The Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, who represents the good people of Edmonton-St. Albert, wants to know how much money is earned by Pastor Mansbridge, Rick Mercer and George whazzisname. Also, such things as how much the CBC spends on liquor and hotels.
Rathgeber tabled questions about the CBC in the House of Commons on Friday, in an effort to use Parliament to get answers. According to interviews Rathgeber has given, inquiring minds among the good people of Edmonton-St. Albert want answers about salaries and perks at the CBC. Apparently it preoccupies them, when they're not talking about the Oilers. Rathgeber said that reaction to a personal blog post about the CBC had emboldened him to further his inquiries.
In his most recent blog post, written after his CBC comments, Rathgeber announced that he is "troubled" by a decision to fund the Royal Alberta Museum. From the CBC to museums – one wonders where Rathgeber and his Conservative colleagues in government are going? We might want to be alert to that. But, first, back to the CBC.
The CBC has got itself into a pickle over its attempts to block certain Access to Information requests, mainly made by Quebecor, owner of the Sun newspapers and Sun News Network, about how much it spends on this and that.
A reasonable argument can made that, as it is in part taxpayer-funded, the CBC should release salary details for its employees. Many public broadcasters do. Pastor Mansbridge is a CBC employee. The release of salary details might irritate Mansbridge and the CBC, but it's up to the CBC to defend its actions and spending. The Rick Mercer Report is produced by an independent production company for the CBC. An argument can be made that CBC should reveal what it pays the production company.
But that's all. What Rick Mercer is paid by a private production company is nobody's business, no matter how much it preoccupies the good people of Edmonton-St. Albert. Rathgeber should know this, having chaired the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review on behalf of the Alberta Legislature a few years back.
Rathgeber also wants to know how much CBC spends on the rights to certain shows and movies, and its hospitality expenses in various areas. Presumably, in Edmonton-St. Albert, this issue is right up there with government officials and ministers using government jets and helicopters for personal travel as an issue to raise ire. Ire must be flowing at record levels in Edmonton-St. Albert.
What matters here is the precedent being set. After the witch hunt against the CBC, who's next? Museums, obviously. And then what? Theatres and publishers who receive grants from the government? Every TV show produced in Canada with the help of taxpayer money?
Don't go calling me crazy or paranoid. In 2008, both the minority Conservative government and the Conservative Party itself were hell-bent on introducing what was essentially a morals clause to the regulations for funding Canadian film and television. A portion of an omnibus bill amending the Income Tax Act sought to allow the Heritage Minister to withdraw tax credits from productions determined to be "contrary to public policy." The clause was so broad it meant TV and film productions deemed morally offensive by a government ministry could have their tax credits reversed. The clause was withdrawn only after its details were made public by this newspaper and a barrage of complaints from the film and TV industry about being required to self-censor in order to please a government ministry.
This government's focus of attack on the CBC is bizarre enough as it is. For a start, it follows the corporate agenda of Quebecor, a competitor to the CBC. It's also a witch hunt that in the case of Brent Rathgeber and Sun News Network is priggishly focused on what CBC personalities earn and what CBC spends on cars, hotels and liquor. It seems as plain as a poke in your eye that the CBC is being bludgeoned because the Conservative Party finds its reporting suspect, but the angle of attack is a ugly prurience about salaries and perks.
The justification for the attacks and the demand for information is that CBC is taxpayer-funded. However, the real reason seems to be that CBC is perceived as not reflecting small "c" conservative values. A lot of what emanates from the arts in Canada does not reflect those values, and those artists and institutions receive taxpayer money. Remember that. Think about who's next on the attack list. That morals clause in the 2008 bill may have died, but it's a fair bet the urge to assert such control over government-funded arts has not.
In his blog post about the CBC, Rathgeber asserts that other broadcasters already do what the CBC is funded to provide to viewers. "CTV for instance similarly offers a 24 Hour News Channel and produces reality shows ( Canadian Idol) and sitcoms ( Dan for Mayor) which are comparable to anything produced by the CBC."
The MP for Edmonton-St. Albert is way out of date – Canadian Idol was cancelled years ago and Dan for Mayor was cancelled months ago. Now, CTV has even less Canadian-made content. He's out of date, but perhaps he also represents the future of the government's approach to all taxpayer-funded arts productions. Museums are certainly on his radar.