The New Status Quo is Change
With the public hearings on the CBC’s license renewal only a few days away, you can be certain that our conversation focused on that topic. The 2015 strategic plan, “Everyone, every way,” is still in the line of sight, even if its implementation has lost speed somewhat due to budget cuts of $115 million. The vision of the CBC remains clear and nothing seems to be able to deflect it from its objectives. Three main points of the plan are identified in the license renewal application:
- More distinctive stories prepared by, for and about Canadians;
- Increased regional presence – to be where Canadians want us; and,
- More digital services – to reach Canadians and engage them in a dialogue on a new platform.
To achieve these goals, the CBC’s renewal application includes the broadcasting of national commercials on Espace Musique and Radio 2. For the president and CEO of the CBC, this request is essential to the implementation of Plan 2015.
The elimination of the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF) hurt the CBC, particularly its French language services. “Local programming presented by private broadcasters often results from tangible benefits to transactions. This programming is artificially maintained by the conditions of the CRTC license. Once the advantages disappear, there will be only the CBC. There is no private broadcaster who will see a market for local programming in French in Saskatchewan, but the CBC will always be there.”
Finally, the deployment of content and services across platforms, particularly digital, is a key element of the CBC’s strategy. More than seven million Canadians did not have access to CBC or Radio-Canada’s local or regional services just a few years ago, now there are only six million without access. Some cities are covered locally only by the Web, as is the case of Hamilton, Ontario, where the CBC has launched a website of local news, weather, discussions on local issues, traffic reports and things to do. Is this the future? This is certainly one way to entrench ourselves in the digital world and in people’s lives.
But beyond this strategy, the conversation about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation often turns to the billion dollars it receives from Parliament and the value of the public broadcaster in a world where content is multiplied and diversified. Leading Hubert Lacroix to this subject is like pushing the right button. He becomes passionate, uncompromising, but never defensive. “CBC-Radio-Canada receives a billion dollars to broadcast in French, in English, to the North, on the radio, television and the Web; we must be innovative, serve Canadians by entertaining and informing. The billion dollars that we receive actually generates $4 billion in economic benefits, jobs and production. The CBC alone is investing $700 million in Canadian programming. And the other players? – $500 million amongst all of them! Every month, 88% of Canadians visit, listen to or watch one of our services at least once. CBC and Radio-Canada are the only ones to tell our stories. In the private sector, the only one to do excellent work in this area is TVA. We are the only ones promoting arts and culture across the country. What I say to those people is: if you do not want local programming, if you do not want significant Canadian content, if you do not want support for arts and culture, put an end to the CBC.” But do we really want to stop it? Not really. So, let’s discuss the future.
The future of Radio-Canada, at least for the next few years, is in the hands of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). In reality, when the Commission eliminated the LPIF, when the Commission refused to regulate the Internet and mobility, when the Commission maintained that it will not require Internet service providers to contribute to the broadcasting system, it defined what the system of tomorrow will be. We know that the amount of tangible benefits linked to transactions will soon dry up – what is there left to sell? How will we finance our system then, how will we ensure a Canadian presence on the overall market? “If we want to save our ecosystem, each player has a role to play,” contends Hubert Lacroix.
But for the CBC, as for everyone, the future is spelled “c-h-a-n-g-e.” “Things will constantly change, and not always for the better. We must be creative, not only in what we produce, but in the way we finance ourselves. Employees of the CBC know this, understand this and support it. And when you think it’s finished, we start again. Change is the new status quo,” concludes the president of the CBC.
Mr. Lacroix practiced law for 30 years, until 2007, at the offices of Stikeman Elliott. He gained solid knowledge of the broadcasting and publishing industries through his involvement with Telemedia and other companies. Mr. Lacroix also worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where he became known as a sports analyst during the 1984, 1988 and 1996 Olympic Games basketball games. During this period, he worked for both Radio-Canada’s radio and television networks. He was also a regular weekly contributor to the Saturday-night sports program Hebdo-Sports on Radio-Canada, where he dealt mainly with amateur sports. In recent years, Mr. Lacroix also served on the boards of directors of companies such Adventure Electronics, Cambior, Circo Craft, Donohue, Fibrek Funds ITS, Michelin Canada, Transcontinental Secor, and Zarlink Semiconductor, in addition to non-profit organizations such as Accueil Bonneau, the Montreal General Hospital Foundation, the Martlet Foundation of McGill University and the Jean-de-Brébeuf Collège Development Fund. He is still a trustee of the Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation and a director of their private management company.