CBC in the Face of Change
Publication
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 25 Apr 1991, p. 444-457
Description
Speaker
Veilleux, Gérard, Speaker
Media Type
Text
Item Type
Speeches
Description
The country and one of the institutiuons that best embodies it—the CBC both passing through a difficult moment. The CBC as an institution that reflects the nation and so also reflects the stresses of the country and of the time. The speaker's address concerns the journey "we at the CBC have begun, of the directions we have defined, of the terrain we must transit, and of the markers we have set along the road to measure our progress." An attempt to marry two distinctly different approaches: the hard-headed, sharp-pencilled perspective of the corporate sector; that of the visionary programmers and broadcasters who have given Canada an outstanding international reputation, and whose creativity is the glue that alone can bond the national broadcasting service to Canadians and let them recognize the CBC as immediately and distinctively theirs. Using private sector means to achieve public sector ends. Reshaping the relationship between CBC television and Canadians so that it better reflects them, as CBC radio is perceived to reflect Canadians. A detailed discussion follows various issues facing the CBC and Canadians. They include how the world sees us; how we see ourselves; the role of the CBC; some of the tasks facing the CBC; costs; budgets cuts; some dollar details; how the CBC has dealt with the budget cuts; operating constraints; the unique nature of the CBC and what if offers Canadians; the context in which the CBC must operate; competing in global markets; plans for the immediate future; the legitimate role for a public broadcaster; programming; setting some priorities. Providing the CBC with the means to continue to make its noble contribution.
Date of Original
25 Apr 1991
Subject(s)
Language of Item
English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
Gerard Veilleux, President and CEO, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
CBC IN THE FACE OF CHANGE
Chairman: Harold Roberts President

Introduction:

Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the "Last Supper"; well, for me, this is the last lunch; at least as President of The Empire Club. It has been a wonderful year for me and it seems that it has flown by. Just about eleven months ago our second speaker of my year was Mr. Keith Spicer, then Chairman of the C.R.T.C. Over this year, many issues have been raised at this platform that have reflected a year of turmoil in Canadian history; post Meech Lake struggles over Canadian unity; a War that involved Canadian forces, and a major recession.

Throughout this year, The Empire Club of Canada has provided a forum of dialogue that has touched upon all of these issues and many more; and it seems somewhat ironic to me that we have begun and ended this year with speakers who have powerful controls over the "voice of Canada", our national communications network. Voices speak, but do we have the capacity to listen? There is struggle in our land and the C.B.C. is very much a part of it. How can we provide the best voice for Canada for the least amount of money?

The challenge falls squarely on the shoulders of our guest speaker today, Mr. Gerard Veilleux, President of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In fact, that is exactly the job description as written in the Globe and Mail in October of 1989. "Task: cut C.B.C. spending by $140 million by 1994, yet provide first-class broadcasting services to all Canadians."

A few days later the Globe began another article that spoke of Mr. Veilleux by saying:

"The Royal Canadian Air Farce had the best joke so far about the new C.B.C. appointment. They said Patrick Watson had been hired to restore excellence in programming and reaffirm the country's faith in public broadcasting. The other guy, they said, was hired to make sure Watson doesn't have the money to do it."

A graduate in Commerce from Laval University, Mr. Veilleux went on to earn a Master's Degree in Public Administration at Carlton. From there he went to work in the Finance Department of the Manitoba Government.

In 1965 he returned to Ottawa where he has continued to work, except for a brief stint in the Quebec civil service, in several areas of the federal civil service. After working in various senior positions of the government, including terms where he reported directly to Prime Ministers Trudeau and Mulroney (he must have flexibility), he was appointed to his current position.

He does have a reputation for quiet hard work, frugality, and yet he knows his people. He is the author of "Les relations inter-gouvernementales au Canada, 1867-1967."

Mr. Mulroney asked our speaker to become President of the C.B.C. as of November 1, 1989.

We welcome Gerard Veilleux to The Empire Club of Canada.

Gerard Veilleux:

Canada is going through a searing time and the outcome is unclear. Canadians seek a renewed sense of direction, of purpose, of confidence in themselves. Canada needs to revive its collective will to survive as a country.

I can't think of a more appropriate take-off point than this for my remarks today, because we at the CBC are going through equally searing times. And we are in a similar process of redefinition.

It should not be a surprise that our country and one of the institutions that best embodies it--the CBC--should both be passing through such a difficult moment. Why would an institution so reflective of the nation not also reflect the stresses of the country and of the time?

I think I can fairly say, however, that we at the CBC have a better view now of the future we can create for this institution of national importance, and one of the world's unique national public broadcasting services.

