Speech by Scott Hutton, Official Languages Champion and Executive Director, Broadcasting, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
To the Official Languages Best Practices Forum
December 5, 2013
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Good morning and thank you for inviting me. It’s a great pleasure for me personally to represent the CRTC at this forum. I am the CRTC’s champion of official languages and a passionate believer in the importance of linguistic duality in Canada.
I learned firsthand the significance of Canada’s official language minority communities (OLMCs) at a young age. After living for many years in Montreal, my anglophone family moved to Sept-Îles in northern Quebec. During my years growing up there, I lived the challenge of absorbing and immersing one’s self in a new francophone culture while working hard to preserve my anglophone identity. I saw how local institutions and services help preserve the cultures of OLMCs, and how decisions made by governments can change the nature and shape of those institutions. And I learned that OLMCs are everywhere in Canada—and each has its own very distinct identity.
As a result, I have a deep appreciation for the role played by OLMCs and the importance assigned to Canada’s official languages.
We’ve been invited here today to share with you some of the CRTC’s best practices with respect to the maintenance of an ongoing dialogue with OLMCs. I want to give you a few examples of the ways in which we make bilingualism and minority language rights a top consideration not only in the decisions we take but also in our internal operations.
We at the CRTC are deeply proud of the contributions we make to support the goals of these Acts. Yet we know that continued success requires vigilance. Dialogue and consultation must be supported by ongoing work if we are to continue to meet the goals of the legislation and advance the interests of Canada’s OLMCs.
In a few minutes, I will talk about some of the decisions the CRTC has taken recently that demonstrate how we deliver on our commitments to OLMCs. But I’d like to begin by describing the CRTC’s obligations under the OLA and the Broadcasting Act, and how we address these objectives in our everyday work.
As you all know, section 41 of the Official Languages Act requires the CRTC to take meaningful measures to enhance the vitality of Canada’s English and French linguistic minority communities, to help in the development of these communities and to foster the full recognition and use of English and French throughout Canada.
One of the ways that we support these goals is by ensuring that the country’s broadcasting system reflects Canada’s linguistic duality, and by addressing, where reasonable, the particular needs of OLMCs.
In our capacity as an administrative tribunal, the CRTC’s work differs from those of the organizations that many of you represent. Our mandate allows us to create policies and impose conditions of licence on broadcasters to ensure that their programming reflects Canada’s linguistic and cultural duality. However we don’t take this responsibility lightly. We maintain a fiduciary duty towards the Broadcasting system and are mindful of the impact of our policies and decisions.
One of the most effective tools that we have at our disposal to help educate ourselves about the particular needs and interests of OLMCs is our CRTC-OLMC discussion group. Created in 2007, the group comprises 27 organizations from every province and territory as well as representatives from Canadian Heritage. The CRTC’s Chairman, Chief Consumer Officer and other senior staff have also participated at meetings of the discussion group.
It is a forum for communication and cooperation. It’s also an important avenue through which the CRTC identifies ways to maximize these communities’ participation in our public proceedings.
Although we meet formally with the OLMC discussion group twice a year, we’re in contact with its members regularly. We have to be. Their input is critical to ensuring that the CRTC continues to deliver against its legislative obligations.
The work of this group does not, however, replace the need for its constituents to appear at our public hearings. Rather, it is a venue in which the CRTC provides OLMCs with the tools they need to prepare for, and participate effectively in, our public hearings. The ongoing dialogue we have with OLMCs through this group helps all parties understand each others’ priorities and build effective arguments to advance their points before our commission hearings.
The CRTC is a quasi-judicial body whose decisions are based on the evidence that is on the public record. That’s why it is critical that OLMCs’ voices are added to the public record, so that we can take their realities and needs fully into account when making our decisions.
Continuous consultation such as this is one of four activities that the CRTC described in our results-based action plan for the implementation of section 41 of the OLA. The other three are communication, coordination and awareness. Let me explain the significance of each briefly.
With regard to communication, we keep OLMCs systematically and regularly informed of all proceedings that affect them to ensure that they have an opportunity to participate. We do this through our discussion group, over email and via an online hearings calendar posted on the special official language and minority communities page of our website.
Under the heading of coordination, we share information and best practices with our partners at Canadian Heritage and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
Finally, on the subject of awareness, we maintain a number of internal activities that keep official languages top of mind in our regular operations. For example, we offer information sessions on section 41 and OLMCs for all staff and Commissioners. We conduct senior management meetings in alternating languages: one in English, the next in French, and so on. We provide simultaneous translation for Commissioners, interveners and audience members during our hearings. We systematically assess the impacts of our decision-making process on Canada’s OLMCs.
We are always eager to discover new ways to promote official languages within our offices. This past fall, we created an internal video to promote the CRTC’s various champions, which was inspired by superheroes. You might be interested to learn that I was cast as Scott “Hulk” Hutton—the mild mannered public servant who transforms into his other self when official-language policies are not adhered to.
The value of the activities I just described—consultation, communication, coordination and awareness—can’t be overstated when it comes to helping the CRTC deliver against its legislative obligations. Each in its own way forms part of the dialogue we have with OLMCs. We’re consulting with them directly. We’re communicating with them regularly. We’re coordinating with other agencies of government to respect their needs and we’re refining our own internal processes to ensure the ideas we hear from them inform and guide our thinking.
