The Hon. Perrin Beatty, President and CEO, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
THE FUTURE OF THE CBC
Chairman: David Edmison
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Monty Larkin, C.A., Honorary Director, The Empire Club of Canada; James Evans, grade 13 student, Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute; The Rev. Tim Foley, Rector, All Saints, Kingsway; MGen. Bruce Legge, Q.C., Partner, Legge & Legge, and a distinguished Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Duff Roman, Vice-President, Industries Affairs, CHUM Radio; Michael Coates, President, Hill & Knowlton; Philip Lind, Vice-Chairman, Rogers Communications Inc.; Bill Laidlaw, Director, Government Relations, Glaxo Wellcome and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Elaine Legault, Director, Corporate Affairs, TV Ontario; Jonathan Welsh, artist and award-winning Canadian performer; Bruce MacLellan, President, Environics Communications; and Paul Lucas, President and CEO, Glaxo Wellcome.
Introduction by David Edmison
As a youngster I would often do my homework while watching television. I developed this habit during hockey playoff season and, while it drove my parents crazy, I managed to convince them it was a very Canadian thing to do and it wouldn't affect my school marks.
So, a week ago last Monday night I sat down to write my introduction for today's distinguished speaker, Mr. Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, while at the same time tuning in to "The National," ultimately, one of his key responsibilities. And I'm glad I did.
In the third or fourth news clip, Peter Mansbridge reported that Prime Minister Chretien had expressed concern that the CBC-French network was less than impartial when covering the referendum debate. As I looked up from my notes there was the subject of my introduction being interviewed and fielding some difficult questions from reporters. I might add, just like playoff hockey, he was doing a good job of stick-handling. I was particularly struck by his honesty and pragmatic approach to their questions. There was no political rhetoric, no defensive skirting of the problem, no hiding behind the "no comment" line, but a clear commitment to the truth and a carefully crafted plan of action to find it.
Last month The Empire Club had Jean Charest, a former political colleague of our guest, as a speaker. I mentioned in my introduction that among other things, Mr. Charest was the youngest cabinet minister in Canadian history. It seems relevant now to mention that this distinction, to that point, belonged to Perrin Beatty, who in 1979 was appointed Minister of State, in the government of Joe Clark. But by then he was a political veteran having won his first federal seat in 1972 at age 22. He went on to serve in six major cabinet posts in the Mulroney government.
Mr. Beatty was born in Toronto and spent his early days in Fergus, Ontario where his father was President of Beatty Brothers Ltd., a well-known Canadian manufacturer of household appliances and farm implements. Educated at Fergus Public School and Upper Canada College, he then went on to earn a degree from the University of Western Ontario.
In 1993, after a distinguished political career, he began working as a consultant, concentrating mainly in the field of communications and joined a number of private sector boards. He is Honorary Visiting Professor with the Department of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario where he taught a course on Communications Technologies and Public Policy. He also wrote a weekly column on government and politics for The Toronto Sun.
His abiding interest in journalism and broadcasting dates back many years. In university, he worked as a reporter and produced a weekly programme for a commercial radio station in London. While in Ottawa, Mr. Beatty became an active member of the parliamentary committee overseeing the CBC and also served as caucus spokesman on the Department of Communications following the 1980 election.
On April 1, 1995, the Liberal government appointed our guest President and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In a business where party patronage is commonplace, the appointment was testimony to Mr. Chretien's commitment to getting the right person for the job regardless of political colour. But more than that, it was a clear tribute to Mr. Beatty, whose experience, vision and leadership is taking the corporation in a new direction, better able to meet the new realities and government cutbacks. It's a difficult and controversial job, demanding insight into issues ranging from children's programming and ethics in journalism to Canadian content legislation and advertising. But there is strong consensus from many quarters that, for the CBC, Perrin Beatty is the man of the moment and the man for the job.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming our special guest, Mr. Perrin Beatty.
As you may have noticed, speculation about the CBC's future has featured prominently in the press lately. Indeed, in a climate of economic restraint, public spending on any aspect of culture is very much under the microscope.
At CBC, we welcome that scrutiny. I believe it's critical for our society to constantly re-examine its priorities. It will not surprise you to learn, however, that I also believe it's profoundly important for a society to know something of its deeper self, to share both its triumphs and defeats, to laugh together one minute and engage in heated debate the next.
