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CBC cuts affect 10 jobs at CBC Montreal; five people let go

For three weeks after CBC President Hubert Lacroix announced cuts equivalent to 657 full-time positions at the public broadcaster, employees at the CBC Montreal office finally learned how those cuts would trickle down at the local level.

This week, I met with Shelagh Kinch, the Quebec regional director for English services, who laid it out for me: 10 positions are being “affected” by the cuts, and at this point it looks like five people will be leaving the CBC as a result.

I explain it all in this story, which appears in Saturday’s Gazette.

The changes break down as follows:

  • Management is being restructured, eliminating the job of news director. Mary-Jo Barr has been let go. Helen Evans will be in charge of both news and current affairs, while Meredith Dellandrea will be in charge of non-daily programs (like Cinq à six, À propos and Our Montreal) and have “a major role” in the CBC Montreal website. “Helen has an extensive background with us,” Kinch said. “She’s probably produced every one of those programs for us. She also has very strong leadership skills. I need somebody that people are behind and people want to work with.”
  • Two retirements won’t be replaced: journalist Ivan Slobod, who left in September after 30 years at the CBC, and Sally Caudwell, who produces Radio Noon.
  • The two part-time jobs producing Cinq à six and À propos are being replaced by one full-time producer. Tanya Birkbeck, who produced Cinq à six, will stay at the CBC as a news reporter. Sophie Laurent, who produced À propos, is out of a job. Frank Opolko will take over producing both jobs.
  • Web development is being centralized in Toronto, and a local developer is being made redundant. The person in that position will be able to apply to the Toronto job, Kinch said.
  • A communications officer position is being made redundant. Catherine Megelas is the unlucky one. She said in a Facebook post that it was “a super shitty day” the day she was told. Redundancy means that the union will try to find another job for her to fill, a process that could take up to 90 days.
  • A late-night camera operator is being reassigned.
  • One arts reporter position is being eliminated. Pierre Landry, the arts reporter for Homerun, is the only one who’s on contract, so his won’t be renewed past the end of June.
  • One position, described as a reassignment, that CBC said it couldn’t give any details on. (UPDATE: It’s anchor Andrew Chang, who’s taking up a new job at CBC outside of Montreal)

The departures will be staggered over the summer, as contracts end, notices are given and alternative jobs explored. But by September, the changes should have taken effect.

Kinch said she was comforted by how much the staff pulled together through this process. Departing employees were flooded with support from their colleagues.

“These people are so amazing. I feel very privileged to work with them,” Kinch said.

I asked her if there was anything else she could do budget-wise other than cutting staff.

“I have nothing,” she said. “I don’t own property here. What I have is staff.”

Next steps

So now the next thing is to find out how to move forward. As I explain in the Gazette story, Kinch isn’t pretending that the cuts won’t mean a loss to services, or that CBC employees will be able to just do more to make up for the loss of their colleagues. Instead, they’ll have to decide what they can do and what they can no longer afford to do.

The next few weeks will involve discussing with employees how CBC Montreal can continue to provide content to the audience. One thing Kinch would like to see is more “integration”, which is the CBC’s version of Quebecor’s famous “convergence” — CBC reporters filing the same story for radio, online and TV in one day. Kinch said she realizes that not every reporter can do this for every story.

“We have to change the way we work. We can’t keep doing the same thing with less. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

One change that has already been decided takes Bernard St-Laurent out of the host chair of Radio Noon. Kinch said he’ll focus on his role as chief political analyst in Quebec, and Radio Noon will become “more of a call-in show”. (You might recall that five years ago Radio Noon was reduced from two hours to one hour a day.)

New offices

CBC Montreal's office space, renovated just last fall to bring all English staff together, is centred around a hub to facilitate integration.

CBC Montreal’s office space, renovated just last fall to bring all English staff together, is centred around a hub to facilitate integration.

The cuts come just a few months after CBC Montreal renovated its newsroom in the basement of the Maison Radio-Canada. Those departments still operating on the ground floor were finally moved into this new space, which used to belong to Radio Canada International. The new design is open concept, allowing more natural light in, and doesn’t feature offices for managers. Instead, everyone, even Kinch, sits in cubicles.

