Une entrevue avec Liza Frulla

Frulla: Taking the heat and loving every minute
The Minister for Canadian Heritage says the job ‘is burning me up. But I can’t help it. I love it so much’

It’s not even noon on a sunny Thursday in Toronto and already Liza Frulla is looking tired.

Of course, you can’t blame her. As the Minister for Canadian Heritage, this 55-year-old former broadcaster from Montreal is overseeing one of the hottest portfolios of the moment.

For one thing, there’s the kerfuffle over satellite radio licences that has to be settled, one way or the other, by next week. Then there’s the lockout of more than 5,500 CBC employees by the Crown corporation’s management: Talks between the two sides resumed last week, in part because of Frulla’s ministrations, but no resolution looms on the immediate horizon.

Mix in a minority government’s continuing anxiety about the possible negative fallout from the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal — as the MP for Jeanne-Le Ber, Frulla is one of just 21 Quebec Liberals in the Commons — plus a lot of summertime consulting and travelling (if this is Friday, it must be a drive to Stratford to meet the theatre festival’s board of directors and attend The Tempest) and, well, there’s a price to be paid. The job, she acknowledges, «is burning me up. But I can’t help it. I love it so much.»

Still, Frulla is known for her vivacity and once the questions from a reporter start coming, the vivacity kicks in with a flutter of hand gestures, a forward thrust of the head and a shrug of the shoulders.

With respect to the appeal to cabinet by CHUM Ltd. and Astral Media on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s satellite radio decision of June 16, on this day at least, Frulla amazingly says she hasn’t made up her mind on what course to take.

«I’m listening . . . I have people all around me,» she declares, suggesting she still is weighing their advice. But whether she’ll recommend that (a) cabinet, which is scheduled to meet Thursday, annuls the CRTC’s thumbs-up to the Canadian Satellite Radio and Sirius Canada consortia; (b) sends it back to the broadcast regulator for reconsideration; or (c) lets the original decision stand, she’s not saying. Still, it seems that (b) or some variation thereof likely will prevail. For Frulla, the merits of the case rest on satellite radio’s impact on Canada’s cultural industries and their 650,000 employees, and the need to find an «equilibrium» between new technologies and «using them to our advantage.»

Canadians have a broadcast system «that works,» that has «nurtured» both commercial interests such as CHUM and Vidéotron and artists like Avril Lavigne, Celine Dion and Bryan Adams, she declares, so we have to be careful not be buffaloed into making wholesale policy alterations.

Proponents of the CRTC-approved satellite regime say a delay could set affairs back by at least two years and pave the way for a massive incursion by grey marketeers. But, says Frulla, «I don’t think the grey market is a major issue.»

Frulla points to the hundreds of dollars in expenses associated with installing receivers, registering with a provider and subscribing to channels — and whatever numbers proponents have bandied about have been «inflated.»

She also swats away suggestions that cabinet’s review of the CRTC decision «is based on French pressure. It’s not French against English, not Quebec against the other provinces,» and it’s «irresponsible to try to pit one community against the other» in discussing the matter. Whatever decision results is going to be «very, very rational.»

As for the CBC, Frulla hopes the Canadian Media Guild and CBC management «talk until they drop dead.» She was dismayed that negotiations broke off late last month because «nothing positive comes out of not talking.» She reiterates her previous declaration that the federal government won’t impose any «special law» to settle the dispute. «In my mind, we can’t ever be questioning the public service» that CBC provides, but once a settlement is reached, there’ll be an opportunity to reflect on how that service should be provided.

As for those critics who say the root cause of CBC’s current troubles is the lack of sufficient funds from the Martin Liberals, she snorts: «It’s not a question of money; it’s a question of governance.» She managed to save the CBC from being part of a reallocation of funding among Crown corporations and got it an additional $60-million for 2005-06. » I do not have lessons to take from Jack Layton and Charlie Angus, no way,» she says in response to NDP funding criticism.

In other developments, Frulla says she will:

Name a new chairperson, a francophone, to the board of the CBC later this fall to succeed Carole Taylor, who resigned last March to enter B.C. provincial politics. That appointment will have to be brought before cabinet as well as the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. «What we’re seeking is somebody who knows inside-out broadcasting in French and English.» Expectations are high that author-director-consultant Guy Fournier, one of seven new appointees named to the CBC board for a four-year term, will get the nod;

Press for «a legacy gesture» of significant extra funding to the Canada Council for the Arts to mark its 50th anniversary next year;

Take a delegation of provincial cultural ministers with her to Paris in October to sign, along with 126 other countries, the UNESCO convention on cultural diversity.


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