The Conservatives’ Hidden Agenda For Public Broadcasting And Cultural Sovereignty
April 22, 2011
There is a huge and troubling gap between Stephen Harper’s words and deeds regarding the CBC and Canada’s cultural sovereignty, as well as a continuing pattern of contradictory statements, both from Harper and from other Conservatives:
- In the lead up to the 2004 election, on May 19, 2004, when Stephen Harper was asked by a a CBC reporter in Winnipeg to comment on his plans for CBC, he said: “I’ve suggested that government subsidies in support of CBC’s services should be to those things that are not…do not have commercial alternatives.” He then added: “When you take a look at things like main-English language television and probably to a lesser degree Radio Two, you could there (sic) at putting those on a commercial basis.” (www.friends.ca/News/Friends_News/archives/articles05190403)
- Several months later, Harper contradicted that comment in a speech to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters when he stated that “we would seek to reduce the CBC’s dependence on advertising revenue and its competition with the private sector for these valuable dollars, especially in non-sports programming.” (www.friends.ca/news-item/6480)
- During the 2004 election campaign, John Reynolds (who subsequently chaired the Conservatives’ 2006 campaign) wrote a constituent who is a FRIENDS’ supporter as follows: “CBC Television will be completely cut loose to compete and will have to depend entirely on its advertising revenue.”
- During the same election campaign, Stephen Rogers, the Conservative candidate in Vancouver Quadra told a FRIENDS’ supporter that he calls CBC “the Communist Broadcasting Corporation”.
- Yet the Conservative Candidates’ Pocket Policy Guide from the 2006 election states (on page 10) that “arts and culture make essential contributions to our national identity. A Conservative government will ensure that the CBC and Radio-Canada continue to perform their vital role as national public service broadcasters.” (www.friends.ca/News/Fact_Sheets/factsheets01230601)
- On May 30, 2006, the Liberals moved the following resolution in the House of Commons: “That the House insist that the government, its departments and agencies, maintain the program policies and regulations in support of Canada’s artistic and cultural industries. in particular, by maintaining or enhancing: (a) existing Canadian cultural content requirements; (b) current restrictions on foreign ownership in the cultural sector; and (c) financial support for public broadcasting in both official languages.” This resolution passed in a recorded vote: 155 in favour; 121 opposed. All 121 opposing votes came from Conservative MPs.
- On November 5, 2007, Harper appointed Hubert Lacroix President of the CBC. Lacroix, who contributed $1,000 (the maximum legal amount) to a Conservative candidate during the previous general election, is a Montreal-based mergers and acquisitions lawyer. His only known broadcasting governance experience has been as executive chair of TeleMedia during the period when that family-controlled company sold off its broadcasting properties some years ago.
- Why would Stephen Harper appoint a mergers and acquisitions lawyer with no management experience in radio or television production, programming or scheduling as President of the CBC?
- In February 2008 the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage released a major study on the future of the CBC CBC/Radio-Canada: Defining Distinctiveness In The Changing Media Landscape. Among its recommendations: that the annual parliamentary grant to the CBC increase over a seven-year period from the current $33 per capita to $40 per capita and that the government commit to multi-year funding. The Conservative members of the Committee dissented from these recommendations.
- In early September, 2008, just before Harper announced the general election, Conservative Party Campaign Director, Doug Finley wrote to Conservative supporters to solicit funds and ask them to complete a “2008 National Critical Issues Survey” which he described as “extremely important” and promised that “I will personally share the overall results and any comments with the Prime Minister”.
- Question 5 of this survey read: “The CBC costs taxpayers over $1.1 billion per year. Do you think this is a good or bad use of taxpayer dollars?” (www.friends.ca/files/PDF/DougFinley.CPC-survey.pdf)
- On September 20, 2008 journalist Glen McGregor wrote in the Ottawa Citizen: “Mr. Harper was asked yesterday by a reporter if he believes the $1.1 billion annual parliamentary appropriation for the CBC is a good use of taxpayers’ money. The question was apparently inspired by a fundraising letter sent out before the election from Conservative campaign Rasputin Doug Finley. The letter includes a survey that asks the same question. The Conservative leader replied to the question with telling brevity. ‘All I can say is I support government budgets.’ ” (www.friends.ca/news-item/7278)
- In late 2008, FRIENDS learned from a reliable source in the Conservative Party’s headquarters of the existence of an official document calling for a cut of $200 million from CBC’s annual parliamentary grant. In response, FRIENDS developed a research briefing note to highlight the impact of such a cut on CBC’s public broadcasting operations. (www.friends.ca/fact-sheet/7620)
- On February 26, 2009 CBC President Lacroix announced “a revenue shortfall of $55 to $60 million for the year ending March 31, 2009″ and suggested that CBC is looking at options such as “(a) introducing more American programming into our television schedules, (b) downgrading or selling parts or the whole of some or our TV or Radio services, (c) increasing the advertising we accept on the air, or (d) shrinking our geographic coverage of the country by consolidating local stations.” (www.friends.ca/news-item/7842)
- Later that day on As It Happens, Lacroix spelled out option (c) more clearly, when he said that “ads on CBC Radio are on the table.” (www.friends.ca/news-item/7843)
- In an interview on CBC Radio’s Q cultural affairs show on January 21, 2009 Harper’s Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore promised there would be no cuts to arts and culture spending in the upcoming federal budget. Asked specifically whether there would be cuts to the federal allocation to the CBC, Moore denied there would be cuts. (www.friends.ca/news-item/7665)
- However, on February 26, 2009, when Stephen Harper’s government tabled its Estimates for the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2009, the allocation to the CBC was reduced by 5.6% from $1,115,424,000 in 2008/09 to $1,052,608,000 in 2009/10 – a cut of $63 million. With inflation, this amounts to a year-over-year cut of $75 million. (www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/est-pre/20092010/me-bd/docs/index-eng.pdf)
- In the March 6, 2009 edition of the National Post, Gerry Nicholls, a former vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, wrote about why the NCC “chose a young MP named Stephen Harper as its new president in 1997″: “Being NCC president is not a run-of-the-mill job. First of all, you need to be an ideologically pure, small “c” conservative. That means you must reject Pierre Trudeau and all of his works. You must view the CBC as a socialist-run boondoggle. In general you must believe that whatever the private sector can do, the public sector can do – worse.” (Excerpt from Loyal to the Core, by Gerry Nicholls (www.freedompress.ca)
- On November 23, 2010, Dean Del Mastro, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage mused publicly (www.friends.ca/files/Sounds/DelMaestro-10Nov23.mp3) about killing the CBC. According to Del Mastro, “Maybe it’s time we get out of the broadcasting business…. The $1.1 billion, plus a whole bunch of other stuff that we’re investing into the public broadcaster, should we look at reorganizing that in some fashion?” This policy would kill CBC Radio One, CBC Radio Two, CBC Television and CBC NewsNet, leaving Canadian broadcasting entirely in the hands of the private broadcasters, and in the case of television, private broadcasters controlled by cable monopolies.
- On February 16, 2011, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was quoted by the Canadian Press as saying “The CBC lies all the time.” (http://www.friends.ca/news-item/10022)
- On March 1, 2011, the Harper government tabled its spending plan for the coming year in Parliament. Included in the fine print of the Main Estimates 2011-12 is a reduction to the CBC’s grant of $16 million ($42 million in purchasing power after inflation is taken into account). For our public broadcaster, a reduction of this magnitude might seem manageable, but it is yet another cut in a series that, taken together, is having devastating consequences obvious to every listener and viewer. (http://www.friends.ca/fact-sheet/238)