What’s wrong with the CBC? A Westerner’s view

By Garth Pritchard

CBC’s The National has become an American news outlet, far more interested in Donald Trump and the American news cycle than anything happening in Canada.

They proved this beyond a doubt with last night’s deplorable coverage of the shootings in the mosque in Quebec City. The National’s newsroom obviously believed that Trump was the story of the day, as usual. Canadians were left in the dark as to what was happening in the horrific shooting in their own country.

The coverage from our national broadcaster was so bad that we turned to CNN – which was actually running live coverage from Quebec – while the Toronto faces rattled on about American news. Totally unacceptable.

As Albertans, we have known for a long time that CBC is the public relations department for the Liberal government. What’s more, over the last year, CBC has become just another bad American news channel, never missing an opportunity to showcase their anti-Trump opinions.

As a Canadian, I have no skin in the American game. I just want good journalism. Give me the two sides and let me, the public, make a decision. The Toronto newsroom has become a de facto propaganda machine.

CBC’s coverage of what happened in Quebec appeared to me as if people in the Toronto newsroom were actually annoyed that they might have to cover what was going on at home.

I could go on about CBC’s mandate and what this debacle of a news outlet costs us, but of course we’re all familiar with the numbers and appalled by the product.

The daily decisions to dispense with solid news reporting and showcase their own political opinions demonstrate the amateurish journalism skills of The National’s news editors. They should all be fired. Now.

Garth Pritchard is an award-winning Canadian documentary filmmaker living in rural Alberta.

What’s wrong with the CBC?

An ambulance is parked at the scene of a fatal shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City
Why did English Canada see none of this live on the CBC?

Globe and Mail TV critic John Doyle’s Tuesday column (Lack of TV news coverage of Quebec City shooting a huge broadcast failure) singles out CBC-TV News, the national network’s touted source for independent news and commentary.

Doyle’s takedown wasn’t strong enough. The CBC failed so utterly, so pathetically, I’m shocked the network hasn’t announced an internal inquiry into who made the call not to break away from regular Sunday night programming, including a pre-recorded The National – and why.

Quebeckers and subscribers watched Sunday evening’s horror unfold on LCN, Quebecor’s all-news channel, or on its Radio-Canada competitor RDI. Both provided the kind of nonstop coverage viewers desperately sought from the moment the first alerts began popping up. If I was forced to choose, I’d say LCN’s remote coverage was better, while RDI’s anchors did a more professional job co-ordinating. (LCN’s usually urbane Pierre Bruneau looked and sounded rumpled and I found myself yelling at ex-politician Mario Dumont, but these are nitpicks.) Both got the job done.

CBC Montreal’s online posts were slow in coming and read as if they were being transcribed by someone watching the Radio-Canada feed. I was the CBC-TV assignment editor the day in 1984 Denis Lortie stormed the Quebec National Assembly, killing three and injuring 13. We scrambled to round up cameras and reporters as Toronto ordered nonstop coverage and demanded why we couldn’t supply more. Now, 33 years later, the CBC’s top brass seems to see nothing wrong in its failure to deliver what its private competitors had no trouble supplying – professional live coverage of a fast-breaking news event of worldwide interest.

My suspicion is that CBC top brass made a political decision. Rather than risking getting it wrong in the news blur (three shooters became two, then one) and giving voice to politically incorrect utterances, the news bosses played it safe by waiting until the SQ and Premier Philippe Couillard had done talking. If I’m right, the CBC  doesn’t deserve a dollar from taxpayers until those who made the call are replaced with professionals.

In 2016, the broadcaster got $34 per Canadian. It wants $46 per Canadian to go ad-free, which it claims will make it more independent and able to branch out into new technologies. My view: why should the CBC get more money if it fails to deliver on its existing promise of performance?

CTV and Global were no better, but they’re answerable to their shareholders and the CRTC, not the taxpayers. I feel for my colleagues who suffer in silence so they can keep their jobs. (As for the CRTC, it has outlived its usefulness, but it will take far more political courage than Ottawa has shown so far to make it relevant.)