It took some getting used to, Kinch admitted.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time looking for empty rooms,” she said. There are still conference rooms available of various sizes, and rooms with telephones and computer consoles so that people can hold conversations or edit radio pieces in peace.

Pierre Landry: “I took it like a man”

Because he’s the only on-air personality getting the boot here, Pierre Landry gets to become the face of this. So it meant another awkward message asking for an interview.

Surprisingly, Landry took the news in stride. “I can’t control the situation,” he told me over the phone. “I was told that it had nothing to do with my personality or my work. You just take it as it comes.”

Landry started at CBC in the fall of 2005, about the same time I started at The Gazette. He’s been on contract ever since, renewing yearly, each time unsure if it would be his last.

“I’m sad, but at the same time I’m like ‘alright, bring it on’.”

Landry was the first to publicly announce he’d been cut. What followed, he said, was an “incredible wave of support” from colleagues and listeners. It reminded him that those people are out there. “We don’t see the people” listening to their radios, he said. “You kind of forget that there’s somebody out there listening. It feels good to know that people appreciated what I did.”

Landry’s contract ends at the end of June, but he won’t be leaving quite yet. He’s been tapped as a fill-in host on All in a Weekend through the summer, which should keep him around until Labour Day.

“Beyond that, I don’t know. I’ve been contacting a few people I know at Radio-Canada. I’d love to stay at the organization.” But, considering that everyone is making cuts, the chances of finding work elsewhere in the same building is much less than it used to be.

Being cut from a job you’ve had for almost a decade is certainly disappointing, and it adds stress when you’re a grownup with obligations. But “I always knew that this kind of thing could happen,” he said. “I took it like a man. It’s one of those things where you nod and you thank them. You can’t be angry at them because it’s not personal.”

Landry said that as a kid growing up in New Brunswick, “Radio-Canada was super important to us,” and he hopes that it continues to be so. “There are not many networks where you can listen to the same show in Vancouver and St. John’s.”

He also pointed out how, on his beat, he would “talk about artists that the private (radio stations) sometimes ignore.” Not that he’s putting down private radio, he said, but their mandates are different.

“I think there’s a lot to lose if CBC disappears.”

Landry’s promised to keep me updated on his future, and let me know when he has better news to share.

A national conversation

CBC CEO Hubert Lacroix launches a "national conversation" at a speech at the Canadian Club in Montreal on Monday.

CBC CEO Hubert Lacroix launches a “national conversation” at a speech at the Canadian Club in Montreal on Monday.

A few hours after meeting Kinch at the CBC offices on Monday, I attended a speech by Hubert Lacroix, the president and CEO of the company. I covered the speech for Cartt.ca. His speaking notes for the speech are posted on CBC’s website. It talks about how important the public broadcaster is, but also says some tough decisions need to be made in consultation with Canadians.

Among them: Should the CBC continue to operate over-the-air digital television transmitters? In 2012, it went from having more than 600 TV transmitters across the country to having only 27, one for each of the CBC and Radio-Canada stations providing local content. Even though they’re only a few years old, the cost to operate them is significant for the few Canadians who get their television that way (a figure Lacroix said is estimated to drop to about 3% by 2020).

He also wondered aloud if the CBC should even have local television stations in Canada’s regions. From the way he said it, I think he thinks it should. His point is that the local TV model no longer works, and the private broadcasters will eventually start pulling TV stations off the air if nothing changes. When that happens, should the CBC be the last one standing?

Lacroix and the CBC have launched a survey to ask Canadians about their priorities. You can fill it out here.

Sacrifices

Meanwhile, this week there were some high-profile voluntary departures from the CBC. Linden MacIntyre was the first to announce, saying he’s stepping aside to put a public face on these cuts and to save the job of a young journalist. Alison Smith, anchor of The World at Six, was next, followed by Nancy Wilson of CBC News Network.

On the French side, there was a “cri d’alarme” from the big personalities in news, whose appearance on Tout le monde en parle was broadcast the evening before Lacroix’s speech. Lacroix said he had no problem with their appearance, and agree with much of what they said, and said even if he didn’t he would never silence a CBC employee for having an opinion that is different from his.

Another thing about the CBC you don’t really see at private broadcasters.

