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Re: The CBC

May 29, 2009

I acknowledge receipt and thank you for your correspondence in which you express your views and concerns regarding CBC-Radio Canada.  I have duly taken note of your correspondence and please be assured that your views and concerns have been carefully considered.

On Wednesday, March 25, 2009, CBC-Radio Canada announced that as a result of an anticipated $171 million revenue shortfall for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, it would be forced to lay-off 800 people and make significant changes to its services.  This represents about 10 per cent of CBC-Radio Canada's workforce and does away with the traditional 1/3 to 2/3 sharing arrangement between French and English networks, respectively, for federal funding. As a result of this break with tradition, French network cuts represent almost half of the total number of jobs that were lost.

The Conservative government could have taken steps to mitigate the damage, but refused to do so. The government failed CBC-Radio Canada on three significant fronts.  First, it cut CBC-Radio Canada's funding by $63 million between the 2008-09 Main Estimates and the 2009-10 Main Estimates. Second, the government refused to provide CBC-Radio Canada with bridge financing for $125 million.  Third, the government delayed providing its annual $60 million top-up to its budget until after the cuts to CBC were announced.

Providing a bridge loan to CBC-Radio Canada would have saved jobs and programming.  The cuts to CBC Radio-Canada did not have to be as severe as they were.  Beyond refusing its request for bridge financing, the Conservative government has cut CBC-Radio Canada's budget by $63 million for 2009-10 and has refused to commit to restoring that funding. This cut represents more than a third of CBC-Radio Canada's budget shortfall for the upcoming year.  The government deliberately withheld approval of the annual $60 million top-up for CBC Radio-Canada until after the job cuts were announced in order to force it to make difficult decisions without complete information.

Any claims by the government that they have increased funding to CBC Radio-Canada every year are false.  Both CBC-Radio Canada's annual reports and the Main Estimates make it clear that this government has cut CBC's funding since it took office.  What is even more clear is that even though 800 jobs have been lost and CBC-Radio Canada has been left twisting in the wind by the government, the Minister remains unwilling to provide any flexibility or honesty in the face of potentially deeper and more devastating cuts to come.

Destroying CBC Radio-Canada has been part of the agenda of the Prime Minister for over a decade; and it is a goal that his government supports.  Conservatives have long argued that subsidies to CBC were a waste of taxpayer dollars and that its programming should be limited to areas where it does not compete with private broadcasters. The government does not have the courage to debate the future of CBC-Radio Canada openly and honestly.  Instead, they are using the pretext of tough economic times to launch an assault on this national institution by withholding the bridge financing it needs to ride out the current economic storm.

This is why my colleague Pablo Rodriguez, Liberal Critic for Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, tabled the following motion in the House of Commons:

"That this House recognizes the indispensible role of CBC-Radio Canada in providing national, regional, and local programming including news coverage and services to linguistic minorities throughout Canada, and therefore regrets the financial hardship and substantial lay-offs that CBC-Radio Canada currently faces; and urges the Government to provide CBC-Radio Canada with the bridge financing it requires to maintain 2008 staffing and service levels."

For more information, I suggest you consult the debates on this motion that took place in the House of Commons on March 31st, by following this link:

http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=2&DocId=3790018&Language=E.

This is a Liberal motion that received the support of all three opposition parties.  Only the Conservative Party voted against it.

I want to reassure you that the Liberal Party has the utmost respect for the national broadcaster and we will work to obtain a firm commitment from the Conservative government to ensure that CBC/Radio-Canada receives adequate government funding.

May I also add that I personally believe we must view CBC and an "instrument" of Canadian unity as well as a "catalyst" for Canadian innovation and creativity in culture.  As such I actually advocate it should receive 100% of its funding from the government and should not compete with the private broadcasters for paid advertisement!  While I haven't succeeded in convincing all my colleagues to go this far, I can assure you that my party does indeed support more federal funding for CBC.

Once again, thank you for having shared your views and concerns on this matter.

Sincerely,

The Honourable Marlene Jennings, P.C., M.P.
Notre-Dame-de-Grâce - Lachine