Source : Globe & Mail
CBC brass knew months ago about this week's $10-million cut from Ottawa. So why didn't they raise a ruckus? With Paul Martin soon to be crowned, they have their eyes on a bigger prize.
If the CBC's response to this week's announcement that it would be getting less operating cash than last year seemed muted, it was probably because the corporation's upper echelons knew about it six months ago. Sources close to the CBC say management was told in early March that it would be getting $50-million in a supplementary parliamentary appropriation this month, not the $60-million that it requested and that it had received in each of the last two fiscal years.
In fact, when the official announcement of the cut was made by the Treasury Board in Ottawa on Tuesday, the CBC board of directors was meeting in Regina, where the $10-million reduction wasn't even included on the day's agenda.
After the cut was declared, CBC officials made comments about how the shortfall contributes "to what is already a challenging funding environment." But these were largely pro forma responses, since the corporation has already been making cuts to overtime and travel, allowing vacated jobs to remain vacant, and thinning its budgets to accommodate the cutback.
Clearly if the CBC had been expecting to receive the $60-million that Heritage Minister Sheila Copps insisted in February was coming to it as a "permanent part of the fiscal framework," the bleats of its officials would have been more strenuous. But it's easier to absorb a $10-million loss over 12 months on a parliamentary appropriation of close to $1 billion than it is over six months. Which is exactly what the CBC has been doing.
Even a CBC loyalist like Ian Morrison, head of the lobby group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said this week that the Treasury Board announcement was "a little bit of a yawn."
Looking back, it was obvious that the CBC would have to take some hit this year as part of the $1-billion "reallocation of old or low-priority spending" that Finance Minister John Manley announced would be coming in fiscal year 2003-04. After all, the CBC is one of the biggest-ticket items in the government's spending portfolio; and while, as a recipient of $1-billion annually, it's certainly not "low priority," it is definitely "old," having been bankrolled by the feds for over 60 years.
However, some in the media (including yours truly) were distracted by the fight that raged in the spring over the Liberals' $25-million cut to the Canadian Television Fund. It seemed that this was where the cultural sector was being asked to participate in Manley's $1-billion reallocation, a perception reinforced by Copps's assertions that the $60-million was a done deal.
In a statement this week, Rabinovitch said the $10-million loss would necessitate some "work-force readjustment" -- a bit of bureaucratese that some took to mean layoffs. This was certainly the interpretation of Jane Chalmers, v.p. of CBC English-language radio, and Harold Redekopp, executive v.p. of English-language CBC TV. Shortly after Rabinovitch's declaration, they co-signed a memo to senior staff stressing that "there will be no reductions [of staff] in the immediate future" in English radio or television. "The reduction in government funding was . . . planned for in advance."
This reassurance, in turn, prompted fears that Radio-Canada, the CBC's French arm, would experience layoffs, if layoffs were required. Not so, said spokeswoman Marie-Josée Leblanc, at least not "for the moment."If CBC's upper management knew this spring that it would have less spending power, why did it keep so quiet about it?
Morrison thinks it's because Rabinovitch has been "looking at the big picture" for quite some time. In other words, Rabinovitch -- "He's a strategic guy" -- knows that, with Prime Minister Jean Chrétien set to retire and Copps's bid for the Liberal leadership doomed, the corporation's energies need to be focused on the incoming regime of Paul Martin, not wasted on penny-ante campaigns about funding integrity.
The Martinites "will be going through every file" and trying to demonstrate that they really are a different breed than the Chrétienites. It's a truism among CBC supporters that Chrétien hated the CBC and acted accordingly; with Martin comes the hope of a new, shining path to increased and stable funding.
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