Monthly Archives: April 2009

Andrew Phillips to leave The Gazette

Gazette editor-in-chief Andrew Phillips in a 2005 photo by Richard Arless.

Gazette editor-in-chief Andrew Phillips in a 2005 photo by Richard Arless.

Today was a strange one at the office, and not only because I was sitting at a desk in the Business section. On one hand, some employees were celebrating their induction into the Quarter Century Club (25 years of service). On the other, it was the last day of a colleague on the copy desk who is now enjoying his retirement.

But while we saw those two things coming, we didn’t anticipate an email saying that the paper would be losing its editor-in-chief.

Andrew Phillips, who was named to the top editorial position in October 2004, began his career here 35 years ago as a summer intern before moving on to Macleans magazine and the Victoria Times-Colonist.

The soft-spoken Phillips wouldn’t comment on why he’s leaving or what’s next in store for him, beyond saying that “it’s time to move on.”

It would be irresponsible of me to hypothesize, therefore I’m going to guess his departure is part of a massive government conspiracy and Phillips is sacrificing his career as part of a convoluted plan to help Jack Bauer stop a bionuclear attack on Canadian soil.

But seriously, as a journalist himself, Phillips always fought for the newsroom, pushing for more investigative journalism and finding ways to protect it from the inevitable budget cuts. He may not have always succeeded, but he always tried. For that, the newsroom will surely miss him.

Publisher Alan Allnutt, who was Phillips’s boss at the Times-Colonist and brought him along to the Gazette, had nothing but praise for his colleague today:

I have spent much of the last eight years working in close partnership with Andrew at two newspapers and I have nothing but great admiration for his intelligence, his principles and his journalistic talent.

In an email to staff today (republished here with his permission) Phillips himself wrote:

I’ve been associated with this paper all my adult life; it was 35 years ago that I first stepped foot into the ancient newsroom at 1000 St. Antoine as a summer student. It’s been a tremendous privilege to occupy the editor’s chair for the past few years, and to see how this newsroom has risen to the challenge of dealing with particularly tumultuous times in our industry. We’ve accomplished a lot over the past 4 1/2 years – remaking the paper and making the move to online. I’m proud to have worked with all of you, and grateful for the opportunity to get to know you on a personal level.

Phillips’s last day is May 8. Managing Editor Raymond Brassard takes over in the interim.

UPDATE: CBC has a brief about Phillips. Kirk Lapointe also writes about his departure.

Welcome, Thomas Keefer Street

Thomas Keefer St. sign

Atwater Ave. represented somewhat of an inconvenience for the city. Before the Atwater Tunnel, it was a simple street broken in two by the Lachine Canal. But the Atwater Tunnel was built beside Atwater Ave., meaning there were two Atwaters side-by-side.

But that’s not what created duplicate street addresses. There are no street addresses in the Atwater Tunnel or in the approaches to it. Instead, the problem (which was the subject of a Montreal Geography Trivia question last year) was because the lower part of Atwater is in Montreal but the upper part is in Westmount.

In February, the city solved that problem by renaming a short stretch of Atwater on the south side of the Canal. Instead of Atwater Ave., it would become Thomas Keefer St., named after the 19th century civil engineer who had a hand in Montreal’s water works.

Thomas Keefer St., looking south from the Lachine Canal

Thomas Keefer St., looking south from the Lachine Canal

This solves both the duplicate address problem and the street doubling problem (now cars won’t take this street thinking it leads them to the upper half of Atwater). And only about 15 addresses would be affected.

A similar doubling on the north side of the canal still exists: the Atwater Market is bordered on three sides by streets named Atwater Ave.


Atwater Saint-Charles Park

One minor quirk of this change is that Atwater Saint-Charles Park is no longer at the corner of Atwater Ave. and St. Charles St. But I guess people can live with that.

The thing that I find most interesting about this change is that, as a former Concordia student, the name Thomas Keefer has an entirely different meaning.

Tom Keefer (right) with Laith Marouf in 2001

Tom Keefer (right) with Laith Marouf in 2001

Tom Keefer was a Concordia Student Union politician, a devout anarchist and anti-capitalist who, unlike many of his ultra-leftist peers, actually had a sense of humour about it. He’s probably most famous for having been expelled from the university in 2001 along with fellow student politician/activist Laith Marouf in what became an excessively long battle with the administration.

