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Television CBC to cut 650 jobs in fighting $200-million shortfall

A CBC/Radio-Canada van is shown next a satellite dish at the CBC/Radio Canada building in Montreal on April 4, 2012

CP

The CBC will make sharp cuts, eliminating 650 jobs, among other measures, to make up for what amounts to a $200-million shortfall over the next three years.

"As I said to our employees today, we can't get lost in this bad news. We've been handed a number. It's going to mean a very different broadcaster," said Hubert Lacroix, the CBC's president and chief executive officer.

That bad news – the $115-million reduction in funding over three years announced by the federal government in its recent budget – comes as the CBC is also trying to better service regions across Canada with expanded broadcasting signals, local news and more of a local Web presence.

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These costs along with the government's cut add up to roughly $200-million, meaning that the broadcaster had to find major reductions in its operations. The CBC will also be forced to slow its move into local markets and further streamline its news operations, where some of the job cuts may be felt hardest.

"Mostly, our members work in news. It's what the CBC does most of with the staff it has. So it's going to have an impact, but we're expecting more details on that stuff in the days to come," said Marc-Philippe Laurin, president of the CBC/Radio Canada branch of the Canadian Media Guild, representing most CBC employees outside Quebec.

The brunt of the loss will be in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax, and Halifax operations will move to a new building without a full television studio. In total, 475 jobs will be eliminated this year, with further jobs lost over three years. Employees will begin receiving layoff notices by the end of April, and all staff cuts for this year take place by late July, the CBC said. Lacroix said there will be an additional one-time cost of $25-million in severance pay due to the layoffs.

The public broadcaster is also shutting down its expensive analogue transmission service faster than planned, eliminating the shortwave and satellite transmissions of its Radio Canada International service, and selling and leasing out more of its office space.

The CBC will be broadcasting fewer original TV dramas and comedies and running more repeat programming, as well as reducing the amount of radio productions and putting ads on its previously commercial-free Radio Two and Espace Musique networks.

"With the budget reductions, there was no way to reach that target by just efficiencies. So, unfortunately, programming will be affected in English services to the amount of about $43-million," said Kirstine Stewart, executive vice-president who runs all of the CBC's English side.

"That invariably affects the amount of programming we can commission on television for prime time. It will increase the repeats we have on prime time. And it will to a lesser extent affect some radio programming. But television is definitely taking the brunt of this cut," she said.

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The choices of which shows to be hit will be finalized by the end of April. Stewart indicated that the shows that have become institutions on the CBC, such as The Current on Radio One or the fifth estate on CBC-TV, for instance, have a better chance of remaining on the air.

"They will be the first and foremost to be protected. However, we couldn't protect them all," Stewart said, adding that for viewers concerned about the public broadcaster, "we can commiserate with them about the fact that we will not be able to deliver as much as we have in the recent past."

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