Category Archives: In the news

Posted in In the news, Media

Jack Layton front pages

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what would make the front pages of the papers on Tuesday. Not only was Jack Layton a larger-than-life figure, and the first leader of the opposition to die in office since Wilfrid Laurier in 1919 (at least, that’s what Wikipedia says), but he conveniently died early on a weekday morning, giving newspaper editors a full working day to decide how they would honour him on their front pages.

The Globe and Mail (above) got a lot of buzz on Twitter, but it wasn’t the only one to use a sketch of Layton, and certainly not the only one to quote from the end of his letter to Canadians, as you’ll see below. Different papers chose different file photos, but the headlines of his obituary were written by Layton himself. (Maybe with some help from a talented speechwriter.)

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Posted in In the news, Opinion, Photos

Rolling the dice on Quebec’s infrastructure

Have you seen so many Transport Quebec trucks in one place in your life?

Infrastructure is one of those things – nobody pays it any attention to it until it fails. People have better things to worry about, so they don’t think about their water pipes, their electricity lines, their building foundations or their roads or bridges, so long as they’re working properly. But when something goes wrong, any of these can suddenly become a top priority.

For this same reason, those who are in charge of infrastructure tend not to prioritize it. If the people don’t care, why should the government? Making a working thing still work is not going to win you as many votes as making a brand new thing. And that’s a logic that’s not reserved for inept governments. Given the choice between paying a professional engineer to do an inspection on that seemingly innocuous crack in a home’s foundation and spending that money on a new big-screen TV, which do you think is going to be the more common choice?

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Posted in In the news, Montreal, Opinion, Radio

All-traffic radio: A $9-million waste

Coverage map for CINW 940AM at 50,000 watts, as submitted to CRTC

Last week, news came out that Cogeco and the Quebec government have reached a deal that will see the creation of two new all-traffic AM radio stations in Montreal set to open in the fall. The project will cost taxpayers $9 million over three years.

It’s the most ridiculous use of $9 million I’ve seen in a while.

The history of 690 and 940 AM

Montreal has had two giant holes in its radio spectrum since January 2010. Both frequencies – 690 and 940 kHz – started out as CBC stations. CBM (CBC Montreal) moved to 940 and CBF (Radio-Canada Montreal) moved to 690 in 1941. They were among Canada’s oldest AM radio stations and each had clear-channel status, meaning that they could operate at 50,000 watts and did not have to reduce power overnight to avoid interference.

Clear-channel status is highly sought – or at least it was. There are only about a dozen such stations in Canada (CKAC is the only active one in Montreal), and the clear-channel status means they can be heard from very far away with a good enough antenna.

Despite this seemingly huge advantage, CBC decided in the late 90s to move its AM stations in Montreal to FM – 88.5 and 95.1 MHz – where they remain today as CBC Radio One and Première Chaîne). The argument was that FM provided better quality audio and the signal would be easier to capture in the city. The tradeoff – that the signal would no longer be carried by skywave to neighbouring provinces and territories – didn’t seem to be such a big deal. It was a controversial move at the time, particularly for CBC Radio listeners who had better reception with AM than FM.

In 1999, the decades-old CBC transmitters were shut down and the frequencies vacated. Métromédia (later Corus Quebec), which owned CIQC 600 AM and CKVL 850 AM, wasted no time in snapping the clear channels up, and moved those two stations to the vacated frequencies. They were reborn as all-news stations CINW (940 News) and CINF (Info 690).

We all know how that turned out. The anglo all-news station didn’t work out financially, so they changed it up into a news-talk format in 2005. When that didn’t work either, they fired everyone and started played music in 2008. (Info 690, meanwhile, kept going with their news format). Then, in January 2010, Corus pulled the plug on both stations and gave up. They returned their licenses to the CRTC.

Since then, the frequencies have remained vacant. Clear AM channels that it seems anyone could have had just by asking. But no takers.

In 2010, Corus agreed to sell its Quebec assets to Cogeco. This included the transmitters for CINW and CINF, even though they were inoperative and had no broadcast license. The deal was approved in December, giving Cogeco the equipment (and a lease on the transmitter site in Kahnawake until 2021) but no idea how to use it in a way that could make it profitable.

And here’s where the Quebec government comes in.

Congrats, Cogeco lobbyists

According to documents they submitted to the CRTC (you can download them yourself from here), Cogeco found out about the Quebec transport ministry wanting to improve the way it communicates information about traffic disruptions to the public. With all the construction work expected to come (the Turcot Interchange, for example), they wanted to minimize the pain to drivers by keeping them as well informed as possible.

Cogeco went to them and proposed a … let’s call it a partnership. Cogeco would provide the transmitter, the programming, the staff. The government would provide access to traffic information and lots and lots of money.

The government thought it was a great idea, and on April 14 they published their intention to award a contract to Cogeco. The deal was finally announced last week by the government and Cogeco (PDF) and the CRTC announced it would hold a hearing on the proposal to give the licenses back to CINW and CINF. News coverage was brief, most just regurgitating the press release:

The station, which according to the deal must be operational by Oct. 31 (though the target date is Sept. 1 pending CRTC approval), would broadcast live from 4:30am to 1am weekdays and 6am to 1am weekends and holidays. This information includes:

  • Traffic status on highways and bridges
  • Road conditions
  • Information on road work sites (it’s unclear if this is just those run by the transport ministry or all municipal sites as well)
  • Highway safety tips
  • Weather conditions

In other words, the kind of stuff you’d expect from any traffic information radio station. Missing from this list is an item about providing information on public transit service. It’s unclear why both sides left this out of their press releases, but it’s contained in their CRTC submission and in the contract between the government and Cogeco, and I would imagine the intention is to include such information in their broadcasts.

The deal also includes promotion of the station by Cogeco and 25 minutes a day of airtime for the ministry.

Cogeco says it plans to use CHMJ in Vancouver (owned by Corus) as a template. That’s also an all-traffic radio station, but with one major difference: It’s not funded by the government.

You could also compare it to The Weather Network and MétéoMédia, which provide all-weather programming, funded mainly by subscriber fees that all cable subscribers must pay for the channels.