While most would just accept the punishment and move on, Keefer fought and appealed his case, prompting hearing after hearing, right up to the level of the Board of Governors, who eventually ruled in their favour and lifted the ban.

My favourite memory is from one of his many hearings before a university panel, which is chaired by an external lawyer to ensure fairness. The lawyer followed a policy that allowed people to dictate how they prefer to be called (“Miss”, “Mrs.”, “Dr.”, etc.). Keefer took advantage of this and insisted he be referred to as “Comrade Keefer”. It was absurd, but entirely consistent with Keefer’s assertion that the proceeding was a kangaroo court and should not have been taken seriously.

Amazingly, the lawyer agreed and referred to him by his chosen honorific. For the duration of that hearing, he became Comrade Keefer.

Whether his antics improved student life at Concordia, of course, is another matter. He left the university before all the fun Netanyahu-related stuff happened, and moved out west to be with grown-up activists.

Now he publishes an activist journal and continues to annoy The Man. An interview with him about his publication was published this week at

It doesn’t refer to him as Comrade.

Bell solves TV crisis (not)

OK, someone’s going to need to explain this one to me, because it doesn’t make any sense.

Conventional television broadcasters (CTV, Global, TVA, TQS and CBC/Radio-Canada) are pleading with MPs and the CRTC for the ability to charge cable and satellite distributors for fees to carry their channels. Their argument is that the advertising model has failed them, and they require a second revenue source to pay for all those local news stations and transmitters. They also say it’s unfair that specialty cable channels get subscriber fees. (Why am I paying money to networks that air non-stop Seinfeld reruns packed with ads anyway?)

Since the distributors would undoubtedly pass these fees onto their customers (despite their billions of dollars in profits), this would effectively mean that Canadians would be forced to pay for television channels that are broadcast for free over the air.

On Wednesday, Bell, whose Bell TV is one of two direct-to-home satellite services legally operating in Canada, announced it had come up with an “innovative” solution to this problem, that wouldn’t cost consumers extra, would help broadcasters and more importantly not hurt its own bottom line.

That solution is “freesat”, a system where some over-the-air television channels would be beamed to homes via satellite for free. Bell would be happy to provide this service if it meant they didn’t have to do this fee-for-carriage stuff. (It’s also easier to convince people to sign up for paid satellite service when they already have the equipment.)

So there you go, a win-win-win solution. Right?

Oh wait, not right, because this doesn’t solve anything.

Bell seems to believe that the financial problem of television stations is their upcoming transition to digital transmission. While the purchase of digital transmitters is a nontrivial problem – the CRTC’s estimate is that it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars – and it has led to the decision to shut down many retransmitters, that’s not what the broadcasters are complaining about. Their argument is that the cost of local newsrooms and local programming is too high to be paid for with advertising alone. Bell’s idea would not solve this problem.

Its financial uselessness isn’t the only flaw in Bell’s Freesat plan, as Digital Home also points out. Among the others:

  • Freesat would require users to purchase satellite dishes and decoders from Bell, at a cost much higher than a simple over-the-air digital-to-analog converter. One of the main reasons people don’t have cable or satellite is cost, so the people who would need this are also the people least likely to afford it.
  • Not everyone has a home that can accommodate a satellite installation.
  • Bell’s satellite service doesn’t carry all local conventional television channels (like, for instance, Global Quebec). This wouldn’t change under Freesat. So viewers would actually lose channels. Not to mention that the decision of what channels we’d have free access to would be Bell’s alone.
  • This proposal ignores the fact that there’s a second satellite provider in Canada. How would StarChoice fit into this? Would it also have to provide free channels?

I have my issues with the transition to digital. I’ve already argued against it, and still believe that there’s plenty of room to move existing stations out of the higher channels (say, 50-69) and auction off those frequencies. Digital television would make a technology that’s been used for more than half a century obsolete unnecessarily.

Freesat is worse. The equipment is bulkier and more expensive, and it doesn’t give all local channels. It’s the worst of two worlds.