Whenever I hear or read handwringing journalism profs and senior executives in Canada’s media monopolies moaning about the slow, sad death of print and broadcast journalism, I wonder whether I’m the one who’s crazy. Journalism isn’t dead. Its beating heart has been transplanted onto the internet, onto podcasts, onto live-streaming sites where inquisitive minds can work without the malevolent interference of corporate bosses. Media consumption has fragmented and as the boomers die, so will the mainstream media.

The CBC likes to pretend it’s a Canadian BBC, PBS or TV5. It is none of those things. It has excellent journalists, editors and producers but it ties their hands with a brain-dead bureaucracy which discourages initiative and enterprise. The sad part is that it could become the daring, disruptive voice of transformative journalism it claims to be.



Hudson’s Brick Shithouse

What is the ultimate capacity of Hudson’s sewage treatment facility?

According to the people who built it, 25% more than what it was originally designed to handle, with future expansions possible. I have been told the system is currently operating at approximately 60 per cent capacity, but the only confirmation I’d accept from this administration would be in the form of flowmeter data.

Above, the Town of Hudson’s sewage treatment facility as seen from Wharf Road. Below, the array of sequencing batch reactors at the back.


The 25% comes from former Hudson/St. Lazare Gazette reporter Matthew Brett’s sewer system notes from November 2007, which I post verbatim together with a big thanks to Matt for preserving them in digital form:

Whole system will be housed in a two-storey round building 28 metres in diameter according to town engineer Trail Grubert. Six-acre site off Wharf Road, next to the municipal snow dump.

Grubert said they’d looked at six other zones that weren’t suitable.

Space already belongs to town, so didn’t have to buy more property.

Discharge flows into the Lake of Two Mountains.

Denis Provencher of LBCD says it will use industrial processing tanks, called sequencing batch reactors (SBRs), to remove bacteria and solids from the water.

The first step in the treatment process involves what Provencher calls a “rotary screen,” where solids bigger than 6mm are filtered out. The liquid waste flows into an equalization tank to await transfer to one of the four SBRs. There, each load is pumped full of oxygen, which promotes the growth of aerobic bacteria that consume the particles found in the sewage.

Afterwards, the wastewater is left to settle before being separated from the leftover sludge. The water goes through a further ultraviolet disinfection process before flowing into the Lake of Two Mountains through a 300-metre pipe. The sludge is treated and dried, and periodically disposed of in a landfill.

According to Provencher, the water and sludge being returned into the environment must meet strict government requirements. One reason the town is installing the system is because municipalities downstream complained to the Ministry of Environment that Hudson is discharging raw sewage into the Lake of Two Mountains.

Building is equipped with a carbon filter that neutralizes odours.

Acoustic enclosure dampens noise.

For now, the sewer system will be available to businesses and residents in the town’s centre within the boundaries of Lakeview, Mount Pleasant, Côte St. Charles and Main Road, and all civic addresses on Bellevue, Sanderson, Seigneurie, Wilkinson and Parsons.

Provencher said the treatment facility has been designed to handle a larger service area in the future. “In the design, considerations have been given to future expansion. For example, by converting the equalization tank to a SBR, the capacity can be increased by 25 percent,” he said.

Let’s keep talking

Zébre Rouge employees, volunteers and backers gather for a photo op in the organization’s  bike-restoration workshop in Vaudreuil-Dorion. Zébre Rouge is one of the grassroots initiatives launched here in Quebec by the families of those with mental health issues.

Today was Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, when Canadians are encouraged to join a national dialogue on mental health issues. To give credit where credit is due, it’s thanks to Olympic medalist Clara Hughes that we’re having this discussion.

I’m not about to question Bell’s sincerity and generosity (any brownie points may have been wiped out with the firing of a Bell Media talk show host seeking a leave of absence for an anxiety disorder) or all your supportive retweets. But I will share some of yesterday’s conversation with Judy Ross, the co-founder of Mental Health Estrie.

Judy is the woman who asked Justin Trudeau at last week’s Sherbrooke town hall meeting what could be done to increase funding for mental health support groups such as theirs.

