Thank you very much for that welcome, Madam Chair.
And thank you to the members of the committee for inviting us to meet with you today.
We have been looking forward to this conversation. It is an important time to speak about public broadcasting in the context of Canadian culture and democracy.
CBC/Radio-Canada is a vital part of a $55-billion Canadian culture industry made up of both public and private players, each doing their part. Remember, every dollar invested in the public broadcaster generates $3 in economic activity.
Over the past few years, thanks to the talent of our employees, and an important investment from Parliament—thank you, again—our digital transformation has been showing results.
Today, over 20 million Canadians use our digital platforms each month. We are Canada's number one podcaster and have become a global leader on this emerging audio platform. We have more programs reflecting more of Canada, including shows like Unreserved with Rosanna Deerchild on CBC Radio, Pour l'amour du country from Halifax, and the recently announced The Cost of Living, a new weekly business show out of Calgary that will cover the country's most compelling business stories.
We play an essential role, knitting together our vast country through celebratory events like the Olympics, the Paralympics, the Junos, ADISQ and, of course, the Bye bye.
Our digital content platforms like CBC Gem, ICI TOU.TV, Espaces autochtones and CBC Indigenous are reaching more Canadians in new ways, ways in which they want to consume content.
While news coverage in Canada has been shrinking, particularly in many local communities, we have maintained journalists in 60 locations across the country. At a time when disinformation is undermining trust in our institutions and democracy, we remain Canadians' most trusted source of news and information.
We want to build on that trust and on our success for the benefit of all Canadians.
Our new three-year strategy, launched last week, is about putting the audience at the heart of everything we do. Thus, the tag line: Your Stories, Taken to Heart.
That plan also focuses on the following objectives: preserving the trust Canadians have in us, which we never take for granted; deepening our engagement with Canadians; and leveraging our leadership in digital service delivery. Those are all reinforced by our steadfast commitment to showcase the best Canadian stories.
We are focused on the following five priorities.
First is more customized digital services. We'll serve people's needs more directly, especially on our streaming services, ICI Tou.tv and CBC Gem, as well as our audio services.
We'll build lifelong relationships with Canadians. By engaging children and youth with content that connects them to each other and their country, we aim to grow social cohesion and pride in our nation.
We'll strengthen our local connections. This is our core strength. Our proximity with Canadians is what really sets the public broadcaster apart.
We'll do more to reflect all of the richness of contemporary Canada—multicultural, indigenous, urban, rural and regional. We'll do this in the stories we share on our airwaves and through our digital services and, very importantly, through our hiring, so that Canadians will see themselves in their public broadcaster.
Lastly, we'll ensure that great Canadian stories are seen and heard by Canadians and find audiences around the world.
We know our industry is facing real challenges. We want to work with Canadian partners, both public and private, because today our competition is not with each other. That competition is Google, Facebook, Amazon and other foreign digital giants. They are part of our lives now, capturing our attention and our information.
These giants know the economic potential of culture. For example, Netflix, Apple and Amazon together will spend $18 billion U.S. in content production this next year—nearly 90 times what we're able to invest at CBC/Radio-Canada.
lt is the globalization of information and entertainment content that has fundamentally disrupted the Canadian media landscape. The challenge is to ensure that Canadian stories and Canadian shared experiences are available and discoverable in this sea of foreign content choices.
Let's be clear: we're not against these companies. They've helped us all discover incredible films and series such as Roma, Transparent, or The Crown. They can give Canadian stories global visibility, as Netflix has done with Anne with an E and Kim's Convenience, or as Amazon has done with Annedroids.
They, however, are not devoted to supporting or nurturing the development of Canadian artists and creators, Canadian amateur athletes, or Canadian perspectives. That's our job.
This is what our strategy is about.
We want to build partnerships with media in local communities across the country to strengthen news and democracy. We want to deepen our engagement with Canadians and connect them with each other. We want to create more content for young Canadians on all platforms. Finally, we want more programs that reflect the richness of Canada.
We also want to strengthen Canada's voice in the world and ensure that Canada's creators have a place on the world stage.
lt's a strategy that will benefit Canadian businesses, support jobs and our creators, and strengthen our culture here at home for Canadians.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to taking your questions.