Oh by the way, if “Freesat” sounds familiar, it could be because it’s the name of a real free-to-air satellite TV service in the U.K., or because Bell is recycling this exact same idea from a year ago.

Nice try, Bell.

National Post to stop printing Mondays this summer

Reuters reports that the National Post has decided to stop printing on Mondays for nine weeks this summer. The move is an effort to save money for the paper which has been bleeding money out of debt-ridden Canwest (my employer) since it launched a decade ago.

Canwest says the move will involve no layoffs. A digital edition, which looks identical to the print edition, will still be produced, CP says, meaning the stories will still be written and laid out, but simply won’t be printed.

The Post already doesn’t publish on Sundays, meaning important news that breaks on a Saturday morning will have to wait up to 72 hours before it’s in the hands of readers.

Canwest has until May 5 to deal with its lenders (or get yet another extension).

UPDATE (May 2): The Post explains itself in a note to readers.

Quebecor shuts down ICI (UPDATED)

The final issue of ICI, Vol. 12 No. 28: April 30, 2009

The final issue of ICI, Vol. 12 No. 28: April 30, 2009

Quebecor has just announced that it is shutting down Montreal alt-weekly ICI, with its last print edition coming out tomorrow. From then on, columns will be published online and in an insert in the Thursday edition of 24 Heures, another Quebecor paper. The move results in nine layoffs of permanent employees as well as a loss of income for 15-20 regular freelancers.

Quebecor’s release takes great pains to say that the company did whatever it could to prevent the paper’s shutdown. I guess that’s supposed to include forcing freelancers to sign abusive contracts, a move that led a high-profile columnist to leave. AJIQ, which represents independent journalists, didn’t mince words in blaming ICI’s downfall on its treatment of freelancers, which I think is pushing it a bit.

In the end, it probably made little sense for Quebecor to produce two free newspapers in Montreal in addition to the Journal de Montréal. So ICI is being canibalized in favour of 24 Heures.

The big question now is what happens to The Mirror, the anglo alt-weekly which is also owned by Quebecor. This move leaves two anglo weeklies (Mirror and Hour) and one franco (Voir). Voir and Hour are both owned by the independent Voir Communications.

Then again, The Mirror is older than ICI and the disparity in readership on the anglo side isn’t as high as it was with Voir and ICI. Quebecor confirms this, saying there’s no question about The Mirror being shut down.

It’s unclear where ICI’s voices will head now, though most are expected to stay with Quebecor in some capacity. Sophie Durocher will (continue to*) have a column in the Journal de Montréal’s weekend section, and Pierre Falardeau is expected to stay on in some capacity, according to Le Devoir. Two journalists will move to 24 Heures. ICI’s show on Videotron’s Vox channel, Ici et là, will also continue for the time being.

UPDATE: The final issue is on the stands, and sadly it looks like the plug was pulled after the issue was put to bed, because there’s not the slightest hint that this is the final issue. There are even mentions of future issues:

I don't think so...

I don't think so...

Some of ICI’s contributors didn’t find out about the closing until Quebecor’s press release caused journalists to ask them for comment.

UPDATE (May 5): Michel Vézina gives his take in his Montréal Express column.

News coverage:

Elsewhere in the blogosphere (no doubt this list will get bigger):

*UPDATE (Sept. 25, 2010): Sophie Durocher wishes to clarify that her Journal de Montréal column predates the lockout, so she isn’t replacing any unionized workers. Earlier versions of this post also contained a comment about her that, in hindsight, was somewhat unfair, and may have led people to the wrong impression about her Journal column.

Loblaws offers free* green bin

Loblaws green bin

From The Gazette’s Green Life blog: Loblaws is giving away free green shopping bins to people who buy at least $60 worth of groceries (not including alcohol and other non-food stuff) and have this coupon, until April 30.

As a regular user of the green bin, I can attest that it’s the most convenient way of hauling a medium-size load of groceries home (so long as you don’t use the stairs too much). My only quibble is that if you’re spending $60 on groceries, you’re probably not going to be able to fit it all into the bin (or if you do, it’s going to be really heavy).