Why this is a bad idea

I appreciate that the ministry wants to improve communication about traffic and road work. But they’re doing this by getting into the broadcast business. The figure of $3 million a year might not be much, but it represents about three-quarters of the stations’ proposed budgets. Cogeco also predicts that figure will rise if the contract is renewed beyond three years (the CRTC asks for seven-year projections for a station’s finances) to $3.3 million a year for the next three years.

Put simply, this is a solution to a problem that does not exist. I mean, seriously, is the biggest complaint about commercial radio that there aren’t enough traffic reports? Just about every station does traffic reports every 10 minutes during rush hours. CJAD does it all day. All this without any specific funding by the government to do so. Even CBC Radio One does traffic reports, including public transit updates. (The CBC is funded by the federal government, but that funding doesn’t come with a requirement to do traffic updates. CBC Radio does traffic reports because it knows that’s what rush-hour listeners want to hear.)

This isn’t to say an all-traffic radio station wouldn’t make sense. CHMJ is trying that format. And it’s a good idea for AM radio, because most portable music devices these days can’t receive AM radio, but most cars can. But if there’s a demand for it, then it can be done without government funding. And if there isn’t a demand for it, why bother?

Cogeco’s own submission to the CRTC says there are about 1.3 million vehicles travelling in the Montreal area during the afternoon rush hour (less in the morning), which means more than $2 per vehicle per year spent on these stations. They expect their market share will be 1.5% for the anglo station and 1.6% for the francophone station. Based on their estimated total weekly hours of listening, the English station would expect about 1,000 listeners on average (more, obviously, during rush hour) and the French station about 3,000 listeners.

And CRTC submissions are usually pretty optimistic.

Why this is overkill

The other thing that bugs me about this is the choice of channel. Cogeco wants to put both these stations on clear channels, and have both running 50,000 watts day and night. The reach of these stations, as you can see from the map at the top of this post, is not just the greater Montreal area, but as far as Gaspé, Moncton, southern Maine, Kingston, northern Ontario and even Labrador. The vast majority of its listening area couldn’t care less what happens on the Champlain Bridge.

Then again, if nobody else wants the frequency, I guess it’s better to do that than nothing at all. But surely we can find a better use for such a powerful signal than traffic reports for one city.

There are also some strange proposals, like having a roving reporter patrol the city to report from the scenes of major traffic events. Compare this to the private sector that has helicopters flying overhead to report on traffic and other issues. It’s a government employee doing a job that the private sector is already doing better.

What the government should spend its money on

In the grand scheme of things, $9 million isn’t a lot of money. But rather than spend it on duplicating a service the private sector already does for free, how about the transport ministry use it more wisely. Spend it on adding more traffic cameras, providing better real-time information to traffic reporters, better ways of getting information to smartphones and other portable devices, improving the Quebec 511 service. Create a database of road work (both provincial and municipal) that can be integrated into Google Maps and used to suggest better routes to drivers.

Or, you know, they could use it to improve the province’s highways. At least repave the kilometre or two closest to the Ontario border, which will give the most psychological bang for the buck and end those silly anecdotal cross-border comparisons.

The CRTC will be hearing the two applications for all-traffic radio stations on July 18 in Gatineau. Comments and interventions are being accepted until June 20. The contract is contingent on CRTC approval and would be cancelled if CRTC approval doesn’t materialize before Oct. 31.

UPDATE (May 31): A Gazette piece says that there was a call for bids in this deal. That’s not entirely accurate. On April 14, the transport ministry published its intent to give a contract to Cogeco (a document that starts off by saying “this is not a call for bids”), and gave competitors 10 days to indicate that they could provide a competing offer for the deal – something that if accepted would have led to a formal call for bids. After the deadline passed, the ministry gave the deal to Cogeco.

Posted in In the news, Media, Navel-gazing

Sacré orange!

Quebec consumed by an orange wave. Graphic from CBC's vote results map

“It’s all orange.”

I looked at the map of Quebec ridings about 10:30 p.m., and I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just pockets of orange, or lots of orange. It was all orange. With the exception of a few ridings on the island of Montreal, ridings in the Beauce region, and the giant Haute-Gaspésie and Roberval ridings you can see above, it was all orange.

Montérégie is all orange. Outaouais is all orange. Quebec City is all orange north of the St. Lawrence. Laval’s four ridings all orange. Gilles Duceppe’s riding orange. West Island Liberal stronghold Pierrefonds-Dollard orange.

In all, 58 of Quebec’s 75 ridings elected New Democratic Party MPs on Monday, with the Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Québécois left to share the handful that remained.

I followed the campaign. I even commented about it for CBC’s All in a Weekend show (you can listen to my discussions with host Dave Bronstetter and community activist Sujata Dey here: March 28, April 3, April 10, April 17, May 1). I watched the news about the NDP “surge” in Quebec and saw the poll numbers at threehundredeight.com. But even as it was projecting 30 seats in Quebec for the NDP, I was convinced those numbers were too high, the result of lots of soft support from people who, when it came to the ballot box, would change their minds and vote for one of the more established parties or more recognizable candidates.

As we all know now, those numbers actually far underestimated how the NDP would do here.

My night

My regular job kept me busy on election night. I’m not complaining, in fact I love working election nights. There’s excitement, unpredictability, lots of people, free food, and free beer after the last edition is put to bed.

Unfortunately it meant I couldn’t spend much time looking at the various networks’ coverage of the results so as to make snarky judgments about them. I had the Sun News Network live streaming feed on my computer, and I could see a TV tuned to RDI at the office, but otherwise my attention was focused on the results and my page.

Election night at any journalistic outlet is crazy, and The Gazette is no exception. Almost everyone is working that day, including most of the managers, and the work doesn’t stop until the final final edition, which had people in the office past 1:30am. So many are in at once that seating is arranged in advance so they can make sure there’s room for everyone.

I was assigned Page B5, a page in the special section devoted to results from Quebec. Reporters were taken off their regular beats and assigned to key ridings in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec. With another editor sharing duties on the page, I got files from four reporters who would write three stories (one for each edition): Jason Magder covering the two West Island ridings, Alycia Ambroziak in off-island Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Monique Muise in Laval–Les Îles, and Jeff Heinrich in Denis Coderre’s Montreal-North Bourassa riding.