Trudeau famously told her that since they were in Quebec, he’d reply in French. Ross’s question exploded into another of those language-issue dialogues of the deaf rather than a serious discussion about the lack of mental health services in either official language. As I posted, (What I’d tell JT, Jan. 19, http://www.thousandlashes.ca) it was clear from his reply in French that he has no understanding of the core issue – the federal government has the responsibility of ensuring equal access to health and social services for Quebec anglos and francos in the rest of Canada.

Ross told me she’s worried that the purpose of her question was lost in the uproar. I asked her if she’d heard back from the PM’s people on her original concern. Not a word, she replied. She’s hesitant to launch a formal complaint with the Commissioner of Official Languages because she’s hopeful the media storm will somehow morph into a much-needed discussion about funding for mental health support groups such as hers.

I asked her about Mental Health Estrie’s financial footing. Ross said it’s on an even shorter shoestring than it was when it was created 11 years ago. The regional health and social services agency eventually agreed the services they offer are unique and complementary, making them eligible for $52,000 a year. They got half that, indexed. Six years later, they’re making do with $27,000. They fundraise the rest.

That doesn’t include donations to HUGS, their annual winter clothing drive on behalf of the homeless clients of Sherbrooke’s Acceuil Poirier. Ross proudly tells the story of the shelter’s director staring at the table piled with hats, gloves, mitts and long underwear. It was the program’s first year and she was worried they’d done something wrong. He told her that in all his years with the shelter, it was the first time he’d ever seen new clothing being donated and couldn’t wait to play Santa Claus.

I asked Judy whether she’s seen any improvement in how society deals with mental illness. Yes, she told me. The ongoing challenge has been to get Mental Health Estrie’s name out there. She and others sit on MRC working tables. They’ve seen the region’s CLSCs hire mental health teams. She’s seen the mental health teams set up direct links with the CHUS (University of Sherbrooke Health Centres, similar to Montreal’s MUHC and CHUM). First responders have protocols to prevent confrontations with the mentally ill.  ERs have quiet places where those in crisis can get away from jammed waiting rooms. Later this year, a supervised residence will open in Lennoxville for 18-35s with mental health issues.

“Where we see difficulties is with access,” Ross continued. “People go to the ER, where they’re triaged. Once they’re triaged, they’re directed to an area for psychiatric services. There they may wait up to eight hours to see an ER doctor, who may call a psychiatrist – and that psychiatrist may not speak English.”

People with mental health issues usually don’t seek medical help of their own accord, Ross said. Many wait months to seek help and if they don’t have someone to advocate for them, their first reflex is to get up and walk out. So Mental Health Estrie’s volunteers and staff are often called upon to accompany their clients, either to a medical facility or to the courthouse.

“There’s a lot of isolation to deal with – in many regions, no public transit means people live in isolation. Then there’s the stigma of mental illness, the history of bad experiences…”

And there’s language. How, asks Ross, can a unilingual French-speaking psychiatrist get a unilingual English-speaking patient to open up about their thoughts?

She speaks from personal experience. Faced with a family mental-health crisis, she and her husband were forced to find help in Montreal, where they met with Ella Amir and AMI. From that, Mental Health Estrie was born, leading Judy to joke that Amir can add midwifery to her CV.

Ross, now 72, describes the past 20 years “as the best and the worst” as she and the organization she co-founded fight on to change the way we think about mental illness. Justin Trudeau’s language gaffe falls into the silver-lining category. “I just try to grab every opportunity,” she says.

I’m posting this as Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk Day winds down. I’m sure we all retweeted their feel-good message but I can’t help asking what, if any, of the money Bell says it will donate finds its way to Mental Health Estrie, Zébre Rouge or any of the grassroots groups involved in the 24/7 struggle with mental illness. They’re the unsung heroes. Too bad Bell doesn’t see the value in telling these stories. Maybe next year…

Annex A

Finished going through Annex A, the document which lists the 789 addresses eligible for connection to Hudson’s sewer system and sewage treatment plant. Annex A forms an integral part of long-term loan Bylaw 505. This one bylaw accounts for $14.8 million of the town’s $24 million long-term debt.

