Speaking notes for Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO, at the Annual Public Meeting

November 19, 2014, Montreal

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Thank you for taking the time to be here, and welcome to those watching online across the country.

Clearly, people are very passionate about this place and its future. That’s a good thing. The mobilization we’ve seen over the last few days is a clear indication of the attachment Canadians have with CBC/Radio-Canada.

That’s important because, now more than ever, we need you to take an interest.

These are challenging times. There is a lot going on. Change and disruption are affecting our industry, and it’s relentless.

We’re in the midst of a workforce adjustment. It’s a necessary consequence of the changes occurring in the media landscape and the pressures that bear on each of our revenue streams.

As we face unstable commercial revenues, a decreasing parliamentary appropriation and a broken business model affecting all conventional broadcasters, especially public broadcasters such as the BBC, ABC, France Télévision or RTE (Ireland), we need to take steps to become financially viable. Simply put, our expenses are still higher than our revenues.

Last week, close to 400 of our colleagues were notified that their positions would be eliminated. We knew it was coming. We said it in June. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

No matter what people might think, I find these announcements difficult.

As we’ve been implementing our plan for the future, a number of events have popped up around us. From conspiracy theories, insinuations of political pressure, made up stories to discredit our leadership, personal attacks, to a scandal and often angry, bitter critics.

Before I go any further, I’d like to address a few of these issues.

What has frustrated me the most in the past few weeks have been suggestions that I am somehow out to hurt this place and what it stands for, especially for the francophones of this country, to dismantle it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like most of you, I grew up with Bobino, Fanfreluche, the Nature of Things, Henri Bergeron and Bernard Derome… these are a part of who I am.

As you know, I have two young daughters. 6 and 3. I took this job because I want to make sure that the public broadcaster is part of their lives, and they can grow up informed, enlightened and entertained by quality programming that only a public broadcaster like ours is able to offer.

Without this public place, we lose ourselves. I know that. That’s why I come to work every day to make it better. The decisions that we have made haven’t always been easy. They haven’t always been obvious. They surely haven't been all popular. But, they have always been made in the long-term interest of CBC/Radio-Canada.

You don’t have to be behind a microphone, or in front of a camera, or live in the newsroom, to care about our public broadcaster. I wear a suit, and work on the 12th floor of this building, and I care. I care a lot.

On the Jian Ghomeshi situation, all I can say is that we are making every effort to be as open and transparent as possible under the circumstances.

An independent investigation is underway. It will look into any and all allegations of improprieties in our workplace that have arisen in the recent controversy, and covers anyone from unionized employee to manager to executive. It will also look at our processes.

We will continue to inform employees and the Canadian public as the situation unfolds.

And, I want to address the issue of our independence.

I wish to be extremely clear about this. CBC/Radio-Canada is managed independently from government. Period.

The public interest that we defend goes beyond private interests or the interests of the government of the day. This public interest is strong and independent. It is the principle upon which CBC/Radio-Canada is run. From day-to-day management and editorial choices, to defining our strategy, these decisions are taken according to our best assessment of the public interest. Whatever else they might be, they are free from political interference.

We are currently engaged in a transformation process aimed at helping us meet the challenges of a rapidly changing media environment to which no conventional broadcaster is immune. This is difficult and it requires courage. The pace of change is relentless. Our employees are strong and resilient. Their commitment to this place and its values is inspiring. For that, I thank them.

The events of the past few weeks and months in the media environment have made it even clearer to me that we must evolve and that this there is urgency to this evolution. Now more than ever, we need a strong public broadcaster – a source of content that helps shape our identity and enriches our democratic life. I have been carrying this message for seven years now. It hasn't changed.

We have a duty to ensure that CBC/Radio-Canada remains a public service at the heart of the daily lives of each and every one of us. We have a duty to ensure that our children and grandchildren can count on this meeting place that has played such a vital role in our history.