With the exception of Heinrich, the reporters were surprised having to write about unexpected NDP upsets. Vaudreuil-Soulanges was one of dozens of Bloc ridings that went to the NDP despite the “star killer” power of Meili Faille. Laval–Les Îles was a Liberal stronghold, and even after the surprise retirement of Raymonde Folco it was expected to stay that way. A draft story even said it was expected to hold while the adjacent riding would see the Bloc candidate cruising to victory. In fact, all four Laval ridings would turn orange quickly, forcing reporters to scramble to find the winning candidate. He invited them to his campaign headquarters – at his house.

Lac-Saint-Louis was expected to be a tough fight. The Conservatives had put star candidate (and a one-time Gazette publisher) Larry Smith there against Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia. But Smith, who briefly led early voting results a couple of times, fell to third as the riding bounced back between Liberal red and NDP orange for most of the night. Scarpaleggia eked out a win in the end. Bernard Patry, who represented my parents’ riding of Pierrefonds-Dollard since 1993 and won with huge majorities in every election since, was stunned when he lost to a New Democrat most of the people there had probably never heard of.

All fantastic stories, but then these were only a few of the crazy results in Quebec that night.

TV coverage commentary

Without the ability to surf the networks from the comfort of my living room, I can’t really evaluate how the networks did on debate night. My PVR is limited to two simultaneous recordings, and I picked CTV (for its popularity) and Sun News (because it’s the newest).

Fortunately others were watching, and I direct you to a Gazette liveblog by Mike Boone and a blog post from TV Feeds My Family’s Bill Brioux. In The Suburban, Mike Cohen also praises the work of radio stations CBC and CJAD during the campaign.

Mario Dumont’s election night show (described by some as good considering its very poor resources) is all online. It also has the best line of the night I’ve heard so far, courtesy of Caroline Proulx: Quebecers electing a wave of NDP candidates is like having a one-night stand and finding out the next day that she’s pregnant.

I will add this, which I spotted today as I reviewed the CTV coverage. Their election desk did house projection ranges early in the night, as results were coming in and after they had projected a Conservative government.

CTV election seat projection as results come in

In the end, not one of the four parties’ seat totals would fall within these projected ranges.

Pylons

You’ll be hearing a lot over the coming days and weeks about the dozens of new NDPers elected to the House of Commons:

And these are the ones whose background we know about.

What you won’t hear are the stories of all the similar candidates for the other parties in no-hope ridings. The Liberal in Jonquière who works for a moving company. The Conservative in Papineau who’s a hairstylist, a mom and helps her husband work as a real estate agent. The Bloc candidate in Pierrefonds-Dollard who just started a degree at UQAM and whose previous work experience includes a job at the library at Collège Gérald-Godin and as a cashier at IGA.

And these are based on their official biographies posted to the party websites. One can only imagine if even the slightest digging was done into their backgrounds.

The ADQ had the same problem in 2007, when they unexpectedly rode a wave of popular support into official opposition in Quebec City. We all know how that turned out: The ADQ is all but wiped out and its former leader is now a TV host.

Everyone runs whoever they can find in no-hope ridings because they’re no-hope ridings. The parties want to be able to say they’re running someone in all 308 ridings across Canada (of 75 across Quebec, in the case of the Bloc) and don’t want to give up on any vote. But this is the natural consequence of that strategy.

This isn’t to excuse the NDP putting in phantom pylon candidates in ridings they didn’t think they’d be competitive in. Surely they could have put in the effort to find locals who were interested enough to try for a seat.

But nor should this small number of candidates with questionable issues be confused with the dozens of others whose only crimes are that they are young and/or not politically experienced. Many of those elected in 1993 for the Liberals, Bloc and Reform shared those qualities. And now many of those Liberals and Blocquistes are shocked at falling to political neophytes who were barely present in their ridings, resisting the urge to appear a sore loser by saying the people in their constituencies are absolute morons for electing someone who is horribly unqualified for the job.

I feel for the losing candidates. I even feel bad for the Bloc. Maybe, if Canada had a form of proportional representation, this problem wouldn’t occur. Voting for a leader wouldn’t be so easily confused with voting for a local MP.

Anyway, the votes are cast, and we’re not turning back time. These kids have been elected. Thomas Mulcair will be busy getting his caucus educated. And as the pundits are saying, the NDP is fortunate that a majority government gives them four years to get their affairs in order.

As someone who likes good stories, I have to admit that watching these brand-new MPs figure out how to be politicians will be fun. And we’ll finally figure out if the Conservatives have that “hidden agenda”, putting that issue to rest once and for all either way.

On the other hand, the journalist in me is saddened that the minority-parliament drama we’ve had since 2004 has finally come to an end. It made for great political stories, and sold a lot of papers.

Posted in In the news

Bixi in Toronto

Bixi station in Toronto (photo: Kenny D)

Fagstein reader Kenny D sent in this photo from Toronto, which is the latest city to be assimilated into the Bixi empire.

The official launch is Tuesday, May 3, with an official “first ride”.

The rate is higher than in Montreal, at $95 a season or $40 a month, but that didn’t stop 1,000 people from already signing up. More details are at Bixi’s Toronto website, or the usual Toronto blogs.

I’ve just recently gotten a chance to regain my regular Bixi habits, lugging my helmet around with me wherever I go. It’s still a bit cold, but it’s nice to be able to spend some energy on a regular basis.

Not much has changed on the Montreal side this season, except that subscribers now get 45 minutes free per trip instead of 30, and there’s a new three-day rate of $12.

No word on whether either city will get a tandem Bixi similar to what was given to William and Kate.

Posted in In the news, Media

Some reading on Quebec’s anti-scab law

Hearings began today (finally a reason to watch the National Assembly channel!) into Quebec’s labour laws, specifically the provisions against strikebreakers (scabs). They are prompted by the enduring two-year-old lockout at the Journal de Montréal, and the union’s argument that laws forbidding the use of replacement workers during a labour conflict need to be updated because they only apply to workers who physically enter the employer’s workspace.

