Home > Publications > Federal regulation of broadcasting and telecommunications – resources

On 23 April 2016 the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced that it wished to “strengthen the creation, discovery and export of Canadian content”, and that it would “examine the government’ cultural policy toolkit.”[1]  Its goal was to “determine how best to assist the cultural sector in navigating these changes and seizing opportunities to contribute to Canada’s economic growth and innovation.”

One of the oldest and most important tools in the federal government’s cultural policy toolkit is the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, which regulates broadcasting and telecommunications in Canada.  As decisions about Canada’s cultural toolkit could well involve changes to this quasi-judicial federal agency, it makes sense to consider its current role and operation.  (The CRTC was reviewed in 1980 by the Law Reform Commission of Canada; in 1986 by the Task Force on Broadcasting Policy; and in 2003 by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/hoc/Committee/372/HERI/Reports/RP1032284/herirp02/herirp02-e.pdf.)

The CRTC’s role in broadcasting and telecommunications is set by federal statute.  Section 5(1) of the Broadcasting Act requires the CRTC to “regulate and supervise all aspects of the Canadian broadcasting system with a view to implementing the broadcasting policy” set out in section 3 of that Act.  Section 12(2) of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act requires the Commission to “exercise the powers and perform the duties vested in the Commission and the Chairperson … by the Telecommunications Act ….”

Decisions in broadcasting matters are not made by the entire Commission, but by the CRTC panels appointed to ‘hear’ the issues being raised.  These panels must consist of three or more CRTC Commissioners chosen by the CRTC’s Chairperson [2] and they may “deal with, hear and determine any matter on behalf of the Commission”.[3]  While panels “shall consult with the Commission”, a panel’s decision is made by a majority of its members.[4]  In other words, CRTC decisions can be made by as few as two CRTC Commissioners (the majority of a three-person panel).

As for telecommunications, the process for choosing CRTC Commissioners to hear and decide telecom matters is not set out in detail in the Telecommunications Act.  It establishes only that “a quorum of the Commission consists of two members, but in uncontested matters a quorum consists of one member.”[5]

The Commission’s work is supported by several hundred civil servants, most of whom work in the CRTC’s central office in Gatineau, Quebec.  The CRTC also has regional offices in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary and Vancouver.[6]

Determining the resources available to the CRTC to perform its work requires a review of its annual reports, budgetary estimates, reports on plans and priorities, departmental performance reports, visions and three-year work plans.  These documents generally summarize the CRTC’s resources in the previous one to two years, but do not provide longer-term comparative historical information and often change the presentation of key concepts.  For example, seventeen of the twenty-four annual reports issued by the CRTC from 1969 to 1991 include the number of staff working at the Commission, while seven do not; and while each annual report sets out the CRTC’s expenditures, none explicitly identifies the source of its income.  None of the reports clearly defines the terms it uses, and terminology changes over time:  its annual reports include an expenses-only “financial statement”, its Part III estimates provide “total expenditures”, and its departmental performance reports refer to “total expenses.

Annual reports:  The annual reports include information about the Commissioners, the work undertaken by the CRTC, its hearings, legal challenges, and statistics about broadcasting and telecommunications in Canada. The CRTC published its first annual report in 1969, covering the twelve months after April 1968, and published its last annual report in 1991.  Many of the post-1975 reports are available online, but not from the CRTC itself.

Part III estimates:  The CRTC has said that the Estimates “provide additional detail on each department and its programs primarily in terms of the results expected for the money spent.”[7] The reports include details about income and expenditures, and occasionally staffing levels.  We were able to find online copies of the CRTC’s Part III Estimates for the years from 1991-92 on, through the “Information Archived on the Web” by the Government of Canada.

Reports on plans, priorities and performance:  In April 1997 the CRTC supplemented its Part III Estimates with an annual Report on Plans and Priorities and an annual Departmental Performance Report.[8]  It said that these reports were intended to “improve the expenditure management information provide to Parliament and to modernize the preparation of this information”, and were also “aimed at sharpening the focus on results and increasing the transparency of information provided to Parliament ….”[9] We found older online reports through the “Information Archived on the Web” by the Government of Canada, and more recent reports on the CRTC’s website. The Departmental Performance reports include staffing figures from 1997 on.

Visions:  In 1997 the CRTC also published a “new Vision to take the CRTC into the information age”[10] and articulated “the strategies and actions we have begun to undertake to make our Vision a reality, with a three-year action plan”.[11]  The CRTC also began to publish three-year Work or Action Plans[12] that it says it uses to prepare its annual Reports on Plans and Priorities.[13]  We found recent versions of these publications on the CRTC’s website, and older versions through “Information Archived on the Web” by the Government of Canada.

Finally, we used Statistics Canada’s consumer price index to remove the impact of inflation from the financial data, using 2002 as the base year.

Finances:  The CRTC’s operations have been financed for more than thirty years by fees paid by the broadcasters and telecommunications carriers it regulates.  In 1985 the CRTC’s Chairman commented that the Commission was “virtually self-sufficient” due to revenues from broadcast licence fees;[14]  in 1986 Parliament authorized the CRTC to set and collect fees from the telecommunications carriers it regulates.[15]  In 2010 the CRTC was authorized to impose Administrative Monetary Penalties for certain breaches of its telecommunications requirements, and these are now reported as part of the revenue generated by the Commission for the government of Canada.

