A string of Conservative surveys is putting CBC funding under the microscope as the Harper government debates how big a hit Canada’s public broadcaster will take as part of government-wide restraint plans.
Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein, who chairs the Conservative Party’s fundraising division, recently sent a letter to supporters that included a 10-question “National Critical Issues Survey” seeking input to help the government set its priorities for the fall and into 2012.
One question asks whether the more than $1-billion Ottawa spends on the CBC is “good value” or “bad value.”
Meanwhile, two Conservative MPs, Rob Anders and Ed Holder, are taking it a step further, asking their constituents in surveys whether the government should keep funding the CBC.
Mr. Anders, a Calgary MP who has always been a controversial maverick on the right wing of his party, now features a petition on his website calling on Parliament “to end public funding of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.”
The petition represents an escalation of Mr. Anders’s campaign against CBC funding. He has made appearances on Sun TV to express his views on public funding for the CBC.
“I think that ending the billion-a-year subsidy is well in order, absolutely,” Mr. Anders said during a May appearance on the channel, which is posted on his website.
In contrast, Mr. Holder told The Globe and Mail that the timing of his survey was not tied to Mr. Anders’s petition. He said he surveys his London West constituents on a wide range of issues and supports his party’s position on CBC funding.
In the Conservative fundraising letter, Mr. Gerstein writes that the fall session of Parliament “will be critical for Prime Minister [Stephen]Harper and the Conservative caucus.” The Senator also adds in a “P.S.” that “This survey is very, very important to our legislative planning.”
The lobby group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, which obtained the fundraising letter, said such “outright hostility” undercuts pledges from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Heritage Minister James Moore to continue funding the CBC.
“When you see all of this stuff, it raises the question: ‘What’s going on?’ ” said Ian Morrison, a spokesman for the advocacy group.
All federal government departments are currently being asked to submit two plans to cabinet as part of a strategic and operation review process to reduce government spending. Each department must hand in two proposals: One that would see a 5-per-cent cut and another outlining what a 10-per-cent cut would look like.
Earlier this year, Mr. Moore said the CBC will not be exempt from this.
“The CBC has to certainly do its part,” he told the CBC Radio program Q in July. “The idea that the CBC can’t find 5 per cent of efficiencies within the CBC to give back to the broader economic framework, I think, is silly... They’re prepared to do their part and to find the savings – and make sure that CBC has the necessary funding to fulfill its mandate.”
The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting note that those comments marked a change from comments Mr. Moore made to the CBC in February: “We made a simple, specific promise to Canadians in the last election to maintain or increase funding to the CBC,” Mr. Moore said then.
Mr. Moore’s spokesman, James Maunder, responded to questions about the fundraising letter and the MP surveys by stating that the CBC is Canada’s national public broadcaster and will continue to fulfill this role.
“Our Government was also elected on a commitment to eliminate waste and find savings across Government. The CBC, like all other government crown corporations, will be participating in a review of its spending to find savings and inefficiencies. Everyone must do their part. In the coming months, that will certainly include the CBC,” he wrote in an e-mail.
When asked about the fundraising letter, Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said the party regularly consults its members on a wide variety of issues.
“As a grassroots-based democratic party, it’s important that we keep in touch with our membership and know what issues are of concern to them,” he wrote in an e-mail.