The future of Canada’s francophone media, including Whitehorse’s L’Aurore boreale, was a central issue at the French-language candidates’ forum held at the Coast High Country Inn in Whitehorse on Saturday.
Many francophone community newspapers have been tightening their belts in recent years, due in part to a decline in federal advertising. Increasingly, the government has chosen to advertise online and on television, instead of in community papers.
Conservative incumbent Ryan Leef, Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell, and NDP candidate Melissa Atkinson attended the forum, hosted by the Association franco-yukonnaise. Green Party candidate Frank de Jong did not attend.
Atkinson and Leef both made commitments to advertise in L’Aurore boreale if they were elected.
“Once I become a member of parliament, I’ll make sure I advertise in there and make communications with the francophone community,” Atkinson said.
Leef said he has advertised in the paper and would continue to do so if re-elected. But he also said media is changing, and he’d like to work with the newspaper to further develop its online presence.
Bagnell didn’t make a firm commitment to advertise in the paper. But in response to a question from the audience about protecting French-language media more broadly, he said his party would increase annual funding for CBC/Radio-Canada by $150 million, and would also increase funding for Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board.
Sophie Begue, a project manager with the Association de la presse francophone, which represents about 23 francophone community newspapers across the country, said she was most impressed with Atkinson’s response.
“I’ve heard a much more concrete answer from the NDP, who’ve said they really want to work with the Aurore boreale. For the others, they noted the importance, but there wasn’t a lot of real engagement on their part,” she said.
Earlier this month, the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities of Canada launched a complaint against the government, arguing that the decline in revenue from federal advertising is hurting minority-language communities in Canada. Between 2006 and 2013, revenue from federal advertising in minority-language community newspapers and community radio stations has dropped to $1.2 million from $3.2 million.
Begue said that L’Aurore boreale has had to cut a reporter position because of the loss in revenue, which has had a serious impact on the amount of coverage it can provide to the Yukon’s francophone community.
L’Aurore boreale is published twice a month, and has a circulation of about 1,000 copies.
But French-language media wasn’t the only focus of Saturday’s forum, which was attended by roughly 40 people. Whitehorse resident Regis St-Pierre asked why more of the campaign posters around the city are not bilingual. He pointed out that only the Green Party’s posters use both of Canada’s official languages.
“You can say that you appreciate the francophone community, but I think that actions and images speak loudly,” he said. “I know you’ve made an effort. Next time, I’d like the effort to be greater.”
The comment elicited some frank responses from the candidates.
“Your point on that topic is well-taken. We don’t have a reasonable excuse for it,” said Leef.
Bagnell suggested it might be an idea to print campaign signs with some of the Yukon’s indigenous languages as well.
“This is my first time running, and it’s something I will take to heart,” said Atkinson. “I’ve heard your voice, and I will do better to make you feel more included.”
Leef was the only candidate without an interpreter at Saturday’s event. He later told the News that functioning without a translator “makes (him) listen harder.” He acknowledged that he missed a few of the questions, and didn’t always find the words he needed, but he said he thought the community appreciated the effort.
Bagnell responded to all the questions in French, but had an interpreter on hand to make sure he understood everything being asked.
Atkinson, who said she’s bilingual in Spanish but not French, read out her prepared statements in French, but answered the questions in English and had her interpreter translate them.
About 13 per cent of Yukoners speak French and English, and about five per cent have French as their mother tongue. That’s equal to roughly 4,500 French speakers and 1,500 native speakers, according to 2011 census figures.
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