Mr.Prime Minister, fight for the CBC

April 21, 2023

Last week the Globe and Mail’s Lawrence Martin wrote a convincing piece suggesting Justin Trudeau might be past his best-before date and should pack it in.

Martin’s thinking is that the PM can take pride in his achievements in eight years of government and that it isn’t going to get any easier for him, or the Liberal Party, to win the next election with him as leader.

That column was published just before Pierre Poilievre lit up the Canadian media universe by publicly inviting Twitter’s Elon Musk —-you had to wonder if the invitation was preceded by a private phone call— to disparage the CBC as ‘government funded.’

‘Government funded’ is an intended disparagement. Twitter editorial policy is to label publicly funded media as ‘government’ instead of ‘public’ if the newsrooms are not independent journalists, free from the funder’s interference.

You know what ensued. Musk gleefully complied with Poilievre’s request. In case anyone missed the point (and the bro solid to Poilievre), Musk tweeted ‘defund the CBC.’

And over the next week, the chattering class chattered, either to condemn the nuanced disparagement or soak in a bathtub of ‘whataboutism,’ pointing out of the ways in which English Canadian CBC-TV doesn’t measure up to our high expectations, or making the Prime Minister’s and the CBC’s reaction to the disparagement into the issue.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter what the chattering class thinks. After all, we are a tiny slice of the 95% of English Canadian television viewers not watching CBC or the 5% that are. It only matters what normal people think and that’s not us.

The Globe’s Konrad Yakabuski took a stab at putting his finger on CBC-TV’s reputation and opined with a little cheek:

English CBC has been consumed by questions around diversity, reconciliation and lived experience, sometimes at the risk of blurring the lines between journalism and activism. This may explain why so many Conservatives see it as being in cahoots with a Liberal government that, well, has been consumed by questions around diversity, reconciliation and lived experience.

You might dispute Yakabuski’s choice of the word ‘consumed:’ the term ‘journalistic courage’ also comes to mind. But point taken. He’s identified an important perception of CBC.

Still, CBC isn’t doing too badly in the court of public opinion of normal, non-chattering Canadians.

According to the last CBC public report, 77% of Canadians support the idea of a national public broadcaster. Seventy-six per cent say that CBC does a good job as a news provider. There was no metric for how many of Canada’s 17.2 million taxpayers approve of the job CBC is doing as a media organization, overall.

The report did say that CBC English TV captures only 4.4% of the national audience, below its 4.9% target. For French language Radio-Canada TV, the audience number is 22.6%.

Can we close that gap? No, not entirely so long as English language CBC-TV competes with American television and streaming services. But the gap between English CBC radio and the French service is much tighter: 14.1% and 23%.

What’s driving the meagre 4.4% television figure when the radio results are so much better? Too little funding for too much responsibility?Differences in regional loyalties ? Age cohorts ? Shifting CBC budget priorities for digital over legacy TV ? Programming choices ? Workplace culture ? Commercials or no commercials?

I have no idea. Neither do you unless you work there.

What we have here is a management problem. Or the shareholders’ perception that there might be one.

This is where you come in Mr. Prime Minister, assuming you are sticking around.

Take hold of this issue and be seen to do so. You gave your Heritage Minister a vaguely word mandate in 2021 to do something about the CBC. So do something.

When you hit the hustings in the next election and the Opposition is crowing ‘defund English CBC-TV and save $1 billion’ you will need a better response than you are only the landlord.

No, we don’t need a Royal Commission that takes three years to make recommendations destined to be ignored by the next government (exactly what occurred in the 1980s).

We need the landlord to take responsibility, now.

The CBC is independent of Parliament you say? Tell that to the voters at the ballot box.

So get on with it. To do the job, you will need someone who is you but isn’t you. With as much of a deadpan as I can muster for this suggestion, appoint a special rapporteur on the CBC, but one that will report back to both federal cabinet and Parliament.

And then you can be the guy who saved the CBC. Wouldn’t that be an achievement.



If you would like regular notifications of future posts from you can follow this site by signing up under the Follow button in the bottom right corner of the home page; 

or e-mail to be added to the weekly update; 

or follow @howardalaw on Twitter.

Published by

Howard Law

I am retired staff of Unifor, the union representing 300,000 Canadians in twenty different sectors of the economy, including 10,000 journalists and media workers. As the former Director of the Media Sector and as an unapologetic cultural nationalist, I have an abiding passion for public policy in Canadian media.

4 thoughts on “Mr.Prime Minister, fight for the CBC”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s