Late last month, we watched with a mixture of horror and fascination as Adrienne Arsenault, senior correspondent for CBC News, and a production crew followed a courageous group of photographers in the Philippines capital of Manila as they went through the grisly and perilous task of documenting the latest in the series of government condoned killings of
suspected drug addicts and dealers.
This revealing news documentary, presented on CBC TV as a special report, brought home in a graphic and dramatic way the continuing story of the aftermath of Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte’s election a year ago on a pledge to “kill every drug dealer and user, and feed their corpses to the fish in Manila Bay.”
Arsenault’s report was just one more example of the important role CBC News plays, in English and French networks, on radio, TV and online, in providing accurate and balanced reports and background on what matters at home and, to the extent of its limited budget, around the world.
Though they have their strengths, the private networks do not and cannot compete at the same level.
The excellence of CBC News and the importance of its role does not seem to matter to Andrew Scheer, the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party. He wants to scrap CBC News in its entirety. He made that point during a campaign that showed how out of touch Conservative leadership hopefuls were to public opinion, especially in Quebec.
Scheer narrowly defeated libertarian Maxime Bernier, the Beauce MP who wants to get rid of supply management that is so essential to maintaining the family farm, especially in Quebec where guaranteed base prices for milk are essential to the dairy industry here.
He’s the same Bernier who left behind an important confidential file at his then girlfriend’s house in Laval! Simcoe-Grey Conservative MP Kellie Leitch, meanwhile, got lots of press from her demand to screen immigrants for “anti-Canadian values.” For a while, she was a front-runner, and
so was Bernier.
Scheer, the former House of Commons Speaker, won with the support of social conservatives, many of whose values he shares, which is why we are so concerned about the man pundits call Stephen Harper 2.0 or Harper light.
High on their agenda is opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Scheer is on record as personally sharing these views, though he’s promised, if elected, not to re-open these issues.
What concerns us, however, are his core values. Scheer is a practicing Roman Catholic and firm believer in its precepts, which is entirely his right. However, his core values may well affect his judgment on developing programs should his party be asked to form a government. His stated belief that CBC should get out of the news business is particularly disturbing.
Scheer claims that “taxpayers are very frustrated by how much the CBC costs” but fails to back this up. The Liberal government has a radically different priority, and in 2016 agreed to reverse Harper’s budget cuts and inject $575 million into a re-invigorated CBC over five years. The
Liberals seem to get it.
They understand the importance of the role of the public broadcaster and the arms-length relationship with government that we replicated from the example of the excellent British Broadcasting Corporation. Scheer does not seem to get it, or maybe he and fellow Tories mistakenly believe that CBC reflects an ingrained left-wing bias. While many of its journalists may tend to have liberal leanings, they are trained to provide fair and balanced coverage, and are monitored.
Scheer said in a pre-Christmas speech: “I don’t know why this government is in the news business in this day and age with so many platforms and so many ways to disseminate information.” He went on to allege that the government has a “glaring” conflict of interest in operating the CBC. Again, he doesn’t seem to get it.
There is a necessary and essential “arms length” relationship that the public broadcaster – not the state broadcaster – is committed to maintaining with regard to coverage of government activities. Lest we forget how upset the Liberals under Jean Chrétien were with then Vancouver correspondent Terry Milewski, now retired, and his aggressive reporting of protests in the 1997 Asian Pacific Economic Conference summit in Vancouver, when Milewski was suspended for three days from the CBC. After a review by then CBC ombudsman Marcel Pepin, he was cleared of charges of bias and credited with “aggressive and critical journalism that was of value to the public interest.” Milewski was then transferred to Ottawa where he continued his role there covering major events in the capital.
At a time when the major print media and conventional television are cutting staff and reducing coverage because of declining ad revenue, the presence of the CBC News at major events and its role in recording history, and as a watchdog, are more necessary than ever. We only have to look at the decline of the Montreal Gazette, which has lost most of its editorial staff to buyouts and even layoffs, and the resultant reduced coverage of local events to appreciate what CBC radio and television provide in terms of coverage. Without the competition the CBC offers, there is every likelihood private television and radio would reduce their spending on news coverage. On the issue of sustained and continuing support for CBC/Radio Canada, Scheer is out to lunch.
And as for his values on social issues, whether he plans to act on them or not, we do not approve. When he says “I’ve never met a tax cut I haven’t liked,” we see our Medicare systems struggling, in large part because federal transfer payments are not keeping pace with the growing needs of an aging population. We see university budgets stretched and fees hiked, making it more and more unaffordable for working families. We see housing in aboriginal communities deteriorating and standards of care for ailing seniors declining. And Scheer cheers when those who can afford to help the less fortunate get tax cuts.