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Radio-Canada brand makeover draws warning words from federal heritage minister

OTTAWA – A new branding exercise by the French-language CBC has Heritage Minister James Moore warning that Canadians won’t tolerate any move away from a pan-Canadian identity.

The federally funded broadcaster announced Wednesday that its Radio-Canada name — a cross-generational staple for francophone Canadians from Cheticamp, N.S., to Maillardville in Coquitlam, B.C. — is being subsumed by the new handle “Ici,” or “here,” in the language of Moliere.

“Canadians will only tolerate these changes if CBC can explain how they’re not in any way backing away from what taxpayers expect from the CBC — which is for them to be a Canadian broadcaster, very clearly, in mandate and brand,” Moore said in a brief interview.

The name change had been rumoured for months but was made official Wednesday with the Crown corporation’s announcement and flashy YouTube video.

A screen crawl on RDI, CBC’s French-language news network, read “Bye bye Radio-Canada” as it aired clips from a bygone era.

“We want to remake Radio-Canada because more than ever it must be a living space, an open organization, flexible and agile,” said Louis Lalande, executive vice-president of French services.

“(It’ll be) just as creative as ever, but more innovative and better attuned to our audience.”

CBC says the makeover will allow a variety of platforms and programs to be pitched under one, common “Ici” brand.

The network has frequently used the slogan “Ici Radio-Canada” — “Radio-Canada here” — and the CBC’s YouTube video explains that it just decided to keep the “here.”

“‘Ici’ is rooted in our history and in people’s memories, and is true to the personality of the public broadcaster,” CBC said in a statement.

“This term fits naturally with our platforms and reflects the scope of the services we offer.”

But “Radio-Canada” will not disappear from the network’s on-air personality, insisted spokesman Marc Pichette.

He cited a March 28 explanatory note on Facebook which stated that “Ici replaces the expression Radio Television Internet, which has been used in combination with the Radio-Canada logo since the integration of French Services.”

The heritage minister also said his understanding is that the network will simply be using the common “Ici” identifier along with existing platform names, including Radio-Canada.

“But there are enough people in this country that have raised concerns about it very quickly today as a consequence of this announcement, I think that the CBC for sure has some explaining to do,” said Moore.

“Because Canadians will pay for a Canadian public broadcaster so long as they understand that there’s going to be a Canadian presence in both official languages across the country.”

Radio-Canada has deep cultural roots as a creator of original programs and as a rare source of French-language programming, particularly for smaller francophone communities across the country.

Pierre Nantel, the NDP heritage critic, called the move “weird.”

“As a consumer I’m quite disappointed,” Nantel said outside the House of Commons.

“I really like the brand, I really like Radio-Canada, and I think most Quebecers do. It’s a bizarre decision.”

But Nantel said he doesn’t see any political motives and described as “witch-hunting” any talk of a Quebec sovereigntist plot to remove “Canada” from the French-language CBC brand.

Philippe Beaulieu, of the Association acadienne des artistes professionelles du Nouveau Brunswick, called the rebranding “a bit of a slap … It’s like we didn’t exist.”

“Is this just Radio Plateau Mont-Royal (a trendy Montreal neighbourhood) or Radio Montreal?” groused Beaulieu.

“They keep claiming that Radio-Canada reflects the Canadian reality. Well, Canada is not just Quebec.”

Radio-Canada isn’t saying how much is being spent on the exercise, beyond that external consultants cost $400,000 while 95 per cent of the work was covered by existing communications budgets.

The federal Broadcasting Act, which regulates the CBC, won’t need to be amended because the name Radio-Canada will continue to exist under the law.

— With files from Alexander Panetta