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Like most Canadians, I don’t watch CBC television. I show up on election night for Rosie Barton, and then I dip for a few years.

Except on Saturdays during hockey season, when I have no other choice.

Everybody brings their own expectations to a date night with the national broadcaster. Mine are these – that it be professionally done (check) and morally hygienic. CBC is meant to be good for us, like steel-cut oats or a brisk walk.

It doesn’t have to be entertaining. Somehow, the BBC manages to hit that bar, but I get it. It has a long, rich history of making hits, while we’re still trying to figure out that dramas are meant to be dramatic.

It certainly shouldn’t be titillating or frivolous. If CBC won’t tell us the hard truths, we might as well get our news from Bravo.

So there you are, plugged into Canada’s home screen ready to be punned into stupefaction by Ron MacLean. Then that BetMGM ad with Wayne Gretzky and Connor McDavid comes on.

Connor is practising in a moodily underlit hockey rink. Wayne is watching sports scores on his phone. He’s screaming non-sequiturs (“Drain that three!”) that only an AI scriptbot would imagine human beings saying.

Cathal Kelly: Gambling ads are changing how we view hockey

Connor attempts to mime ‘frustration’ (mostly frowning). Wayne shakes his fists in glee. They rib each other like the fun, totally spontaneous guys they both are.

The lesson here – according to maybe the two most gifted hockey players in history – hockey is fine. But betting on basketball is better.

Before anyone migrates to Canada, they should be offered the opportunity to watch this ad a dozen times. And then the immigration officer can read a script that begins, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

CBC is many things to many people, but on Saturday nights it becomes the in-house channel at a Nevada casino. And not one of the good ones. It’s wall-to-wall in gambling chintz. Bad ads; chyron banners; hoarding on the boards; cutaways to dreary canned bits.

You half expect it to come back from break and catch the boys on the panel taking one last tug on a Belmont while they tuck their highballs under the desk.

You may see worse on other channels. But other channels aren’t the CBC.

Gambling is bad for you. We know this. That’s why ‘gambler’ isn’t a job. It’s an accusation in a divorce proceeding.

It’s legal and okay, fine, but we all know we’re reaping the whirlwind on that choice at some point. In a few years, L’il Mo will be telling you that the odds are +1250 he’ll clean his room today. Then we’ll realize we have created a problem.

Every single Canadian with a lick of sense can see this coming, but not the CBC.

According to reporting done by The Globe and Mail’s Simon Houpt, the CBC’s take is that the hockey broadcasts are owned and operated by Sportsnet. The CBC just puts them on air.

It’s a bootlegging defence: ‘Officer, we don’t promote the consumption of intoxicating liquors in this establishment. We just put it in glasses in front of people and if they choose to drink it, well, then …’

When CBC lost Hockey Night in Canada to Sportsnet, that was a moment. What had been a charming and parochial part of our cultural mosaic was becoming uncharming and sophisticated.

You knew that whatever HNIC became, it would not have the same romantic pull.

That was the time for the CBC to get out of the live broadcasting of hockey games. Exit with dignity, leaving behind a lot of great memories. There was plenty of space remaining to use its existing, and estimable, sports broadcasting talent to do programs about hockey that didn’t feature the games themselves. BBC has been doing this with soccer for ages.

But no. It was hooked on those hockey audience numbers. Even when it was getting nothing from it (Sportsnet keeps all the advertising revenue), CBC could not wean itself off the stats. It’s like Baltimore cops.

As best I understand it, the rationale for flooding the public broadcaster with ads for a corrosive habit is that it’s the CBC’s best chance to advertise its other shows.

Why do these shows need advertising? We already paid for them. If we want to watch them, we will. If we don’t, we won’t. They’ll still be making them. Why do I need to pay to make the show and then pay more to convince myself to like it?

It’s the sort of thing you’d see on SCTV. Here’s a suggestion: make more shows like SCTV and you won’t need to run gambling ads in order to slip in subliminal messages about how you’re making shows like SCTV.

I wrote a piece about being driven wild with irritation by gambling ads in hockey programming a few days ago. There was more mail than usual. I gun for 50:50 (50 per cent agreeing with me, 50 per cent thinking I’m an idiot). This was 100-per-cent one way. That’s a first.

Based on my unscientific sampling, Canadians don’t dislike gambling ads. They hate them. It provokes a visceral rage in them. Many made special mention of their disappointment that CBC has allowed itself to be roped into this shady business.

This isn’t about what’s legal or contractual or what brings in the numbers. It’s about what’s right.

The brilliance of the idea of the CBC is that it stands above commercial concerns. Its only job is creating content that is edifying and Canadian. Its purpose is not to be popular. It needn’t even be good. It must only attempt to be so.

What does BetMGM or Bet99 or all the other Bet somethings have to do with that mission?

The right thing to do here is so obvious that it should not require saying. If only there were another CBC to badger the existing CBC to uphold its own values. That’s a show people might actually want to pay to produce.

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