A New Role for CBC/Radio-Canada (Speech)

Published on November 23, 2016

A New, More Focused Role for CBC/Radio-Canada


Maxime Bernier

November 23, 2016


When it was created 80 years ago, CBC/Radio-Canada was meant to give a voice to Canadians in the new world of radio broadcasting. It did the same later when television became a mass media. 

At the time, there were only a few private channels. There was an obvious role for a public broadcaster trying to reach all Canadians in big cities or small and remote communities; to connect them to the rest of the country and the world; and to bring them together through a shared expression of ideas and culture. It worked very well for several decades and had a profound influence on how we see ourselves and the world.


Fast forward to 2016. The media landscape, with its hundreds of channels and its millions of sources of information and culture, is radically different. Yet, CBC/Radio-Canada seems frozen in time.


It tries to occupy every niche, even though it doesn’t have and will never have the means to do so, with the result being lower-quality programming. The viewership for its English service in particular has reached new lows. To stay relevant, it reinterprets its mandate every few years, going from crisis to crisis.


What should be done? If I am elected leader of my party and prime minister, I propose to implement two fundamental reforms.


First, the role and mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada have to be refocused.


Do we need a public broadcaster that does game shows and cooking shows?


Do we need a public broadcaster involved in sports when we have all-sports channels?


Do we need a public broadcaster that runs bad Canadian copies of American popular shows?


Do we need a public broadcaster that offers music streaming on the Web when there are thousands of music channels available?


Do we need a public broadcaster that now has a website devoted to opinion journalism that competes with newspapers and magazines?


The answer to all these questions is a clear NO.


I believe there is still a role in our media landscape for a public radio and television network. But it has to be something other than what the private sector already offers.


We should not reinvent the wheel. Already, the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada states that it should:


- be predominantly and distinctively Canadian and contribute to our national consciousness and identity;


- reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions;


- actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression; and


- reflects the needs and circumstances of our language communities, and also the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada.


CBC/Radio-Canada has the widest network of journalists and correspondents across the country. That’s one of its unique qualities. Yet, over the past couple of years, when it had to adjust to a smaller budget, it cut back on its regional stations and concentrated more resources in the big towers in Toronto and Montreal instead. It should have done the opposite. Canadians don’t want to see their world only through the eyes of Toronto or Montreal.


A more focused CBC/Radio-Canada should offer more quality public affairs programs, and not all based in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. When was the last time you saw a panel of guests on national TV debating the issues of the day in New Brunswick, Saskatchewan or the North?


It should show us what is going on in the neighbourhoods of our big cities, but also in our small towns and rural areas, in our remote and aboriginal communities.


It should explain the outside world to us with more foreign correspondents.


It should team up with the fantastic cultural institutions, theaters, orchestras, festivals, that exists in every parts of our country, and show what they do to the rest of Canada.


It should make us think, with more quality documentaries, more programs about science, history, or religion. Canadians are notoriously ignorant of their own history. Shouldn’t it be the role of a public broadcaster to show it in interesting ways?


In short, CBC/Radio-Canada should stop doing three quarters of what it still does, which any private broadcaster can do, and concentrate on what only it can do. To achieve this, my government will make changes to the Broadcasting Act to clarify and refocus the CBC/Radio-Canada mandate. 


The second reform that I propose to implement is to get the CBC/Radio-Canada out of the advertising market.


All private media outlets have had to make deep cuts and to lay off journalists by the hundreds in the past few years. Yet, after getting a head start with more than a billion dollars in taxpayers’ money, CBC/Radio-Canada unfairly competes with struggling private media in a shrinking advertisement market.


To replace its revenues from advertisement, which amounted to about $250 million last year, the CBC/Radio-Canada will have to switch to the PBS/NPR model in the US and rely on sponsorships from corporations and foundations, as well as voluntary donations from its viewers and listeners. Of course, changes to the structure of CBC/Radio-Canada will also require changes to the Broadcasting Act.


There are several advantages to this. It will end the unfair competition with other media. It will ensure more quality programing by eliminating the need to constantly get higher ratings to sell advertising space. Instead of competing with private networks for a mass audience, CBC/Radio-Canada will be more responsive to the viewers willing to contribute to its unique programming.


As for it its public subsidy, a Conservative government under my leadership will rescind the $150 million in additional annual funding announced by the current government. That will bring back public funding to $1 billion dollars, as it was last year. My government will also review the remaining funding in light of the more focused mandate and structure I just discussed, and of the state of public finances after several years of runaway spending and deficits by the Trudeau government. I cannot give any arbitrary number today, but I assume that the taxpayers’ contribution will be lower than one billion dollars.


My campaign is based on the principles of freedom, responsibility, fairness and respect. With my proposal, CBC/Radio-Canada will stop competing unfairly with private media, and will be more respectful of the taxpayers that help fund it. It will also become a more relevant public institution, helping to reinforce our culture and our national identity.


I ask Conservative Party of Canada members, and all Canadians, to support me so that we can implement this reform.


Thank you.