VICTORIA – On December 11, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation sent layoff notices to 996 employees across the country to meet the requirements of its latest budget cuts – a whopping $414 million. The layoffs take effect March 31.
At the same time, 615 CBC radio and television employees accepted voluntary severance packages, while an additional 88 vacancies were scrapped. That brings the total staff cuts to 1,699 positions, with another 800 or so layoffs expected in 1998.
The budgetary blood-letting will mean a lot of changes to viewers and listeners of CBC TV and Radio. Gone will be the Vicky Gabereau show. Morningside with Peter Gzowsky will be history. A lot of regional programming will be replaced by national productions out of Toronto.
The last time I wrote about the gradual emasculation of the CBC at the hands of our politicians, I received a lot of fax messages from the Reform Party, informing what plans a Reform government would have in store for the CBC.
Preston Manning, no less, told me he would reserve budget cuts for CBC TV. Radio would pretty well be left alone and Radio Canada International, the corporation’s world-wide shortwave service would continue to be financed.
I appreciate the information, albeit useless at the moment in the absence of a Reform government. And for Mr. Manning’s benefit, I’m not all that happy either about the slow death of the CBC’s television arm.
I don’t want to overstate the importance of the CBC to Canada as a nation, but the Crown corporation has been a ray of light in the gloom that is commercial broadcasting.
True, CBC Radio stacks up a lot better to its commercial rivals than CBC TV does, but even CBC TV is infinitely preferable to the stream of idiotic sitcoms, violent crime shows and trash TV tabloid "news" shows that seem to dominate commercial TV.
So, if the CBC constitutes such an important factor in the Canadian scene, why have successive governments been so eager to all but eliminate the public broadcaster? They will tell you that they are simply following the public’s lead.
Politicians point to poll after poll, indicating that the public isn’t that serious about the CBC. Well, it depends on what questions the pollsters ask.
Most polls the government relies on have asked whether the respondents are in favor of reducing government subsidies to the CBC. A public conditioned by a cacophonous demand for deficit reduction will almost certainly support harsh budget cuts to the CBC.
But ask different questions, and you get quite a different picture of what the public thinks of the CBC and its importance to Canada. And that’s what Louis Harris of Canada, a respected polling firm, did last November.
The Harris poll asked Canadians whether the CBC is a unique contributor to Canadian culture. Does the CBC produce quality programming? Is the CBC a waste of taxpayers’ money?
Among all Canadians asked, 74 per cent said if they were a member of Parliament, they would vote to either maintain the budget of the CBC at its current level or increase it. Only 15 per cent said they would decrease the budget, and five per cent said they would eliminate it.
Asked whether or not CBC television and radio are important to Canadian culture, 86 per cent said yes with regard to television, while the support was somewhat lower with 62 per cent for CBC FM and 60 per cent for CBC AM.
Those results are in stark contrast to the ones that have backed up the government’s slashing of the CBC budget. And based on the Harris poll, a political party could do worse than making the battle over the CBC’s survival an issue in the next election.
And if you still wonder whether or not the CBC is important to our country, I would say that 76 per cent of Canadians supporting current funding for the public broadcaster is a pretty good indication of how we feel about the CBC.