That is what I would like to talk about today. I want to convey to you a sense of the journey we at the CBC have begun, of the directions we have defined, of the terrain we must transit, and of the markers we have set along the road to measure our progress.

I also want to forewarn you that I will attempt to see more of you. As CEO of the corporation, I believe you have something to offer me in terms of the experience you have with your own corporations. So I will be calling on you and on other Canadians across the country in the weeks ahead to share my ideas with you, seek your ideas on the CBC of the future and hopefully get your support for it.

In the meantime, I hope you will be able to leave today with a clear sense of what I am doing and why I am doing it. You will see that, in defining the route the CBC intends to take, I have attempted to marry two distinctly different approaches: one is the hard-headed, sharp-pencilled perspective of the corporate sector; the second is that of the visionary programmers and broadcasters who have given Canada an outstanding international reputation, and whose creativity is the glue that alone can bond our national broadcasting service to Canadians and let them recognize the CBC as immediately and distinctively theirs. I have called this approach: using private sector means to achieve public sector ends.

And I hope, too, that you will leave here today with a renewed sense of confidence as to our capacity as Canada's public broadcasting service to make that journey.

And the ultimate destination of that journey? In a very real sense, to echo Marshall McLuhan, the journey itself is the destination.

I would be very happy indeed, if Canadians could come again to see us as the late Northrop Frye saw us in a wonderful private letter he wrote 17 years ago after a particularly bumptious regulatory hearing about the CBC. He wrote: "All of those people, coming from such incredible distances, with such an immense variety of briefs and beefs, all descending on Ottawa in a mood of exasperated proprietary affection, of the land that one might have for a pet dog with muddy feet."

Exasperated proprietary affection! What a wonderful definition of the relationship we should seek with Canadians.

My most recent experience with CRTC hearings, persuaded me, going through the "briefs and beefs" of the 200 interveners, that the essential "exasperated proprietary affection" Canadians have toward the CBC remains strong.

That is an incredibly important feeling in terms of our reshaping the relationship, in particular, between CBC television and Canadians so that it better reflects them, as CBC radio is perceived to reflect Canadians.

Reflecting Canadians is where the ultimate strength of the CBC as a national public service must lie. And that feeling is equally important in helping to re-build the ties among Canadians. That is where the strength of the country must also ultimately be.

Canadians must believe with "exasperated proprietary affection" the CBC is theirs. The way the CBC informs and entertains them reflects the Canada they know and want. They must believe that it helps to distinguish Canadians in the broader world, and that it gives them a window on each other and on the world.

Canadians have contributed an immense amount to that world.

Canadians have discovered, or devised, or developed, or invented combines and domed stadiums, insulin and canola oil, telephone switches and the Canadarm, the snowmobile and peace-keeping forces. Canadians have pushed out the theoretical boundaries of theology and communications, chemistry and plant genetics.

Our writers, our film makers, our musicians, English and French, are internationally acclaimed, so too are our poets, our photographers, our hockey players and (dare I say it?) one Blue Jays pitcher, Denis Boucher.

And, we built a quite extraordinary public broadcasting service and the teams, literally, teams of the most talented people in broadcasting anywhere in the world, to operate a radio and a television service in two languages across six time zones over a vast territory covering a distance equal to that from Madrid to Moscow. And we did it some 30 years before the Americans came to consider such an idea and established their own version of public broadcasting.

These are the examples of achievements of a first-class country, a country with a culture that meets the essential criteria of greatness set out by the historian, Femand Braudel. A great culture, he wrote, exports itself.

That is how the world sees us--as creative, dependable people who have exported and contributed to that world. We would do well to look at ourselves as others do and see ourselves as they do. Canadians should stop their unfortunate habit of displaying their pride about themselves and their institutions only when they are outside the country. Too often we seem to see each other--not as friends and compatriots and as fellow contributors to a better Canada and a better world, which is what we are--but as competing entities vying for an undefined national vision. We are so much better than that.

We at the CBC know our first task. We have to clean and clear and reopen our windows on each other. We must help Canadians to hear as well as to listen, to see as well as to watch. That is the basic service we can and must provide.

That is an immense task, to allow us to see each other not as we fear but as we hope--and to help re-open a future founded in the tolerance and understanding that springs from hope rather than the debilitating sense of grievance and alienation that springs from fear and intolerance.

Why must this objective subsume others? Because the survival of Canada, simply, is a condition precedent for the kind of CBC I have directed my efforts toward. And in turn, a strong and stable CBC will nobly assist Canada to survive.

