Since taking office in 2006, and being re-elected in 2008, Canada’s federal Conservatives have done a reasonably good job of restoring public confidence in government.
Sure, they’ve made mistakes — the current economic stimulus spending spree is likely a major error (it may cancel out all the progress made fighting Canada’s debt in recent years), but at least no one is calling the Tories dishonest.
The same can’t be said for Jean Chretien’s Liberal administration, which will forever be associated with the sponsorship scandal.
That said, the Conservatives’ approach to funding the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. is nothing less than petty, stupid and self-serving.
The feds have refused any further financial assistance to the CBC, which gets $1.1 billion in public funding each year.
That’s the case, even though the national broadcaster is so short of cash, with an annual shortfall estimated at between $65 million and $100 million, that it likely has no choice but to cut regional programming back to the bone.
On Wednesday, CBC announced it is axing 800 positions, across Canada, at the Mother Corp.
Those cuts are likely to prove especially painful in Canada’s Far North, the Maritimes and rural Prairie communities — places that really rely on the CBC for programs that reinforce one’s love of Canada.
Of course, some people argue that it makes to no sense to fund a national broadcaster when Canadians could look to the private sector for radio and TV programming instead.
And, admittedly, there probably aren’t too many teenagers who have much use for the “old-fogey” CBC.
But have you listened to private radio lately?
Sure, there are lots of songs, but there often isn’t much substance.
Too often, such stations have no staff at night and simply dish out news that is taken from Broadcast News or read verbatim from the pages of local newspapers.
It should tell radio listeners something when many private radio stations have no reporters or almost no reporters.
As for private television, local news broadcasts across the country have declined in quality as advertising revenues have fallen.
In some markets, private TV stations are on the market and no one seems to be lining up to buy them. Some of them will surely close.
The federal Conservatives are making it seem like their attempt to starve the CBC is simply motivated by budgetary considerations, but have you noticed lately that Ottawa seems to have all sorts of money to stimulate the economy in other ways?
Why not spend some of that money on the CBC? That would stimulate the economy and help preserve one of this country’s most important institutions.
Many CBC programs simply have no counterpart in the private sector.
On private talk radio, Calgary’s Dave Rutherford and Winnipeg’s Charles Adler do a fine job, but are they really a match for the folksy but erudite Rex Murphy on CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup?
Similarly, there is probably no better source of consumer news in Canada than CBC-TV’s Marketplace program.
Where else would homeowners get the real skinny when it comes to door-to-door salespeople using sleazy tactics to market electricity and natural gas contracts?
As well, when it comes to promoting Canadian authors and musical artists, who does it better than the CBC?
From a cultural point of view, there is real value to the CBC, and it’s time Canadians pointed that out to their members of Parliament.
At just over $1 billion per year, the CBC is an extraordinary bargain.
It’s telling that a recent Canadian Press story reported the federal government is “considering ways of helping struggling broadcaster CanWest Global Communications Corp.,” a private firm said to be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Not surprisingly, CanWest is widely considered to be more sympathetic to the Tories’ right-wing views than the CBC.
Left-wingers have long accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cronies of having a hidden agenda. Most of those suggestions have lacked any foundation of truth.
Unfortunately, it now appears there just might be some credence to suggestions that the Harper government has a hidden agenda that would reduce taxpayers’ contributions to the CBC — effectively rendering the organization impotent.
Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: the CBC will rise again!
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.