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CBC decimates design department, announces 79 layoffs in Toronto

The closing of CBC’s design department is a big mistake and marks the end of the public broadcaster’s ability to produce its own TV programs in house, according to Canadian Media Guild leaders.

“The CBC is also pre-empting the government mandate review and public input by taking this action now,” says Lise Lareau, national president of the Canadian Media Guild. A newspaper report published today indicates that Heritage Minister Bev Oda wants to move quickly to launch the review.

“CBC says it will save $1 million per year by killing the design department and keeps referring to layoffs as another business decision,” says Arnold Amber, president of the Guild’s CBC Branch. “This is really about people and their lives. In this particular case, people have contributed many years of first-rate service to make CBC look wonderful on the air. When these people walk out the door for the last time, they will be taking with them the long and celebrated tradition of high-quality television design in Canada.

“And where’s the good business sense in this? This is a hell of a price to pay to save $1 million out of a $1.6 billion budget.”

By the end of the summer, CBC will no longer be able to design sets, or make costumes, props, or special effects in what has been the centre of television production for the public broadcaster. Employees were told today that design equipment would be sold off in July.

Of the 79 layoffs announced today, most are in the design area. It is likely the CBC will try to use whatever savings may come from the demise of the Toronto design department to buy more programs from outside producers.

“Clearly, the CBC is abandoning TV production as a core business,” says Amber. “Until today, if you were developing a program or changing the set, you could work closely with the set designers and construction crews to make sure the look was right. Working with outside people won’t be as easy or effective.

“The CBC is slamming the door on a seasoned and talented group of people whose skills are among the best in the industry. They have given CBC TV its public face. Producers and directors making programs don’t even know who they will be dealing with from one day to the next.”

Don Ferguson, a member and co-creator of CBC’s highly successful TV show, Royal Canadian Air Farce, agrees.

“Today marks the end of the dream,” says Ferguson. “One of the reasons we stayed with CBC is that everything is in this building. For example, we get a script Monday, we design and build all the sets and costumes through the week, and we are on the air Friday. It’s the proximity of everything that makes this so special.”

“Over the last 20 years, the CBC reduced the number of programs it made inside, and has been buying more and more from the commercial sector,” says Lareau. “With better funding and political will, there was always the possibility of the public broadcaster making more of its own programming again. But this move puts an end to that.

“If the design department was maintained and managed differently, it could be a valuable resource for the country’s film, theatre and TV production industry and a source of revenue for the CBC.”

The CBC says that other broadcasters don’t do inside design. However, Radio-Canada has a design department in Montreal with at least 133 employees.

Affected employees are meeting today with representatives of the Guild and a meeting of the design group has been called for Monday to explore options for the future.

For more information, contact the Guild (guild@interlog.com) at 416-591-5333 or 1-800-465-4149.

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