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The Conservatives' Hidden Agenda For Public Broadcasting And Cultural Sovereignty

May 30, 2011

A briefing note for FRIENDS supporters from Ian Morrison

Updated: May 30, 2011

There is a huge and troubling gap between Prime Minister 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 himself and from other Conservatives:

  • In the lead up to the 2004 election, on May 19, 2004, when Stephen Harper was asked by 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 look there at putting those on a commercial basis.” (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.” (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 stated (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.” (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 $1,100 (the maximum legal amount) to a Conservative candidate during the previous general election, was a Montreal-based mergers and acquisitions lawyer. His only known broadcasting governance experience had been as executive chair of TeleMedia during the period when that family-controlled company sold off its broadcasting properties early this century.
  • Why would Stephen Harper have appointed 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 voted against these recommendations. (friends.ca/News/Friends_News/archives/articles02280802)
  • In early September 2008, just before Stephen Harper announced a 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?” (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 Finley’s fund raising letter, which asked the same question. Harper replied to the question with telling brevity: “All I can say is I support government budgets.” (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. (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 was 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.” (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.” (friends.ca/news-item/7843)
  • 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 (freedompress.ca)
  • On November 23, 2010, Dean Del Mastro, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage mused publicly (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?” His suggestion would kill CBC Radio One, CBC Radio Two, CBC Television, CBC NewsNet and CBC.ca, leaving Canadian broadcasting entirely in the hands of the private broadcasters, and in the case of television, private broadcasters controlled by cable monopolies and satellite distributors.
  • On February 16, 2011, at the height of the Bev Oda scandal, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was quoted by the Canadian Press as saying: “The CBC lies all the time.” (friends.ca/news-item/10022)
  • In response to emails from tens of thousands of FRIENDS supporters who wrote their MPs during this past winter’s I LOVE CBC campaign, more than 72 Conservative MPs falsely asserted that: “In fact, this government has increased support to CBC in every one of our budgets. This year the CBC is receiving $1.1 billion dollars in funding — this being the highest amount of funding ever allotted to the CBC — more than any government in Canadian history. “ This same false comment made its way into the Conservative candidates’ manual during the recent election and was repeated on numerous occasions in all-candidates meetings.
    • Here is a chart depicting changes in government support to the CBC from 2000 to the present, taking inflation into account in order to compare the purchasing power of the funds over time: friends.ca/fact-sheet/10120
  • On April 20, during the recent general election, on a show moderated by Evan Solomon, Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin accused the CBC of bias, claiming that it was giving Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff a disproportionate amount of coverage because “the CBC (is) concerned about what will happen with its funding.” (friends.ca/news-item/10153)
  • On April 24, Edmonton–St. Albert Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, speaking at an all-candidates meeting, praised Sun TV News and added that: “I don’t know that we need a national broadcaster in 2011.” (friends.ca/news-item/10160)
  • However James Moore, the Heritage Minister, told CBC News on May 3: “We believe in the national public broadcaster. We have said that we will maintain or increase support for the CBC. That is our platform and we have said that before and we will commit to that.” (friends.ca/news-item/10188)