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article imageOp-Ed: Prime Minister Harper wants CBC to be state controlled

By Ken Hanly     Oct 21, 2013 in Politics
Ottawa - The Conservative government of Stephen Harper has given the cabinet power to approve salaries, working conditions, and collective bargaining positions for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Canada's public broadcaster.
Crown Corporations are structured in such a way as to be independent of government. This is meant to reduce political interference in the decisions made by the corporation. However, the Harper government is taking a hard line against Crown corporations and threatening their independence by giving themselves power over labor negotiations, and even wages and benefits. A government that is opposed to government ownership and favors private corporations, nevertheless, is turning an independent public broadcaster into what could become a state propaganda machine. If the government line is not broadcast then the CBC could face even more cutbacks, pay cuts, and layoffs. Stephen Waddell, national executive director of ACTRA, says the bill could turn the CBC from a public broadcaster to a state broadcaster.
Liberal MP Scott Brison expressed surprise that the government would go so far to control Crown corporations: “These Crown agencies represent public broadcasting, culture and scientific research, three areas where the Conservatives have been antagonistic. We will thoroughly scrutinize actions by this government towards these agencies.”
Even without this new law, the government has considerable influence on the CBC. The Board of Directors are appointed by Government in Council. All the present directors have been appointed since the Conservative government came into power.
Tony Clement, president of the Treasury Board, said that the new policy on Crown Corporations “is part of a broader issue, which is aligning the public-service compensation and benefits to private-sector norms and expectations.” However, raises in the CBC over the last seven years have been considerably less than in the private sector, averaging just 1.9 percent over that period while in the private sector they have risen by 3 percent. A letter from CBC Radio to the government Finance Committee last spring outlines the corporation's concerns about the Conservative bill and shows that the CBC has been both efficient and accountable under the terms of the Canadian Broadcasting Act. Clement also noted: “CBC is always struggling to put out good content at a time of sometimes declining ad revenues and other revenues”. Among the revenues that are declining are those from the government.
As the Globe and Mail reports Bill 60 gives the government extensive powers over the CBC and gives it the same power over several other corporations as well including a scientific research corporation: A section of the budget bill gives the federal cabinet the explicit power to give Crown corporations orders as to how they should negotiate with employees, both unionized and non-unionized. Further, the bill gives the government the power to have a Treasury Board official sit in on collective bargaining negotiations at Crown corporations.
The budget bill would also extend the same powers over the CBC to three other cultural and scientific agencies: the Canada Council for the Arts, the International Development Research Centre and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
The Harper government has already become notorious for its attempts to muzzle scientists when they have data that contradicts government positions.
A group called the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting has been campaigning against the changes to the CBC governance. The CBC refused to run the paid ad by the group shown on the appended video -- with the fellow behind the desk criticizing the Harper government. The ad is available here with an accompanying petition. Actually, I think that Harper would rather have the CBC fail or be privatized rather than keeping it as a state broadcaster. However, many Canadians are still attached to the CBC and so Harper is trying to do the best he can for his conservative cause given the political realities he faces.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about CBC, Stephen Harper, canadian budget, bill 60
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