Heritage Minister talks CBC, Mansbridge salary
Next to reports of the Liberal Party's death, rumours of the CBC's imminent demise are almost as prevalent. So what does Canada's Heritage Minister have to say about the CBC, his colleagues who'd like to see it "defunded" and those who want to know Peter Mansbridge's salary? Here's a transcript of a scrum that James Moore did with several of us this morning after a speech that I interpreted as words of support for the public broadcaster. Read below, and see what you think. I'll be filing a story in the next hour or so, and will update this blog with a link:
The scrum begins with a question about another event on the crowded news agenda; a press conference from the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting (not friends of the CBC, as discussed here) and that organization's fears about the CBC's future.
Q: Is the CBC going to be cut in any way?
JM: We’ve said that we’re going to balance the budget and everybody has to do their part and the CBC will be part of it. So yes, the CBC’s budget next year will be smaller than it is this year.
Q: Is this the strategic review you’re referring to?
JM: No, it’s the deficit reduction action plan. And we’re working with the CBC on this. Keep in mind, by the way, that the Friends of the CBC are not the friends of the CBC. When was the last time the Friends of the CBC did a fundraiser for the CBC? When was the last time the Friends of the CBC did anything for the CBC? As Hubert Lacroix, president of the CBC says, ‘they are not friends of ours.’ So the Friends of the CBC don’t speak for the CBC. We work with them. We’re making sure that Canada’s interests are being responsibly managed in terms of the strong economy, balancing the budget, in a responsible way, and working with our public broadcaster. But the Friends of the CBC I think do a disservice to both the CBC and to everyday taxpayers with the way they approach this conversation.
Q: I took your remarks today to be an expression of support for the CBC, personally, anyway. Would you say that’s the government’s position too? Because ….you know yourself you have colleagues who do not support the CBC.
JM: Well, the Liberals had a prime minister who hated the CBC. So … Look. The CBC is a source of debate. It always will be. They receive over a billion dollars from Canadian taxpayers and it’s obviously the most public of all of Canada’s Crown corporations. Everybody has something to say about certain shows and decision and direction and it always has been and always will be a source of pretty heated and intense debate. And that’s fine, but there is a role for a public broadcaster in Canada and certainly, with regard, as I said in my speech, with regard to reaching Canadians in both of Canada’s official languages, that’s an essential role for the public broadcaster.
Q: And you said it’s doing things that the private sector does not do. Can you just sort of, I know you did elaborate…
JM: Well, if there was a healthy market for, for example, aboriginal broadcasting in eight aboriginal languages in the North, there would be all kinds of competition, there would be all kinds of competition, there would be a massive investment there. But there is not. There is market failure. There is market failure particularly in television broadcasting in both of Canada’s official languages. And in the eight aboriginal languages that the CBC carries out its broadcasts in. So the CBC has a role, because there is indeed, market failure in that regard. And that’s for example the role the CBC plays that the private sector does not. Because if they did, they’d be there.
Q: The context you laid out too, was the 1950s – you talked about the fact that Canada needed cultural protection from the Americans. Do you still think that’s the case?
JM: I think our investments in culture speak for themselves. And I think Canada’s culture has gone so far… We’ve gone from lagging and failing and collapsing in the post-Second-World-War era to now, where we’re leading the world. Where I think Canada’s expression and leadership in the international scene is something that we’re very proud of and that our formulas have worked, our investments have worked and the Canadian talent that we’re generating, supporting with our National Theatre School, our National Ballet School, all these things, has led to its own success.
Q: You mention the CBC having a role in the North, in the aboriginal communities and all that. What about its role as a major sports broadcaster – Hockey Night in Canada and that type of thing; the major prime time stuff that it competes for, that’s very expensive.
JM: Yeah. Again, you ask five people that question, you’ll get five different answers on whether the CBC should be in sport and so on. But keep in mind that CBC … But also don’t forget that the CBC didn’t compete for the broadcast rights for the Olympics. CTV got that. So, I think CBC competes for the broadcast rights for certain kinds of sports, in order to help the overall enterprise of the CBC. As you know, they make money on sports. Making money on sports allows them to subsidize things like aboriginal broadcasting in the North. So people often have opinions about the public broadcasters within silos of the things it does, but you have to look at it from 10,000 feet and look at everything it does within the context of its mandate within the Broadcast Act. And because it does do things like Hockey Night in Canada and other things, sporting wise, that allows them to cross-subsidize and support other things that on the market side are impossibilities. So it’s important… Keep in mind, by the way, English-language CBC, about 55 per cent of their budget comes from advertising. Not taxpayers. So they pay… So the money that they bring in helps pay for itself and they use the other funds that they are alleviated from, because of the success from their advertising, in order to subsidize things that are commercially not successful, like the broadcasting of news in French to parts of the country where there is no other alternative but the public broadcaster. That’s good for Canada.
(Some questions about search for CRTC chairman… “We’ll be announcing the process for that very soon; we’ll be using the processes we’ve used in the past.)
Q: Can I just ask: What do you tell your colleagues who are presenting these petitions and stuff in the House of Commons? You know, we have noticed it being stepped up. Surely they’ve come to you. What do you tell them?
JM: CBC will always be a source of debate and far be it from me to tell a member of Parliament not to express their privately or publicly held views with regard to Canada’s public broadcaster. As you know, this happened under the Liberals. John Bryden sought to do the same thing… There are Canadians who are frustrated by the appearance of a lack of transparency at the CBC. And if that’s being expressed by members of Parliament… You know, people are often confusing cause and effect, right? The effect of Brent Rathgeber making his move in the House of Commons. He didn’t invent that himself. He’s getting pressure from his constituents who are frustrated by the perception that the CBC is not being as transparent as they need to be. The Information Commissioner was pretty clear on this, and the Federal Court of Appeal have been pretty clear -- that the CBC’s interpretation of Section 68 and the barrier of journalistic integrity and autonomy is being overused by the CBC. And that’s being expressed by members of Parliament. And now, by the way, the NDP agrees with us. They condemned us and said this was an attack on the CBC a couple of weeks ago and now they’ve agreed with us that the CBC needs to be transparent with the taxpayers. So I think that members of Parliament taking these actions, acting on their own, acting on their own (repeat is not a typo), is an important part of them representing their constituents and fighting for transparency in a way that our government said it would.
Q: Do you think that Canadians need to see Peter Mansbridge’s salary?
JM: I think Peter Mansbridge’s salary is… I don’t know. … Do Canadians… I don’t know. (Looks at aide, who says: “I think we’ve got to get you to cabinet.” Moore laughs.)
Look. I think it’s in the best interests of the institution to be transparent. Right? It was in the best interests of members of Parliament, as we saw in the backlash members of Parliament took, what, about two years ago, when there was a perception that members of Parliament were hiding our expenses. And so members of Parliament, we got together, and we were more transparent, and now people know how much everybody’s spending on travel, on staff. So those kind of details are out there and I think it’s been good, it’s been reinforcing public support for the kind of investment that we make into our political system. I think if the CBC wants to maintain public support for a public broadcaster they need to be as transparent as is absolutely possible and not have the perception that they’re being anything other than open and accountable for every dime that they get from taxpayers.
Q: You don’t want to go on a yes or no? I just want to make sure I’m not misquoting you on the Mansbridge-salary issue.
JM: The Broadcast Act does put a barrier there, about what Peter Mansbridge’s salary is. But if on a voluntary basis he wants to tell Canadians his salary, that’s up to him.