to which we haven’t responded quickly enough, and which accounted for the "failing grade"we received last year from the commissioner. As you will see, "deemed refusals"now represent less than 5% of all requests, a commitment we made to the commissioner in march 2011. You will also see that, as of november 22nd, 2011, we’ve dealt with 1,449 out of the 1,477 information requests we’ve received. Of course, new requests continue to come in.

However, none of this changes the fundamental principle that, if you or another broadcaster that competes against us for audiences, producers, talent, and programs, want to know how much peter mansbridge gets paid, or how radio-canada spent its budget developing its hit show, les enfants de la tele, or cbc’s promotion strategy including how much it spends on advertising stromboulopoulos on billboards or through a special launch of his season at tiff, that information will not be disclosed publicly. That is because the law draws a line at those things that would undermine our independence or prejudice our competitive position.yesterday's judgment does not change that fundamental principle.
Without the protections for journalism, programming and creative activities, we could not operate as an independent public broadcaster.

As a final point, you invited quebecor and others here to share their opinion on our performance. In your folders, you will find a document "correcting the record", which addresses some of the claims that were made before this committee. For example, in answering one of your questions, i just can't believe that mr. Drapeau did not tell you that, on september 7, 2010, his office filed 72 requests on the same day.

Quebecor’s strategy is clear. Their properties will continue with their campaign. They believe they can benefit from diminishing the role of the public broadcaster. They have a self-interested agenda and they will continue to use access to information, and do stories in their newspapers and on their television stations, to pursue it.

So where do we go from here?

Parliament can always change the law. But it must do so in a way that doesn’t turn what is currently an independent public broadcaster into a state broadcaster. In the spirit of the court of appeal’s decision, we believe this committee should now consider language which clearly protects journalistic activity from access to information.

In the meantime, at cbc/radio-canada, we will keep implementing our 2015 strategy to improve the services we provide to canadians. We will keep making great canadian programs and broadcast them in prime time. We will work to deliver better value to canadians in the regions and across all of our platforms.

Search highlight tool