That does not mean making unity--or any particular means of achieving unity--an editorial position around which all our principles would be based. News is news, and we will cover the debate about our national future with all the clear-headed, clear-eyed objectivity we do bring to covering all news.

But it does mean, as I said, that we have to help Canadians clear and clean and open windows on each other so that, whatever decision is ultimately made, it will be based on knowledge and not on ignorance.

I know that, to many of you here, television means the national news, perhaps the journal, and occasionally an opportunity to relax with a sporting event or a movie. You are busy people and you have many other windows to the world.

But for many, indeed for most people, television represents the most powerful communications tool they have. This is where our children learn their contemporary history, develop their values and sharpen their language skills. Television is where most adults get the information to form opinions, where they see themselves in dramas, laugh at themselves in comedies and where they see and experience the geography and lifestyles of their own country.

But the reality is that Canadians have far more opportunity to experience the values, lifestyles, history and images of the United States than they do of Canada. Most of the television we see in this country is American. Indeed the CBC is the only service which is dedicated to being Canadian, to telling Canadian stories, to looking at the world through Canadian eyes, and to establishing the values and history of the country in which we live.

This is why I say that while the CBC has an uncertain future without Canada, Canada and Canadians have an uncertain future without the CBC. That is so because the CBC is the only expression of our national identity, our "Canadianess", our sovereignty. An executive producer of a U.S. radio program carried on 180 stations in the United States, in a recent open letter to the Globe and Mail stated:

"How Canada solves the challenge to Confederation remains to be determined. I believe the imagination will be found to invent a new structure one that can be a model to other countries. But without a CBC, the chances are greater that a new form of colonialism will be invented instead."

That is the domestic context within which I had to redefine our corporate mission and values, our goals and objectives, our priorities and our strategy for achieving them.

There is another important aspect of the broad and difficult context within which we all have to operate--the world beyond our borders, the global--and globalizing--environment.

In the past year, at home and abroad we have confronted:--The continuing fragmentation of what we once called the Communist Bloc;

- The collapse of the Meech Lake Accord and the resulting constitutional crisis;

- The Oka crisis;

- The invasion of Kuwait and its liberation, with the attendant human and environmental horrors;

- The recession, as well as the adjustment Canadians have had to make because of the goods and services tax; and,

- As bad as anything, the flight of the Kurds to die, 1,000 a day perhaps, mostly infants and old people, in the mountains just outside of Turkey and Iran.

The CBC has been in all those places covering all those events and issues, reporting alike a first minister's conference, a legislator named Elijah Harper, a masked man named Lasagna, a general named Schwarzkopf, and a nameless Kurd with a scrap of paper bearing the address of a cousin in a promised land called Rexdale--surely, the ultimate metaphor for the suburbs of the global village.

The CBC has been there, in French and in English, on radio and on television, around the clock, for constitutional crisis, for war and for exodus, for soldier and for refugee, for stealth fighter and for raw sewage. The CBC has been there for you.

I suggest that it is in this national and global context of rapid, and occasionally turbulent and confused changes that we must fulfil the requirement to truly "Canadianize" our television networks, and to effectively cover urgent events in a troubled world, and a troubled Canada through Canadian eyes so that Canadians understand the implications for their own lives, through our news and our artistic expression. That is what CBC exists to do and only it can do it the Canadian way.

It is in this context that I had to match real dollars to real people with real faces.

Let me get down to detail, to hard numbers. When I arrived at the CBC 17 months ago, I faced the need--no, the necessity--to cut $50 million from the CBC's budgets over four years.

Ultimately, I put to the Board of Directors a plan to do all the cuts in three years, rather than four, with as much upfront as we could bear. Moreover, that plan concentrated the cuts on staff functions and at head office, so as to preserve programming.

In January 1990, I announced cuts of $35 million, most of them focussed on head office and staff functions.

As part of this first round, among other things, I eliminated CBC Enterprises. The communications department at head office was reduced by 50 percent. Head office staff at the so-called Bronson Bunker was cut by 20 percent.

Head office costs now represent three percent of the operating costs of the corporation. Three percent for a decentralized and regulated corporation.

But the impact of on-going government restraint combined with a further weakening of the advertising markets necessitated yet another round of cuts.

This time I had to find another $108 million. And on December 5, I announced this second round of cuts, barely 11 months after the first one.

With these two rounds in 1990, the number of jobs at the CBC will be reduced by 15 percent and its expenditure budget by about 10 percent.

