There were a number of cuts announced in the recent Federal budget, but perhaps none as controversial, or as partisan, as those cuts made to the CBC. Canada's public broadcaster is a joy to millions, but a waste of taxpayers' money to millions more, and for those that fall into the category of the former, the announced three year cuts to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation are the fulfillment of a doom-filled prophecy they've been waiting for since Stephen Harper first took office.
As the numbers breakdown, the public broadcaster had 10 per cent of its current $1.1-billion budget slashed. That $115 million is the CBC's share of $5.2-billion in cuts to federal spending over the next three years; $27.8 million for 2012-13, another $41.8 million in 2013-14 and a further $45.4 million in 2014-15. In addition, a $60-million programming fund that was renewed annually will now be included in the CBC's total budget, and thus also be subject to the 10 per cent cut. Of course, the CBC wasn't specifically targeted for cuts, all government agencies and crown corporations were expected, and required, to make 10 per cent in cuts to their own internal budgets.
On first blush we have to ask, is this anyway for the Prime Minister to treat the network that saved his favourite show? But more to the point, is that anyway to treat the only Canadian network that puts forth a pointed effort to broadcast nearly all-Canadian content? Strange that Conservative dedication to nationalist tendencies doesn't extend to Can-Con, but there it is. If you're CTV, Global or City, filling the majority of your prime time schedule with U.S. product that seems to be getting blander with each passing year, you're golden. Meanwhile, the CBC has 10 hours of original Canadian content during prime time (not counting the 10 pm airing of The National), and they're subject to cuts.
Really though, the cuts have nothing to do with the quality of CBC's fictional content, but the perception that its news division is biased to a liberal degree. Although this is more imagined than real, it's the persistent talking point of politicians and pundits on the right that the CBC, like all mainstream media, has a left-wing bias. But in the case of the CBC, one can further point out, or rather demand, that the government shouldn't be funding slanted news coverage. I think we can all agree with that, but where we disagree is what defines "slant?" Is disagreeing with the government on the basis of unbiased analysis slanted? I think in the Harper government's estimation, it is.
But whether the CBC is slanted or not is a question independent of the tremendous service it gives typically under-represented areas of the country: rural areas and the far north, where in some places CBC is the only media source. There's no big advertising money in places where the only place to shop is the general store, after all. "I'm an MP in a rural riding. If those places don't have the CBC, they won't have anything," affirmed Liberal heritage critic Scott Simms.
But from an artistic point of view, this is also a hit. Most of the other Canadian networks don't engage in the production of original Canadian dramatic content unless there's an American backer (as with the series Flashpoint and Rookie Blue), or unless it's an established franchise (like Degrassi). The cable channel Showcase, owned by Global parent company Shaw, is the rare exception, putting together an impressive slate of original, high concept Canadian series like Lost Girl, King and the upcoming Continuum. But these are, admittedly, recent developments. For years, if you wanted to be on TV, and be in Canada, CBC was your only option.
And how about some respect for CBC. It was the CBC that carried to the torch - pun intended - for the Olympics for years when they were being hosted from far-flung places like Bejing and Sydney. When the Olympics came home, CTV suddenly found its patriotism and ponied up the cash to do their part, and show off how Canadian they are. The same could be said for CTV's acquisition of the Junos. As soon as Canadian music meant Avril Lavigne, Shania Twain and Alanis Morrisette as opposed to Anne Murray, Bryan Adams, and Glass Tiger, CTV got interested. And because they're a special kind of dicks, they bought the rights to the Hockey Night in Canada theme out from under the CBC, outbidding them when it was time to renew. Forget the fact that they also didn't pick up the rights to Hockey Night in Canada itself.
But now, for lack of a better term, it's cool to be Canadian TV. The international market plays a bigger role now than it ever has, and with so many channels, it's so much easier now to find an audience for whatever type of show you develop. Instead of rewarding CBC for keeping the faith for the last 75 years, we're scaling it back, all in the name of political gamesmanship and partisan politics. These are tough times, I know, but when there's a limited amount of money for new jets, and not a penny for new shows, we have to question our right thinking.