We do that in a host of ways, from a chance conversation on a streetcar to sharing a night of musical theatre with 2,000 of our closest friends; and from disagreeing with a letter to the editor to admiring a piece of sculpture in a gallery window.
All of these acts, large and small, together help us understand whom we are, what matters to us and where we think we should be going. In this society, our communications media provide a key link in the process: the transmission of our culture.
That's the role we have played since the CBC was created in 1936. For most of us, CBC's broadcasting services have always been there, carrying the Canadian flag on the airwaves of North America and the world. Domestically, we've been the electronic thread that has stitched the most disparate parts of our country together, from Point Pelee to the high Arctic, from Long Beach to Cape Spear.
Throughout, we've been a mirror of Canadian society, in all its aspects, responding to the times just as the country has. We've prospered when the nation did, and we've tightened our belts when that became necessary.
Clearly, we're now in one of the latter periods and, like everyone else, we have to deal with the realities around us. Whether we like it or not, we must recognise that governments have to struggle with a wide range of competing priorities--priorities that include national public broadcasting but, unfortunately, can't make it number one on the list.
When I accepted the presidency of CBC last spring, I did so with my eyes open. I knew that our very existence could not be taken for granted. We would have to prove our worth to Canadians again with each new day. Since April, when I came to the Corporation, we have been working to determine how best to accommodate the CBC to the new realities while continuing to provide Canadians with first-rank public broadcasting.
In the past few days, I have announced the results of those efforts to our staff. Let me briefly outline them for you. First, it was apparent that the Corporation's existing structure could not give us the kind of flexibility and responsiveness we needed for the future. Restructuring would have to start at the top.
Our goal was to create a smaller, more effective senior management team that would provide clear, strong leadership to fulfil our mandate despite the substantial reduction in our funding.
At the end of the process, we will have eliminated six of 14 vice-presidential positions, and we will have given the operating components more direct control and responsibility for the services that directly support their businesses. I announced the next step in the process to our staff only yesterday; namely, the cost-saving measures we will take to bring our expenses within our means. The reductions prescribed by last February's federal budget, together with cuts announced earlier and other cost increases beyond our control, mean we need to make savings in excess of $200 million before the end of the 1996/97 fiscal year. We also know our budget might be reduced by as much as $350 million by the end of 1997/98. These reductions are in comparison with our 1994/95 operating budget, which was $1.3 billion, including both our parliamentary appropriation and the revenues we generate ourselves.
As I'm sure you know, the federal government set up a committee under Pierre Juneau, a former president of the CBC, to examine the mandates of the CBC, the National Film Board and Telefilm Canada. Mr. Juneau's committee is to submit its report at the end of November. We expect the federal cabinet will make its funding decisions for at least the next two years once it receives the recommendations of that task force. We hope the mandate review committee will add its support for a strong and healthy public broadcaster, but it would be irresponsible to simply assume that favourable recommendations from the committee will automatically secure our future. We need to put our finances in order now, but we must also respect the government's right to revise its broadcasting policies or the Broadcasting Act itself once it receives the committee's report. For that reason, we have announced a plan to make the major savings within our present mandate and structure.
We have one goal above all: to save as much money as possible by eliminating non-programming activities and becoming more efficient in everything we do. The $227million target is the maximum we feel we can make without major service reductions. I will not pretend that our programming won't be affected. With a cut of this magnitude, that would have been impossible, but I am satisfied that we've kept the impact to a minimum. While it won't be easy, I believe we will still have the resources necessary to achieve our mandate.
Some $39 million of the $227-million reduction will come directly from support services and other non-programming expenses. As I mentioned, we've greatly streamlined our senior management structure. We will also radically reduce our head office by a minimum of 50 per cent, concentrating in Ottawa only those things that are most effectively carried out there: such functions as strategic planning, regulatory affairs, and government relations. We will continue to provide common services when that makes sense, but not necessarily from Ottawa. The rest will be decentralised, placed in the hand of the broadcasting networks they exist to serve. As our need for space declines, we will move out of our headquarters in Ottawa and sell the building.
We will find the savings by completely re-organising and downsizing our engineering department, concentrating our effort on our core business and relying more heavily on outside contractors.
We will institute a new "internal market" system to supply production services to the broadcast media. We've examined similar systems employed by other broadcasters like the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. We're confident this "user pay" approach will yield significant savings. We are also determined to reach new collective agreements with our unions. We're looking for a much more flexible approach to assigning people to tasks, an approach that will yield significant operating economies for the CBC while creating a more challenging and rewarding atmosphere for our employees.