An example to illustrate this is a company called Côté Tonic in Quebec City, which has been doing copy editing and page layout work for the Journal de Montréal during its lockout. Stories in Rue Frontenac and La Presse show that the small company did production work during the Journal de Québec lockout and had to fire people after that was resolved, but learned about an impending lockout at the Journal de Montréal before it was launched and even before the end of the labour contract for Journal de Montréal workers.

This information comes out now for a somewhat ironic reason: an employee who was laid off when she took maternity leave complained she was fired illegally. Her complaint was rejected because it was determined that the layoff happened after the Journal asked the company to reduce its workforce. But because labour relations board decisions are public, the dirty laundry comes out into the open.

The union representing locked-out workers claims there are all sorts of fly-by-night operations doing their work in secret, from customer service to page layout to accounting. But they’ve had difficulty gaining evidence about how they work, and under the current law there’s nothing they can do about it anyway.

Also worth reading:

There’s also the Twitter feed of Rue Frontenac’s David Patry, or the hashtag #commissionJdeM. The hearings can also be viewed online, in case you have a few hours to waste.

Posted in In the news, Montreal, Opinion

Concordia reaches for a new Lowy

Frederick Lowy in 2003

It’s official: Concordia University’s executive committee has recommended that Frederick Lowy, who served as rector/president from 1995 to 2005, be reinstalled as interim president. Barring some unprecedented and unexpected revolt, the Board of Governors will approve that recommendation and Lowy will run the university again during the months it takes for a committee to seek out a president to take a full five-year term.

I was a student from 2000 to 2005, and I wrote about student and university politics for The Link, so I know Lowy pretty well and have interviewed him a few times during some of the most heated moments of Concordia’s recent history.

Other leaders have been in office during Concordia’s darker moments. John W. O’Brien came to office in the immediate aftermath of the Sir George Williams computer riots of 1969, and stayed on through Concordia’s creation until 1984. Patrick Kenniff took over and acted as rector during the Fabrikant shootings, until political infighting got him fired.

Nobody killed anyone (that I know of) during Lowy’s tenure, but that didn’t mean it was easy for him. During three successive years he got hit with a major scandal involving students. In the fall of 2000, it was a $200,000 embezzlement scandal involving a member of the Concordia Student Union’s executive. In the fall of 2001, it was a radical student union executive whose highly radical student agenda was a victim of unfortunate timing, coming out in the days surrounding Sept. 11. This was followed by a revolt from mainly engineering and commerce students who forced the CSU president to resign, only to see the subsequent by-election (which the “right wing” candidate won) annulled as a result of an apparent bribery scandal. Then in the fall of 2002, a protest against a speech by Benjamin Netanyahu got out of hand and made headlines around the world.

During these turbulent years, Lowy was caught between a radical student union and increasingly angry donors and alumni.

Lowy (whether individually or with his executive committee or vice-rectors) made some tough decisions during those times. The university temporarily cut off funding for the student union as the legitimacy of its leadership came into question. It expelled (or “excluded”) two of the more radical student activists, which was controversial at the time because it bypassed the university’s own student disciplinary process (the university argued that the two were not technically students at the time, which sparked a surreal debate over the fact that Concordia did not technically have a clear definition of what “student” meant). And it famously banned all activity on campus related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the immediate aftermath of that Netanyahu riot – a move that was an obvious violation of a fundamental right to free speech, but accomplished its goal of cooling down both sides.

Through it all, Lowy was soft-spoken, kind of halfway between a kind, wise grandfather and a man without a clue. Perhaps it was his background in psychiatry, but Lowy was a pressure release valve at a time when it was most needed.

That’s not to say he was perfect. The things that made him a good peacemaker also made him incapable of standing up to his board or of making any serious changes in the way the university was structured.

Whether he was a good leader or not is up for debate, though he certainly seems more so in hindsight than he did at the time.

What’s not up for debate is the simple fact that Lowy is the only leader in the past 20 years to leave office amicably, at the end of his mandate. For a university desperate for a temporary, quick-fix return to stability, they could have done far worse than look to Lowy.

Working on the Gazette’s online desk today, I took the liberty of pulling some articles from the archives about Lowy. It’s funny looking back to see that Lowy’s challenge in 1995 was to improve morale and improve the mood and add more civility to internal politics. When he left, he got good marks, suggesting he succeeded.

Posted in In the news, Opinion, Radio

Whining for nothing (and the hits for free)

Columnists desperate for something to whine about this week were given a big gift by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which ruled that the Dire Straits song Money for Nothing was unfit for air because it contained the word “faggot”.

I won’t begin to try to put together an exhaustive list of everything that’s been said. But to give you an idea, there’s a column by Mark Lepage in The Gazette. Matt Gurney in the National Post tries to prove a point suggesting other songs that must be banned. Kelly McParland adds it to a couple of other unrelated stories to advance the hypothesis that Canada is an easily offended country. CTV and CBC in Calgary interviewed former CHOM personality Terry DiMonte, who said the CBSC took the song out of context. Current CHOM personality Rob Kemp wrote about it in a Facebook post, questioning how such a decision could be made based on a single complaint, and saying that “CHOM’s position is, rather than have a butchered version of the song on the air…we’re just not going to play it.” Sharon Hyland also wrote about it on her CHOM blog.

The news reached across the border, with a piece in the Washington Times, which notes the decision is unappealable.

Even (part of) the band itself reacted. Guitarist Guy Fletcher called the decision “unbelievable,” but said the word would be substituted.

The news has spread so much that the album the song is on has climbed the iTunes charts in Canada.

I understand, but…

I’m not here to defend the CBSC’s decision. I don’t particularly agree with their reasoning, and the decision itself is a bit unclear, as you can tell from the following excerpt:

… the Panel acknowledges that the word “faggot”, although lightly sarcastic in its application in the song, was not used in a “sneering, derisive, nasty tone”, as the Comedy Now decision anticipated in its evaluation of “fag”.

Still, the Panel concludes that, like other racially driven words in the English language, “faggot” is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, is no longer so.

