The beleaguered Canadian Broadcasting Corporation may be getting short shrift on the campaign trail, but a new survey suggests sharp divisions exist between Tory supporters and other voters on the issue of a healthy public broadcaster.
The survey also found that, more than three years into an effort by the Harper government to reorient the federal broadcast regulator into a pro-consumer institution that is less focused on cultivating culture, most Canadians still believe the CRTC has a vital role to play in supporting the creation of home-grown TV programming.
And the survey touched on a hot-button election campaign issue, suggesting that Canadians would have a better impression of so-called over-the-top foreign TV services such as Netflix if those companies contributed to the creation of Canadian TV programs in the same way as traditional broadcasters and cable companies are required to.
During the first week of the election campaign, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper boasted in an online ad that he was "100 per cent against a Netflix tax." Though no other major political party has said they favour such a tax, some Canadian TV distributors have suggested ruefully that current regulations put domestic companies at a disadvantage, making it difficult to compete with foreign services.
The survey, conducted by Nanos Research and paid for by the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting advocacy group with assistance from the creative workers' trade unions ACTRA and Unifor, found 31 per cent of voters most trust the NDP to protect the CBC, while 26.9 per cent most trust the Liberal Party.
That may be an out-of-date figure: The landline and cellphone survey of 1,000 Canadians of voting age was taken between Aug. 28 and Sept. 3, before the Liberals' recent announcement that they would not only restore the $115-million in funding cut by the Harper government over the past few years, but would increase funding for the public broadcaster by an additional $35-million. The NDP has pledged to restore funding.
Only 12.6 per cent of the survey respondents most trust the Conservative Party to protect the CBC.
The Harper government has come under fire during its four-year mandate for repeatedly cutting the broadcaster's annual appropriation, despite campaign promises made in 2011 to "maintain or increase support for the CBC."
The survey was released Tuesday morning to coincide with the CBC's annual general meeting in Winnipeg.
Nanos asked a series of 33 questions, sounding out respondents on such issues as the value of local TV news, the institutions they most trust to protect Canadian culture and identity, and whether they believe it's important for the majority of TV channels available in Canada to be Canadian.
Respondents were passionate about local programming, a segment of the TV industry which has been flailing financially in recent years: 92 per cent said they agreed or somewhat agreed that local TV news was "valuable to me" – a lofty level of support that was consistent from NDP supporters (92 per cent), to Liberal (95.5 per cent), Conservative (85 per cent) and Green (92 per cent). More than 91 per cent of respondents said their Member of Parliament should "work to keep local broadcasting strong in my community."
Asked about the impending move by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to deregulate cable and satellite lineups, 79 per cent of respondents said it was "important" or "somewhat important" that at least 50 per cent of channels available on TV should "remain Canadian."
And while 94 per cent of respondents did find it "important" or "somewhat important" for the CRTC to help create an environment in which consumers get the most value and best prices for broadcasting and telephone services, 95 per cent also wanted the agency to help ensure "there is enough competition in order to protect freedom of speech and democracy," and 89 per cent found "the goal of enabling Canadians from different regions and languages to know and understand each other" to be important or "somewhat important."
The survey also raised the issue of media consolidation in Canada, which has become a more pressing concern after this year's purchase of Sun Media by Postmedia, as well as Bell Media's 2013 acquisition of Astral Media.
Almost 94 per cent of poll respondents who identified as Liberal supporters said they agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement, "Now that virtually all private news media in Canada are owned by only a few large corporations, it is more important than ever to have a strong and vibrant CBC." Almost 96 per cent of NDP supporters either agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement. Tory supporters were more sanguine, with only 70 per cent either agreeing or somewhat agreeing.
Respondents were twice as likely - by a margin of 72 per cent to 36 per cent - to say they have "high trust and confidence in CBC protecting Canadian culture and identity on television," rather than private broadcasters. Only 37 per cent of respondents said they had high trust and confidence in the Canadian government protecting Canadian culture and identity on TV.
Nanos noted that the margin of error for a random survey of 1,000 Canadians is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.