Taken together, Bylaw 505 and Quebec’s Act Respecting Municipal Taxation make it clear every address fronting on a sewer line, connected or not, must pay the interest, principal and charges on the sewer/sewage treatment plant loan according to the rates set for residential and non-residential usage.

Act respecting municipal taxation, Section 244.3:

The mode of tariffing must be related to the benefits derived by the debtor.
Benefits are derived not only when the debtor or his dependent actually uses the property or service, or benefits from the activity but also when the property or service is at his disposal or the activity is an activity from which he may benefit in the future. The rule, adapted as required, also applies in the case of a property, service or activity from which benefit may be derived not directly by the person but which may be derived in respect of the immovable of which he is the owner or occupant.
The extended meaning given to the expression “benefits derived” in the second paragraph does not apply if the mode of tariffing is a fixed amount exigible in a punctual manner for the use of a property or a service or in respect of the benefit derived from an activity. The activity of a municipality that consists in examining an application and responding to it is deemed to benefit the applicant, regardless of the response given, including cases where the subject of the application is a regulatory act or the response consists in such an act.

An accompanying letter from Hudson’s greffier Cassandra Comin Bergonzi notes that a special meeting will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at the Community Centre where a revised 2017 budget will be presented. Finance committee head Rob Goldenberg said at the  January council meeting the revision will include the taxation of properties located on the sewer system but not connected. In my discussions with a Municipal Affairs ministry lawyer and Hudson Director-General Jean-Pierre Roy, I was given to understand the municipality must tariff all properties physically capable of connecting to the sewer system even if they have not connected. The following lists all connectable properties. Annex A does NOT denote which properties have yet to connect.

Annex A: dai207-01-1-annexes-a

Note: This version has been updated with the addition of specific references. 


I resurrected two columns published prior to presentation of Hudson’s water and sewer loan bylaws. Here’s what Peter Ratcliffe had to say: pg-09

My Oct. 30 2006 Hudson Gazette column follows. The water and sewer loan bylaws were presented a month later, raising the total cost from $16 million to $24 million. Conclusion: Hudson went into this project knowing the west end water question was unresolved. I wish we had pushed the issue even if others didn’t.