We expect that this new approach can deliver $35 million in annual savings. Making these changes won't be easy or painless. It will cost close to 2,000 jobs, including the reductions already made this year.
At times like these, it's tempting to descend into nostalgia for the past or simply hunker down and hope for the best. But that would be exactly the wrong approach. It is when times are most difficult that boldness and imagination are needed most. We will not shrink from these challenges. Instead, we will recommit ourselves to meeting the need of our audiences in every part of the country and we will carve out our distinct space on the spectrum. Here is our manifesto:
• We will be resolutely Canadian. We will tell Canadian stories and give the Canadian perspective on Canada and the world not grudgingly, or as an afterthought, but enthusiastically and as our very reason for existing.
• We will celebrate Canada's diversity, reflecting our regional and cultural richness both within the regions and to Canada as a whole, but we will also allow Canadians to talk to one another and understand one another across the barriers of geography and language.
• What we broadcast will be based upon the fact that we belong to every Canadian and that all Canadians have a right to programmes of interest to them on our schedules. We will not simply become the preserve of the wealthy or well-educated or serve as a programmer of last resort, confining ourselves to material of little interest to anyone else.
• We will complement private broadcasters, not copy them. Just as the private sector will broadcast news and current affairs, or drama and sports, so will we,
but we will also serve communities, both geographic and social, for which there is no commercial market. We will give special attention to Canada's children, providing at least one spot on the dial where parents can be confident of finding healthy programming that will entertain and teach their families. We need to give as much care to what we put into our children's heads as we do to what we put into their mouths. CBC has long been a leader in children's programming and we intend to build upon that strength.
We will celebrate the arts in Canada, making a particular effort to identify and support artists from the regions. Since our founding, we have helped promote a vibrant cultural life in all parts of this country and that commitment will remain strong despite the pressures on our budgets.
We will see our audiences as citizens to be served, not simply as eyes and ears to be delivered to commercial advertisers. This principle means that we exist to help our fellow citizens function in a complex and fast-changing democracy. News and information programming will occupy a place of prominence on our schedules, and we will offer an alternative to commercial broadcasting that challenges and uplifts our audiences.
We are the public's broadcaster, owned by the Canadian people. In all of our activities, we must set standards of excellence that exceed those demanded of any other broadcaster. And we will conduct our affairs with a degree of transparency and accountability unmatched by any other broadcaster in Canada. Finally, we will conduct ourselves with respect for Canada's taxpayers. Being a public broadcaster provides no justification for inefficiency. At a time when the need for economy is greater than ever before, we will treat every tax dollar with care.
These are things Canadians have a right to expect of their public broadcaster, whether we're operating in the best or in the worst of times. We will not back away from that responsibility.
Let me come back for a minute to the CBC's obligation to provide a truly Canadian perspective on our country and the world. I do not believe in trying to build an electronic wall around Canada. Even if it were possible--and I believe that new technologies will leap any wall that can be built--it would be the wrong course to follow. We should invite the best the world has to offer into our homes. But we also have a responsibility to ensure that Canadian voices are heard in Canadian homes.
I'm sure you've heard the statistics before, but they bear repeating. U.S. programming makes up 86 per cent of the drama menu in English-speaking homes and accounts for fully 90 per cent of the drama viewing. While we're still strongly dedicated to our own news and current affairs shows, nearly three-quarters of all the time English-speaking viewers spend in front of their TV sets is spent watching American programmes.
Those are not the kind of realities that bode well for the future of a distinct Canadian culture or an independent Canada.
Fortunately, that problem does not exist in French-speaking regions. There, the challenge is not to counterbalance a foreign presence with a Canadian one, but to provide attractive French-language programming, something we've been able to do with signal success for many years. Certainly, the competitive pressures are growing in this market as well, and we must work to maintain the quality and quantity of our services. But it's hard to argue with the audience appeal of our French programming. It regularly draws as much as two-thirds of the total potential audience for drama and comedy.
In looking at the role of our English television network, one fact stands out above all: Canadians simply don't need CBC television to bring them American programmes. With very few exceptions, there's nothing out there they can't readily find somewhere else.
I won't deny Hollywood's attraction for Canadian broadcasters. Its programmes deliver large audiences and generate about $2.50 for every dollar we spend on them. But the price we pay isn't just monetary. It can also be measured in reduced distinctiveness in what is perhaps the most competitive television environment on earth. Canadians, after all, have easy access to virtually everything available to Americans, in addition to their own domestic programming.