Since 1990 revenues from such fees have exceeded the CRTC’s expenses except for 2008, when broadcasters challenged the CRTC’s approach to broadcast licence fees, and the federal government waived a portion of those fees.[16]  In total, the federal government collected $2,778.9 million (current dollars) in fees from broadcasters and telecommunications companies, and spent $1,079.3 million (current dollars) on their regulation, retaining $1,699.6 million (current dollars) for its own purposes.

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The revenues collected in excess of the CRTC’s expenses appear to have been directed to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of Canada.  In 2004, however, the CRTC noted that it would begin “recovering the full cost of its regulatory activities from the broadcasting and telecommunications industries.”[17]

The CRTC has spent roughly $40 million per year to operate since the mid-1980s.  Where the addition of responsibility for telecommunications in the 1970s was followed by a temporary 24% increase in its expenditures (from $33 million in 1976, to $41 million in 1977), the addition in 2010 of responsibility for enforcing Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL) was followed by a one-year 7% increase in its spending (from $45 million, to $48 million in 2011). By the time CASL entered into force, in 2014, the CRTC’s expenditures had declined to previous levels.

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CRTC decisions to delegate some of its responsibilities have not significantly affected its expenditures.  After agreeing to the creation of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to handle most complaints about radio and television services, the CRTC’s expenditures grew by 11% from 1990 to 1991, but declined slightly thereafter; similarly, after the establishment of the Commissioner of Complaints for Telecommunications Services to handle complaints about telephone service (and since 2015, cable and satellite television distribution services), the CRTC’s expenditures increased by 4% from 2007 to 2008, and again declined slightly thereafter.

Staffing:  After launching in 1968 with 160 people, the CRTC’s staff had grown five years later to 400 people.  From 1990 to 2015 it operated with an average of 418 full-time or equivalent staff, and since 2010 with an average of 433 staff.

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Conclusions:  Understanding and evaluating federal regulation of communications requires, at a minimum, valid and reliable data.  Unfortunately, finding consistently presented, historical information about the CRTC itself is difficult, and not simply because primary sources from the CRTC’s early years are often unavailable online.  The central problems are that the lack of consistency in key concepts over time and unexplained inconsistencies between the data sources that are available.  Add to this the general absence of any data describing the manner in which Parliament’s objectives for broadcasting and telecommunications are being achieved, and it would be easy to sympathize with members of Parliament who, once they begin to study the CRTC and its work, might want to throw up their hands in frustration.

[1]               Department of Canadian Heritage, “Canadian Heritage seeks input on how to strengthen the creation, discovery and export of Canadian content in a digital world”, Media Release (Ottawa, 23 April 2016), http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=1056259.

[2]               Broadcasting Act, section 20(1),

[3]               Broadcasting Act, section 20(3).

[4]               Broadcasting Act, section 20(3).

[5]               Telecommunications Act, section 49.

[6]               See http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/offices.htm.

[7]               Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, 1991-92 Estimates:  Part III Expenditure Plan, (Minister of Supply and Services Canada:  Ottawa, 1991), “The Estimates”.

[8]               Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Performance Report – Improved Reporting to Parliament – Pilot Document, (Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada:  Ottawa, 1997), “Foreword”.

[9]               Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Performance Report – Improved Reporting to Parliament – Pilot Document, (Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada:  Ottawa, 1997)“Foreword”.

[10]             Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Performance Report – Improved Reporting to Parliament – Pilot Document, (Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada:  Ottawa, 1997).

[11]             Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Performance Report – Improved Reporting to Parliament – Pilot Document, (Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada:  Ottawa, 1997), “The Chairperson’s Message”.

[12]             The CRTC’s 2001-2002  Part III-Report on Plans and Priorities mentions at page 19 that its “latest Action Plan can be accessed on our Website (http://www.crtc.gc.ca) under ‘About the CRTC.’”

[13]             CRTC, 3-year Work Plan 2004-2007, Chairperson’s Message:  “The 3-Year Work Plan is used in preparing the CRTC’s yearly Report on Plans and Priorities (RPP), which is tabled each year in Parliament.”

[14]             CRTC, Annual Report 1984-1985, at vi.

[15]             Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, 1994-95 Estimates:  Part III Expenditure Plan, (Minister of Supply and Services Canada:  Ottawa, 1994) at 52:  “The House of Commons passed Bill C-4 on December 11, 1986 giving the CRTC the power to set and collect fees from the carriers it regulates.  Each company is required to pay fees based on its operating revenues as a percentage of the revenues of all the carriers that are regulated.”

[16]             The Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) and a number of broadcast licensees argued that the fees charged by the CRTC were an illegal tax, not a regulatory charge.  The Federal Court upheld this argument in 2007 (Canadian Association of Broadcasters v. Canada, [2007] 4 FCR 170, 2006 FC 1482 (CanLII), <http://canlii.ca/t/1q7zb>); the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the Federal Court’s decision the following year (Canadian Assn. of Broadcasters v. Canada, 2008 FCA 157 (CanLII), [2009] 1 FCR 3, 292 DLR (4th) 246, <http://canlii.ca/t/1wtjt>).  In 2009 the CAB agreed to drop its Supreme  Court of Canada challenge of the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision, in exchange for the waiver of Part 2 fees that broadcasters had not  paid since 2006, as well as the negotiation of a new financial system with the CAB, and broadcast distribution undertakings:  CBC, “Broadcasters settle fee gripe with Ottawa (7 October 2009, last updated 6:01 PM ET, <http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/broadcasters-settle-fee-gripe-with-ottawa-1.841694>.

[17]             Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Performance Report For the period ending March 31, 2004, Table 6, User Fee Information, note **, at 57.