CRTC roundup: Deciding the future of TV

The CRTC continues to dominate be a footnote in the headlines as conventional television operators appear in two hearings – one for the CRTC itself in Gatineau to discuss license renewals, and another for a House committee in Ottawa to discuss the future of local television. And those discussions are heating up.

Last week, CTV and Global pressed their fee-for-carriage idea, where cable and satellite providers would be required to pay broadcasters to carry stations that already transmit their signals over the air for free. This would give broadcasters a $350-million lifeline, which is why they’re continuing to press for it even after having gotten rejected twice. They say local news simply can’t pay for itself, and it needs to be subsidized.

Even TQS jumped on board, despite the fact that it doesn’t produce local news.

Rogers, which owns CityTV and OMNI but gets much more of its revenue from its cable distributor, argued in front of MPs that CTV and Global were exaggerating their financial troubles to get a handout.

This week, Rogers repeated the accusation to the CRTC, saying the networks want money for local stations but also want to shut down small stations that don’t rake in money. It tempered that by saying that if the CRTC approves such an idea, it should be temporary until the recession goes away and a revenue goes back up. It also said fee-for-carriage means they shouldn’t be required to distribute conventional TV channels if broadcasters demand fees that are too high.

(This brings up an issue: Isn’t Rogers in a conflict of interest here? On one hand, OMNI and Citytv would benefit from additional fees, but Rogers is silencing those voices because the corporate parent has decided it would have more to lose from these fees through its cable provider than it would gain through its television stations. The same applies to Quebecor, which owns the TVA network and Videotron. In all, distributors showed revenues of $10 billion in 2008, with over $2 billion in profit.)

Pierre-Karl Péladeau, who speaks on behalf of TVA and Videotron, gave a more nuanced, have-your-cake-and-subsidize-it-too answer to MPs, saying fee-for-carriage should be allowed, but that the rates should be subject to negotiation between broadcaster and provider (no doubt the negotiations between TVA and Videotron would go amicably).

Leonard Asper of Canwest argued the problem is a regulatory system that allows distributors to flourish while broadcasters falter. He said debt and the recession are problems too, but they’re not the whole answer.

Ivan Fecan of CTVglobemedia said the Local Programming Improvement Fund, a special fund setup by the CRTC to subsidize local television stations in small markets, would need to be tripled, and that even then this would only protect the status quo and would not result in any increase in local programming. That angered Rogers and CRTC members.

CTV and Canwest also pointed out that cable and satellite providers are constantly increasing their rates without the “revolt” that the providers say would happen with a fee-for-carriage.

The Globe and Mail’s Grant Robertson, who has been covering this issue better than anyone, has a list of some of the issues that may come up in discussions about the future of television in Canada.

Why not just shut them down?

An interesting point was made in discussions of license renewals: If CTV and Global are so jealous of specialty television channels, why don’t they just become specialty channels?

It’s not quite so simple, but with 90% of Canadian television viewers having cable or satellite service, the added expense of setting up transmitters and local news stations isn’t worth the added viewership and ad revenue that comes with it. (Not to mention the cost of transitioning to digital television, which has caused broadcasters to decide to shut down dozens of retransmitters across the country.)

CRTC chairman Konrad von Finkenstein asked if CTV would prefer the specialty channel model to the conventional TV model. Conventional stations require a certain amount of local programming, while specialty channels are required to spend a certain percentage of their revenues on creating original programming. CTV suggested it would prefer the latter, though it wanted some recognition that having local stations is much more expensive than rerunning old Seinfeld episodes.

CRTC wants more transparency from big guns

The CRTC is seeking comment on new rules that would require large broadcasters and distributors to disclose more information about their finances than they currently do.

Currently, the CRTC collects lots of information but only releases “aggregate information” to the public. So we know how much all broadcasters spend on U.S. programming, but we don’t know how that breaks down per broadcaster or broadcasting unit.

Since broadcasters are arguing that they need more money because their business model is broken (and the distributors are arguing that the can’t spare fee-for-carriage payments without raising prices), it makes sense that they should let us see their books.

The CEP labour union certainly agrees with that reasoning.

