The latest round of cuts at the CBC will see 657 jobs lost over the next two years. A once-proud institution, one that has brought Canadians together as surely as the Canadian Pacific Railway did back in 1885, is once again paying the price for its independence from government and corporations.
There is nothing new in this—the worst cuts to the CBC—33% of its budget—were actually made under Liberal PM Jean Chrétien. But Harper has been doing his share of hacking away, and there has been a nearly steady decline of funding under the Conservatives.
A Conservative-dominated Senate Committee (eight Conservatives, two Liberals) is supposedly beginning a study of “challenges faced by the CBC.” But according to Ian Morrison, spokesperson for the public-interest group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, at least one Conservative Senator appears to have made up his mind already. “I am not sure that I support giving them funding,” said Senator Don Plett to Morrison, a witness at a Committee hearing. Plett was the founding President of the Conservative Party of Canada.
“Slow starvation,” was the way one commentator put it. Killing the CBC outright would carry obvious political risks, but letting it wither away into irrelevance by means of a succession of cuts draws attention away from the government. Regional and local programming, for example, will suffer as a result of the latest blow. The CBC’s ten-minute daily news broadcast to the North is gone. There will be fewer live concerts. 40% of CBC sports staff are being let go.
Meanwhile, according to a Nanos poll last year, Canadians want their CBC, including 57% of Conservative Party supporters who would maintain or increase its budget. But no one up there in the government appears to be listening. Small wonder, perhaps: overseeing the cuts is a Board of Directors of whom 12 members are Harper appointees, and nine are Conservative Party donors—including the current President, Hubert Lacroix, who had no previous senior-level experience in either management or broadcasting when he was appointed. One doesn’t have to be cynical to suggest that the organization now seems set up to fail.
CBC’s visionary mandate remains, one of distinctively Canadian programming in English and French that reflects our country, its diverse regions, and its multicultural and multiracial character.
One might well ask, and many Canadians are, how this mandate can be fulfilled with a seemingly endless succession of deep cuts to the CBC’s core programming. The current layoffs will also see many younger, more Internet-savvy employees leave the CBC, severely hampering its efforts to move forward into the digital age. Before our very eyes, a major Canadian cultural institution is being torn down, brick by brick by brick—like our once-proud postal service that has linked Canadians from coast to coast to coast. What are we going to do about it?