Ministerial Question Period: CBC/Radio-Canada

By: The Hon. Clément Gignac

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Hon. Clément Gignac: Welcome to the Senate, minister.

Before I get to my questions, as an independent senator from Quebec, I’d like to take a moment to express my appreciation for the fact that you defended our right, as francophone parliamentarians, to express ourselves in our mother tongue here in Ottawa. This right is recognized by all of my colleagues here and is near and dear to the heart of our Speaker.

That being said, let’s talk about the job cuts at the CBC and Radio-Canada.

In a recent announcement, we learned that the job cuts anticipated at our public broadcaster will be the same at Radio-Canada and CBC, even though their business revenues are not the same, the number of employees is not the same, and the drop in advertising revenues at Radio-Canada is three times lower than at the CBC.

Are you comfortable with the CBC President’s decision, given that your mandate letter refers to the protection and promotion of the French language across the country, including in Quebec?

The Hon. Pascale St-Onge, P.C., M.P., Minister of Canadian Heritage: Thank you for asking a very important question that is on the minds of a lot of francophones like you and me everywhere in Quebec.

Obviously, in my role as Minister of Canadian Heritage, I have to be very careful about what I say because the Crown corporation operates at arm’s length from the government. The Crown corporation, its board and its executives are responsible for making decisions in the best interests of the public broadcaster. The public broadcaster is accountable to Canadians, and I encourage the public to offer its input on the proposed proportionality of the anticipated job cuts.

Obviously, CBC/Radio-Canada plays a very important role in promoting the French language across Canada. I also acknowledge the importance of its presence in Quebec. The corporation must comply with its mandate and mission despite the current challenges it faces amid the media crisis and its declining private revenues.

Senator Gignac: Thank you for your answer.

Ministers can still hold Crown corporations to account, though. For instance, I met with the board of a Crown corporation to get additional answers when I wasn’t satisfied with the explanations given publicly.

A recent study shows that Canada ranks 15th out of the 20 most developed countries for public broadcaster funding. Canada is at roughly $33 per capita, whereas France is at $80 and the U.K. is at, I believe, $100 for the BBC.

Is having a public broadcaster a priority for your government? Please explain why there’s such a gap in support levels.

Ms. St-Onge: Thank you.

Our public broadcaster, for a number of reasons, was built in such a way as to have a mix of public and private funding. However, the world has changed tremendously since its creation. Obviously, it is time to reopen the debate on the future of our public broadcaster.

I want to reaffirm our commitment to CBC/Radio-Canada. We’re convinced that we need a strong public broadcaster across Canada to serve all Canadians in both official languages and the eight Indigenous languages. The public broadcaster plays a truly unique role that we must protect and defend. We also need to reassess its entire structure to ensure its long-term viability and make sure that it can continue to serve Canadians for years to come.

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