Thank you, Madame Chair. Good afternoon to my colleagues, and thank you very much for coming in this afternoon. It's very much appreciated, and it was a very interesting presentation.
I have a confession. My background is hockey and sports as part owner of the Saint John Sea Dogs, the hockey major junior team in Saint John. I grew up in a sports culture, and I remember as a young adult—I'm dating myself here—my father making me watch Tommy Hunter on CBC and Hockey Night in Canada, of course. That was my early experience of CBC.
I will say this. When I started campaigning in 2015, going door to door and seeing a lot of “Save the CBC” signs on different lawns and attending a few events, I quickly became aware of the unbelievable significance of CBC coast to coast to coast and of how it ties our country together, how it brings communities together and how it is somewhat of a unifying organization for all of Canada.
Certainly in New Brunswick I'm a fan of Harry Forestell, on CBC News New Brunswick; I'm a fan of Julia Wright, the new host of Information Morning on CBC Radio; and I recently have become concerned because, literally a couple days ago, the leader of the opposition made a statement that CBC should stop covering international news.
He seems to think that international events don't affect us as Canadians, that Canadians do not care about what's happening abroad. Obviously, we're not alone in this world. Maybe he doesn't realize that Brexit and the humanitarian crises all over the world and wars in the Middle East can have an impact on our society in Canada and our way of life.
My first question for you, Ms. Tait, is, do you think the CBC should stop covering international news?
Certainly, I too grew up on CBC. I'm from Alberta. While driving the truck when I was hauling grain, I'd be listening to programs all night.
Coming from the Red Deer area, I will say that we were very disappointed when CBC decided to pull out. That was decades ago, but we did listen to some of our local people, such as Ron MacLean. These are folks who have had and continue to have a great passion for CBC, but a lot of us have felt that perhaps the focus has changed. In shows like As It Happens and so on, the things we grew up on, and with the people we had, we could see the difference between reporters and editorialists. I think that's one of the issues. That's one of the things we see right now.
With the 24-hour news cycle, there's not a lot of opportunity to deal with the specifics. It would seem counterintuitive that you couldn't do that, but that isn't the way it looks on news shows. It used to be that there would be half an hour of news and then something local that was presented. When you lose that.... As was mentioned, you are in 60 communities, but you've had to pull out of a lot of them.
In terms of some of the issues, some of the things I've seen, this is why sometimes you're going to take a bit of a rap on this. I've been up to places like Fort McMurray when there were big stories there. CBC would roll in with a couple of trucks and six or seven people. All of the other newsgroups would have their one truck and their one person or maybe two. People look at that and say, “Well, I guess that's our tax dollars at work.” It's a perception that you have to realize is out there.
On the other thing that was brought up by the honourable member, I don't think the quote was exactly what he said, but he did talk about CBC's sometimes being too carried away with American stories and not focusing on Canada, or at least the way in which Canada is affected. We've seen that. We don't hear the stories about how Australia, for example, had a carbon tax and decided to get rid of that because it had lost all of its competitiveness. We don't hear the stories about how Germany has had to make major changes because of the issues it has had with its renewable resources and how that has fit in.
We don't hear the stories about the disastrous trade decisions that have taken place. We know what happens. I'm a farmer, and I'm also on the ag committee, so when you talk about the durum wheat in Italy and how that non-tariff trade barrier has affected us, or Saudi Arabia, where an errant tweet by a government has caused major disasters as far as a whole commodity is concerned.... South America has similar types of concerns and, of course, there was the disastrous trip to India, and the pulses and the opportunities to have done something. People are starting to see this in terms of, “Where's the reporting on that?”
We hear about Donald Trump. We hear about the associated issues there and how the Democrats and the Republicans are back and forth with each other, but who cares? What we need to be talking about is how Canada ties into the world. Yes, the United States is an important part because they're a major partner, but they're not the only partner, and we have to make sure that story is being told.
I'm wondering if, when you look at this, there is a way forward, where the corporation could be looking at more of the Canadian component of these national stories instead of simply saying, “This is what was said in the U.S.”
Oh, I beg your pardon. That was a very special event.
