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Canada's Heritage Minister Melanie Joly is pictured on December 9, 2015. Canadian bureaucrats urged Ms. Joly to change her mind about an earlier rejection and approve funding for a Canada 150 television show by touting how “important” the project was to the CBC, which receives more than $1-billion a year from taxpayers. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Canada's Heritage Minister Melanie Joly is pictured on December 9, 2015. Canadian bureaucrats urged Ms. Joly to change her mind about an earlier rejection and approve funding for a Canada 150 television show by touting how “important” the project was to the CBC, which receives more than $1-billion a year from taxpayers. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Officials pushed Joly to approve funding for Canada 150 TV series on CBC Add to ...

Canadian bureaucrats urged Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly to change her mind about an earlier rejection and approve funding for a Canada 150 television show by touting how “important” the project was to the CBC, which receives more than $1-billion a year from taxpayers.

We Are Canada was ultimately approved for $500,000 from the federal Canada 150 Fund, after Ms. Joly turned down an earlier request from the department to give it $1-million.

In a July, 2016, memo to Ms. Joly signed by the department’s chief public servant Graham Flack, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is described as a “major media partner” for the government’s anniversary celebrations.

“This is an important project to the CBC who is also partnering with the department on Canada 150 activities,” said the memo, which was obtained under access-to-information law.

The CBC received more than a billion dollars of direct federal funding last year. The 2016 Liberal budget pledged another $675-million over five years to help the organization adapt to new digital technologies, as news organizations across the country face declining advertising revenue and changing markets.

The Canada 150 Fund, meanwhile, will give out about $200-million for a variety of community events, tours and celebrations across the country.

Last year, Ms. Joly adjusted how the Heritage department hands out funds to make the decisions of public servants more insulated from their political masters – except for programs related to Canada 150, for which the minister retained the power to approve or reject.

The Heritage department said last month the government approved only about 11 per cent of the applications it had received for the program.

Conservative MP Peter Van Loan, his party’s Heritage critic, said he doesn’t think the Crown corporation should be benefiting from a government program that also provides resources for community groups and cities to mark the anniversary of Canada’s Confederation.

“I don’t know why, with over a billion dollars in funding, [the CBC] needs additional funding to do what should be their usual programming,” Mr. Van Loan said. “They shouldn’t be competing with local community organizations for Canada 150 programming.”

We Are Canada is one of many programs on CBC’s lineup this year that received extra support from the government’s fund to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.

The show, created by former Liberal cabinet minister and hockey icon Ken Dryden along with White Pine Pictures, is a six-episode documentary series that features young Canadian entrepreneurs and airs in prime time on Sunday evenings.

“Ken’s vision, and mine, was to look forward and highlight the people that are the next up-and-comers, the change makers,” said White Pine president Peter Raymont.

Mr. Raymont said the CBC made a modest contribution to the costs of producing We Are Canada. The balance was made up from other government funds and private sources, which, he said, is common for television productions he’s been involved with.

Other CBC programming that received support from the Canada 150 Fund include We Are The Best, a food show created by Ricardo Media that received $989,000; and La Grande Traversée, a reality show for which Les Productions Rivard received $420,000.

CBC airtime is also being filled with other programs that received money from the same fund, including the Walrus Talks lecture series that received $650,000 and Project Tessera, a special survey from Vox Pop Labs that received $576,500.

Employees of the CBC wrote letters to support many successful applications for the Canada 150 Fund, according to files obtained under access-to-information, but the broadcaster says it has insight into the funding of only a handful of the Canada 150 programs it is airing.

“As I mentioned earlier, I can only speak to We Are Canada and We Are The Best. It’s not my place to speak to the funding of the shows where we are just the broadcast partner,” said Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs at CBC.

Mr. Thompson said the CBC did not contact the Heritage department nor the minister’s office to lobby on behalf of any specific Canada 150 projects, beyond the initial letters of support.

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