Since then, Jian Ghomeshi took to the air on his Q show to make the case for public broadcasting. As It Happens is also going to devote a segment to the future of the CBC on Tuesday.

A white paper published by the group Amis de Radio-Canada is available here in French and English.

UPDATE: RDI anchor Marie-Claude Lavallée is also leaving the corporation, though she insists she’s no martyr. Meanwhile, in the Journal de Montréal, opinion pieces defending public broadcasting and suggesting a move toward PBS-like direct viewer support.

UPDATE (May 30): Today was both Andrew Chang’s and Pierre Landry’s last day in their current jobs at CBC Montreal. Both the TV newscast and Homerun paid homage to their departing colleagues.

Here’s 11 minutes of excerpts from Landry’s last hour at Homerun:

And here’s Chang’s last half-hour at CBC Montreal. The career retrospective starts at 24:50.

UPDATE (June 13): Radio Noon devoted a special show on Friday to Sally Caudwell and Bernard St-Laurent on their last day. The audio from it is posted here.

32 thoughts on “CBC cuts affect 10 jobs at CBC Montreal; five people let go

  1. Susan Bell

    Here are some truths: there are some wonderfully, talented people at the CBC and many of them do excellent work. Canada needs a national service for a whole bunch of very valid reasons. But here are other truths: very few people listen to CBC Radio. It’s content reminds me more than it should of SNL skits parodying PBS. Stories about a whole lot of things no one cares about. Quite literally no one. CBC/ICI/RDI etc. should be a 100% news and information company. That means Marketplace, Enquete, Fifth Estate, oui; everything else, non. No more reading books aloud. No more poetry or recipes. No more arts nonsense (yes, I said it) that objectively, quantifiably. very very very few people care about. There are real issues in this country and CBC should be the first company to address them, confront them, discuss them and engage Canadians in 2014, not 1964. There is no use being nostalgic over something that is failing the public. That’s like clinging onto your VHS tapes. New leadership, new content, that refects us TODAY is needed. And for that, I would pay.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      very few people listen to CBC Radio.

      The numbers would suggest differently. In Toronto, CBC Radio has the second-highest market share of all radio stations in the city.

      CBC/ICI/RDI etc. should be a 100% news and information company.

      So no more children’s programming, no more culture programming, no sports, no Canadian drama or comedy or anything else? Not sure that’ll be a popular position to take.

      Reply
    2. Steve W

      What happened to you at CBC Montreal(you left about 5 years ago)? Did you leave on your own, or were you pushed out? Did asked several people at CBC Montreal but never got an answer from anyone.

      Reply
    3. David Pinto

      Susan, you said: That means Marketplace, Enquete, Fifth Estate, oui; everything else, non.
      What about the news, especially The World at Six? What about As It Happens?

      Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      It is time for senior CBC personalities to take a stand or at least make a statement a la MacIntyre and Smith.

      And do what? Resign in protest? Not everyone is ready to retire.

      Reply
      1. Steve W

        Just hearing from Alison Smith comments, it seems less about making a stand than she was ready to retire. Theoretically any of the 3 CBC veterans(MacIntyre, Smith, Wilson) could retire from CBC, & could be lured out of retirement by jumping ship to rival Canadian broadcaster & still qualify for full CBC Pension? How generous is the CBC Pension for longtime employees?

        Reply
      2. DCMontreal

        I clearly mentioned that they could at the very least make a statement. Whether they are ready to resign or not is irrelevant when it comes to a show of support – I imagine those who will be cut aren’t ready to leave either. However I suspect the ‘big’ guys will let the little folk take the fall as usual.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          I suspect the ‘big’ guys will let the little folk take the fall as usual.

          You make it seem as if they don’t care. Everything I’ve heard suggests otherwise. Many CBC personalities have been vocal about the effect of the cuts. But it’s not Peter Mansbridge or Andrew Chang who are making them.

          Reply
          1. Steve W

            Some of those let go by CBC across Canada, I suspect will still do some work for the CBC(continue as freelancers). Not surprised Pierre Landry is hosting All in a Weekend for the summer. Quite a few of the CBC regulars have most or all summer off.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              Quite a few of the CBC regulars have most or all summer off.