In other words, the panel doesn’t think the word was used in a bad way, but it thinks the word shouldn’t be used at all.

My issue is with the response to this, which has been one-sided and very repetitive. People complaining on one hand that the decision came out of a single complaint for a song that was released decades ago and has been popular for a long time, as if either of those things should automatically disquality something from being judged as obscene or discriminatory.

And then there are the outraged classic rock radio DJs who stand up on principle and declare that the artistic integrity of classic songs cannot be violated. Two stations even decided to protest the decision by airing the song over and over for an hour.

Forgive me for raising an eyebrow, but it’s hard for me to feel moved by outrage from radio stations that air the radio edit of Brown Eyed Girl, and cut Layla in two to save time. It’s hard for me to feel moved by the need for keeping songs untouched after seeing Cee-Lo Green appear on Saturday Night Live and have to change the lyrics (and title) of his first song.

And then there’s Money for Nothing itself. As the decision notes, the song is regularly played in an abridged version, mainly for length, that doesn’t include the offending lyrics (actually, the more popular abridged versions do include those lyrics). And the “F” word is often changed when the song is performed live, as you can see in the above video.

I understand the need for debate about censorship of music (and censorship for broadcast in general), and I think it should continue (particularly at the political level, because it’s the federal government that ultimately sets the rules). But let’s not pretend that this form of government censorship is new, or that radio stations playing popular music really care that much about artistic integrity.

UPDATE (Jan. 19): CHOM has decided to defy the council’s ruling and play the song with the offending lyrics included (I’d say they’re playing the original song, but they don’t care about artistic integrity that much – half the time they’re playing a shorter version). Astral Radio, which owns CHOM, tells the Journal de Montréal it doesn’t agree with the decision.

Meanwhile, Marc Weisblott looks at how this controversy has affected iTunes sales of the song and album.

UPDATE (Jan. 21): The CRTC has asked the CSBC to review the decision in light of the controversy.

Posted in Opinion, Slow News Day, TV

Dear Véro and Louis

Hi, how are you doing? You look a bit stressed. Here, have some tea and sit down.

OK… so, you probably know why I asked you here. That whole Bye-Bye thing. You know, you boycotting Quebecor and all. I don’t know if it was your intention to create such a firestorm, but you should have expected it.

Two full pages in the Journal de Montréal on Tuesday devoted to your decision to settle the scores, as they say. Two articles from the Journal’s Michelle Coudé-Lord condemning your decision and Radio-Canada for supporting you. That, of course, in turn has generated all sorts of press over at Gesca (a piece by Richard Therrien, a column by Hugo Dumas, a blog post by Patrick Lagacé) which has turned your Bye-Bye sequel into a media controversy 10 days before anyone actually sees it.

I know, I know, you’re mad. You’re both on Quebecor’s enemies list and you’re probably never going to come off. They used that giant media empire thing against you after the 2008 Bye-Bye and you felt like crap for months trying to deal with the fallout.

Here’s the thing: The backlash wasn’t some Quebecor empire fabrication. A lot of people took offence to some of the jokes in that television special. Even the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council had issues with it. Sure, Quebecor went crazy with it, mostly because it was funded with taxpayer money through Radio-Canada. But if you were going to boycott everyone who said mean things about the show, you’d be boycotting a lot of media.

Wait, hold on, can I finish? Please. Let me finish.

OK, so Quebecor doesn’t like you. It’s not like this is news. It’s been the case for so long even I don’t know why it started. I’d think you’d be used to it by now.

But this isn’t the way to handle it. You’re just playing their game, coming down to their level. It’s childish, and I expect better from you. As Lagacé points out, you’ve just created a controversy when your goal, ostensibly, is to avoid exactly that.

It would be one thing if you were taking a stand because of the Journal de Montréal lockout, or because Quebecor had done something particularly evil, or to protest Quebecor pulling out of the Quebec Press Council. But your main reason for refusing to accommodate Quebecor news outlets at your press conference is the coverage that was given to the last Bye-Bye … two years ago, before the Journal was even locked out.

Yeah, I know you haven’t talked to them since, and this boycott isn’t new, but nobody noticed before because the Journal doesn’t talk about you unless you do something bad.

And surely you understand the bad precedent that’s set when people refuse to speak to journalists whose coverage they don’t like.

Plus, now you’re bringing the people you’re working with into the fray. Joël Legendre’s relationship with the Journal is starting to look bipolar. He likes them, he hates them, he loves them, he won’t speak to them… A bit silly, don’t you think?

And come on, you’re not new at this media thing. You’ve been in show business for years now. Véro, you’re on Montreal’s most listened to radio station every day, and you host one of Quebec’s hottest new television shows. Louis … I understand you also have a career. I think I saw your face on a DVD of something at Future Shop.

Louis, don’t leave, I was just kidding. I know you work hard too. Come back.

OK, I realize Quebecor is this giant media behemoth, but you’ve shown that you don’t need their cooperation to succeed. Heck, you should consider it a compliment that they focus so much attention toward you.

Like it or not, you signed up for this. Nobody forced you into becoming stars. You can’t have your faces put up on billboards all over the place and then complain when a photographer takes a picture of you at the airport. You have the right to privacy, and you have the right to keep your children outside the spotlight, but you can’t just disappear when the news about you is unflattering and not expect people to go looking for you.

I’m gonna talk to Michelle Coudé-Lord, try to talk some sense into her. But … you’re letting them play the victim here (letting the peanut gallery take their side). And if your goal is peace in this media war, this isn’t the way you’re going to get it.

Please bury the hatchet. Swallow your pride, or you’re going to have a bad taste in your mouth for a long time.

Oh, and Véro, please, stop undressing me with your eyes. I mean, Louis is sitting right there. And he’s … wait, is he also undressing me with his eyes?

Dear Michelle Coudé-Lord,

Here, have a seat. I promise there aren’t any Cloutier cooties on it.

How are you doing? Boy, you must be ready for a vacation. Almost two years now you’ve been without a reporting staff, having to fill the Arts & Spectacles section with wire pieces, stuff from other Quebecor publications and whatever original content you and your fellow managers can come up with. I’m not exactly shedding tears for your paper, but I understand if this period has caused some stress among its middle managers.