To the point about representation in Alberta, we talked a little earlier about the importance of local and government funding, and if there were additional funds supporting CBC/Radio-Canada, I assure you.... We have a map of where we would like to be but where we had to pull out in the past because, just to be very clear, even though we did have the reinvestment from government, we had ongoing financial pressures at CBC/Radio-Canada because we are not indexed to inflation on goods and services, and we have declining ad and subscription revenue. That is compounding every year despite the reinvestment of about $20 million per year, and that adds up year after year.
We're constantly working under that kind of pressure—just to give you the context. It's not that we want to pull out. We would put much more into local...if we had the means to do so.
To your bigger question about our coverage of world events, again, from our point of view, we are covering the planet with very few resources. We have eight foreign bureaus, and—again you can correct me—I think our budget is probably in the range of $10 million for the entire world that we cover.
We are not in Africa, a continent that profoundly affects the future of Canadian economics—just some of the issues that you raised. We're not in India. We're managing the news coverage of those very important issues as best we can, oftentimes with what we call “pop-up bureaus”. We'll have our people in Paris or London fly in to try to cover a story.
It's not for want of trying to give Canadians the most fulsome world view. We're working on it each and every day. There is no denying that the United States holds a very important role in the Canadian reality, and not to report on what is going on in the United States would also be an oversight.
Again, as I said earlier, balance and fairness are core to our journalistic standards and practices, and our journalists understand that. We have an ombudsman in both English and French to ensure that they do. I think we respond very well to that challenge.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you very much to our three guests for being here.
Concerning international coverage, at the beginning of every year, I look forward to watching the round table show with all the foreign correspondents. I assume you do the same thing at CBC. On countless occasions, I have found that Radio-Canada, contrary to the rather dusty picture painted of it by the Conservatives when they were in power, is very modern. Its platform ICI TOU.TV has opened the door for catch-up television.
I think that Radio-Canada remains a standard in many respects. We all remember Bernard Derome, who never wanted to hear that the “Canadian radio” way of doing things in terms of information was to be questioned, and he was right.
Ms. Tait, I had the opportunity to hear your presentation on the current paradigm shift. You hit the nail on the head when you said we all had to work together. We are all facing people's new viewing habits, which lead to tremendous amounts of content importing. This has never been seen before.
You talked about your budget. Obviously, the bidding has started to determine who likes you the most or who hates you the most. What I know is that the Liberals have brought the budget to a level where it would be without the previous Conservative government's cuts. In reality, your operating budget has been higher in the past, right? How are you managing this situation? Your budget is lower, but salaries must increase and you must maintain quality standards. You are still the standard in many respects. In addition, inflation must be taken into account. How are you managing?
You put your finger on the issue I am most passionate about, but that is at the very end of my questions. So you are forcing me to jump several pages.
Your are taking about skipping a generation. Millennials rarely watch live television. That said, in her presentation, Ms. Tait mentioned Bye bye, which has once again broken world records, I am sure of it.
Allow me to take a few seconds to remind the committee members that all the Numeris surveys on television shows in Canada and in Quebec more or less confirm that, from week to week, 25 of the 30 most popular shows in Quebec are produced in Quebec, while the situation is the opposite in English Canada, where at least 25 of the 30 most popular shows are not Canadian. In both cases, these are world records. It is always good to remind people that, as much as there may be no interest in local content on one side, there may be a great deal of interest in it on the other side. However, the next generation will change that.
You have made a few announcements concerning children's television. I think that we have already lost the current preschool generation—children who will soon be entering kindergarten. In fact, chances are that they are watching the same shows little ones in Connecticut are.
I see. I beg your pardon.
I immediately went to altered news, but what you're talking about is disinformation.
It's a complicated world we're living in now. We live in an overabundance of information and content, and an overabundance of disinformation. Then you have deep fake news in the mix and you have algorithms that cause people to go down filter bubbles. In the last five to 10 years, it has just completely changed the way a public broadcaster has to respond. I would say, as said in Montreal and everywhere, in my mind, one of the reasons that I accepted this wonderful job is that I believe that public broadcasting has never been more important than it is today.
When I meet with other public broadcasters in Paris and London, or by telephone with Australia, we're all facing the same challenge, which is how to protect and defend our citizenry from this unbelievable tsunami of disinformation.
In a sense, we become a beacon for truth. The key to your question—in the notion of a public versus a state broadcaster—is that we need the public to feel safe and to know that we are a beacon for that truth and that they know....
