17 avril 2012

TLMEP Interview with James Moore, April 15

UPDATE: Kudos to Mr. Moore for posting a video of his appearance on TLMEP. Way to understand the digital society!

Written by Tim FitzGerald and Sylvie Lupien

James Moore is the federal minister of Heritage and Official Languages. His department is responsible for, among other things, the application of the Official Languages Act (the law before the constitutional change of 1982 that lays out how Canada is meant to be bilingual), the Naitonal Film Bureau... and CBC/Radio-Canada. A native of British Columbia, he is bilingual enough to come onto TLMEP and speak French.

The tone is set when Moore walks on the set. Over the loud speakers, we hear Offenbach's lead singer Gerry Boulet shout the lyrics: "Ayoye! Tu me fais mal, à mon coeur d'animal." (Ow! You're hurting me!)

Moore is the minister responsible for the CBC and Radio-Canada. Which means he will be the one implementing the $132M in budget cuts to culture as outlined in the federal budget. In a studio deep in the recesses of Maison Radio-Canada, surrounded by RadCan employees and other guests who make a living in part with federal culture funding, is he like Daniel in the lion's den?

Not one to let his lose his cool on a guest, Guy A. rattles off the numbers coldly: $115M to be cut from the CBC/Radio-Canada, $10M from Téléfilm, $17M from the National Film Board... For the CBC, that represents 650 jobs to be cut in the next three years. Pretty rough decision, coming from someone who his Conservative colleagues call Monsieur Radio-Canada Lover.

To put it in perspective, the budget overall counts for $5bil in cuts, and over 19,000 job losses. And even then, Moore reminds us... that cut represents only 0.1% of the Canadian economy. And to take a step back further, we're certainly in a more fortunate situation that other countries right now (cf. Greece, Britain, Italy).

But does the government see the need for a public broadcaster, asks Guy A.? Yes, assets Moore. You wouldn't have any French broadcasts from coast to coast without one.

Moore repeatedly mentions that despite the cuts, much funding of art and culture has been protected. The budget to the Canada Council for the Arts, remains untouched. In fact, much of the cutting will happen within the ministry; the Heritage department is cutting 42% of its public service employees.

The situation of funding is less clear on the ground, guest Guylaine Tremblay tells us. She stars in Les rescapés, and she herself doesn't know with the budget changes if her show will be back next year for a third season. There are rumours it might, but with fewer episodes? The whole thing is unclear.

Wait a minute-- did he just say forty-two percent? Paul Arcand is flabbergasted. How can we afford such cuts? Well, Moore explains that in preparation of the Vancouver Olympics, of which there was a strong cultural component, the bureaucracy was expanded. Now that the Games are over, the need is gone and we can right-size.

So, if Arcand understands correctly... either Moore is flat-out lying that this can be done harmlessly, or his department has had a tremendous amount of waste for the past year and a half!

The conversation changes to a recent editorial cartoon published in Le Journal de Montréal on April 10th. It portrays an F-35 fighter jet on a collision course for the tower of the Montreal Maison Radio-Canada. Does one come at the expense of the other?

The fleet of CF-18s are in need of replacing. Moore defends the government's decision to move ahead by saying it will create jobs in Canada, notably in Quebec's developed aerospace industry.

But look at Aveos! When Air Canada was privatized, they were ordered by law to keep maintenance centres in Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal, and now Aveos, the maintenance company, has gone belly-up. Why isn't the Conservative government doing more to defend the aerospace industry today, as legal obligations aren't being met. Yes, Moore concedes, Air Canada has to explain itself to the Commons, but it will respect the law and keep jobs in Montreal. Will it be a shell of its former self? The minister dodges the question.

By all appearances, notes Turcotte, there is a growing divide between Quebec popular opinion and the Conservative government in Ottawa. Mr. Moore is aware. That's why this is his sixth appearance in Montreal in the past two months, to build bridges. But why are there bridges to be built?

Recently some unilingual Anglophones have been appointed to high-level public offices, notably Auditor General Michael Ferguson and Supreme Court nominee, Michael Moldaver. As federal minister responsible for the application of Canada's official languages, is that acceptable? Using his politi-ju-jitsu, he avoids the question of Fergusson, saying he's worked as auditor general in New Brunswick, Canada's only officially bilingual province, and he's super-duper-promised to really work on his French. As for the Supreme Court, he does find it's acceptable as to do otherwise would rule out a majority of otherwise qualified applicants, be they Anglo or Franco, from being considered.

René Richard Cyr speaks up at this point, saying he actually doesn't mind having Conservatives in power, if only because they are transparent in their position. All he's hearing from the minister's mouth is numbers, numbers and more numbers. No actual talk about culture itself.

One interesting remark is

Why This Matters

  • As mentioned numerous times during the interview, Quebec has an important cultural industry. Local music is strong (Canadian content requirements has helped this in English Canada as well), as well as local television and film production.
  • RadCan is part of the Quebec landscape, and it was on this network taht we saw Quebec culture emerge in all its forms, including theatre, film, music and comedy. At the time of the Quiet Revolution, it was the only game in town. To this day, it is the only network that holds as a value or policy to portray culture in all aspects.
  • Radio-Canada is one of only four major francophone broadcasters broadcasters in Quebec. The others:
    • TVA and V are private, and while they do have more local content than CTV or Global, a lot of their material is dubbed from American sources
    • Télé-Québec, the provincial broadcaster, makes gems out of the paltry budget it has, but much of its airtime is dedicated to the mission of culture and education, and less to entertainment
  • English Canada, by comparison that has not only three Canadian major networks (five if you count CTV 2 and Citytv?), but its viewers along the border (or who have cable or satellite) also have American broadcasters to watch.
Let's talk a little bit about laws and obligations

  • One of the outcomes of the Quiet Revolution is Ottawa's enshrinement of Canada's bilingual status in the Official Languages Act.
    • It codified the rights to federal services in French and English across the country, according to needs.
    • It promises the right to address the courts in either language.
    • The appointment of unilingual people in key positions raises concerns over the Conservatives commitment to maintaining bilingualism.
  • Air Canada was a crown corporation, owned by the federal government (and coincidentally therefore subject to the Official Languages Act). When the company was privatized by law in 1989, a number of requirements were set. Among them, that it has to remain headquartered in Montreal, that it has to continue to operate in both languages, and that it had to keep maintenance centres in Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg.

More Food for Thought

Canada is far from the only country with an editorially autonomous public national broadcaster like the CBC/Radio-Canada, but not all countries have Canada's model.
  • Britain's BBC collects funds directly from the public through licenses on television sets.
  • Most of us are familiar with the American Public Broadcasting System, where funding comes from a mix of US Congress, state support, private corporate "underwriters", and of course, "Viewers Like You" who donate during telethons and get lovely tote bags out of the deal.
  • Public broadcasting in the Netherlands gets its funding from the government, but its content is managed under an interesting membership model: if you are more interested in arts and culture programming, you become a member of that broadcasting association, and that association gets airtime proportional to its membership.
  • In Germany, broadcasting is a state-level (Bundesland) responsibility and not a federal one. There's a fair deal of local programming, but also, in an example of cooperative federalism, national channels where they share content.

More Analysis

Chantal Hébert from Toronto StarJames Moore can’t repair Quebec rift on his own. Published Apr 16, 2012

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