When later becomes now
Elsewhere in this week’s paper, Hudson resident François Hudon argues the case that every one of Hudson’s 2,200 addresses should be taxed equally for the proposed sewer treatment system and upgrades to the Town’s waterworks.
Hudon isn’t alone. This past weekend, I was waylaid by a prominent resident who demanded why any household not served by the sewer system should have to pay for it. I had scarcely finished that conversation when I ran into a couple from the west end whose water pressure had just dropped off for the umpteenth time, wanting to know why their taxes aren’t worth as much as everyone else’s.
Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t hear from another resident of Birch Hill, Brisbane and Upper or Lower Whitlock, threatening to vote against the bylaw if they’re not connected to the sewer system.
As I predicted, the Town’s delay in tabling a loan bylaw for the water and sewer works is giving rise to rebellion.
Before I wade deeper into this debate, I’m 100 percent in favour of this project. I’m tired of drinking water that tastes like blood (and get off my case about water softeners!). I’m disgusted with the sight of raw sewage flowing in the Lake of Two Mountains. I’m sick of the pervasive smell of fecal matter in our ditches and streams.
It’s going to cost us. As a business in the centre of town, the Hudson/St. Lazare Gazette will be assessed its share of the 75 percent of the cost of the sewer project. As an unsewered Hudson household, we’ll continue to shoulder the cost of maintaining an aeration system at our home.
But voting against the loan bylaw may end up costing us even more. As I wrote in August, municipalities that take their drinking water from the Ottawa River are demanding that Quebec force Hudson to stop dumping its untreated sewage. Since then, I’ve been told that if Hudson votes aginst the loan bylaw, the feds and the province may well pull their money, force Hudson to clean up its act — and foot the sewage component of the bill all by its lonesome.
If the sewer project dies, so will the continuing-care seniors’ residence and the proposed medical centre, neither of which is economically viable if it has to build its own treatment plant.
So why hasn’t the Town of Hudson presented its case to the people? It’s now November, more than a month after public information sessions were supposed to have been held to brief taxpayers. Here’s the dilemma I suspect is facing the Town:
Sewerage: The original plan connected homes, businesses and public buildings in a quadrilateral bounded by Main Road, Côte St. Charles, Cameron and Lakeview, plus Mount Pleasant Elementary and Westwood Senior High schools and the proposed seniors’ residence on Charleswood. A separate network collected sewage from residences on Bellevue, Sanderson, Seignieurie, Parsons and Wilkinson. Everything fed into a new waste-water treatment plant next to the municipal snow dump on Wharf Road. Now that the folks of Birch Hill and Brisbane are militating for connection, why not the homes around Pine Lake and everyone above Lakeview? It’s mushrooming.
Cost: The federal and provincial governments are committed to $9.8 million, or slightly less than two-thirds of the original $15.5 million cost. That would have left $5.6 million to be picked up by Hudson’s ratepayers according to a cost-sharing arrangement to be presented at a public consultation prior to the tabling of the loan bylaw (or bylaws, depending on how the Town decides to divvy up the cost.) Some 1,300 addresses would be liable for anywhere from 60 to 75 percent of the sewerage bill, with the remaining 900 paying the rest. A number of unsewered homeowners aren’t happy because they’ll end up paying for a sewer system while having to maintain a septic tank, weeper field and all the rest.
Water: Again, who should pay? Not all 2,200 addresses will benefit from improvements to the Town of Hudson’s drinking water treatment infrastructure. Originally, the Town had hoped to be able to solve the west end’s chronic water woes with a new reservoir connected to Rigaud’s two new wells, but that plan fell through when it learned that the proposal carried a $1 million price tag. Does the Town float a separate loan bylaw for the reservoir and tax the 55 west end homes it serves for the full cost? Or does the Town write the cost of laying pipe from the top of Macauley Hill to the Hudson border into the overall water-system upgrade?
Bottom line: Pay now or pay later. For nearly 40 years, Hudson has evaded its duty to the environment and its neighbours. Whatever the reason for the incompetent handling of the water/sewer file, this project MUST be completed.


What I’d say to JT

Mental Health Estrie founder Judy Ross asks Justin Trudeau what he can do to make health and social services more accessible to English-speaking Townshippers. The PM tells her he’ll answer her in French.

When you’re blaming someone for the uproar in Sherbrooke, I hope you’re looking in the mirror.

It wasn’t the fault of your town hall advance team that nobody briefed you on the woman asking you that question about health and social service availability in English.

It wasn’t the fault of the media that your fartbrained decision to answer an English question in French escalated into a Facebook feeding frenzy. You’ve been a Quebec MP long enough to know federal politicians always answer in the questioner’s language if they’re able to. Your father was a stickler for federal bilingualism protocol. Frankly, everyone thought you were past that petty linguistic bullshit.

Yes, you sort of apologized but it only compounded the problem. You had a second chance to admit your mistake and make amends to perhaps the one person in that entire room who has personal experience dealing with Quebec’s systemic linguistic discrimination. You blew it.

Judy Ross is the name of the woman who asked you that question in English. She’s the founder and longtime executive director of Mental Health Estrie. If your handlers do their job, they’ll discover that Mental Health Estrie does incredible work on a shoestring for English-speaking Townshippers living with mental illness. They run peer support groups for patients, caregivers and their families. They run social integration projects for patients attempting to reintegrate into their communities.

Each year from November until March, Mental Health Estrie runs its annual HUGS for the Homeless for the Acceuil Poirier homeless shelter in Sherbrooke. HUGS stands for hats, underwear, gloves and mittens, socks and scarves but they accept new articles of clothing that will keep people warm in subzero temperatures. (Mental Health Estrie’s website notes that Sherbrooke is one of 11 Canadian cities that can expect at least one night of -30.)

