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Three of four national political parties signal commitment to the CBC

By guest blogger Lise Lareau

Despite the fact that it relies on governments for public funding, CBC/Radio-Canada is rarely an issue during elections. Why? Other media don’t always want to report on issues affecting the public broadcaster, seen as their competition, and often CBC journalists feel awkward and conflicted in reporting on developments affecting their employer. And I think political parties know this.

So it’s worth remembering that three of four federal parties declared in advance of the campaign that they would invest more in the CBC than it gets now. The Liberals, NDP, and Green Party have said they’d reverse the Conservatives’ $115-million cut, and the same three parties have various proposals to increase the independence and autonomy of CBC/Radio-Canada from the government of the day. The Conservatives are the exception: they have announced no commitments for CBC after having cut $115 million in annual public funding to the public broadcaster.

What’s more encouraging is that with two weeks to go, it’s clear the Liberals, NDP, and Green Party want Canadians to know they support CBC/Radio-Canada and that they see it as a winner issue in a crucial time.

On September 22, Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau chose to announce not only his support for CBC/Radio-Canada — but go beyond the party’s original pledge of reversing the $115-million cut and promise $150 million in new annual funding for the public broadcaster.

Better yet, Trudeau  didn’t try to duck a week later as the race seemed to develop into a close Liberal-Conservative contest.  When asked about the credibility of that proposed support given the funding cuts of previous Liberal governments, Trudeau said “the Liberal Party is proud to be a friend to the CBC.”  He added: “the CBC is important to bind people together, to tell our stories and to challenge us to always be better and that is exactly why the Liberal Party is going to be supportive of the CBC.”

The NDP has also been a strong supporter of the public broadcaster. Even with its strength appearing to waver a bit in Quebec, party leader Tom Mulcair chose to answer a question in Montreal about health care by accusing Stephen Harper of hiding things during campaigns, using the cuts to CBC/Radio-Canada as an example: “Stephen Harper often hides things from Canadians during election campaigns… He never said he was going to bring in massive cuts to CBC/Radio-Canada. And I’m very concerned that Stephen Harper has a hidden agenda to start privatizing large sections of our health care system…” In addition, the NDP has promised to stop a fire-sale of the CBC’s assets.

Similarly, the Green Party has gone further than the party’s original level of support, once the campaign got underway. In its campaign platform release in early September, Elizabeth May promised to restore the funding cut by the Harper government, plus invest an extra $168 million and $315 million each year after.

It’s also interesting to watch reaction when the CBC is criticized on the campaign trail. Earlier this week, Stephen Harper was repudiated when he tried denying his government cut CBC/Radio-Canada’s budget, instead saying that CBC is in trouble because of low ratings.  By the end of the day CBC CEO Hubert Lacroix responded to Harper’s comments as much as he can as a PMO-appointment. “It’s not about a lack of audience.  It’s about a broken finance model,” Lacroix said.

The future health and viability of the CBC, as Canada’s public broadcaster, is an issue on which the parties are truly differentiating themselves. Voters have a clear choice on October 19. And even though three of four party leaders have been pleased to talk about it, they don’t get a lot of media attention when they do so.

Lise Lareau is National Vice-President, Canadian Media Guild

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