Supporters of Canada’s public broadcaster say they are planning to rally against cuts to the CBC, after the federal budget delivered by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty today (March 29) revealed $115 million in cuts to the Crown corporation over the next three years.
According to budget documents, the cuts will be phased in, starting with $27.8 million in 2012-2013, $69.6 million in 2013-14, and reaching the full $115 million in reductions by 2014-15.
“It’s a dark day for public broadcasting in Canada, and it would be easy just to throw in the towel, but we’re not going to do that,” Ian Morrison, the spokesperson for the advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, told the Straight by phone.
“We’re going to stand up to the Harper bullies, including James Moore…and we’ll be calling on Canadians to join us.”
Morrison predicted that the cuts, which amount to about 10 percent of the broadcaster’s funding, will lead to hundreds of people losing their jobs.
He argued that the reductions also translate to a retreat on the Conservative government’s commitment last election to maintain or increase support for the broadcaster—a promise that was reiterated by Heritage Minister James Moore the day after the election last May.
“So they’ve broken that promise today, in a rather vindictive way,” Morrison charged.
The cuts to CBC comprise the largest portion of the $191.1 million in spending reductions planned for Canadian Heritage programs over the next three years. The department overall will see a $46.2 million reduction, while funding for the National Film Board of Canada will be reduced by $6.7 million, the Library and Archives of Canada budget will decrease by $9.6 million, and Telefilm Canada will see a $10.6 million reduction. Canada’s national museums will not see any cuts.
According to Jamie Biggar, the spokesperson for the Reimagine CBC project, the 10 percent cut to CBC, compared to a seven percent reduction for the Canadian Heritage department, singles out the broadcaster.
“It appears that the CBC is being targeted to a degree by this budget, which is unfortunate, because…there’s a strong majority of Canadians that support either maintaining or increasing funding for the CBC, so this budget is quite out of step with public opinion, public support for the CBC as an institution,” he told the Straight by phone.
Biggar said his group intends to continue gathering supporters through a petition against cuts to the corporation that has collected nearly 30,000 signatures, and to encourage input from members of the public on the future of the broadcaster.
“The heaviest cuts are going to come in 2014,” he noted. “We think that this may be basically a trial balloon, to see how Canadians react to these levels of cuts to the CBC. So our intention in the short-term is going to be to keep organizing Canadians to speak out against these cuts, and try to shoot down that problem.”
CBC/Radio-Canada said in a statement that it will view its approach for dealing with the reduction in a way that “doesn’t overly compromise” its strategy for the future.
“The measures that CBC/Radio-Canada intends to take over the next three years will be set out in greater detail for our employees and the Canadians we serve as soon as possible,” the statement read.
The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) issued a statement this afternoon indicating the organization was pleased to see that funding for the Canada Council for the Arts was maintained in the budget, but the group panned the cuts to Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
“Culture isn’t just a feel good frill, it’s a creative industry that contributes more than $85 billion and hundreds of thousands of jobs to the economy,” said Stephen Waddell, national director for ACTRA, in the statement.
“Clearly, we need to work harder to make sure that the officials presiding over these decisions understand that cultural industries are a key driver in Canada’s digital economy, generating much needed jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.”
Moore was not immediately available for comment.