Let me put this in graphic terms. If the government itself were to do that, the size of the public service would be reduced by 35,000 jobs, and the federal expenditure budget would be down by $10 billion.

That is what the CBC did in one year.

In 1991 Canadians will pay, in real terms, for increased CBC services the same as they did in 1984: a dime a day.

It has been a very painful process, in a corporate sense and in a personal sense.

It is much easier, as all of you know, for a CEO to deal with person years than to deal with persons.

Bluntly put, we have done the job of expenditure reduction. Real people are without jobs. Real programs are gone. What is our situation now? Let me deal just briefly with the downside possibilities.

To do some of the things we need to do, some modest additional money is required. I have no assurance these funds will be provided.

Further cuts, I am convinced, would put in peril CBC's capacity to fulfil the mandate that Parliament has just approved. And I have no assurance that further cuts will not be required.

Let me be very clear on what that would mean. It would mean more programs, more stations, and more jobs would have to be eliminated.

But the darkest aspect of our future is not only specific dollars for specific programs or specific years. It is also the fundamental structural problem that goes right back to our origins as a public broadcaster.

Simply stated: We have a fixed mandate and flexible financing. I have been handed a job which is legally defined, but not given the necessary tools to do it.

Private corporations, I know, face cuts and pain just as we do. But when they have to face unexpected difficulties for which they did not budget, they can do something I cannot. They can borrow.

I cannot, by law, borrow a single penny, nor can I carry a deficit.

So I am denied, by law, some of the most basic instruments most of you have for managing the peaks and valleys of life in the market place.

Yet, like you, CBC has to compete. And as surprising as it may sound, I think I can claim that I face greater competition than you do.

I have to compete in commercial markets for advertising revenue against private broadcasters and other media. But I also have to compete in the bureaucratic markets for government revenue against many other expenditure programs.

While some of you may think this can be an advantage, you should also realize that sometimes--like in the last year -we lose in both markets.

But when we lose, I can't always cut the cloth to fit the suit. I can't put it on plastic. I can't take a second--or even a first--mortgage.

And what's more, I manage a creative organization. I cannot assemble a creative programming team on a moment's notice, dismantle it, reassemble it, and expect our viewers and listeners to remain. To do its job, CBC requires fixed multi-year funding to match its fixed multi year programming mandate. Unless it is provided, there will come a time when our shrinking resources, simply, will not allow us to fulfil the mandate of a public broadcaster.

When we reach that point--if we reach it, and we will do everything possible to avoid it--it will not be for us but for Parliament to decide which one is to give: the mandate or the money.

But that is for the future and perhaps never. For now, let me turn to the upside, what the CBC is here for, the nature of the service we intend to provide Canadians in the future by reshaping the corporation with the resources we have.

Going through what we have gone through has forced all of us to see more clearly what the CBC can be, and to toughen and temper our will to make it so.

We have a very clear sense of our strategy. We have a clear and shared sense of where we are going, why we are going there and how we intend to get there. We have a clear and shared sense of what we need to do and, consequently, a very clear sense of what we are not going to do with the resources we have.

What we are going to do? Our first task is to protect our core program services to the greatest extent possible. By core programs I mean radio, AM and FM, French and English. I mean television, French and English. Six broadcast networks in all. That is the core.

What we are not going to do is devote scarce resources to non-core functions such as Radio Canada International and the parliamentary channel. They are not basic to the CBC of the future but rather a logical extension of external diplomacy in the first instance, and of parliamentary democracy in the other. And that is how they should be and will be financed--by the government, not as part of the CBC.

Within the core of our business, however, what are the priorities to be, given the resources we have?

Those priorities are, and in order, national programming, regional programming, inter-regional programming and local programming. I repeat, in that order.

Under national programming, we intend to increase Canadian content on CBC television prime time to 91 percent this fall. CBC does not exist to show predominately U.S. programming. We can't know each other, or even see each other as Canadians, through programs made by others. It is as simple as that.

And with a modest increase in our resources we would continue to increase Canadian content, to improve the quality of our French-language television. We would provide more network productions from the regions. We would have more cross-cultural programs. And, we would establish a French-language equivalent of Newsworld.

The network--radio and television, French and English--is the only means by which Canadians can hear and see each other, coast to coast, in two languages. Preserving that is basic to fulfilling the mandate.

But preservation is only a start. We need to consider new concepts in programming, in funding, in the presentation of commercials and other means such as corporate sponsorship, so that CBC services will be more immediately recognizable to anyone, anywhere.

The legitimate role for a public broadcaster is to reflect the distinctiveness of Canada and Canadians to each other and to the world. To choose that focus is simply to choose Canada. I chose Canada.