We may make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, but the journalistic standards and practices state very clearly that we measure, we research, we're transparent, we weigh and we try very hard to present both or all sides of a particular subject. That is the nature of the public service and the mandate. We take it very seriously.
It's something I, of course, ask myself and my colleagues here today. We are very cognizant that history can repeat itself. Hopefully, it won't in this instance.
There are a couple of things. Most recently, in our strategic plan that we launched, we talked about the need for the public broadcaster to maintain its diversified revenue model. I'll bring that right upfront to say what it means. Every public broadcaster in the world has a diversified revenue model and seeks commercial revenue to balance their government revenue, whether it's a parliamentary allocation, a licence fee or whatever model their funding from the public might be. For us, we consider that to be a key insurance policy for the vicissitudes of the future, whatever they might be.
To your question directly on what we would have to do, we would have to cut, we would have to look around all elements of our business and we would have to reduce service. Just so you understand, there are parts of our business where, perhaps in our television schedule for example, where we make money, with a show like the Bye bye, but there are services that we deliver to minority communities, francophone communities outside of Quebec, that simply would not be business ventures at all. They're entirely dependent on the public dollars we receive. It's the same on the English side and for certain services to the north. The reason we're the only ones there is that the privates would never go there because these services simply don't make any money at all.
That's fine. I'm not expecting her to. Thank you.
The federal government cuts, it said, will mean that the CBC will lose $115 million in funding over three years, according to the budget release at the time. So the public broadcaster saw 10% taken from its current $1.1 billion budget as part of a $5.2 billion cut overall to federal spending over three years. The CBC budget was trimmed by roughly $36 million per year for those three years.
I'll read this comment from the CBC: “As part of the government's plan to cut spending, all federal departments, agencies and Crown corporations had to submit budgets showing five per cent and 10 per cent cuts”.
Now this is interesting to me, because I remember this happening. I wasn't involved in government at the time, but I'm from rural Saskatchewan, and I listen to CBC Radio all the time. At that time, I don't know who was representing the Canadian broadcasters, but the individual who was responsible for dealing with this for the CBC was on radio and made the comment that she found it to be an incredibly helpful exercise to work through that and to determine how to deal with those circumstances. The article says: “A statement by the broadcaster said it will implement the reduction 'in a way that doesn't overly compromise' its strategy for increasing local coverage”.
That says to me that this entire country had to work together through a very difficult time, and the CBC was doing its part and yet was still determined to increase local coverage.
I appreciate hearing your concern for continuing that mandate. I live 90 kilometres from the the one large community in my entire rural riding. My large community is 16,000 people, and as I drive from my home into Yorkton, I cannot get the CBC.
You're talking about making a priority these areas of our country that don't get other coverage—or where you are our coverage. Where in your plans or how high a spending priority is that for you, including the $675 million invested now, which I applaud. Where do our rural areas fit in that priority? Can you give an percentage for the expected improvement in growth across Canada in rural ridings?
My name is Daniel Bernhard. I am the executive director of the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting and, as Ms. Dabrusin said, I'm joined by my colleague Jim Thompson today.
Friends is the citizens' voice for Canadian journalism and storytelling, in which public broadcasting play such an important part. We enjoy the support of hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are also our sole source of financing. Friends is 100% non-partisan and, for the record, we are not affiliated with any corporation or broadcaster, including the CBC.
Friends of Canadian broadcasting are working on protecting and defending our cultural richness and the healthy democracy to which it contributes. CBC's strength, journalistic audacity and our common history are at the heart of our identity.
Today's discussion requires some context. This week I attended a meeting of the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy, which basically highlighted the extent to which tech companies, predominantly Google and Facebook, are designed to supplant democracy and to erode individual autonomy itself.
These companies sell one thing: our personal, private data. They acquire it by spying on us, often without our consent. They use this data to profile us and then sell access to those profiles to advertisers. We generate more data with each passing second, so these companies spend billions of dollars to keep us online longer.
Facebook's number one incentive, therefore, is to publish content that retains our attention. They don't actually care what it is—hate, misinformation, even a mass murder in Christchurch, New Zealand—so long as we click, like, and share it.
