The recent Conservative budget has reopened the debate about the place of the CBC in the Canadian landscape. While the conversation draws some heated opinions on both sides, that of course won’t stop a courageous writer like me that hides behinds a keyboard and pen name from stating my own viewpoint!
The Road to Bankruptcy is Paved with Good Intentions
I believe that when the CBC began, it was absolutely essential at almost any cost. It was one of the only mediums of communication, and for many parts of Canada it was the only television available. It was undeniably a key means of getting information out from coast-to-coast, and held great cultural value in terms of defining Canada a country. I believe it certainly justified its fairly high cost to the public purse in times past… wait for it… *sound of other shoe dropping*… Unfortunately for the CBC, the world we live in today is not the world of yesteryear. I believe the current financial commitment in tax dollars to the CBC should be slashed much more dramatically than the current budget suggests (roughly 10%), because its importance to Canadians is vastly diminished relative to even 15 years ago. Imagine what hundreds of millions of dollars could do in terms of plugging the holes in education, health care, or infrastructure? These are the priorities I believe most Canadians have, and the CBC, while a nice luxury to possess, is simply one we can’t afford any more.
The CBC has consistently lost market share to their private rivals that do not benefit from a taxpayer subsidy. This fact alone dictates that people have voted with their television remotes already. The CBC likes to spin the government funding they receive (a fairly substantial $1.16 billion) by saying that it creates 3x that much for the Canadian economy. My response is that a private company could take those assets and do even better for the Canadian economy as a whole (as evidenced by their already more efficient business models). In addition to losing out to their television adversaries, the CBC has been rendered much less irreplaceable in terms of a news source to a majority of Canadians because of the internet and cheap satellite TV capabilities. There are almost no isolated communities that solely depend on the CBC any longer, and I challenge people to find me more than a handful of Canadians under 25 who watch the CBC at all.
Do I Hear $.50 for Don Cherry’s Wardrobe… Going Once…
My mouth is watering at the sale of some of the CBCs assets. Just the premium real estate that their studios sit on must be worth a fairly healthy amount. Think about the bidding war that would begin over the Hockey Night in Canada property between Canada’s multimedia corporations. I have absolutely no idea how we could value their assets, and my meagre research skills didn’t turn up any estimates online, but if we immediately applied that amount to our debt, it would be a great contribution! I don’t agree with selling government assets just for a one-time cash influx if they are profitable, but clearly the CBC is not capable of even standing on their own two feet, never mind actually making money.
I have several friends in the journalism industry, and they all report the same reality – that everyone wants a CBC job because they are better-paying and much more cushy in terms of benefits and expectations. While this might be great for the unionized workers at CBC, it is definitely not advantageous to the average Canadian. Nor is it fair to the other networks that compete with the CBC. Why should the Canadian taxpayer fit the bill for salaries that are driving up costs in the market? It is the classic private-public dilemma, and balance desperately needs to be restored. When Don Cherry (a CBC employee) makes double what the Prime Minister does, there is definitely something wrong. If Cherry can get that much on the free market all the power to him (I still find him entertaining), but there is no way Canadians should have to pay for that when we are making cuts to healthcare and education.
An Alternate Proposal
We don’t have to do away with the CBC entirely, just pair it down and call it what it really is. Why are we trying to fund an entity to compete with the legitimate businesses? Instead, let’s allow the CBC to become a specialized niche channel that is a Canadian version of PBS. It can apply for funding on a project-by-project basis like that station does, it can still put out a centralized national newcast if it wishes, and it can focus on education-related topics and cheap Canadian content. What are we getting right now – Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune in primetime? Great Canadian content there, Alex Trebek might be a good Canadian ambassador, but he isn’t exactly a Vimy Ridge-esque part of the Canadian fabric. The public broadcasting spectrum in the USA costs $1.38 per person. Let’s be generous since we all know we are pinko socialists up here and budget $2.00 a person, and hopefully that can cover the CBC website too. That’s around 70 million a year. I for one would be happy with that compromise. Would you?