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Politics CBC, Health Canada, National Defence face Conservative cuts

Heritage Minister James Moore makes an announcement at Rideau Hall on June 21, 2011. The CBC took at $115-million hit in the 2012 federal budget.

Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Cross-country cuts to the CBC and National Defence are among the first details to emerge from the Conservatives' restraint plans, as federal departments move quickly to shed staff.

Health Canada also informed its staff that about 840 of them could potentially lose their jobs as the department looks to save about $200-million a year.

Some public servants learned for the first time Wednesday whether their jobs are among the 19,200 targeted in the government's 2012 budget. Union leaders have been told that notices will keep rolling out this week and many more are to come next week.

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The government has kept a tight lid on what exactly is being cut as part of the budget's pledge to curb spending by $5.2-billion, but the CBC and the union representing National Defence workers shed some light on these cuts for the first time Wednesday.

The Union of National Defence Employees said it had learned from government officials that more than 1,000 positions at DND will be affected. The cuts show 345 of the affected jobs are in Quebec, more than any other province.

Union president John MacLennan said he sees politics at play behind the geographic breakdown of the defence cuts. "It's a backlash from the federal election," he said, in reference to the 2011 vote that saw the governing Tories reduced to just five seats in Quebec as part of the province's surprise embrace of the NDP.

The biggest cuts in the province are to CFB Val Cartier and CFB St. Jean.

A spokesperson for National Defence would not confirm any details, but said staffing levels can be reduced now that Canada's combat role in southern Afghanistan has come to an end.

As details are only starting to trickle out, it is still too early to make a full assessment of which regions are being hit hardest. The 840 jobs at Health Canada are largely in the National Capital Region of Ottawa-Gatineau.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he regrets the fact that some people will be laid off, but insists the cuts will be distributed fairly across Canada.

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"This is, quite frankly, what happens in all large organizations that are well run. We have programs that get discontinued," he told reporters in Vancouver. "This was not done in any sort of thoughtless way."

Meanwhile, CBC president Hubert Lacroix provided a very detailed breakdown Wednesday as to how the Crown Corporation will manage its $115-million budget hit.

The CBC is slicing 650 jobs – including 475 positions this year – and plans to raise about $50-million in new revenues through measures such as airing advertising on the previously ad-free CBC Radio 2 and Espace musique. It will also speed up the phase-out of over-the-air analog transmitters, which are being replaced with digital technology.

In a news release, the CBC says it will have to scale back previously announced plans, including local service extensions, digital TV services and the budget for signature events it produces. Radio Canada International will also be scaled back and will close its Russian and Brazilian departments.

"Despite the magnitude of the reductions we're facing, CBC/Radio-Canada will continue to bring you news and entertainment programming of the highest quality – you have the right to expect that from your public broadcaster," Mr. Lacroix said in a statement.

NDP MP Tyrone Benskin called the Conservatives' cuts to CBC "outrageous" and driven by ideology.

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"The CBC is the single pan-Canadian link that we have," he said. "[The Conservatives]keep saying that private broadcasters can do the same thing. They can but they won't because they have no interest in developing Canadian content. That's the mandate of CBC. And that's what's being hampered from being done."

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore rejected the opposition's criticism. "Our budget provides the funds necessary for the CBC to fulfill their obligations under the Broadcasting Act and to go further," he said, listing services to the regions. He said the process will lead to "a leaner public broadcaster that serves the interest not only of the cultural communities but also of taxpayers."



With a report from Ian Bailey in Vancouver

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