              All might be an exaggeration. Vacation maxes out at six weeks a year, and that’s for employees with 25 years of service. That said, the musical chairs that goes on during vacation season means someone can be away from their usual post for an extended period because they’re filling in for someone else.

              Reply
              1. Steve W

                Curious how much time for example Sonali Karnick is off from All in a Weekend annually. I think it’s more closer to 20 weeks per year(almost willing to put big money on it). Although to be honest I haven’t listen to All in a Weekend all that much for such a long time. Been so turned off with that radio program.

              2. Fagstein Post author

                Curious how much time for example Sonali Karnick is off from All in a Weekend annually.

                I don’t think it’s a set number. If you include the time she was in Sochi, for example, it’s certainly much longer than her usual vacation time.

              3. Steve W

                I’m basing on Sonali’s last 3 seasons at All in a Weekend. For this year, I’m not including her time off to cover Sochi Olympics. Pierre Landry is replacing her on All in a Weekend for the whole summer?

              4. Fagstein Post author

                Pierre Landry is replacing her on All in a Weekend for the whole summer?

                He’s still on Homerun until the end of June. After that, he’s not sure how long he’ll be on AIAW, but at most until Labour Day.

          2. DCMontreal

            Fair enough. But I’m just Joe Average CBC listener and the MacIntyre/Smith piece was the first I came upon that touched on the subject. Clearly Mansbridge, Chang. Kelley et al are not making the cuts, but they are the guys in positions to make some serious noise about them.
            Cheers.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              I’m just Joe Average CBC listener and the MacIntyre/Smith piece was the first I came upon that touched on the subject.

              I guess the joint statement from Radio-Canada personalities doesn’t count.

              Journalists being activists for their employers on what could easily be described as a political matter isn’t something that’s easily done. (And in any case, why is it just CBC employees who should be speaking out?)

              Reply
  2. Michael Roy

    Why on the private sector, people own networks and stations and actually make a profit!
    Why with the CBC the measurement of a successful year is one in which you lose less money than the year before.
    To
    be successful the CBC needs to redifine itself. Rather than giving us what they think we need, a novel idea would be do give us what we want.Then maybe people would watch and listen.
    Instead of hiring a lawyer to run a broadcast company maybe they should hire some experienced network people to run the buisness. Selling advertising and making a profit is not a dirty word. Long gone are the days we expect our puplic broadcaster to be our moral compass. To quote WP Kinsella “if you build it, they will come”

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Why on the private sector, people own networks and stations and actually make a profit!

      That’s the idea of the private sector. Though they don’t always make a profit, even if that’s the goal.

      Why with the CBC the measurement of a successful year is one in which you lose less money than the year before.

      That’s not how the CBC defines success.

      Rather than giving us what they think we need, a novel idea would be do give us what we want.Then maybe people would watch and listen.

      That’s one argument. Others would argue that the private sector does this already, and the CBC shouldn’t be spending our money directly competing with them, but rather creating programming that’s in the public interest even if it’s not profitable or popular.

      Reply
  3. Mario D.

    Although i question mister Lacroix`s choices because he is the one choosing who will be cut not the prime minister, i agree with him when he says that we have to define what the CBC will be and not do it according to what it used to be.

    I think this should have been done a while ago, same thing with Canada post. Unfortunately we do not have sufficient visionnaries to take the curve when it is time and we have to take harsh decisions that will impact families when actually it could have been otherwise if we did have a minimum of vision when it was time.

    It was rather awkward last week on Tout le monde en parle to see 9 employees starting a movement against those cuts being interviewed by Guy A Lepage who make probably on his own half of what they all earn…It`s all about choices to be made and to make soon. Do we want a canadian postal card, an american style tv,a money making machine, a canadian PBS…

    I think that most government employees, federal and provincial will be faced with a dark reality and let go things they took for granted. It all has to do with acting now to stop building up deficits that our future generations will have to deal with.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Guy A Lepage who make probably on his own half of what they all earn

      I’m not aware of Guy A. Lepage’s salary, nor do I see how it’s relevant to this issue. But Lepage has noted in the past that Tout le monde en parle brings in more revenue to the CBC than it costs to produce.

      Reply
      1. Mario D.

        It is very relevant when money is the reason for these cuts and the whole questionning of the raison d`être of the CBC. Lepage is making huge bucks and good for him ! It is just awkward that some other employees use his spotlights to talk about a cause that directly involves him in a way.

