Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance regarding Bill C-60
May 23, 2013
Remarks by Ian Morrison, Spokesperson - Friends of Canadian Broadcasting1
Mr. Chair and Members of the Committee:
Thanks for the chance to appear.
Eight-one years ago, a Conservative Prime Minister introduced public broadcasting in Canada. Fifty-nine years later a Progressive Conservative Prime Minister updated the Broadcasting Act for the 21st Century.
Sections 228 and 229 of Bill C-60 would apply certain new provisions of the Financial Administration Act (FAA) to the CBC, giving the Cabinet the right to direct that Treasury Board must approve CBC's "negotiating mandate" for any collective agreement and impose "any requirement" on that mandate. Further, a Treasury Board employee might attend and observe the collective bargaining process. No collective bargaining could be entered into by the CBC without Treasury Board's approval. Similar provisions apply to CBC's non-unionized employees.
The principal financial provisions relating to the CBC are set out in the Broadcasting Act, sections 52 to 70. These reflect a decision by Parliament to treat the CBC differently than other Crown agencies subject to the FAA. In particular, the FAA's "direction and control" provisions do not apply to the CBC. In so doing, Parliament followed recommendations by the Commons Standing Committee on Communications and Culture and the Government's own policy paper Canadian Voices: Canadian Choices: A New Broadcasting Policy for Canada.
The Standing Committee's report expressed the nub of the issue succinctly:
"The CBC should remain exempt from the power of direction provisions which are applicable to other crown corporations under the Financial Administration Act, and from other provisions which would compromise the 'arm's-length' relationship of the CBC with the government."
Part III of the Broadcasting Act, sets out the provisions of CBC's mandate within the Canadian broadcasting system. Each of these is outlined on page 2 of a letter of opinion by Brian MacLeod Rogers, one of Canada's most renowned media lawyers, who is with me here today. Friends has commissioned this opinion, translated it into French and has tabled his letter with the Clerk of your Committee this morning.
Sections 35 and 52 of the Broadcasting Act are extremely clear in their direction that CBC's editorial independence is an imperative that requires CBC to be treated differently than other Crown agencies. For example, section 35(2) states that all the provisions of Part III "shall be interpreted and applied so as to protect and enhance the freedom of expression and the journalistic, creative and programming independence enjoyed by the Corporation in the pursuit of its objects and in the exercise of its powers".
The Broadcasting Act's fundamental requirement - that CBC must maintain an arm's-length distance from government and be protected from possible governmental interference - as well as that the public should perceive the CBC as independent - are not reflected in the proposed amendments.
Mr. Rogers' letter of opinion makes clear that there is a conflict between the carefully protected special status of the CBC under the Broadcasting Act and the proposed provisions of the FAA that seek to impose direct control by Treasury Board on all aspects of CBC's employment relations.
"After all", concludes Mr. Rogers, "it is all too possible that government's levers of power, particularly its exercise of financial control, could be used in future to shape, diminish or even threaten the CBC's role as public broadcaster... and CBC's management and employees may find themselves affected in myriad and subtle ways in order to curry the government's favour, or avoid its displeasure."
Mr. Rogers concludes that the inherent conflict between the two statutes will require judicial determination to reconcile the apparent conflict between them. We recommend that the government steer clear of this morass by removing the CBC from Bill C-60, or failing that, making the clauses referencing CBC explicitly subject to the protection from interference afforded by sections 35(2) and 52 of the Broadcasting Act.
I have also distributed today through the Clerk copies in both official languages of a letter to the Prime Minister on this matter signed by a number of Canada's most eminent authorities on democratic journalism, which they have copied to members of your Committee.
1 Friends of Canadian Broadcasting is an independent watchdog for Canadian programming on radio, TV and online. By policy, we are not affiliated with any broadcaster or political party and we draw support from 360,000 Canadians.
May 23, 2013 — News Release: CBC's independence at risk if Bill C-60 passes as is
Many of Canada's leading authorities and practitioners of journalism are calling for changes to Bill C-60 so that the government's Omnibus Budget legislation does not do irreparable harm to the editorial independence of the CBC.
May 23, 2013 — Letter: Letter to Prime Minister Harper regarding Bill C-60
A letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed by sixteen eminent Canadians from the worlds of journalism and academia expresses deep concern that “Bill C-60 would undermine the arms-length relationship between the CBC, our national public broadcaster, and the federal government.”
May 22, 2013 — Letter: RE: Canada Bill C-60 and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Legal opinion on proposed amendments set out in Bill C-60 that affect the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.