CBC won't release director's expenses by Althia Raj

Oct 10, 2010

Source: Toronto Sun

OTTAWA — The CBC is refusing to release information about a senior television director’s travel and duty entertainment expenses — a move critics decry as unlawful and the latest effort by the public broadcaster to avoid accountability to taxpayers.

CBC blanked out 110 full pages of expense reports filed by Louise Lantagne in fiscal 2008-09 and 2009-10 relating to meals, hotel, travel and duty entertainment after a request by QMI Agency.

CBC has previously disclosed expense reports by its top executives such as President Hubert Lacroix and Radio-Canada head Sylvain Lafrance without withholding costs.

Expense claims allowed QMI Agency to report that in Radio-Canada senior managers spent $1,400 on booze during two-day retreat in 2006 and that Lafrance had blown nearly $80,000 that year on travel, duty entertainment and corporate donations to support Quebec artists.

But Lantagne’s records were denied citing a section of the Access to Information Act, 68.1, which allows the crown corporation to withhold information based on its journalistic, creative or programming activities.

CBC spokesman Marco Dube said Lantagne’s records were withheld because “as general manager for Television de Radio-Canada, Louise Lantagne's activities and related expenses are most of the time deeply intertwined with our programming activities.”

Access to information expert David Statham believes CBC is misapplying the section 68.1.

The public broadcaster is also refusing to hand over documents to the information commissioner so the watchdog can check whether the CBC is fairly excluding documents or simply trying to avoid embarrassing information from leaking out, he said.

The Federal Court recently ruled CBC has no right to deny the information commissioner access, but CBC plans to appeal the court’s decision.

“Unless they receive political direction that enough is enough, they are going to fight the federal court ruling as far as they can go, and that’s going to cost the taxpayer,” said Statham.

It is in CBC’s interest to fight because while the case is under appeal dozens and dozens of CBC requests lie unanswered, Statham said, noting he is waiting for the information commissioner to investigate whether CBC was right to deny him access to Peter Mansbridge’s salary range and possible discretionary benefits.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting are also waiting on the information commissioner to confirm whether CBC was right to deny a request on how much the public broadcaster spent hiring a U.S. firm to revamp The National, CBC News Network and local newscasts.

“I think they really fear accountability,” said spokesman Ian Morrison.

“The expenditure of money on things like entertainment and travel, there should be the same kind of transparency that exists (as) for a department of the Government of Canada. It should not be any different,” he said.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said they are also waiting on the court case to be settled to find out how much CBC spent on two million pairs of 3-D glasses this September. The glasses were distributed for free at Canada Post outlets in anticipation of the documentary, Queen Elizabeth in 3-D.

“We should know how every penny is spent, it is public money,” said the federation’s Kevin Gaudet.

© Toronto Sun