President acknowledges for first time that CBC’s very existence at risk due to funding cuts

Eight years into overseeing a massive and unprecedented downsizing of the CBC — the most ruthless in the public broadcaster’s 80-year history, with more than 2,000 or 25 per cent of staff laid off in five years and no end in sight — President Hubert Lacroix now says he should have sounded the alarm earlier.

Lacroix’s sudden admission and defence of the public broadcaster he has made a career of shredding comes not in his own backyard, where CBC supporters have been sounding the alarm for years, but at an international conference on public broadcasting in Germany.

In a prepared speech, Lacroix admitted that public broadcasters “are at fault for not speaking loudly enough about the threats we face” and “like the proverbial frog put in cold water that is slowly heated, we’ve resisted telling people that we risk being boiled to death.”

CBC employees would certainly agree, says Carmel Smyth, president of the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), the largest union at the public broadcaster.

“While we welcome his sudden candour, the temperature is still rising and the boiling continues,” says Smyth. “Instead of lamenting his years silently wielding the knife, why isn’t Mr. Lacroix speaking out in Canada, rather than trying to stop CMG members from publicly seeking stable funding for the CBC? Lacroix could himself be speaking out in support of a public dialogue on this issue.”

“The timing is perfect, during an election campaign when Canadians need to know that an institution they cherish is being vapourized,” says Smyth. “Sharing more details now could possibly move voters and ensure the next government will see improved CBC funding as a priority.”

However, “over the past weeks, many of our members have experienced resistance from CBC management to their participation in our campaign to defend public broadcasting during this election,” says Smyth. “To protect the privacy of our members, we will not go into specific cases. Suffice it to say that we have made it clear to management that we support our members’ ability to express their views and participate in a debate about the very existence of our public broadcaster.”

The NDP and Liberals have already vowed to reverse the Conservatives’ $115-million budget cut and restore the independence of the largest news organization in the country. It was undermined two years ago when the Harper government exerted control over collective bargaining, salaries and other budgetary issues at the Crown corporation.

Isabelle Montpetit, president of Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada, wonders whether Lacroix’s silence in Canada is a reflection of his “careful” relationship with the Prime Minister’s Office since, much like senators, the “CBC president is hand-picked by the prime minister for the coveted job.”

Smyth says that, while both unions welcome Lacroix’s sudden candour and hearing him speak on behalf of the country’s largest news organization, “we ask for more honest talk.”

“Given that three out of four federal political parties are pledging to reverse recent budget cuts to the CBC, if that happens will Lacroix commit now to use the money to restore jobs and a proud tradition of producing award-winning documentaries and original programming? Without such a commitment, we must assume he will continue down his current path, which will reduce the public broadcaster to a glorified distributor of purchased commercial (much of it non-Canadian) content,” says Smyth.

(This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on the CMG website.)

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