Last week’s cuts to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation — 657 jobs across the country — followed the slash-and-burn remarks from Tory Senator Leo Housakos, Conservative Vice-Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications. He mused about taking the money taxpayers spend on the CBC and giving it to the private sector.
“Is there a way to take the money we spend right now on a broadcaster and re-route that money to give that $1 billion-plus dollars to filmmakers and producers of Canadian content so they can make quality content and films?” Housakos asked, perhaps a bit more than rhetorically.
Trial balloon or turd in the parliamentary punch bowl? It’s certainly consistent with a vision of Canada remade in Stephen Harper’s image: cut-off, controlling, and tone-deaf to public debate, scientific evidence and artistic creativity.
“I’m not in favour of abolishing the government,” Republican fixer Grover Norquist once famously said. “I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Sounds like a template for the Tory approach to Canada’s public broadcaster: cut off the oxygen long enough and fewer Canadians will grieve when the last rites are read.
In a thoroughly unscientific survey, I solicited opinions from people in my email contact list about the value of the CBC to them personally and Canada in general.
“Rural Canada is left out of the mainstream media broadcast range, both technically and spiritually,” writes computer technician John William. “CBC goes where no private broadcaster bothers to. When we lived on Cortes Island, CBC radio was our connection with the outside human world. CBC also brings local, regional and national citizen interests together and produces some fine investigative reporting and documentaries, all spotty on the private networks. It reaches out and makes everyone who listens more integrated with Canadians around them.”
William says he used to “love listening to the Ideas radio program. I remember having my neural networks re-charged by the thoughtful ideas on it.”
Bowen Island singer-songwriter and author Pauline Le Bel responds: “I may not always agree with the hosts, guests and commentators on CBC, but I’m always challenged to keep my mind open. When American friends come to visit, they tell me how envious they are of CBC programming. CBC reminds me how lucky I am to be a Canadian.”
Political cartoonist Dan Murphy writes that without CBC and Radio-Canada’s journalists, the “neocons would be even more successful drumming in their on-message mantra.” Murphy recalls Mother Corp flameouts like Friday Night with Ralph Benmurgi, but says he’d spend 10 times the $29 per year he gives as a taxpayer to the CBC “for Terry Milewski’s dogged pursuit of politicians with questions they don’t wanna be asked, and ten times that if the Corp would give a voice to the country’s First Nations.”
“I heard a CBC radio interview Stephen Quinn had with CBC prez Hubert Lacroix after the last slew of cuts — and not only would Quinn not let his boss off the hook, he used the interview to transfer Lacroix onto successively larger hooks. I remember thinking: Now that’s how it’s done,” Murphy writes.
Vancouver-based journalist Hadani Ditmars responds that she misses reporting from around the world for the CBC Radio One’s Dispatches. “Such a loss,” she adds of the now-defunct program.
Deborah Warren, a college professor in the B.C. Interior, tells her students to watch CBC News Network’s Lang and O’Leary Exchange “to learn all that they need to know about business.”
If the crown corporation is just a groupthink forum for ’70s-era pinkos and nanny state cheerleaders — as some believe — I doubt the fire-breathing O’Leary would be a fixture on multiple CBC productions. As I wrote back in 2007, the variety of voices on Mother Corp mirrors the nation in all its off-key cussing and commiseration. Whether its Eleanor Wachtel dissecting a book, Anna Maria Tremonte cross-examining a guest, Rex Murphy consulting his thesaurus or a caller rhyming off a recipe, Canada’s public broadcaster is our nuclear strong force.
It’s our agora, our forum, our national assembly. It’s the Canuck collective unconscious, yammering away with a megawatt megaphone.
In sum, it’s the one thing Canadians with access to TV, radio or the Internet have in common in this country, other than their citizenship.