Broadcasters want changes on the air too

In addition to fee-for-carriage, television broadcasters are asking for a relaxing of regulations about how much Canadian content they have to air and what kind of programming they must create. One of the proposed changes is to include reality programming in the list of “priority programming” (scripted comedies and drama shows) that the CRTC gives special attention to because it costs more to produce. This would go against the entire point of distinguishing expensive from cheap programming, and encourage private broadcasters to cancel expensive dramas in favour of cheaper reality shows.

Meanwhile, Bill Brioux wonders if CTV and Global will be reducing their big-budget U.S. programming purchases in light of their apparent financial woes.

StarChoice really dislikes CBC Regina

Last year, the CBC got all up in StarChoice’s face because of a decision by the satellite distributor to remove CBC Regina (CBKT) from its channel lineup. The CBC complained to the CRTC, saying that the removal meant StarChoice had more CTV channels than CBC channels, and this represented a violation of one of its conditions of license.

In November, the CRTC ruled that CTV’s main network and its A Channel network should be considered separately for the purposes of this rule, and that StarChoice was still in compliance. It dismissed the complaint.

But the CBC pressed on with its case, arguing that the CRTC got the numbers wrong and that even excluding the A Channel network, StarChoice has more CTV-owned stations than CBC-owned stations. These include CTV-branded stations as well as CJCH in Halifax (formerly ATV, rebranded as CTV Atlantic) and MCTV’s CICI (rebranded as CTV Northern Ontario).

What followed was a war of words betwen CBC and StarChoice, with the latter accusing the former of using incendiary language.

Now, StarChoice is asking for an exception to be made to its license to allow it to continue not distributing CBC Regina but still distribute all its CTV stations (including CTV Regina). I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest the CBC will oppose this request.

In other news

Nuns’ Island allergic to children, fun

Having children running around would just ruin this image.

Having children running around would just ruin this image.

Nuns’ Island residents, apparently feeling that their reputation as snobs wasn’t cartoonishly cliché enough, have declared opposition to the sound of children playing in a public park. They want the park to be made less fun so that the children won’t be so tempted to make children-fun noises and disturb all the condo construction going on.

Oh, but they say, they don’t want to close the park next to their high-rise apartment building, they just want the water shut off to save the environment!

To them I’ll point out that this picture was taken on the same street as that park.

Nuns' Island SUVs

Notice the SUV parade?

Thankfully there’s no shortage of others also ready to point out the hypocrisy and stupidity of the argument, and those include Verdun mayor Claude Trudel, who rebuffed the petition.

Journal Weekly Digest: More support, but not in court

Rue Frontenac survey results: Quebec MPs by party

Rue Frontenac survey results: Quebec MPs by party

Like the Canadiens, the locked-out workers at the Journal de Montréal are counting the moral victories while their actual ones are few and far between.

On Friday, the Commission des relations du travail denied a request from the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal to order the paper to stop using content from Quebecor’s new Agence QMI. The union argued that it’s being used to replace the work of locked-out workers with the work of journalists at other Quebecor-owned news outlets. The employer countered that they’re playing by the rules – all the content is published elsewhere in the Quebecor empire before it’s printed in the Journal.

The truth, of course, is in the middle. Many other Quebecor outlets have ramped up their journalism production to feed the Journal.

Still, even with that small setback (other issues are still on the table and will be discussed at other hearings in the coming weeks), the STIJM is heralding its new avenues of moral support.

The Bloc + 3 = 70%

On Sunday night, Rue Frontenac released a survey of Quebec MPs that headlined the fact that 70% of them support the locked-out workers and would support a boycott of advertising in the Journal de Montréal by the federal government. It combined that with a somewhat conspiracy-theory piece about why the Conservatives didn’t support them, suggesting it had to do with Brian Mulroney’s ties to Quebecor, ignoring the more obvious explanation that Conservatives don’t tend to take the union’s side in labour disputes.

More interesting is the fact that 12 of 14 Quebec Liberal MPs (including Stéphane Dion) chose not to support the workers (or more accurately, didn’t respond to Rue Frontenac’s survey). But Quebecor can’t be in bed with the Liberals since La Presse and Radio-Canada already are.

Guy! Guy! Guy!

