Speech by Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
To the Standing Committee on Official Languages
February 28, 2013
Check against delivery
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for this invitation to meet with you today.
I would like to begin by introducing my colleague, Scott Hutton, Executive Director of Broadcasting at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Since March 2012, he has also served as the CRTC's official languages champion.
The CRTC is an administrative tribunal that regulates and supervises the Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications systems. The CRTC therefore has obligations under the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act.
In addition, as a federal institution, we have obligations under the Official Languages Act—in particular with respect to communications with the public, the delivery of services, the language of work and the advancement of French and English. I would note that the obligation to promote French and English is also present in the Broadcasting Act.
I will be happy to provide you information on a wide range of issues relating to our operations. There are, however, limits to what I can discuss today, especially with regard to files that are currently under review.
Official languages measures
The CRTC employs approximately 450 people, 54% of whom are francophone and 46% of whom are anglophone. It is a balance we are very proud of, and which sets the tone in our workplace. We actively encourage our employees to use the language of their choice at work, including in meetings. We also provide interpretation services for full Commission meetings and other important meetings.
In 2012, the CRTC won a Public Service Award of Excellence for developing and implementing the "Word of the Day" initiative. Every morning, a note is sent out to all employees on the usage of a word or expression in both languages. The intention, of course, is to promote and enhance the proper use of both languages in the workplace.
In addition, we are always looking to improve our communications with the public in both official languages—at our headquarters, in our regional offices, during public hearings and through our website.
All CRTC communications are issued simultaneously in French and English—from documents on our website to messages on social media. And everything related to client services, including telephone communications, letters and email messages, is bilingual.
We are also revamping our website to better adhere to the Government of Canada standard on Web accessibility and to make it easier to find information.
Also on the topic of our relationship with the public, the CRTC is in regular communication with official language minority communities—better known as OLMCs. We created a discussion group to facilitate the participation of minority groups in the CRTC's public proceedings.
In this forum, OLMCs share their needs and CRTC staff presents relevant information on the proceedings in which OLMCs should participate. It is an ideal tool for staying in touch with the needs of OLMCs in the two sectors that concern us—broadcasting and telecommunications.
Official languages and the CRTC's mandate
In addition to its operations, the CRTC is responsible for issues that are at the heart of Canadian identity and culture, including the means to support the vitality of language minority communities. We see to it that Canadians have access to programs in both official languages.
The CRTC plays a key role in maintaining the availability of programming in both languages across the country. The programming offered to Canadians has grown tremendously—whether on conventional television, specialty channels or radio.
Over the last decade, we have opened the door to a large number of specialty channels to better serve francophones across the country. Since 2001, 14 new French-language specialty channels and two bilingual channels were approved, raising to 33 the number of French-language specialty channels. In addition, 24 new French-language broadcast services have been authorized, but are not yet on the air.
Furthermore, I would like to remind you that the Commission has implemented a simplified rule for ensuring the distribution, by cable and satellite, of pay and specialty services in the official language of the minority. Television distributors must provide one minority-language service for every 10 official language majority services within a given market.
In 2011, there were a total of 702 television services in Canada, 439 of which were in English, and 101 of which were in French. In that same year, there were 1,189 radio services in Canada, 896 of which were in English, and 251 of which were in French.
I would like to emphasize the importance of community television and radio stations and campus radio stations. These broadcasters play a distinct role within the broadcasting system by offering local programming produced in part by volunteers.
In 2010, the CRTC issued a new policy that gives Canadians more opportunities to participate in their community television channels. The policy also makes it possible for community television to more faithfully reflect the interests of the local population and the context in which they live.
The CRTC also issued, in 2010, a new policy regarding campus and community radio stations. In particular, funding for the Community Radio Fund of Canada has increased by over $700,000, which is distributed among more than 140 campus and community radio stations.
The fundamental issue to which we must be very attentive is that media remain a reflection of official language communities throughout the country. This is the principle that drives our action in terms of official languages these days. Allow me to illustrate this concept through concrete examples.
In December 2012, the CRTC authorized Rogers to acquire a television station in the Montreal region. Rogers committed to broadcasting 15.5 hours of local programming per week, including a morning program reflecting Montreal's English-speaking community.
In addition, we are currently reviewing CBC/Radio-Canada's application to renew its radio and television licences. The question of reflection is one of the main themes of that review. We are examining specifically the quality of the French- and English-language broadcasting services, the representation of official language minority communities and media presence in the regions.
We will also be holding a public hearing in April to review the applications of
16 television services seeking distribution on the basic digital service, in addition to six services seeking to maintain that privilege.
You no doubt have many questions regarding the renewal of the CBC/Radio-Canada licences and the applications for mandatory distribution. I regret that I cannot answer those questions today, given that those proceedings are still under way.
That being said, I have recently stated on a number of occasions that the CRTC's mission is to ensure a world-class communication system for Canadians: Canadians as creators, Canadians as consumers and Canadians as citizens. For me, the availability of services in both official languages across the country, which meet the needs of Canadians, is a matter of "citizenship" and key to our mandate.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, rest assured that the issue of official languages will continue to figure prominently at the CRTC—not only in our operations, but in carrying out our legislative mandate as well.
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