The CBC will have its government funding slashed by $115-million beginning in 2014, the federal budget tabled on Thursday reveals.
The reduction is about 10 per cent of the $1.1-billion the public broadcaster has received annually from the federal government in recent years.
Like other departments, the CBC was told to prepare for two cost-cutting scenarios, one with cuts of 5 per cent and the other with 10 per cent. Gradual cuts will begin with $27.8-million in reductions planned for 2012-13 and $69.6-million in 2013-14.
While the Crown corporation also receives revenues from advertising and specialty services, government funding has accounted for more than 60 per cent of its budget in recent years.
In the CBC's strategic five-year plan, the broadcaster said it doesn't depend on more money from the government but does need "ongoing stable" funding.
The CBC had no reaction Thursday, other than to say it would explain to the public and to employees what cost reductions it would make as soon as possible. Staff have been told in an internal memo they will be informed of plans on April 4. In a speech last month, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada Hubert Lacroix said that while a 10-per-cent cut may amount to a little more than $100-million, the figure would swell with severance pay and other costs of cutbacks. "The additional cost will be high, and as a result will increase the cut we'll have to absorb," he said at the time.
Bob Rae, interim leader of the Liberal Party, was critical of the government's actions on Thursday. "If you look at the way they've done the budget for the Department of Heritage, they've singled out the CBC for special punishment," he said.
Groups representing CBC employees and creators also reacted strongly to the cuts, saying the CBC was being unfairly targeted.
"We are stunned: The CBC is taking a bigger hit than everyone else," said Marc-Philippe Laurin, president of the CBC branch of the Canadian Media Guild, which represents 5,500 CBC employees across the country. "Canadians are way ahead of the government on this issue: They recognize public broadcasting is an important part of the economic and cultural future of the country."
"These cuts, albeit over three years, are disappointing. We think the government is going in the wrong direction. The emphasis should be more content creation, not less," said Stephen Waddell, national executive director of the performers' union ACTRA, pointing out that Telefilm and the National Film Board were also being cut.
Others, however, see the three-phase cut to the CBC, which will not face the full impact of a 10-per-cent reduction until 2015, as an opportunity to lobby harder.
"We feel it's a trial balloon. Now we have two years to really put the pressure on," said Tyler Morgenstern, a representative of Reimagine CBC, a citizens' group dedicated to discussing the broadcaster's digital future. "We are seeing the staggering of the cuts as an opportunity to intervene and make a show of how important public broadcasting is to Canadians."
A debate over the public broadcaster's funding has drawn vocal supporters and critics in recent months.
Newspaper publisher Quebecor, which recently launched Sun News, has targeted CBC's annual government funding, portraying it as wasteful. Meanwhile, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting have launched "Keep your CBC promise" ads, which quote Heritage Minister James Moore saying last May that funding to the CBC would be maintained or increased.
The CBC is not the only part of Heritage Minister James Moore's portfolio to see reduced funding. Canadian Heritage will face ongoing reductions of $46.2-million beginning in 2014. There will also be lesser reductions for the CRTC, Library and Archives Canada, National Arts Centre Corporation and National Battlefields Commission. The National Film Board of Canada is being cut by 10 per cent, while Telefilm Canada's budget is being cut by more than 10 per cent.
The Canada Council for the Arts, National Gallery of Canada and national museums will not see reductions, but the Katimavik youth program, in which young people travel to Canadian communities and do volunteer work, is being eliminated entirely.
The program was conceived by Jacques Hébert, a former Liberal senator and friend of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. The program was axed by the Conservatives in the 1980s, prompting Mr. Hébert to stage a three-week hunger strike. But the program wasn't revived until the 1990s, under former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien.
Alain Pineau, executive director of the Canadian Conference for the Arts, said there shouldn't be any rejoicing in the cuts to the CBC. "115-million over three years is a lot of money and it remains to be seen if they get the $60-million top-up [first implemented by the Chrétien government and maintained by the Conservatives] because otherwise it's going to be a $175-million cut."
Further, while it seems the Heritage portfolio itself hopes to achieve much of its own cut of $46-million through staff reduction, Pineau predicted that Heritage programs likely will also be affected. In the meantime, the CCA is happy "the national museums have been spared." But Pineau called the cuts to Library and Archives Canada ($9.6-million over three years), the National Film Board ($6.7-million over three years) and Telefilm Canada ($10.6-million over three) "major."
"Having said all that, at the moment there's reason for rejoicing that the bloodletting, at least at first blush, hasn't been as bad as may have been feared." However, noting that "the devil is in the details," Pineau warned that the budget's impact on arts and culture will only be better assessed in the weeks ahead as the main and supplementary estimates are brought forward.
Speaking for the Canadian Arts Coalition, a lobby group in support of the Canada Council for the Arts (it's pressed in recent years to see its annual parliamentary allocation upped to $300-million), spokesperson Shannon Litzenberger said it was "very encouraged" to see the council's annual operating allocation from the federal government maintained at $181-million. "Heritage Minister James Moore has been a strong advocate for the cultural sector and this budget is an affirmation of his efforts. The preservation of investment in the Canada Council ... will ensure that artists can continue making meaningful contributions to Canada, for the benefit of our citizens, our communities, and our economy."