The second of the priorities I set out is regional programming.

Under our regional priority, we are putting in place the final details of a new supper-hour news show which will better reflect the provincial dimensions of life in Canada.

This new approach to suppertime news at the CBC is based on one program for each province rather than the direct head to head local competition with private broadcasting which we have been used to. We're redesigning the whole approach to early evening programming and when we launch this fall I think you will find new, exciting, innovative programs which better reflect the reality of this country.

An important part of this redesign is my view that our future does not lie in more bricks and mortar of local and regional real estate but in the programs themselves that reflect the perception and creativity of our regions.

As a result we are in the process of transforming certain of our existing stations into what we call news bureaus and in the future, resources permitting, we hope to complete a system of these small, flexible, production units across the country. In this way all of our regions will be able to contribute to the regional shows and to our networks in the same way that we now reflect the rest of the world through foreign correspondents.

A very important part of our regional priority is to try and re-establish the CBC as an instrument by which we can break down some of the solitudes that always mark and occasionally, like now, rend this country.

As well as regional programs which show the regions of the country to themselves there is a need for an inter-regional perspective.

Only if we provide the means by which Canadians can watch and listen to each other can we hope that ultimately they will see and hear and better understand each other.

Addressing this priority has required us to develop a whole new approach to programming--and although I do not want to raise the curtain on your plans just yet-you will see the results on your television sets, in French and English, this fall.

And finally, the fourth of these priorities--our local programming. A great deal of misunderstanding surrounds what I have proposed, so let me make it clear what our intentions are.

First, radio will remain as a local programmer. This is the root of any good radio service. A strong local presence, feeding into regional and network programming. This is how we built the finest radio service in the world and we intend to keep it that way.

In television we intend, not to eliminate our role as a local programmer, but rather through our news bureaus, to reflect Canada's localities to a broader audience, to open a window on Canadians in one locality to Canadians in other localities. We want the CBC to provide a way for Canada's localities to reach out--and see out--into the country and the world, not to provide the means by which they close in upon themselves. We have bunkers enough.

Again, we will devote our resources to programming rather than to buildings. We will devote our resources to the new technologies that make it possible to concentrate on content rather than hardware, on mobility rather than prox unity.

We buy a bus ticket to get us to the story. We don't rent a moving van to bring the story to us. We went to Oka. Oka didn't come to us. This is not radical. It is just plain sensible.

By such means we are, as I said at the outset, both bringing the CBC closer to Canadians and Canadians closer to each other.

By constructive consultations with you and other Canadians across the country, I hope to get your input into a CBC that better reflects what Canadians require, and deserve.

By marrying the fiscal imperatives the private sector knows so well, to this country's best creative talents, I hope we can restore the country's confidence and pride in one of its most important institutional achievements.

That is the journey we have begun.

I hope you will join us and stay with us along the way.

And I hope you will be with us when, once again, Canada's--and the CBC's--biggest problem will simply be to grapple, in Northrop Frye's wonderful phrase, with the "exasperated proprietary affection" of a country that has truly got itself together. A country in which the CBC will have been provided the means to continue to make its noble contribution.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Montague Larkin, Director and Treasurer, The Toronto Arts Council and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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CBC in the Face of Change


The country and one of the institutiuons that best embodies it—the CBC both passing through a difficult moment. The CBC as an institution that reflects the nation and so also reflects the stresses of the country and of the time. The speaker's address concerns the journey "we at the CBC have begun, of the directions we have defined, of the terrain we must transit, and of the markers we have set along the road to measure our progress." An attempt to marry two distinctly different approaches: the hard-headed, sharp-pencilled perspective of the corporate sector; that of the visionary programmers and broadcasters who have given Canada an outstanding international reputation, and whose creativity is the glue that alone can bond the national broadcasting service to Canadians and let them recognize the CBC as immediately and distinctively theirs. Using private sector means to achieve public sector ends. Reshaping the relationship between CBC television and Canadians so that it better reflects them, as CBC radio is perceived to reflect Canadians. A detailed discussion follows various issues facing the CBC and Canadians. They include how the world sees us; how we see ourselves; the role of the CBC; some of the tasks facing the CBC; costs; budgets cuts; some dollar details; how the CBC has dealt with the budget cuts; operating constraints; the unique nature of the CBC and what if offers Canadians; the context in which the CBC must operate; competing in global markets; plans for the immediate future; the legitimate role for a public broadcaster; programming; setting some priorities. Providing the CBC with the means to continue to make its noble contribution.