Massive CBC cuts anger Canadian Media Guild and Friends of Canadian Broadcasting by Charlie Smith

Jun 26, 2014


The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is planning huge cuts to its workforce as part of a new strategic vision.

And that has prompted a furious reaction from the union and a group that promotes Canadian broadcasting.

In a video presentation to employees, CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix said the Crown corporation plans to have 1,000 to 1,500 fewer employees by 2020.

"We will get there in careful steps by balancing the new CBC Radio-Canada with the impact these changes will have on people's lives," Lacroix stated.

CBC had nearly 7,000 permanent employees before it announced earlier this year that it would cut 657 positions.

The Canadian Media Guild, which represents CBC employees, has posted a statement on its website condemning what it calls a "scorched-earth plan for CBC".

“It’s terrible that a Harper-appointed board is ramming through a massive cut in a year before a federal election," CMG national president Carmel Smyth stated. "The bottom line is CBC needs better funding. We are calling on the president and the board to take up that fight. Otherwise Canadians should rightly hold them responsible for the destruction of CBC.”

The new cuts are in addition to the previous announcement.

Lacroix stated that 1,000 CBC employees are eligible for retirement. Through attrition, he added, the Crown-owned broadcaster loses 300 employees per year.

He also said that "some fundamental shifts" are driving changes in the media. "First, the digital wave that we have experienced in the recent past is nothing to what is coming."

As a result, Lacroix mentioned that there will be a greater focus on reaching Canadians on digital platforms, noting that the Sochi Olympics provided a glimpse into the future.

"One in three Canadians followed the Games on a portable device and 2.5 million Canadians downloaded our Sochi app," he said. "Canadians are digitally sophisticated and hungry. With this plan, we intend to double our digital reach, which means by 2020, 18 million Canadians—one out two—will use our digital services each month."

He added that the corporation's objective is for three out of four Canadians to say by 2020 that CBC is "very important to them".

CBC has reported that as the public broadcaster increases its emphasis on reaching people through portable devices, there will be staff reductions in supper-hour newscasts and on in-house programming.

"Advertising revenues are shifting to global Internet players like Google and Facebook," Lacroix conceded in his video presentation. "Conventional broadcasters are not eligible for subscription revenues. And public financing—whether to the industry as a whole or direct support for public broadcasting—has decreased substantially."

Lacroix claimed in his videotaped statement that "conventional private broadcasters are not profitable", adding that the "system is broken".

To remain "sustainable", he said that the CBC will adopt a "mobile-first approach" and will not reduce its geographic footprint.

"We're also announcing a shift from producer to multiplatform broadcaster," Lacroix revealed. "This means significantly reducing in-house production except for news, current affairs, and radio. This transition will commence immediately at CBC."

He said CBC will "modernize and shrink operations", cutting its real-estate presence in half.

"Reducing our infrastructure costs also means reducing our costs in production facilities and equipment, IT, telecom, transmission and distribution, and mobiles [sic]," Lacroix said.

He emphasized that this transition will entail collaboration with the independent production community in a business relationship.

"Our basic sports offer will be multiplatform sports journalism," Lacroix stated. "In addition, we aim to continue, just as we did in Sochi, and as we will in Rio, to use a partnership approach to bring the Olympic Games to Canadians."

Marc-Philippe Laurin, president of the Canadian Media Guild branch at CBC, called these cuts "irreversible", charging that they will "permanently change" public broadcasting.

"We are shocked and outraged that 25 percent of the staff and half the real estate are being cut over the next five years," Laurin said on the union website.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting has claimed that CBC’s plan "is a retreat driven by the federal government’s deep budget cuts that will leave the national public broadcaster smaller and weaker".

“Lacroix should resign," Friends spokesperson Ian Morrison declared. "He is helping Stephen Harper drive CBC into the ground. Today he told CBC’s employees that the government is the shareholder. That’s false: all Canadian are shareholders."

For the first nine months of 2013–14, CBC revenues rose 6.9 percent over the same period in the previous year, whereas expenses only increased 3.8 percent.

However, government funding was down by nearly $63 million, wiping out almost all gains on the operating statement.

In 2007–08 after the Conservatives took power, the parliamentary appropriation to CBC for its operating expenses was $1.07 billion (in 2014 dollars), according to Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. By 2014–15, that had fallen to $929.3 million.

The CBC board of directors is chaired by Rémi Racine, who heads a video-game company in Montreal.

The only director whose biography lists any deep connections to the cultural community is Marlie Oden, founder of Bridge Communications in Vancouver. She's president of Vancouver TheatreSports League. She's also been on the board of the Arts Club and won a City of Vancouver arts award.

Last year, the National Hockey League signed a 12-year deal with Rogers Sportsnet for $5.2 billion, transferring control of Hockey Night in Canada to the private broadcaster.

CBC will still carry hockey games but reportedly won't generate any profits from the show.

In an interview with the Straight in 2012, the former head of CBC's English-language services, Richard Stursberg, said that NHL hockey "made some good money for the CBC".

"So it would lose the profit," Stursberg said at the time, "But most importantly, you would lose about 400 to 450 hours a year of a primetime Canadian show. Then the question is: what are you going to replace it with? They don't have any money to replace it with anything new and original....It might turn from Hockey Night in Canada to Repeat Night in Canada."

The NHL's deal with Rogers appears to have averted that fate, but the loss of hockey revenue and the Conservative government cutbacks underlies today's announcement by Lacroix.

Morrison described Lacroix's public statement as "shameful" and "a betrayal of the values of public broadcasting".

"This new plan will also make CBC less accessible for many Canadians, especially older people who tend to vote," Morrison added.