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Matthew Hays is a Montreal-based freelance writer and author who teaches courses in media studies at Concordia University and Marianopolis College.

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The CBC logo projected onto a screen in Toronto on May 29, 2019.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

“Defund the CBC” has become a popular slogan at rallies for the federal Conservative Party, often met with gleeful screams informed both by anger (at the purported bias of CBC News) and joy (at the prospect of starving it into oblivion).

According to a contingent of voices on the right, the entire Crown corporation is one giant communist daycare centre aimed at a “hippie” demographic (having grown up in Alberta, I often heard the charge that the CBC’s content is made for “lesbian vegans” – oddly specific). CBC loathers also assume there is some sort of conspiracy going on, in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is flipping the switches behind the scenes, controlling the agendas of the daily radio, TV and online newscasts of the national public broadcaster.

To many who watch the news, this perception may seem odd given that there are two convenient control groups to compare the CBC’s coverage to: CTV and Global (both privately owned) also produce national news broadcasts and often cover many of the same news stories and topics as the CBC.

While it may provide a convenient punching bag for conservative politicians, I’d argue the Conservative Party of Canada should actually be thanking the CBC for its journalism.

Yes, you read that right. The last time the Conservatives broke through the Liberal Party’s electoral hold on Canada was in 2006, when Stephen Harper led the party to victory with a minority government. That minority held and eventually led to a majority government, which wouldn’t fall until Mr. Trudeau ran as Liberal Leader in 2015. That nine-year rule, which allowed the Conservatives to establish a good deal of right-leaning legislation and apply conservative philosophies to key appointments and governance, came as a result of the sponsorship scandal.

For those who’ve forgotten, a brief reminder: After the terrifyingly close Quebec referendum in 1995, the federal Liberal government set up a sponsorship program to help highlight the benefits of federalism to Quebec citizens – too many of whom, the Liberals reckoned, were drawn toward secession.

The slush fund set up to curry favour among Quebeckers was soon found to have been corrupted, with officials diverting funds to friends and many of the taxpayer dollars being squandered. The scandal led to the Gomery Commission, which held public meetings from September, 2004, until June, 2005, and heard from more than 170 witnesses.

This story wasn’t broken by the CBC – in fact, questions about where this pro-federalism funding was going were first reported on by The Globe and Mail.

But if conservative charges against the CBC were true, their news division would have muted, ignored or downplayed the story to protect the governing Liberals. In fact, the opposite happened. Reporting on the sponsorship scandal often led the CBC’s nightly flagship newscast The National, and the Gomery Commission’s public inquiry was reported on in detail.

This is something that might be lost on Canadians who lived outside of Quebec, but for those of us in la belle province, the sponsorship scandal was inescapable for at least a 10-month period. In particular, Radio-Canada broadcast virtually the entire Gomery inquiry live. Even haters of the federal Liberal Party could be heard groaning about how much airtime the scandal received.

This coverage led directly to the collapse of support for the Liberals in Quebec, and fomented an internal struggle between outgoing prime minister Jean Chrétien and his successor, Paul Martin. But to the public, that blame game didn’t matter; polls showed most Quebec voters were sickened by the stench of corruption, which in turn paved the way for a Conservative victory in the 2006 federal election.

This reflects neither a big-L Liberal nor small-l liberal bias on the part of the CBC. Like most journalistic organizations, the CBC was staffed by conscientious journalists who covered the scandal as it should have been, with great attention to detail and an effort to avoid any bias, conscious or otherwise.

Despite this obvious part of the historical record, I suspect Conservatives won’t abandon their trashing of the CBC. It’s a convenient scapegoat for a party with a patchwork of regional support, whose more extreme elements tend to be of particular concern to moderate Canadian voters. The anti-CBC chants and rants are an easy deflection from the Conservative Party’s own inability to serve up any actual policy alternatives.

After all, gut feelings are so much easier to sell than facts.