Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has accused CBC president Catherine Tait of launching a partisan attack on him, saying she is “not even pretending to be unbiased” based on her remarks in a Globe and Mail interview this week.
Ms. Tait also came under fire from CBC viewers and supporters on Wednesday over her disclosure in that same interview that the CBC is preparing to end traditional TV and radio broadcasts and go completely digital, as audiences shift to streaming.
In the Globe interview, Ms. Tait criticized the Tory Leader’s call to defund the CBC, calling it a “slogan” and a tactic to solicit donations. She also accused Mr. Poilievre of inciting attacks on the broadcaster saying: “There’s a lot of CBC bashing going on – somewhat stoked by the Leader of the Opposition.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Poilievre struck back.
“She launched a partisan attack against me, proving my claim that the $1.2-billion corporation is a mouthpiece for Justin Trudeau,” he tweeted, promoting a renewed fundraising drive – linked to a petition on defunding the broadcaster – to “help me go around” the CBC.
The CBC chief signalled the change to scrap TV and radio broadcasts is unlikely to happen over the next decade and will depend on all Canadians having sufficient broadband to stream programs and films.
But MPs and CBC supporters expressed disquiet that the plans could cut off Canadians who rely on radio and TV for their news, including car radios.
Friends (formerly Friends of Canadian Broadcasting) e-mailed hundreds of thousands of its supporters suggesting the CBC should focus on its mandate of serving all Canadians. It has also written to Ms. Tait asking her not to abandon the CBC’s core audience.
The group’s executive director Marla Boltman said the CBC should not be “so concerned with trying to keep up with the digital Joneses.”
“The internet isn’t free, and it certainly isn’t accessible to all Canadians,” Ms. Boltman told The Globe, saying “the CBC needs to focus on its public-service mandate.”
“That means meeting Canadians where they are now, instead of shifting resources and priorities to the future,” Ms. Boltman added.
In the Globe interview, Ms. Tait pointed out that a growing number of Canadians were now streaming their content while the core audience for television is over 55.
Ms. Tait said while more and more Canadians are moving to streaming, the CBC is “sitting here loyally broadcasting over the airwaves.”
She said the CBC is “the only broadcaster in the system that has the obligation to serve all Canadians,” including rural audiences that may only have TV.
“We are not going to abandon them,” she said.
In the Senate on Tuesday, Conservative Senator Leo Housakos called on the government to freeze the CBC’s funding, saying Ms. Tait’s goal “would be in violation of the CBC’s broadcasting licence that requires that they provide service to all Canadians and to all regions.”
On Wednesday, he asked the government’s representative in the Senate whether Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez would write to Vicky Eatrides, the new chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, to ask her to “guarantee that CBC funds are being used properly in line with their licensing obligations.”
The Broadcasting Act says the CBC “should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains.”
A shift to online-only would require a change to the act.
Referring to attacks on the CBC, Ms. Tait said in her interview that “there are a group of dissenters and detractors and they have been given voice.”
“They have a megaphone and they’re using it.”
She said “the concern about bias” has been a Tory complaint stretching back to the time of former leader Stephen Harper, who she said also had a campaign to defund the CBC. “But he realized it wasn’t worth the effort, you know the culture wars that would ensue,” she said.
NDP deputy heritage critic Heather McPherson criticized the Tory Leader’s attacks on the CBC saying it was wrong to “weaponize media” to raise funds. “It’s cheap. It’s American-style politics,” she said.
She also expressed deep concern about the CBC moving to online-only too quickly, and said it was vital that all Canadians should have access to it regardless of where they live.