A plan to bring CBC and Radio-Canada closer together

A plan aimed at bringing together the French and English services of Radio-Canada is currently occupying the senior management of the public broadcaster, we have learned The Press from three sources knowledgeable about the matter.


Posted at 1:22 a.m.

Updated at 5:00 a.m.

This “transformation plan” will be presented to the board of directors in the fall. This would include bringing together the management of CBC and Radio-Canada in order to face “competition from digital giants”. Programming could be affected by this convergence effort, which raises fears for the autonomy of French services. A Source familiar with the matter who requested anonymity confirmed the existence of this plan.

“We want a single person to manage all of the services,” fears Alain Saulnier, former director general of information at Radio-Canada, who had access to certain details of the changes awaiting the state corporation.

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PHOTO MARTIN TREMBLAY, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Alain Saulnier, former director general of information at Radio-Canada

What that means is that we want to homogenize English-speaking and French-speaking cultures.

Alain Saulnier, former director general of information at Radio-Canada

Marco Dubé, vice-president and head of transformation at Radio-Canada, was mandated by the board of directors to lead the file. “The public broadcaster wants to remain relevant in the long term and the Board of Directors asked for a reflection on how we could transform ourselves to continue our transition to digital,” he explains in an interview during which he confirmed the desire of the senior management. direction to bring together resources from CBC and Radio-Canada.

Last June, Catherine Tait, president and CEO of the broadcaster, saw her mandate renewed for a reduced period of 18 months, until January 2025, in a delicate context, marked in particular by tensions between CBC and Radio-Canada and the surprise departure, last October, of Senior Vice-President of French Services, Michel Bissonnette.

The Company’s Board of Directors is chaired by Michael Goldbloom, with Catherine Tait serving as a member. Marco Dubé, considered by many as the “dolphin” of the outgoing boss of CBC/Radio-Canada, was in turn a journalist, general director of regional services and chief of staff of the CEO.

Is a rapprochement between French and English programming in the cards? “Not necessarily,” he replies. “CBC and Radio-Canada each play very specific roles in their respective markets. Radio-Canada plays a very specific role with French speakers. We must preserve that at all costs and we will take the means to do so. »

“Not necessarily”, but the idea is not ruled out? “It is the next CEO who will decide on these big questions, but there is really behind [notre réflexion] wise use of public funds, and Canadians expect money to be used efficiently. They expect to have quality programming in French and English, but they also expect us to be an organization that does not duplicate resources just for the sake of doubling resources. This is a bit like what we are looking at now and what we were looking at several years ago. »

A helping hand in Belgium

Marco Dubé confirmed information according to which senior management was assisted by the Belgian section of the Deloitte firm in its “reflection”. “We sought to have people who had expertise and experience in the digital transition, particularly among public broadcasters,” he comments.

The Deloitte team, which is based in Belgium, has this experience, particularly with public broadcasters in Europe. She is the one who is supporting us, but I want to be clear: this is going to be the plan for our company.

Marco Dubé, vice-president and head of transformation at Radio-Canada

In December 2023, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pascale St-Onge, announced the creation of a committee of experts to ensure the “sustainability” of the public broadcaster. This initiative is not linked to the “reflection” launched by the board of directors, according to our information.

Both nevertheless fit into the same context, namely significant losses of revenue within the public broadcaster and the threat of defunding of the CBC in the event of the election of the Conservative Party in the next federal election.

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PHOTO DOMINICK GRAVEL, THE PRESS

The new Maison de Radio-Canada

During his leadership campaign, Pierre Poilievre hammered home his intention to cut funding to the English services of the state corporation. The Conservative leader, who still brandishes the slogan “Defund the CBC” today, however, clarified that he intended to spare the French-speaking minority served by Radio-Canada.

Unity is strength ?

Dropping just one half of the public broadcaster would require legislative changes: a merger between the two entities would make the Conservative plan even more difficult to implement. “Some say that we are trying to prevent Poilievre from dismantling CBC” by connecting it to Radio-Canada, explains Mr. Saulnier.

“That’s not it at all,” assures the head of transformation, Marco Dubé. Nor is it a legacy that President and CEO Catherine Tait wishes to leave before her departure, he specifies.

The French and English services of the public broadcaster already share a number of resources. “It’s impossible to imagine Radio-Canada without the presence of CBC, because we share our infrastructure, our buildings, technology, equipment, and even for everything that concerns administration and finances. All of this is shared. We are one company, except for programming [et] the news,” explained the CEO during a parliamentary committee at the end of last January.

According to Alain Saulnier, Catherine Tait embraces the “one company” vision of Hubert Lacroix, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada from 2008 to 2017.

In December 2023, the decision of senior management to reduce the number of positions in the French and English services equally caused controversy, while the performance of Radio-Canada is clearly superior to that of CBC, given their respective market.

The question of the autonomy of French services had already resurfaced in 2022: the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission had ordered the public broadcaster to apologize after a radio columnist had pronounced the title of an essay by Pierre Vallières, White Negroes of America. The way of reacting and responding to the reprimand of the public body – which was annulled by the Federal Court of Appeal in June 2023 – generated a tense standoff between the management of Radio-Canada and CBC, revealed The Press.

Read the article “Severe tensions between Radio-Canada and CBC”

Alain Saulnier, who is also a media specialist, is very concerned about a possible merger of the departments responsible for content. “Since 1970, we have jealously defended the autonomy of French services at Radio-Canada,” he explains. Raymond David [ancien vice-président des services français de Radio-Canada] obtained this independence [en 1968] because he considered it essential to develop programming that was sensitive to the reality of Quebec and the reality of the country’s Francophones. »

This is what Mr. Saulnier fears will crumble.

With the collaboration of Jean Siag, The Press

Learn more

  • 125 million
    CBC/Radio-Canada’s forecast deficit for the 2024-2025 fiscal year before the announcement of new state funding. Some 800 positions were at stake, or 10% of the workforce.

    Source: Radio-Canada

    346
    Reduction of the workforce at CBC/Radio-Canada since last December. The company let go of 141 employees and eliminated 205 vacant positions. More layoffs are ruled out for the current year.
  • 1.42 billion
    Funding for CBC/Radio-Canada in 2024-2025, compared to $1.3 billion the previous year, according to documents from the Department of Canadian Heritage
    42 million
    Payment of aid to CBC/Radio-Canada for the current year, according to the federal budget tabled on April 16
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