Liveblog of CBC budget town hall

Started 2009.03.25 11:45.

HUBERT LACROIX: Our financial troubles and possible consequences have been the cause of much speculation. As unfortunate as the situation has been, I truly appreciate how well you have been able to maintain your collective concentration on our programs and services.

Our executive team and I have been working (on a solution), and it’s not been fun. We can’t really escape the realities that are affecting the economies of the world. We are here today to expand on what’s in store for our Corporation.

I know that some of you might be more anxious than others, that some of you may be angry or puzzled by it, actually upset. That’s understandable – and it’s OK. Some of you might have questions that we don’t have answers for; that’s OK.

The changes are significant and will take time to talk through – more thoroughly not only with you, but with our stakeholders, partners and audiences across the country. This isn’t something we can deal with in one moment; (you can) trust that our communication will be ongoing and you will get all of the information you need. And believe me when I say that we will work through this together.

As for today, here’s what we’re doing. We pre-recorded a presentation a couple of days ago in both French and English. My presentation is in both languages [which, we will later hear, run intermixed at the same time on the sole audio channel] . I will talk to you about my three priorities – people, programs, and our safeguard (protection) plan and how they will be affected. Richard and Sylvain will then discuss how programs will be affected. Then we’ll come back here for a few questions and answers and we’ll wrap up.

[English and French videos run simultaneously with both audio tracks overlapping each other. Way to go, national governing broadcaster.]

(Stursberg comes on, with the same overlapping of audio.)

(Sylvain comes on, thankfully speaking single-track English.) The real global problem for French services now is about $51 million. Then $34 million we have to solve internally. 336 positions to be eliminated, 70 from the regions. Money’s lower but layoffs are higher (compared to English) because we have a lot of people producing things internally.

Will try to organize schedule to preserve the ability of our services to bounce back. Two or three months. Will try to recover right after that [after when?] as the most powerful information and news services and be at the centre of Canadian life for all Francophones across the country. Thank you for helping us manage this difficult situation.

(French-language speaker admits audio problem. Then says it in English. Just go to iO, he tells us!) It’s important stuff, what we’ve just said.

As I told you from the outset, operational details will be told to you by teams rolling out in the next 24 hours. We have thousands of employees to meet, so please be patient with us. Expect to hear more about how this plan affects you, your group, your colleagues. (Can pose questions on iO.)


  1. Q. from Felicia Chin in Calgary: (No audio.)

  2. Q. from Chantal Gélicas from Outaouais: (No audio.)

  3. Q. from woman in French: Don’t you think your $125 million in asset savings are a bit high in the current market, and what happens if you don’t hit that?

    A. (French): Some funds are due from certain transactions in accounts. Those aren’t effected by the economic environment. We’re quite confident we can put together the $125M.

    A. (English): We’re looking at two groups of assets in the short term – amounts owed to us that we accelerate, which affects the budget in the years to come but gives us cash on hand. Second is real estate – try to see if we can sell and lease back. If we don’t get there, we have to go back to the drawing board.

  4. Q. from woman (French): (Unintelligible; no answer given anyway.)

  5. Q. from man: Budget reductions will do what to audience levels?

    A. (French): We’ve done a lot of work on that. Next year’s ratings shouldn’t change. We’re still growing on the Web.

    A. (English): Target this year was 8% share on TV; we are at 8.9%. I think that if we had not had these reductions we could have grown faster, but we have smart ideas in mind to preserve what we’ve got. Radio: Trying to maintain our share, but lift Radio 2.

  6. Q. in writing (French): What about salary increases? (Restated in English: There’s a shortfall on salary funding. What’s that all about?)

    A. from Hubie: We were expecting and the government has identified an increase of 2.3%–2.5% in salaries. Government rolled that back to 1.5%, a $7.5M hit.

  7. Q. from woman: (Unintelligible.) (Diversity in the workforce?)

    A. from woman: If we understand the question correctly, we’ve been planning for a while now to mitigate the damage through a voluntary retirement program so we can protect our junior employees [sic – hold them to that promise] and manage diversity through the workforce. This is a real key driver for us and something we are actively working with the unions on.

  8. Q. from woman: CBC Television and revenue shortfall. Why is that every component in the corporation has to come through with job and budget cuts?

    A. That question is an important one. Have to keep a couple of things in mind. We cannot continue to be just a conventional service. What I said in my opening remarks still holds, obviously: When we’re more and more one company and all the services benefit each other and transfer their work from one platform to another as we become a content company. This is all about all of our services being affected the same way. That’s why when our revenues drop, all sorts of revenues have been affected in this financial crisis.

    Stursberg: It’s a $171M problem for the company as a whole and a $60M-to-$65M ad problem.

  9. Q. from man: When you talk about working with the unions to reduce layoffs, tell us more about how that process has been.

    A. We’re trying, in every way possible, to reduce the impact on employees. But with voluntary retirement and other programs, we hope to reduce layoffs. What we’re trying to do to bring this 800 number down is (voluntary retirement), and those conversations with the union are ongoing.

  10. Q. from woman (apparently in writing): How can you accept to give 50% of the bonuses to senior management? Will you counsel voluntary retirement?

    A. (French): They’re essential in the remuneration of anyone in the company. Tied to goals. They’ll be contributing $4M to the reductions. That contribution is important and needs to continue in the market we’re in.

    A. (English): I know this has been a question. The senior executives of the Corporation and all the managers – all 553 of them – have these amounts paid to them only in circumstances when they meet criteria set in their original objectives. These 553 senior managers and executives will contribute about $4M to cost reduction. That’s a significant amount and represents, for the most senior members, up to 20% less in their take-home pay. I think that’s significant and we’ll do it that way.

  11. Q., French, in writing: (Missed. About how to protect the regions.)

    (Sylvain answers in French.) Stursberg: Increasingly we’ve been trying to push network shows into the regions for radio. Right now about 50% of radio programming is from regions. Same with TV: Regions really matter. That’s why we’ve been growing our supper-hour newscasts. For English services as a whole, about 38% of total costs come from the regions. We have cut the regions about half of their total proportion in the budget, and have succeeded in closing no stations. This is the best compromise we can make.

    Hubie: Important to retain our geographic footprint across the nation, so that’s why we aren’t cutting stations. This all assumes we can get the dollars we need to balance budget.

  12. Q. from woman in French: When you hear the numbers, there seems to be more cuts being made in French than English services, also dollars being taken out.

    A. from Sylvain (French): On French services, particularly in Montreal, we produce a lot internally [I think he means in-house productions] . Budget is about 60% CBC/40% Radio-Canada. But salary costs for Radio-Canada are much higher.

    Hubie: A lot of the French stuff is done internally with our own employees – very different from what CBC English does. But about the same number of employees in the two networks. So when you start taking costs out of French services, a very high number of employees are affected.

HUBIE: You know, obviously this is bad news. We can’t sugarcoat it in any other way. But we can’t afford to get lost. We’re doing really well in some ways. And you guys were reading we are doing exceptionally well in services both en anglais and en français. This is what we have to keep preserving so when the financial crunch is over we’re equipped to be a much better publish broadcaster and to work from a position of strength.

It’s been a tough morning. Thanks for listening to us.

(Ends 2009.03.25 12:44.)

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Updated 2009.03.27 12:17