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WTF Wednesday: CBC under attack…again

Catherine McIntyre

The Conservatives are at it again with another sneak-attack on democracy. This time

one of the targets is an old favourite—the CBC.

If you search hard enough, tucked away in the 111 pages of unrelated motions, you’ll piece together the government’s plan to tighten control over crown corporations. Via Rail and Canada Post are among the 49 companies threatened, but the bill’s implications on the CBC could severely compromise democracy. As a crown corporation, the CBC is funded by the government but maintains independence similar to a private company. But now the government wants control over salary and contract negotiations so it can cut costs and thus taxes. This undermines unions’ right to negotiate and threatens the media’s independence.

Conservative MP, Pierre Poilievre put it this way: “I am not here to take marching orders from union bosses. I represent taxpayers and, frankly, taxpayers expect us to keep costs under control so that we can keep taxes down. It is for those taxpayers that we work. Not union bosses.”

So the government is just looking out for Canadians, right? They’re acting in our best interest so we can save money.

Not everyone’s buying it. Sure, Canadians are an apathetic breed, but does the government honestly think we’re that naïve?  We’re supposed to believe the CBC’s content will be independent while Stephen Harper dictates each journalist’s salary? We’re supposed to believe he won’t reward those who report favourably on the government? This isn’t just about the money, Mr. Harper, is it? It’s about control.

And it’s control Harper’s been tactfully garnering for years.

Take, for example, the feds’ letterhead re-design. In 2009, the Conservatives changed government stationary from “Government of Canada” to read “Harper Government”. It’s subtle, but the message is significant; this is Harper’s Canada—not yours. When public servants finally did approach the Canadian Press about the Harper-centric rebranding, they did so off the record “for fear of retribution”.

When Harper made office in 2006, he introduced the tightest media censorship system parliament had ever seen. Reporters couldn’t access even basic information until it was vetted by the communications and consultations unit of the Privy Council Office.

Already at the CBC, the board of directors (which the government appoints) is stacked with conservative cronies. Eight of eleven directors are Conservative Party donors, including the chair Rémi Racine who gave $1,200 last year. To stay on the board, directors have to maintain “good relations” with Heritage Minister James Moore and his staff—another of Harper’s initiatives.

And some MPs have tried to topple the CBC completely, gathering signatures to support either cutting all funding to the CBC or selling the company. The $1.1 billion annual fund, they said, gives the broadcaster an unfair advantage over competitors, and of course, an unfair burden on tax-payers.

But this latest motion is the biggest blow to press freedom yet, with the most backlash, too. Because, well, it’s hard to maintain the guise of a democracy with a state-run media.

What if, for example, the NDP was the government of the day and tabled this same motion. Would the Conservatives not accuse them of being communist or Marxist? It’s true we associate state-controlled media with nations like China and the former Soviet Union—countries that tend to have weak economies and poor human rights records. And of course, there are exceptions, but I’m not sure Canada is one of them.

The federal government boasts for being a leader in human rights. But last week, 83 UN member countries agreed Canada human rights record isn’t good enough and asked for big improvements. Sorry, Mr. Harper, but press censorship isn’t exactly a step in the right direction.

So maybe Harper really has become transparent. He’s lost his sly, secretive way of undermining democracy and everyone can see through it. At last, there’s serious outcry over Harper’s media control. Political activist group, Avaaz, is circulating a petition which already has more than 50,000 signatures. Now that we’ve cut through the political speak, the onus is on us to not only call bull-shit but do something about it.


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