Anyway, so those articles you had in the paper. Two of them. Was it really necessary to devote a full page (plus a full section cover page) to the fact that the Bye-Bye crew wouldn’t talk to you? And is it really surprising after what you did to them two years ago? You say that coverage after the 2008 Bye-Bye was fair and balanced, but you can’t possibly say with a straight face that it wasn’t excessive.

And really, “vengeance”? You make them sound like a dictator who destroyed an entire village because some woman in a bar wouldn’t accept his propositions. They had a hissy fit, and now you’re having a hissy fit over their hissy fit, forcing everyone else to have a hissy fit over your hissy fit over their hissy fit.

I explained to Véro and Louis that what they did wasn’t a good idea. They were letting themselves be guided by emotion rather than wisdom.

But surely you understand that it’s hypocritical for you to play the victim on behalf of Quebecor here. Your paper is no longer a member of the Quebec Press Council, arguing against regulation (even though it’s not government-run and has no power to impose penalties) and in favour of the free market. You have to accept that freedom also means the freedom not to talk to you, even if this is the government-funded Radio-Canada.

You appeal to the size of your audience as if somehow without talking to you they could never hope to reach those people. As if that alone meant that anyone on the government payroll (or even who receives money from the government) must give you an interview. I see how you think answering your questions about a show during a press conference is like a government agency answering an access-to-information request about its expenses, but it’s not. You want to interview a celebrity, and you’re whining because you’re being turned down.

And, come on Michelle. Certainly you realize the irony of complaining about how people aren’t giving you interviews, and then refusing to speak to reporters from La Presse and Le Soleil about this very same issue.

I also found it funny that the page next to the one complaining about Véro and Louis is a full page puff piece devoted to how Quebecor creation Marie-Élaine Thibert has an album that went gold.

Looking at these pages, can you really blame people for getting the impression that Quebecor rewards its celebrities and attacks those who don’t play by its rules?

Aren’t you tired of being seen as a pawn of the Quebecor media narrative machine, whether or not you think it’s true?

Think about it. Get some sleep. Maybe when you’re rested you can see this with a clear head and realize all the damage this media war has done, and maybe you’ll be the bigger person and decide to do something about it.

Please.

Posted in In the news, Movies, Opinion

Let’s give Tierney’s comments some thought

In case you haven’t been keeping up with Quebec movie news (or haven’t been around Brendan Kelly for the past two weeks), there’s been a bit of a media dust-up over comments made by director Jacob Tierney to La Presse’s Nicolas Bérubé, complaining that Quebec cinema is too francophone and too white:

«La société québécoise est extrêmement tournée sur elle-même, dit Tierney. Notre art et notre culture ne présentent que des Blancs francophones. Les anglophones et les immigrants sont ignorés. Ils n’ont aucune place dans le rêve québécois. C’est honteux.»

Since Tierney, who’s behind that new movie The Trotsky, decided to touch on that Two Solitudes button, you can imagine there was a lot of reaction (they’re even talking about it on those social media things). And most of the reaction takes one of three predictable sides:

  1. Agreeing with Tierney: Quebec cinema is too white, too francophone, and needs to better reflect its multicultural reality – and those who battle Tierney’s arguments are intolerant
  2. Lashing out at Tierney, putting together a list of black Quebec actors (Normand Brathwaite, Gregory Charles, Boucar Diouf and Dany Laferrière will feature prominently in such lists) and Quebec films that have languages other than French (those lists tend to include Bon Cop Bad Cop, their makers apparently unaware that the box-office smash was made by Tierney’s father), and saying that because there are black people or anglos in Quebec cinema Tierney must be wrong and hate Quebec
  3. Defend the whiteness and Frenchness of Quebec cinema, because Quebec is a small island in a sea of English, because Canadian films don’t feature francophones and because Quebec culture needs to assert itself

The problem with each of these responses is that it takes a black or white view on an issue that is hardly so clear-cut, and only serves to further divide the two solitudes.

Reality isn’t quite so simple.

Argue now, think later

I’m not a film buff, nor am I an expert in Quebec culture. In fact, I’m probably the most uncultured person I know. The last anglo film I saw in an actual movie theatre was, I think, Star Trek. The last franco film? Dans une galaxie près de chez vous 2. This means I haven’t seen J’ai tué ma mère or Avatar or De père en flic or The Hurt Locker or Polytechnique or any of the Twilight movies or … well, you get the picture. I want to see them eventually (well, not the Twilight movies), but I don’t have much free time and it’s rare I’ll find something so interesting I’ll want to pay $12 to watch it in a theatre rather than wait a couple of years and see it on cable.

Anyway, so I’m no expert, and I have no figures to point to in my analysis. If you want an expert’s opinion, I’d read this piece by Marc Cassivi, who takes a detached view of the matter.

But reading the comments, particularly at Cyberpresse but also elsewhere, it’s as if we’re still battling for the Plains of Abraham, only this time the army on both sides is comprised of Internet trolls.

Some people have suggested that Tierney doesn’t know what he’s talking about because, like all anglophones, he’s never actually seen a Quebec-made movie and hates French – both suggestions are preposterous. Some have said he’s a hypocrite for taking advantage of tax credits and other government financial incentives for creating home-grown movies, as if taking money from the government (which every filmmaker does here) somehow removes him of his right to criticize Quebec cinema. Many have accused him of outright Quebec-bashing.

And there are those who argue that Quebec films shouldn’t be more multicultural or include more anglophones, because those people are not true Quebecers.

He’s right…

Speaking strictly from the perspective of an uncultured consumer, I think Tierney has a point. There are a lot of white faces out there, even when you include Brathwaite, Charles, Diouf and others. And while there are examples of bits of English in Quebec cinema, it’s not at the kind of level one would find during a normal day in Montreal.

The other day, I watched Bon Cop Bad Cop on TV. It was on an English-language Canadian movie channel, so the French bits were subtitled (when Patrick Huard says “En tout cas, y’a un bon coup de patin!” - a pun that doesn’t translate into English – you see the value in knowing the language instead of relying on those subtitles). Seeing people interact in two languages at the same time – even switching between the two in mid-sentence – just seems so rare these days on screen, even though it happens so often in real life.