Facebook understands that human beings have evolved to take a particular notice of threats. As danah boyd, a researcher at Microsoft, put it, we are biologically programmed to be attentive to things that stimulate; content that is gross, violent or sexual; and gossip that is humiliating, embarrassing or offensive.
Facebook is Canada's number one source of news, and so I'd like to ask a question. Who among you thinks that it's a good idea for us to get most of our information from a company whose business model depends on publishing the largest possible amount of content that is gross, violent, sexual, humiliating, embarrassing or offensive? Who thinks that this is healthy for our society?
Facebook has a mandate to shock, spy and profit. CBC has a mandate to inform, enlighten and entertain. That mandate is more than simply appropriate for the digital age; in this era of unbridled surveillance capitalism, public service media are more imperative than ever before.
The issue before us is not, therefore, the suitability of CBC's mandate but rather whether the corporation is equipped to fulfill it. At present it clearly is not. As Ms. Tait said before, at $34, CBC's per capita budget remains among the lowest in the developed world. I'll just add that adjusted for inflation, CBC's current budget is lower than it was at the bottom of the Chrétien cuts when the budget was cut by $400 million in the 1990s.
Of course, to make matters worse, the Government of Canada is actively subsidizing the very forces of misinformation that CBC exists to counteract, essentially diluting its beneficial effects. As the members of this committee know well, a loophole in the Income Tax Act subsidizes the price of ads sold by companies like Google and Facebook by exempting their products from long-standing penalties. This loophole cost taxpayers $1.6 billion in 2018. In 2017 this committee very sensibly called on the government to close this golden loophole. The reason for the government's inaction remains a mystery to me.
This is a matter of priorities. We just have to look at where we are spending our money to understand what our true priorities are. The value of exemptions and subsidies Canada grants Facebook, Google and Netflix represents 250% of what it has invested in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Canada must catch up to other countries by imposing its laws, its rules and its taxes on Facebook and other digital giants whose business interests harm the public interest.
We must also substantially increase CBC's budget—and quickly. Even more importantly, we must ensure that CBC becomes ever less dependent on the two sources of revenue that most constrain its ability to deliver on its noble mandate: government and advertisers.
Ultimately, the key is independence, and independence begins at the very top. We strongly recommend legislative changes to ensure that CBC's board members have no partisan affiliation and that the government has no say whatsoever in their selection and appointment.
New legislation must also grant the board complete and exclusive authority to hire and fire the corporation's CEO.
When it comes to funding, the simplest approach to increasing CBC's funding is already provided for in existing law: prohibit the deductibility of foreign digital advertising expenses. In 2018, this would have generated up to $1.6 billion, enough to increase CBC's parliamentary appropriation by 145% without costing the government a dime. This approach would alleviate pressure on public finances, and it would also serve to address very reasonable concerns about our public broadcaster's independence.
In addition, a surtax on targeted advertising is very necessary. If your company pollutes democracy, you should be responsible for cleaning it up. A 5% surtax on targeted advertising supposedly generated about $385 billion in 2018, which is enough to cover all of CBC/Radio-Canada's advertising revenues. Asking Netflix to collect sales tax would generate an additional $130 billion. Once Disney, CBS and other foreign corporations come here, to Canada, that figure will increase considerably.
On the eve of the general election, we know that public opinion research shows that voters support these proposals overwhelmingly. For some parties, reviewing the CBC's mandate appears to be code for eliminating whole services, or even killing it completely, but I can assure you that such policies would be very, very unpopular with the voters who you are now working to court. I'd be happy to discuss the results of our latest Nanos poll with you, if you'd like.
The world is currently embroiled in an existential struggle for democracy in which information and cultural industries are the ultimate prize. CBC doesn't need a new mandate; it needs a new commitment to fund it properly, sustainably and responsibly. To be ready for those funds, it needs to be financially and administratively independent of both political and business concerns.
Thank you for your attention. We look forward to your questions.
Absolutely. I just wanted to be clear about what we're referring to.
I think that when you look at some of the leaders around the world with more authoritarian tendencies, you will notice a consistent distain for facts and for the journalists who work tirelessly to produce and disseminate those facts.