        Tout le monde en parle is the number 1 show of the french CBC and i have no problem believing that it`s profitable but here is the question. This is a french (France ) based formula type of show imported in Canada. Is that the formula the CBC wants to promote ?

        I may not be very clear with my point but in all the comments on that subject you have part of the answer i guess. Should it be a 100 % canadian content CBC ? Are they playing outside the boundaries of their mandate ?What is succes for the CBC? Can it be profitable or at least break even?

        We all are aware that whatever is governmental is expensive to run and does not exist with the same needs as the private sector does. We just do not want to admit it and change things.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Lepage is making huge bucks and good for him !

          Where’s your source for this information? Or is it just an assumption based on how popular his show is?

          This is a french (France ) based formula type of show imported in Canada. Is that the formula the CBC wants to promote ?

          I don’t think the CBC promotes the fact that the formula comes from France. And who cares, anyway? Does it somehow make it less Canadian? Should other innovations in the way television is done be ignored because their ideas didn’t come from Canada?

          Reply
          1. Mario D.

            About Lepage making big bucks let`s just say that I know it and you would not believe how much. It would not be fair for me to go further on that mined field and i did not mention that to bitch or anything just to illustrate that the cuts don`t mean the same thing for everyone…

            Oui tout le monde en parle is a french show that ran from 1998 to 2006 hosted by Thierry Ardisson .

            Whether this is the mandate of the CBC to import such concepts is still to be debated i guess but some tough decisions will have to be made because it`s not as if it was a privately owned and funded tv station. That is the main difference and/or problem about it . I agree that if it`s a good idea why couldn`t we enjoy it too but the CBC seems to be torn between this commercial need and the cold hard fact that even with those big shows they still are losing money.

            By the way thanks for the replies !

            Reply
  4. Michael Roy

    The point is public sector should be thinking like private sector !
    Ok , you tell me, how does CBC define success?
    I’m not an expert but viewership might be a vital criteria?
    Your thinking is that we don’t want to compete with what’s popular. We will continue to give you what you don’t want. We will continue to burn tax payer money and then when we are forced to layoff people because the well has run dry.
    Please don’t feel you need to educate me. Your righteousness, although commendable is more so naive.
    I’m today’s multi media society either entertain me or get out

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The point is public sector should be thinking like private sector !

      Why?

      Ok , you tell me, how does CBC define success?

      Based on whether it fulfils its mandate. Admittedly a vague set of criteria.

      Reply
    2. Anonymous

      Michael, you are 100% correct. Why should cbc think like the private sector? Because we are PAYING for the damn thing! That’s why. Give us relevant content that matters, not stuff to fill the airspace. The end. Everything and everyone else can go. Feel free to start your own non profit station that highlights jewelery making, but please don’t use my money. CBC needs to be cut.

      Reply
  5. fred

    my ppersonal suggestion is to schedule the cbc to shut down entirely. Define a new service w8thin the budgets available and hire people at reasonable wages to do the work.

    Kill OTA services unless they reach significant people. Move to cable sat IPtv distribution… and get the CRTC to allow them to charge for it.

    the first step is admitting that the cbc as it is is too expensive and fails to meet the needs and desires of Canadians.

    Reply
  6. Mario D.

    There is one thing though that would help the CBC and for that matter many other private or public companies. I have been listening over lunch to mister Lacroix who is taking calls on Radio-Canada Premiere.

    He just said that he is aware that the CBC is losing most of the young talents that migrate to the private sector or wherever. At the same time if find it odd that they prefer to keep many personnalities past the age of retirement.
    I know that this is going to be seen as a lack of respect towards our elderlies wich it is not. I just wonder why we have a system that is made around the fact that you work until you are 65 and then retire but in many cases this is not what is happening and at the end of the day makes the younger generation pay for it with jobs not being opened,wisdom not being transfered and wages with years worked getting higher and higher.

    It was an interresting show by the way but suffers from being superficial with calls saying that this guy should not be on air and so on and so on. I do not think that it is about individuals as much as defining a new mandate that gives a fresh new horizon for the CBC.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Shawn Apel named host of Radio Noon | Fagstein

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