I’ll let one of the Cyberpresse commenters explain:

Le problème, c’est qu’il n’y a jamais de mélange. Les deux solitudes comme on dit. La télé francophone d’un côté, la télé anglophone de l’autre. Et jamais on invite un anglophone dans une émission sur la télé francophone, et inversement. C’est pareil dans le cinéma. En plus de ça, les gens sont allergiques aux sous-titres dans les films, il faut dire qu’on ne leur donne pas trop le choix, vu la programmation 100% doublé de la plupart des cinémas, quel que soit le film.

Even with the huge numbers of bilingual people in Montreal, Quebec and places near Quebec borders, there’s a resistance to bilingualism in our culture. Television, radio, newspapers, even most websites have to choose one or the other. Anything said or written in the other language has to be subtitled, dubbed or translated so that the audience can understand. There are no bilingual television stations or cable channels (besides CPAC), no bilingual radio stations (at least no commercial ones), and only a single bilingual newspaper.

Some angry online commenters will say that the problem isn’t Quebec, it’s the Rest of Canada that doesn’t feature francophones. In fact, it’s both. Which is odd because Bon Cop Bad Cop was one of the highest-grossing films in both Canadian and Quebec history (even though it was much more popular in Quebec than in the rest of Canada). You’d think both sides would catch on to that and start taking advantage of the power of language unity.

One movie in production seems to be. Funkytown also stars Patrick Huard, and is slated for release in December:

… but he’s also wrong

Where Tierney is off the mark is in making it seem (whether intentionally or not) that this is all Quebec’s fault. The tone of the criticism has forced people to become defensive about the Quebec film industry instead of giving his two cents some thought.

It’s funny because this industry needs so little defence. It’s incredible how successful home-grown cinema is here, particularly when compared to English Canada. A modest showing in Quebec would be considered a mega hit if it made the same amount at the box office in English Canada.

Some of the other points Tierney brings up also don’t convince me. I don’t think Quebec is too concerned with the past or with its own majority culture (these themes are strong here, but shouldn’t they be?). I don’t think cinema here is racist. I don’t think the Jutras are unrepresentative of Quebec society, which outside of Montreal is very francophone and very white. And while I think there’s room for more multiculturalism and more languages in Quebec cinema, I don’t say so with nearly the same accusatory style as Tierney’s comments.

And there are a lot of things he’s missing, too. For one thing, Tierney seems to be arguing that Quebec cinema isn’t Montreal-centric enough, which might cause those living in small towns to laugh out loud. Quebec culture is far too Montreal-centric, even if about half of Quebecers live within 50km of the city’s centre. The clique du Plateau should be replaced with more of a focus on Gaspé, Trois-Rivières, Baie-Comeau, Alma, Nunavik, Kahnawake and, yes, the West Island.

If that happens, Canadian cinema would be embarrassed, not having nearly the same kind of regional diversity as Quebec cinema would have.

But unlike some online commenters, I don’t believe that the failures of others should give us justification to drag our feet. It’s time for more Tierneys to enter the scene and create a cultural landscape that everyone in Quebec can feel they’re a part of.

UPDATE (Aug. 9): Though a few weeks late to the table, the Gazette’s Don Macpherson shares some thoughts about Tierney’s comments and how anglo Quebecers are still not considered true Quebecers.

Posted in In the news, Opinion

Why I don’t believe anything I’m told about G20 protests

(Updated with more myths)

I’ve been following the fallout from this G20 summit through Twitter, YouTube and other media over the past few days. I wasn’t there myself, but I have some experience as an observer during protests, so a lot of what I saw and heard was familiar.

The first thing you have to know about large protests – and the police action that comes with it – is that it’s all more of a public relations war than anything else. Neither side is interested in harming the other (permanently), nor do they seriously expect that the other side will listen to reason and compromise. Instead, their shared goal is to convince the court of public opinion that the opposing side is an evil, heartless monster menace and they are the innocent victims (it’s a battle the police tend to win, by the way – as a post-G20 poll shows).

And that wouldn’t be so difficult. All either side has to do to get on the public’s good side is behave. Don’t antagonize, don’t attack, don’t resist, don’t break the law.

The problem with large protests (just about anything large enough to bring out the riot squad) is that while the majority – even the vast majority – do behave during these events, a minority of both sides doesn’t. And those are the ones people focus on. The ones who let their frustrations get the better of them, the ones who think the ends justify the means, or the ones who are just straight-up assholes.

And so, in the days after the G20, both sides have been screaming out half-truths to anyone who will listen, trying their best to exaggerate the extreme actions of the other side while dismissing or rationalizing their own excesses.

Here are a few of those outrageous claims. Some might be true, others not. I don’t know, because it seems everyone who does know the truth is too clouded by their political agendas to speak it properly. But I’m willing to guess the truth lies somewhere between the two sides.

Continue reading

Posted in In the news, Montreal, Radio

Cogeco to buy Corus Quebec radio stations

Pierre Trudel thought it was Quebecor, but Quebecor had it right: Cogeco, a cable provider in Ontario and parts of Quebec, which also owns the Rythme FM radio network and used to own TQS before that went into bankruptcy, has announced that it will acquire Corus Quebec’s radio network, pending CRTC approval.

The transaction, valued at about $80 million, includes:

In Montreal:

Elsewhere:

  • CJRC-FM Souvenirs Garantis 104.7 in Gatineau
  • CIME-FM 103.9 in St-Jerome
  • CHLT-FM Souvenirs Garantis 107.7 in Sherbrooke
  • CKOY-FM 104.5 in Sherbrooke
  • CHLN-FM Souvenirs Garantis 106.9 in Trois-Rivieres
  • CFOM-FM Souvenirs Garantis 102.9 in Quebec City
  • CFEL-FM (“CKOI”) 102.1 in Quebec City

It’s hard to tell from a simple press release what this all means. Cogeco has experience in radio, so I wouldn’t expect any major overhauls immediately (except, I guess, having to rename “Corus Nouvelles”). But CFQR would be Cogeco’s first anglophone radio station, for what that’s worth.