Some of our critics disagree. They simply do not see the urgency to act. They are convinced that our past successes are sufficient to ensure our future. They have views and opinions that are anchored in the status quo. They have no suggestions to make on how to approach the digital reality or deal with current trends.

Well, as I will explain in more detail in a few minutes, those days are gone. The world has moved on.

Gatherings like today’s are proof of that. There are more people watching on tablets, smartphones, desktops or laptops than are in the room. Our Q&A session is just as accessible to someone in Yellowknife as it is for you here today.

Our discussions need to be focused on our future, and the decisions to be made based on fact, and not simply on what we once were.

Despite all that’s happened, we accomplished some extraordinary things since last’s year’s APM in Toronto.

We:

  • Broadcast the Sochi Olympic Winter Games – the most watched Olympics in Canadian history (more than 33M Canadians – 97% of us – tuned in. 11M of us on online and on mobile platforms);
  • Broadcast the FIFA World Cup and have yet again realised the importance of mobile content;
  • Continued boosting our digital offering through new services like Curio.ca, and through more apps and original web content to complement our programming;
  • Reinvented our footprint and our community presence in Halifax, and will soon do the same in other locations across the country like Moncton, Windsor and Gandor/Grand Falls;
  • Led a successful bid for the 2018 and 2020 Olympics with Bell and Rogers Media;
  • Kept Canadians informed during national tragedies in Moncton, Saint Jean sur Richelieu and Ottawa;
  • Led comprehensive news coverage of provincial elections in New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec, and of municipal elections across the country; and, through it all,
  • Delivered a balanced budget.

And, with respect to our financial results for the year ended March 31, 2014, and the first quarter ended June 30, 2014, if you have an interest in them, I suggest that you go to our website where you'll find, our annual report, our numbers, and managements' discussion and analysis thereon. Obviously, we will take any question that you might have on them in the Q&A session that follows.

But the financial picture is nothing without the backdrop of the industry in which we are operating.

Here are a few recent examples of how our environment is evolving:

The entrance of new players like VICE News: Launched in December 2013, they already have more than 34 foreign bureaus – seven more have been announced - and their YouTube site draws well over 130 million viewers a month.

In October, VICE Media and Rogers announced the launch a new 24-hour TV channel in Canada in 2015.

The phenomena of TV on the go (OTT): New over-the-top (OTT) sites like Netflix are proliferating. In the past few weeks, CBS and HBO have both announced new services. In Canada, Rogers and Shaw recently launched their shomi service, and Bell Media just announced Project Latte.

The transformation of traditional newspapers to mobile newspapers: First La Presse+ and now The Gazette.

Wearables: Google recently invested $500 million in wearable technology.

As the public broadcaster, we have a responsibility to adapt to Canadians’ preferences, industry’s development and stay relevant — whatever the platform or screen size.

And therein lies our dilemma. We need to accompany our audience toward digital media, while recognizing that 89% of Canadians still watch TV live sitting in their living room, based on the programming that we deliver to them, and they spend 27 hours a week doing it.

Exactly how will we have transformed in 5 years, 10 years? No one can accurately predict that. But one thing I do know is that there will be a public broadcaster and our vision is to have it connect even more deeply with each of you.

Some content will remain in its current format, and some won’t. It will be produced based on the mobility and intimacy that we are seeking. It will be more than a simple extension of, or add-on to, our traditional broadcasting services. Concepts of immediacy, interaction, and impact have to be reinvented.

We will use modern media technology to understand the stories that are of interest to you. Soon, you will be at the centre of a conversation with others across the country that share those points of view, or share those interests, and create a public space — where you’ll be at home.

And that’s why our new strategy aims to multiply and intensify connections with Canadians and between them.

As citizens of one of the largest national territories in the world, we expect our public broadcaster to provide a space that unifies us in our values, our beliefs, and our identity.

Reaffirming our desire for vibrant public broadcasting is also about opting for an investment that pays off for our country as a whole. Maintaining a voice we can call our own through a strong public broadcaster is a choice Canadians make together.

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