But more important than federal politicians are entertainment galas, and Guy A. Lepage made a few headlines when he appeared on stage to accept an Artis award sporting a Rue Frontenac sticker and declaring solidarity with the locked-out workers (along with 800 people let go by CBC/Radio-Canada, which airs his show Tout le monde en parle).

Lepage was the only winner from Radio-Canada (RadCan swept the nominations in the talk show category) in the Quebecor-dominated Artis. So if anyone was going to say something, it had to be him, especially since he had paid Rue Frontenac a visit just days before to give them an exclusive interview.

Outside, locked-out workers were demonstrating, keeping their cause in the news (well, on Rue Frontenac anyway, and as a throw-away mention in a piece about the more important issue of who people were wearing).


Workers showed they’re not intimidated by Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s injunction and are still hounding him.

And to those of you who don’t think Rue Frontenac is doing enough investigative journalism, I give you an exclusive report on the fact that electronics store flyers have errors in them.

Gazette wins, Post loses in ABC circulation numbers

The Audit Bureau of Circulations released numbers this morning for Canadian newspapers in the six months ending March 31.

The biggest loser was the National Post, plunging a horrifying 20% in that time. This was due mainly to the decision to pull the Post out of smaller markets (like, everywhere between Calgary and Toronto).

The big winner was The Gazette, whose paid circulation increased 13%. In fact, Quebec papers in general seemed to do well:

  • Le Devoir up 2.82%
  • La Presse up 1.19%
  • Le Soleil up 0.52%

Neither Journal’s numbers were in the story (probably because they went down aren’t part of ABC), but in any case would be hard to judge by due to labour conflicts at the papers this year and last.

Last month, NADbank numbers showed readership over the past year was stable.

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 33

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 33

This location is significant, but only if you prefer Google over Microsoft or AOL.


UPDATE (1:28pm): Quite a few of you got this one dead on, but Zain was the winner.

Welcome to Montreal

Welcome to Montreal

This is indeed the corner of St. Denis and Crémazie (or perhaps more accurately southbound Berri and westbound Crémazie), which according to Google Maps is the centre of Montreal.

AOL’s MapQuest places the centre on Berri St just above the Ville-Marie expressway (though, strangely, if you set Montreal as your default location, it centres it instead on Remembrance Road near Beaver Lake).

Microsoft’s Live Search Maps also uses Berri and the Ville-Marie, as does Yahoo! Maps.

National Post explores HNIC production trailer

Hockey Night in Canada production trailer graphic from the National Post

Hockey Night in Canada production trailer graphic from the National Post

The National Post’s Graeme Hamilton has a feature piece on the behind-the-scenes technical production of a Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. It focuses on what happens inside the high-definition trailer (specifically, the rapid change of camera angles and the rush to get instant replays on air).

It includes the graphic above, which looks at the layout of the trailer and the positioning of the dozens of cameras in a given arena.

MédiaMatinQuébec gets photo award

Its website no longer exists, but MédiaMatinQuébec’s name came up this week as the News Photographers Association of Canada announced the winners of its annual photo awards. (As is the tradition with photographers, the list is filled with typos and formatting errors.)

Unfortunately, there’s no gallery so we have no idea what these photos look like, but I’m sure they’re lovely. The press release announcing the nominations last month has some simple, vague descriptions which might help.

MédiaMatinQuébec, the strike paper put out by locked-out workers at the Journal de Québec until a deal was reached last summer, got first place in the spot news category, for a photo of a sky diving fatality from Benoit Gariépy.

Other Quebec winners include:

Marois on Gesca’s case

Pauline Marois, apparently desperately looking for something to be outraged about, thought she found something in a report from the Caisse de dépôt et placement. There she discovered that the Caisse had lent money to Gesca Ltée, the company that owns La Presse.

The scandal, she figured, had to do with the fact that the former head of the Caisse, Henri-Paul Rousseau, now works for Power Corporation, the company that owns Gesca. Clearly this presented a conflict of interest.

Except, as the government pointed out, the first loan was issued before Rousseau was hired at the Caisse (by the PQ government, no less).

That revelation doesn’t entirely absolve Rousseau of the appearance of conflict (other loans were issued during his term), but one wonders if Marois would have been so critical if it involved a company that didn’t have such apparent ties to the Liberal Party of Canada.