Friday, March 27, 2009

Harper's CBC agenda - not so hidden

The following article is one of many that have been written since the CBC announced its cuts yesterday. Harper continues to chip away at the very foundation of our cultural infrastructure. The CBC has been a target since the Mulroney years: This excerpt is from a radio noon show broadcast from Toronto in 1984. - How will budget cuts affect the CBC?

(Listen to the show here...CBC)

Here is an excerpt from the Ian Morrison's article in the Straight...

"In a recent edition of the National Post, Gerry Nicholls, a former vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, wrote about why the Coalition "chose a young MP named Stephen Harper as its new president in 1997":

"Being NCC president is not a run-of-the-mill job. First of all, you need to be an ideologically pure, small "c" conservative. That means you must reject Pierre Trudeau and all of his works. You must view the CBC as a socialist-run boondoggle. In general you must believe that whatever the private sector can do, the public sector can do – worse."

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting has tracked Harper’s comments on public broadcasting and cultural sovereignty over the years. Clearer evidence of a ‘hidden agenda’ would be hard to find. Here are a few of those hints.

... The Conservative Candidates' Pocket Policy Guide from the 2006 election states that, "arts and culture make essential contributions to our national identity. A Conservative government will ensure that the CBC and Radio-Canada continue to perform their vital role as national public service broadcasters."

Yet in May 2006, when the Liberals moved the following resolution in the House of Commons—"That the House insist that the government, its departments and agencies, maintain the program policies and regulations in support of Canada's artistic and cultural industries, in particular, by maintaining or enhancing: (a) existing Canadian cultural content requirements; (b) current restrictions on foreign ownership in the cultural sector; and (c) financial support for public broadcasting in both official languages"—the resolution passed in a recorded vote with 155 MPs in favour and 121 opposed. All 121 opposing votes came from Conservative MPs.

The next year, Harper appointed Hubert Lacroix president of the CBC. Lacroix, who contributed $1,000 (the maximum legal amount) to a Conservative candidate during the previous general election, is a Montreal-based mergers and acquisitions lawyer...Why would Stephen Harper appoint someone with no management experience in radio or television production, programming, or scheduling as president of the CBC?

In February 2008, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage released a major study on the future of the CBC. Among its recommendations was for the annual parliamentary grant to the CBC increase over a seven-year period from the current $33 per capita to $40 per capita and that the government commit to multiyear funding. The Conservative members of the Committee dissented.

Just before Harper announced the general election in early September 2008, Conservative Party Campaign Director Doug Finley wrote to Conservative supporters to solicit funds and ask them to complete a "2008 National Critical Issues Survey", which he described as "extremely important" and promised that he would “personally share the overall results and any comments with the Prime Minister". The fifth question read: "The CBC costs taxpayers over $1.1 billion per year. Do you think this is a good or bad use of taxpayer dollars?”

Just two weeks later, Glen McGregor wrote in the Ottawa Citizen:

Mr. Harper was asked yesterday by a reporter if he believes the $1.1 billion annual parliamentary appropriation for the CBC is a good use of taxpayers' money... The Conservative leader replied to the question with telling brevity. “All I can say is I support government budgets.”

A few weeks ago on As It Happens, President Lacroix said that the CBC was in financial trouble and that "ads on CBC Radio are on the table”.

In an interview on CBC Radio's Q cultural affairs show on January 21, 2009, Harper's Heritage Minister James Moore promised there would be no cuts to arts and culture spending in the upcoming federal budget. Asked specifically whether there would be cuts to the federal allocation to the CBC, Moore denied there would be cuts.

However, the following month when Harper's government tabled its spending plans for the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2009, the allocation to the CBC was reduced by 5.6 percent from $1,115,424,000 in 2008/09 to $1,052,608,000 in 2009/10—a cut of $63 million...

There is a pattern in all this—say one thing, do another. Despite the shortcomings of its management and Harper’s antipathy, the CBC does have one big asset: public opinion. When Friends asked Nanos Research to find out how Canadians would respond to the question that Harper’s “Rasputin” (Doug Finley) posed in that fundraising letter, Nanos found that 63 percent of Canadians think that spending $1.1 billion a year on CBC is a good use of taxpayers’ dollars, while only 25 percent disagree."

The stories, news and profiles that the CBC and Radio-Canada report weave our national fabric.

Just as the the Québec culture has blossomed under the attention given to it by its artists and political leaders, so has Canadian culture in general. My history of watching Razzle Dazzle, The Friendly Giant, Hockey Night in Canada, This Hour Has Seven Days etc. and listening to such amazing radio programs as Morningside with Peter Gzowski and As it Happens (which still provides background commentary to my dinner) is a huge part of who I am. When I meet new people, I am often able to find common ground, no matter what the generational difference, through the shared experience of enjoying some particular CBC program.

I have heard people say that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for something they don't listen to anyway; that we should have an equivalent to the American National Public Radio system.

The biggest difference between the CBC and NPR is that ours is a truly national broadcasting system. NPR is regional. People in Atlantic Canada hear what their fellow Canucks are up to in Montreal, Thunder bay or Dawson Creek. It ties us together AND we don't have interruptions for donour pleas.

We are the envy of a lot of Americans who want an alternative to network TV and top forty radio formats.

As a country, we suck at providing support to our cultural sector. We have report after report that exclaim the importance of culture to the economic and national health of our country - creative class, anyone?

You can show your support by signing this petition and contacting your Member of Parliament. We have to make Parliament know that culture is important; Ignatieff as well as Harper. (The CBC's budget had been essentially frozen since 1985 - that covers the Crétien years as well.)

Now, to get my blood pressure down, I invite you to join me and enjoy the soothing nostalgia of the Friendly Giant show:

...And now we come to the end of another broadcast day...

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