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Unpacking CBC’s Strategic Plan – The Public Broadcaster and Public Funding

Library of Parliament – Parliament of Canada

Founded in the first part of the last century, the creation and development of CBC/Radio-Canada are feats of national will. The public broadcaster is a collective achievement built out of a shared desire to be informed, to be enlightened, and to be entertained – to engage and, not least of all, to be heard.

CBC President Catherine Tait has spoken recently about wanting to diversify the revenue available to the public broadcaster stating, “We don’t want to be vulnerable to shifts in the marketplace and government”. We believe she is doing what she thinks is best under the circumstances.

As with any new strategic plan, the one CBC/Radio-Canada released earlier this week brings with it some trepidation about the changes that are being outlined. There are many questions still to be answered and although senior management will follow up in the days and months ahead, we feel it is important to share our thoughts on the plan.
We are concerned as a union that working conditions be maintained or improved and of course that CBC/Radio-Canada be as successful as it can be. In terms of the strategic plan’s priorities, we will be monitoring and engaging management on the following matters, among others:
– With regard to a stronger move toward digital customization, the Canadian Media Guild (CMG) will continue to push for more stable employment. Even as new initiatives and project-based work can sometimes result in gaps between projects, it is important that terms of employment remain as predictable and stable as possible. As always, we will be reviewing staffing numbers and enforcing our new collective agreement provisions around the engagement of temporary and contract workers.

– While we are supportive of the push to “prioritize local connections” we also think that these connections are best made when members work and live within the local communities they serve. This allows employees to enjoy and sustain necessary connections in the community as well as manifest CBC/Radio-Canada’s commitment to the community.

– CMG, along with other unions at the public broadcaster, has been working with CBC/Radio-Canada through the Joint Employment Equity Committee to improve the diversity of the workforce. These joint efforts will help support the priority of reflecting contemporary Canada. There is more to do and we support this initiative towards a more representative workforce, despite a recent specious remark from a CBC spokesperson that misrepresented seniority provisions as a barrier against achieving this goal.

– Prioritizing the exporting of Canadian content may provide many opportunities for CBC/Radio-Canada including the ability to diversify revenue. The ability for the Corporation to do this is important given its current funding model and the inadequate level of public funding that has been available.

– Where any of the changes that are contemplated require a redirection of resources, the Canadian Media Guild will work closely with management in advance of these changes to ensure the least negative impact possible on members.

The Public Broadcaster and Public Funding

First and foremost, the CBC is an institution centred on the public interest. The public broadcaster is meant to function as Canada’s lead content producer and programmer – a standard-setter for high-quality and innovative programming, a principal incubator of Canadian talent. The need for CBC/Radio-Canada to function in this way continues to this day.

Mark Starowicz has spoken recently about local news facing “extinction” in Canada. In circumstances such as this, a public asset like CBC/Radio-Canada acts as an indispensable backstop in the public interest, as newsgathering wains in communities across Canada.

In order to fully meet its mandate as Canada’s public broadcaster, CBC/Radio-Canada requires reliable and increased public funding.

And yet, between 1990-91 and 2014-2015, the level of the public broadcaster’s parliamentary appropriation, measured in constant dollars, has dropped from $1,078 million to $650 million.

If CBC/Radio-Canada were to be funded presently at a level comparable to 1990-91 in constant (inflation-adjusted) dollars, the parliamentary appropriation to the public broadcaster in 2018 would have amounted to approximately $1,800 million.

Instead, the amount of the parliamentary appropriation to CBC/Radio-Canada in 2018 was closer to $1,200 million, a gap of approximately 600 million dollars. This is after the current Liberal government restored some public funding to CBC/Radio-Canada after the last federal election in 2015.

Anyone who is serious about significantly increasing the amount of permanent employment available via CBC/Radio-Canada must consider this backdrop.

CBC/Radio-Canada can be restored and Canada can build an even better public broadcaster, with better services and offerings, as well as better employment opportunities. This will take commitment, national will, and a clear focus on the public interest.
With this in mind, CMG is proposing that public funding to CBC/Radio-Canada be immediately returned in real terms (constant dollars) to levels comparable to 1990-91. ($1,800 million per annum)

CMG is also calling for a doubling of public funding to the public broadcaster from the current level, over the next 10 years, in order to continue building our public broadcaster at the start of this new century and accordingly support more meaningful employment and creative opportunities.

In recognition of Canada’s growing population and diversity, and the need for ongoing innovation and employment opportunities across a wider number of platforms, public funding to the public broadcaster should be doubled from $1,200 million to $2,400 million in real inflation-adjusted terms over the next 10 years.

This sort of investment and commitment is what is required in order to fully manifest ambitious strategic plans, and to build on what has already been achieved.

In solidarity,
Jonathan Spence
President, CBC/Radio-Canada Branch, Canadian Media Guild

Kamala Rao
President, Canadian Media Guild

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