Cash-strapped CBC to sell property

Move could jeopardize public broadcaster's ability to do meaningful productions: CMG

Chris Powell September 23, 2015

Speaking at the Public Broadcasters International Conference in Munich earlier this month, CBC president Hubert Lacroix said shrinking resources have forced the public broadcaster to “lose furniture in order to save the house.”

The house might now be lost anyway, with news that CBC plans to sell off all of its property across the country, including major production centres in Toronto and Montreal.

The Canadian Media Guild (CMG) issued a release saying CBC staffers were told of the plan during a town hall meeting on Tuesday. The CMG immediately denounced the plan, with Marc-Philippe Laurin, CBC branch president for the CMG, saying the decision is of “great concern” to its members.

CBC did not respond to Marketing‘s request for interview by press time. However, Alexandra Fortier, manager of media relations at CBC, denied the CMG’s claim, telling the Toronto Star that it is committed to a plan announced last year to sell 50% of its property

Laurin said the CBC’s plan “seriously jeopardizes” its ability to do meaningful production in the future. “Our members believe the public broadcaster can’t only be a distributor,” he said in a release. “It has to also be a producer.”

He said the decision threatens CBC’s legacy of award-winning documentaries, drama and other production at CBC and Radio-Canada.

The announcement comes as the cash-strapped public broadcaster, faced with a $115 million reduction in government funding and the loss of lucrative NHL ad revenue, looks to reinvent itself for a digital future.

“It has meant huge job losses and a reduced ability to do the very things that we have been mandated to do,” said Lacroix in Munich, noting that the same thing is happening to public broadcasters in Australia, France, the U.K. and Brazil.

CBC has eliminated more than 2,800 jobs since 2008, with plans to cut another 1,600 by 2020, according to the CMG.

However, CMG national president Carmel Smyth said CBC is rushing into an “irreversible decision” at the wrong moment, since three of Canada’s four national political parties have stated they plan to restore or increase funding to CBC if elected.

On Tuesday, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party said it would invest $150 million in new annual funding for CBC, reversing cuts made by the Harper government and ensuring the public broadcaster is able to fulfill its mandate of promoting Canadian culture, identity, bilingualism and minority voices.

The Green Party, meanwhile, has promised to invest $285 million in its first year in power and $315 million every year thereafter to rebuild CBC’s local coverage and capacity. It also pledged to revamp its governance structure to end what it called the “political influence of partisan cronies being appointed to the board.”

The NDP party, too, has said it would reverse the Harper Conservatives $115 million cut to the CBC budget.

Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said asset sales would provide only a quick fix for CBC, generating what it called a “temporary cash infusion” that would enable it to defer part of the government’s operating subsidy until later in the fiscal year.