HUGS was started because Quebec has been cutting the number of psychiatric beds in its hospitals since Jean Rochon was Lucien Bouchard’s health minister. Outreach funding was supposed to bridge the gap but a succession of governments has slashed those budgets as well. Of the 600 or so homeless people the Acceuil Poirier provides for, at least 75% of the men and 90% of the women are dealing with a persistent mental illness.

Maybe you’re getting a glimmer of why Judy Ross was so put out by you switching into French. Mental Health Estrie exists mainly because Quebec anglos are at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to accessing health and social services in English. If you’re dealing with a mental health crisis, your only option is the Hotel Dieu Hospital, where you’ll be lucky if there’s a clinician available who speaks English.

It’s the same for English-speaking communities everywhere off the Island of Montreal. It doesn’t matter whether it’s getting your slow learner child assessed, arranging respite care for a spouse with Alzheimer or dealing with persistent mental illness. The average wait time for English-speaking patients and their families is half again as long as it is for French speakers because of Quebec’s specific demands. For example, files must be in French even if the care provider and patient are both anglos. Bilingual providers must be paid a premium so there’s less incentive to hire bilingual staff. Ottawa, through the Health Care Act and the federally funded CHSSN, has some influence, but every dollar going to minority-language health and social services in Quebec is measured against an equivalent amount for francophones in the rest of Canada. It’s an old, old fight and there are no winners.

So, Mr. Trudeau Jr., this is why Judy Ross reacted like you’d slapped her. How were you to know? These town halls across Canada are supposed to be feel-good photo ops and soundbites of scrubbed, respectful Canadians listening intently to your self-congratulatory speechifying and queuing up for selfies. One can imagine the horror among your handlers when angry, disrespectful Canadians puncture the PMO bubble and the fickle media zoom in on their outrage. Those of us who have spent their working lives chronicling this are never surprised. The longer the honeymoon, the greater the fall.

In a Facebook post this morning I compared Canada’s relationship with you and your government to any personal relationship. Most of us have gotten over the initial puppy-love giddiness. We’re beginning to see the things that attracted us to you are becoming the things that piss us off. We still can’t resist a selfie with you at Smoked Meat Pete’s but we’re beginning to hate ourselves for our weakness. Most of us are still hoping you’ll move past the narcissism, the self-love and the bogus I-care-about-you act to a place where you can be both yourself and politically honest.

Wise up, and quickly. Learn from your father’s experiences. PET won grudging acceptance in Quebec because he never tried to suck up. Trudeaumania had a fast, rude trip back to earth during the 1968 St. Jean Baptiste riot where PET’s presence enraged a coalition of violent Quebec secessionists and union militants. Thirty months later, he was dealing with the FLQ insurgency and an apprehended insurrection that would have seen a popular common front take over the government of the province from the rookie Liberal premier Robert Bourassa.

More free advice: Don’t expect worshipful, happy crowds in Alberta unless you’re ready to Trump the hecklers. I just got off the phone with Garth Pritchard, who is hoping to get into one of your town halls to ask you who you represent — Canada or Quebec. Like most Albertans, he’s angry at his premier Rachel Notley for not taking a stronger stand against carbon taxes. He’s angry on behalf of the 200,000 unemployed Albertans, angry about the average $2 billion a year Alberta still transfers to Quebec.

Like most Albertans, Garth can’t grasp why you’re going around bragging about how your government plans to phase out the oilsands while approving new pipelines. Which is it?

I was at a riding environment committee meeting last night in Hudson where someone asked that same question. There’s a conspiracy theory out there that Ottawa promised $40-50 billion to B.C. to approve the Kinder Morgan project. There’s another conspiracy theory that your government’s picks for the reconstituted National Energy Board have a mandate to ensure Energy East gets its pipeline to Montreal and its tankers downriver passage to the Irving refinery. You should know your credibility in environmental circles is melting faster than the Greenland icecap.

You’re a smart, likeable guy. You’ve done well in making Canada cool. But you’re losing credibility for no good reason and when that’s gone, Canadians will begin to wonder what’s left.