Patrick Lagacé is a columnist with La Presse.
In early 1995, CBC/Radio-Canada president Tony Manera handed his resignation to prime minister Jean Chrétien, citing the proverbial "personal reasons." Later, Mr. Manera opened up about the real reason why he suddenly quit his job as chief of the public broadcaster: "I will not preside over the dismantling of the CBC," he told Macleans.
Just before his resignation, Mr. Manera was given his budgetary marching orders by the recently elected Liberal government: Cut $270-million from your $1.1-billion budget. Mr. Manera refused, putting his loyalty to the institution above the political loyalty expected of him.
Hubert Lacroix, the corporation's current president, is no Tony Manera.
Mr. Lacroix, a career business lawyer, was appointed head of the CBC by the federal Conservatives in 2007. His reign at this highly important institution for culture and media has amounted to little more than enabler for the steady, quiet dismantling of Radio-Canada. At the very least, you'd expect a public servant of his calibre to mount some kind of token resistance. But don't hold your breath: Mr. Lacroix always seems to have some public relations-written Pablum to justify what's coming down the pipe.
Hence, the job cuts have been almost too frequent to keep track of – they seem to come as often as snowstorms in a Montreal winter. When the CBC lost the National Hockey League broadcast rights, in what many observers have portrayed as a corporate failure of epic proportions, Mr. Lacroix inflicted parallel budget cuts on the CBC and Radio-Canada, punishing the French side of the corporation in equal measure even though it ceased broadcasting professional hockey more than a decade ago.
Last week, former Radio-Canada news editor Alain Saulnier published a cri d'alarme in the form of a vitriolic essay denouncing the service's slow death. His book, Ici Etait Radio-Canada, contains some harsh words for Mr. Lacroix, who is described as little more than a mouthpiece for former heritage minister James Moore. So much for the "arm's-length" pretense that is supposed to characterize the relationship between a Crown corporation and its "appropriate minister" under the Canada Business Corporations Act.
Four months after the Bloc Québécois was annihilated in the 2011 federal election, former party leader Gilles Duceppe was offered a weekly commentary gig on Radio-Canada's midmorning radio show Médium large. From the start, rumours flew that Ottawa was said to be incensed. Mr. Saulnier tells the backstory: Mr. Lacroix was literally walking around in Radio-Canada's corporate suite with a printout of an e-mail sent to him by Mr. Moore, with a single line: "Duceppe … ?" And in no time, Mr. Duceppe was sacked.
Whether that particular hiring was a good idea or not is beside the point: The "appropriate minister" in the Lacroix era is not at all at arm's-length. He is at a thumb's length, the thumb being the one a heritage minister uses to press "send" with programming "suggestions." (In all fairness, Mr. Saulnier says, the Chrétien Liberals were little different than Stephen Harper's Conservatives.)
Mr. Saulnier goes on to tell a disheartening story about a conversation between Mr. Lacroix and Alain Gravel, Quebec's über-investigative reporter who, with his team at the TV show Enquête, has netted some of the biggest stories on the corruption affairs that have shaken Quebec in recent years. Mr. Gravel is said to have proudly told the president: "We have a hell of a show tonight, boss." To which Mr. Lacroix is said to have replied: "When will you have positive investigations?" Mr. Lacroix is clearly no Katharine Graham, either.
The icing on this unpalatable cake came last week. Radio-Canada now plans to close its famous and celebrated costume department, which is hugely helpful for in-house and outside productions, but also houses outfits used for legendary old shows and characters that remain central in the imagination of many adult Quebeckers: Sol, Paillasson, Bobino. These are fragments of Quebec's culture.
I'm sure that from a corporate point of view, Mr. Lacroix is a top-shelf manager. From a cultural and media point of view, he's a political mouthpiece. When his hatchet job on Radio-Canada is finally over, I hope he'll be rewarded with an ambassadorship. Preferably to some very, very distant land.