In their ideological commitment to less government involvement in society, Steven Harper’s Conservatives have caused serious long-term harm to one of our country’s most important institutions – the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Canada.
The CBC was created in the 1930s to counter the growing influence of American radio. It now includes Radio One, all-music Radio 2, and their French language equivalents, service to residents of the North in eight aboriginal languages, and a range of excellent digital services. CBC provides radio, television and Internet content, including news, public affairs, sports, documentaries, drama and comedies, but because of continuing severe budget cuts, its viability is under threat.
As a result of the 2012 federal budget, CBC’s parliamentary appropriation was cut by $115 million. As Thomas Walkom noted in the Toronto Star, “The aim was to slowly starve the public broadcaster rather than take the political risk of killing it outright.”
Taken together, the loss of the lucrative Hockey Night in Canada franchise, a reduction of 657 staff members over two years, anticipated cutbacks in regional and children’s programming, the CBC faces a dark future.
Once the cuts are fully implemented by next year, per-capita public funding will drop from $33 to $29—16th among the public broadcasters of 18 Western countries. Surely we can do better than the individualist, free-market-or-die model of the U.S., where per-capita public funding on broadcast services is $3. The CBC is not perfect, and it has to deal with a drop in a softening advertising market and stiff competition from private rival networks. It is hurting in the key 25-54-year-old demographic. But where are the statements of support and confidence that this essential institution can and should review, revamp and rebuild?
There is only silence on the Conservative side.
The CBC is an indispensible part of our national identity. Look at what the Canada Reads series has done to increase awareness of Canadian authors. Tout le monde en parle is a must for anyone in public life. Anyone interested in the Charbonneau Commission can’t miss the unique nightly reports and expert analysis on RDI.
CTV News has its strengths, but the Bell Canada-owned network needs competition. Any reduction in Radio-Canada’s broadcasting presence can only mean more room for the TVA network, whose majority shareholder, Pierre Karl Péladeau, is committed to breaking up our country. Nature abhors the void and any weakening of Radio-Canada can only help PKP’s media empire.
We remember the outrageous rescinding of the compulsory long-form census that has crippled the work of Census Canada. We mourn the death of the compulsory long-gun registry. We look at Harper’s sorry appointments of Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau to a Senate he was committed to reforming.
And we despair. Harper must go.