Platforms like Facebook are extremely helpful to people who would like to escape scrutiny and deliver their version of the truth or their preferred narrative directly to people, as though the truth and these untruths were somehow just different opinions that should be regarded equally. We've seen this not just around the world; we've seen this in Canada as well. The fact that platforms like Facebook have no standards and no responsibility of quality, of truthfulness or of integrity in the same way that, for example, Canadian broadcasters do....
I'll just give you one little example. Can you tell me what you think would happen if CBC or CTV live-streamed a mass murder in progress? There would be a riot, but Facebook did exactly that with the Christchurch shootings.
These tools, I think, are very dangerous for a society that requires people to be informed.
As Mr. Thompson said, support for CBC is very strong across the country, and that support extends to people of all political persuasions, and the numbers really support that. Our job is to put that support on prominent display.
Right now, whether it is leaving open the loophole in section 19 of the Income Tax Act or foot-dragging on having Netflix declared a broadcaster for the purposes of Canadian programming expenditures, the government has demonstrated a strong preference, perhaps through inertia or by default, for foreign companies that make negligible or even negative contributions to our society and democracy over Canadian broadcasters, especially the CBC, that exist to enrich us and serve us.
We've also found that some of the opposition parties have not made their positions on these things known publicly. Our attempt is to serve this clear public desire for strong and credible Canadian journalism and storytelling, including in small and rural communities, to get politicians in key ridings to come clean about their views on these subjects, and also their party's views. We're hoping to extract strong and clear commitments from all the parties to make their positions known. Canadians expect it, and I think Canadians deserve it.
I want to get back to the study motion, as I did in the last hour. The study is to review the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada as it relates to the Broadcasting Act. I'll quote again from that act, out of the briefing note that was provided to all the committee members today: “Canadian Broadcasting Corp’s legislative mandate is outlined in sections 3(1)(l) and (m) of the Broadcasting Act”, and from out of paragraph 3(1)(m), item 3(1)(m)(i), which says that it should “be predominantly and distinctively Canadian”.
I'll ask the same question of you that I asked of the CBC representatives who were in during the last hour.
In this changing world of digital accessibility where anyone anywhere who is digitally connected can receive news or information almost instantaneously from anywhere else in the world that is connected digitally, can the CBC continue to be competitive in that market? That is what it is. Even though CBC says they're not trying to compete with other broadcasters and so on, everyone in the media business competes for listenership, readership, followings and so on.
Can they continue to be competitive and remain predominantly and distinctively Canadian, when we have such minimal content to provide compared with the rest of the world?
I personally had two areas of concern when I arrived in Ottawa eight years ago: the fight against climate change and the defence of cultural industries. There are many parallels to be drawn between the two. In both cases, we can say that no one can be against motherhood and apple pie. Of course, we want to preserve our planet. Of course, we want to ensure our presence on the screens. However, in both cases, it seems that the government does not want to take the necessary measures.
In terms of web giants, the first thing to do is to ensure that, if a transaction takes place in Canada, the GST is applied. However, every time we ask the a question, he gives us the runaround, tells us that it is complicated and assures us that he is meeting with the representatives of these multinationals in the G7 and G20.
As you pointed out, the Conservatives' way of thinking is that everyone must pay their taxes, and that's a given. We expect that rigidity from them. We can imagine that the Liberals want to maintain the services that go with those taxes.
How can this attitude be explained, if not by a short-sighted view of the election? In other words, they do not want to increase Canadians' bills by 50¢, even though Netflix has increased its rate by 33% this year.
We are not part of the CBC and we don't participate in production decisions, which is probably a good thing. But I agree with you that programming needs to reflect all of Canada as it is, and where it's going, to challenge us to be a better country.
Here I would come back to what I said earlier: new programming of high quality is not free. If you wanted to hold CBC properly to account, for example, for not taking diversity seriously and not reflecting Canada's current face back to itself, I think it would be much more appropriate to do so if they really had the resources to produce that stuff and yet didn't.
Right now they simply don't have it, and when they're dependent on deals with Netflix, for example, to pay the bills, then they're going to do what Netflix wants, which is generic stuff that could be set anywhere, that doesn't reflect the issues and the dynamic that exist here.
I agree with you. We need more ethnicity and ethnic diversity. We need to reflect Canada as it is, but in order to do that, we need to finance that kind of programming.