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The solution to the CBC budget crisis is obvious. Give it the contract for all partisan Tory advertising by Kelly McParland

Dec 5, 2013

Source: National Post

According to unimpeachable sources (i.e. this newspaper) a Senate committee plans to investigate the CBC and how it spends its money.

The report says Liberal Sen. Dennis Dawson, who heads the committee, isn’t wild about the idea and would rather be looking into rail safety or the incredible collapsing Champlain Bridge in Montreal, but agreed to the review because of all the attention given the CBC’s loss of Hockey Night in Canada revenue.

Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos, a deputy chairman of the Senate transportation and communications committee, addressed suspicions the investigation would deteriorate into just another opportunity for Conservatives to exercise their oft-stated views about the pointlessness of the public broadcaster.

    “We’re going into this with an open mind to look carefully at what the CBC’s capacity is in a changing environment; where it is and where it needs to be in order to remain competitive, and to be able to provide the cutting edge cultural broadcasting, which is the mandate the CBC has had now for decades, on behalf of Canadians,” he said.

Oh yeah. And if not, they’ll get an impartial auditor (who happens to work for the Tory party) to come in and have a look.

It’s true there’s a segment of the population that enjoys nothing more than bashing the CBC. It’s good clean Canadian fun, like putting your biggest enforcer out against the other team’s 5-foot-9 leading scorer. The results are predictable, but there’s lots of cheering from the crowd nonetheless.

Still, is yet another analysis of the CBC necessary? Is there any aspect of its operations that are not known and understood in Ottawa (or could be ascertained by a little online research)?

The basic quandary, as has been extensively documented, is the duality of its mandate. It isn’t supposed to compete with private broadcasters, yet is supposed to attract money through advertising, which means it has to compete with private broadcasters. It’s expected to portray Canadian realities, which unfortunately aren’t as popular with viewers as imported U.S. potboilers, which means its ratings are lower, which draws criticism from the same people who set its mandate.

It’s funding has been cut back steadily, forcing it into other money-raising activities, which again upsets people who also object to the alternative. A comparison in the National Post on the weekend demonstrated that Canadians are much less out of pocket than people in other countries with public broadcasters, where mandatory annual “licence” fees range from $250 to $400. Out of total federal spending of $282.6 billion this year, the CBC’s annual funding of just under $1 billion is roughly double what the Conservatives spent promoting themselves with taxpayer dollars over the past six years. Bad as you may consider “Little Mosque on the Prairie”, is it less entertaining than another ad for “Canada’s Economic Action Plan” ? (In fact, if the Tories would just concentrate their partisan ad spending on the CBC, there’d be no more budget crisis).

The real source of the CBC’s woes is the fact Canada is located right next door to the U.S., from which floods of competing programming pour across the border. Other countries with public broadcasters — Britain, Germany, Australia — don’t live next to an elephantine neighbour able to inundate it with slick competition in the same language.

You don’t need a Senate investigation to find this out, useful as that may be in diverting attention from other Senate troubles.  With or without hockey, there’s only one fundamental question we need to answer about the CBC: do we want a public broadcaster, or do we kill it off and quit worrying that “Canadian culture” will suffer if one of its major conduits is lost? If we see value in it — and even the Harper Tories, despite eight years of opportunity, haven’t seen fit to close it down — we need to fund it, and end the handwringing.

Sen. Dawson should trust his instincts. If he’s got a committee that needs something to do, they’d do much better to look at rail safety or other more crucial issues than digging through the entrails of the CBC once again.

© National Post