OLMC feedback in decisions
Yet such dialogue is effective only when it’s backed up by action. Let me now share with you a handful of examples of how OLMC feedback has helped shape some of our recent decisions. I’ll start with our May 2013 decision to renew the CBC’s English and French-language radio and television broadcasting licences.
As the national public broadcaster, the CBC plays a vital role in supporting Canada’s OLMCs. In fact, the Broadcasting Act requires that its programming be in French and English and that it reflects, among other things, the particular needs and circumstances of OLMCs.
Through the efforts of our CRTC-OLMC group and via the participation of its member associations in our public hearing, we heard a great deal about the importance of the CBC’s programming for the development and vitality of these minority language communities. Accordingly, our licence-renewal decision included positive measures—in the form of conditions of licence—to ensure that the CBC continues to meet its obligations under the Broadcasting Act.
Some of the requirements that the CBC must meet under its new licence terms include:
- maintaining a balanced schedule
- broadcasting productions that are created in OLMCs
- ensuring that OLMCs are reflected in news and information programming
- consulting regularly with OLMCs
- meeting stricter reporting requirements, and
- offering specific levels of local programming in the markets that serve OLMCs.
This last point in particular is critical. In 2009, the CBC significantly reduced its local programming on CBEF, its French-language station in Windsor, Ontario. Public reaction to the decision was immediate and intense. Listeners complained and even established a coalition to save the station’s local programming.
The following year, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages brought the matter before the Federal Court, alleging that the CBC had contravened its obligations under the Official Languages Act by failing to hold consultations with the Southwestern Ontario OLMC and by failing to properly study the impacts of its decision.
During our public hearing, OLMC interveners were loud and clear about the importance of local programming on CBEF. They told us that given their proximity to the United States, they found it difficult to maintain their Canadian culture, let alone their francophone identity. They also told us that Windsor had one of the highest assimilation rates of francophones among French OLMCs in Canada.
We listened and we acted. In our renewal decision, we established minimum levels of local programming for CBEF as a condition of licence. That condition will go a long way toward protecting the particular identity of francophone communities in southwestern Ontario.
After we issued our decision, OLMC groups came forward with kind words. The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada in particular praised us for listening to, and acting on, its feedback when it came to ensuring that the CBC continued to reflect francophone OLMC interests in communities across the country. That was gratifying for us, and proof positive that the work the CRTC does in conjunction with OLMC communities and interest groups makes a real difference in the lives of Canadians.
The other recent decision that I’m sure will be of interest is the one we took in August. We approved nine of 22 applications for mandatory distribution on cable and satellite companies’ digital basic television services. These are decisions we do not take lightly. We consider mandatory distribution on the basic service to be a great privilege. Accordingly, the bar we set for applicants to prove their worth is very high.
One of the services to which we awarded mandatory carriage was Nouveau TV5, a French-language specialty channel that broadcasts two separate feeds, one of which—TV5 Unis—focuses on the Canadian fancophonie, including OLMCs. In our decision, we found that Unis would contribute significantly to the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. Moreover, we saw that the case for Nouveau TV5 was backed by more than 5,000 interventions, including from OLMCs across the country—confirmation enough for us that there was extraordinary need for the service.
We also made ARTV—the national French-language arts specialty television service maintained by the CBC—available in anglophone markets. All distributors must offer ARTV, yet Canadians may choose whether to subscribe to the service.
As our Chairman, Jean-Pierre Blais, said recently to the Community of Federal Regulators, we are using new strategies to encourage dialogue with Canadians, stakeholders and public servants on key regulatory issues. This includes, of course, our discussions with OLMCs. I’d like to give you three quick examples.
First, we recently concluded the public consultation phase of Let’s Talk TV: A Conversation with Canadians. Thanks to the work of our joint discussion group, OLMCs have provided extensive feedback into the future of Canada’s television system. These groups are organizing several Flash! conferences where they will meet informally to talk about the future of TV and report back to the CRTC on their discussions.
Second, during our recent public hearing on video-relay services, we offered simultaneous interpretation in American Sign Language and Langue des signes québécoise. Of course, these aren’t official languages in the conventional sense of the term, but nonetheless, our efforts demonstrate a consideration for such minority groups.
Finally, we’re using social media and other new technologies extensively. During public hearings, we are using Skype to allow people in other cities, provinces and territories to appear remotely and distributing the presentations of interveners via our English and French Twitter feeds.
I said at the outset that the CRTC is proud of the contributions we make in support of the goals of the OLA and the interests of Canada’s OLMCs. In every policy we make and every decision we take, we are mindful to consider the interests of these groups and the importance of maintaining linguistic duality. We accomplish this aim not only by building and maintaining internal processes that respect these important considerations, but also by consulting regularly with OLMC groups from across the country.
Yet even the best, most effective consultations ring hollow if they’re not backed up by tangible action. Our decisions and our ongoing activities demonstrate a clear commitment to listening to, and acting on, the concerns of OLMCs from across the country. I’d venture to say that our CBC renewal decision, our mandatory carriage decision, and even our ongoing consultations on television and video relay services speak to this commitment.
But if we are to continue to make meaningful contributions to linguistic duality and to Canadian OLMCs, we cannot rest on our laurels. We must continue to ensure their needs are always foremost in mind. And we must ensure that the dialogue we have with these groups is clearly reflected in our decisions.
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