We will make it a priority to attack that problem. I am announcing today that, as of the fall of 1996, all regularly scheduled U.S. programming will be removed from our English television network's 7-11 prime-time schedule. The money we're currently spending on those programmes will be redirected to support Canadian producers, writers and performers. What's more, we want our schedule to reflect the Canadian reality more effectively. Much of this new programming will come from independent producers or from centres outside Toronto. While we cannot afford to replace all the U.S. commercial programming in our daytime schedule, our goal remains the same throughout the broadcast day: to Canadianise our programming as rapidly as our finances permit and to offer a clear alternative to what is available on the rest of the dial.
Among the new Canadian programmes we'll show are "The Dawn of the Eye," a six-part co-production with the BBC that will be the definitive history of television news. We're also working on a major Canadian biography series for broadcast over several seasons beginning next fall. This series will involve outside producers in collaboration with the CBC. We believe we have an obligation to help Canadians learn more about the history of their country and its people. Our Canadian biography series will be a gift to the nation, showcasing the lives of Canadians from every walk of life who have contributed to our country and the world.
Simply put, prime time on CBC English television will be the preserve of Canadian programming--Canadian dramas, Canadian information programming, Canadian entertainment of all types--and of the best, non-U.S. international programming available.
We don't propose such dramatic changes in French television simply because they aren't needed. But that doesn't mean we'll stand still. We will continue to refresh our broadcast schedule and add new programmes.
This winter, we will introduce three new dramatic series--"Urgency" "Omerta" and "Majeurs et vaccines" and one new mini-series, "Steinberg." All of these will come from independent producers. And, in the fall, we'll present a new 11-hour series from the producer of the critically acclaimed series "Les filles de Caleb and Blanche," "Marguerite Volant."
We will also produce some new programmes in-house for the fall '96 schedule, including 120 episodes of a daily, half-hour light drama and a new, weekly teleroman by Victor Levy-Beaulieu called "Bouscotte."
These programming plans reflect our keen awareness of the changing competitive circumstances in French television. Particularly if the proposed deal involving TVA and Quatre Saisons goes through, CBC's role as a provider of popular, alternative programming will become even more critical.
At the same time, we will not neglect public broadcasting that consciously serves our specialised tastes and reflects the cultural life of its communities, both in our regular schedule and through special events like our annual celebration of French language theatre, "La Soirée des Masques," which, incidentally, will be aired this Sunday night.
And we have not ignored the needs of radio audiences or the fact that our "Senior Services" will mark their 60th anniversary in 1996. As I said earlier, we want all our services to reflect the regional life of Canada. Next year, our English and French radio networks will celebrate that commitment and their long service to Canada by co-operating in a year-long series of open houses and other special events, both for public participation and producing programming.
I could go into much greater detail about our programming plans and, if we had all afternoon, I'd be more than pleased to do so. But I've said what I have to underline one critical point: ultimately, the CBC's priority has to be to do the best with what we have; to carve out a special place on the broadcasting spectrum.
We have done that, with distinction, for the past 60 years. This country's need for a vehicle that can truly allow us to appreciate whom we are--to share the ideas that bring us together as well as those that come between us; to engage in an informed and civilised debate about our collective future--has never been greater. At this critical point in our lives as a people, no other institution can replace the CBC's ability to help Canadians understand each others' lives and each others' dreams.
The Broadcasting Act sees us as a means to enhance Canadians' "shared national consciousness and identity." It is clear to me that, had the CBC not been playing that role for the better part of this century, Canada would be a very different country today.
Indeed, if we did not continue to act as the mirror of the nation's soul, the most prominent and accessible expression of its hopes, its fears, its triumphs and its pain, I would be deeply concerned about our future as a nation. Simply put, I believe the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is the most important instrument we have to assure the vitality and, perhaps, the very survival of a distinct Canadian identity. We believe the vision and the concrete measures I have announced today will help us make an even greater contribution in the future.
The challenges for the CBC are massive. We must confront the same issues in technology and in the marketplace as private broadcasters must face, and we must do so at a time when the Corporation's public funding is being severely reduced. But we will not shrink from the struggle. Despite all the difficulties, we will put our finances in order and we will provide Canadians with a national public broadcaster that enriches and strengthens this country for many years yet to come.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Bill Laidlaw, Director, Government Relations, Glaxo Wellcome and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.