On the francophone side, this would mean a loss of competition. Instead of three major players (Astral Media is the other, owning the NRJ and Rock Détente networks), there would be two. CKOI and CFGL would come under the same owner, working together instead of competing with each other for music listeners.

In Sherbrooke, it’s worse: Three of the four five commercial music stations, CKOY, CHLT and CFGE, would all be owned by Cogeco, leaving CITE-FM-1 Rock Détente 102.7 and CIMO-FM 106.1 NRJ in nearby Magog as the only competition.

In Trois Rivières, it would be two for Cogeco, two for Astral. Same for Quebec City, though there’s more competition there from independents.

It’s also worth noting that this sale comes mere months after Corus cut local programming at Souvenirs Garantis stations CJRC, CHLT and CHLN.

What about CKRS?

CKRS 98.3FM in Saguenay, the fourth Souvenirs Garantis station that got its morning show cut to be replaced with Paul Arcand, is not part of the transaction. Corus has been looking to get rid of that station, and the deadline for bids was yesterday, and the new owner (if there is one) should be known soon.

UPDATE: Nathalie Collard also has some thoughts on the matter.

Posted in Opinion, Slow News Day

French at the Olympics: Unsatisfied below 50%+1

You might think there are more important things to discuss, but to Quebec media, there’s nothing more important than condemning the Vancouver Olympic Committee for having banned the French language from the opening ceremonies.

Sure, they had Garou (unless you were watching on NBC – they cut to commercial when the francophone singer came on stage), and every announcement was in both languages (French first)*, and referee Michel Verrault read the officials’ oath in French, and IOC president Jacques Rogge read part of his statement in French, and Nikki Yanofsky performed the national anthem in both languages. But only one of the half-dozen songs of the ceremony were sung in French, narration by Donald Sutherland and slam poetry by Shane Koyczan weren’t translated into the langue de Molière, and VANOC chair John Furlong spoke with a thick anglo accent in the few words he spoke in French.

Réjean TremblayJean-Guy Fugère, Caroline Touzin, Rino Morin Rossignol, even Jean Charest and the Conservative government complained that there wasn’t enough French (though Michel David suggests the government didn’t complain enough).  Jean-François Bégin wonders why Wayne Gretzky was picked over Gaetan Boucher to be the one to light the flame. Patrick Lagacé sighs that we should have expected this insult to Quebec’s position in Canada’s heritage. Touzin says most of the volunteers there don’t speak French (many of the ones who do come from Quebec). Radio-Canada has a whole dossier on the topic.

The Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste expressed condemnation, according to a story that Associated Press decided was worth writing.

The Globe and Mail also editorialized in favour of more French, The Gazette devoted an editorial and two columns to the subject, and Paul Wells also chimed in, proving it’s not just francophones that noticed. (Though the National Post was lukewarm in its endorsement of the outrage, and the Vancouver Sun calls it “tedious regional whining” that is “best ignored for now”.) André Pratte and Guillaume Bourgault-Côté took notice of this.

Hell, even Richard Therrien complained about how commentators in France were pronouncing the city’s name in the anglo way. And Chantal Hébert complains about ignorant comments posted to news stories online (while asking for comment from her own ignorant online commentators).

And Ted Bird makes a funny. So did Andy Riga.

You know it’s gotten bad when even the Angry French Guy comes to the anglos’ defence.

Insufficient, but not insultingly so

My first reaction was to think, as Francis Vachon did, that we should give them a bit of a break because this was in Vancouver, not Quebec City. But I’m not going to defend the organizers – these are Canada’s games, not those of British Columbia, and French should have been more prominent. Hopefully they’ll improve things a bit for the closing ceremonies, if only by including an extra song in Canada’s other official language.

But the reaction from Quebec media – particularly Tremblay’s bitter sarcasm (he suggests it was insulting to Quebecers that First Nations were given such a large role) – is over the top. There was plenty of French at the ceremony (especially when you consider that most of it didn’t involve anyone talking at all), and the fact there wasn’t enough to satisfy some people doesn’t negate the effort made.

To me, the biggest language failure came not from VANOC or the IOC, but from the television media covering the ceremony. None of the Canadian networks provided any translation for those few parts that were only in one language. RDS and V (which basically just took the RDS feed and slapped its logo on it) didn’t translate speeches and narration into French. CTV, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet didn’t return the favour for speeches in French (and when those speeches came up, the closed captioning read the very helpful “[SPEAKING FRENCH]“). This despite the fact that speech text and translation were provided on giant screens at BC Place.

The closest thing to translation was NBC, which summarized the officials’ oath with a “basically what he’s saying here is…”

Meanwhile, during competitions, official on-screen graphics (provided by VANOC) are English-only, which astonishes me not only for the sake of Canadian bilingualism, but for every other country in the world that doesn’t speak English. Having English graphics on RDS and V is insulting, moreso to me than Garou singing off-key of Furlong’s pronunciation of “bienvenue”.

Suddenly, we care

What got to me most about this media overhyping was that suddenly Quebec seems to care about French outside of Quebec. Tremblay lamented the plight of the Acadian people, without mentioning that Quebec and its nationalist zealots are as responsible as the rest of the country for throwing them under the bus.

I’ve been of the view for a long time that the battle for the survival of the French language shouldn’t be fought in Quebec – where it is already dominant – but in the rest of Canada, where it is truly endangered. But Quebec sovereignists don’t care about the rest of Canada because they know Quebec will eventually separate and there will be no reason to protect the language outside its borders.

At least we can hope that this so-called controversy will help people understand that this country has a serious problem with language, and that nobody seems serious about fixing it.

UPDATE: Patrick Lagacé responds to this post, saying that the battle for French outside Quebec has already been lost. Even though he says I’m “dans le champ”, I actually agree with most of what he writes.

*It’s been pointed out that French is an official language of the Olympics and that official announcements are always in French. I know this. I’d like to think the announcements would be in both English and French regardless. But the fact remains that French was there. It’s not like they’re going to give the announcement in French twice (or once in French and once in Québécois joual).