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Conservatives paint target on the CBC

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Trial balloons are the stuff of politics. And Stephen Harper's government floated a pretty big one in recent days -- a suggestion that the government is contemplating a 10 per cent budget cut to the CBC.

They flirt outrageously, those two. A funny sort of relationship, in which the public network bends over backward to be fair to the government, including Tory-friendly voices in all of its work. And Mr. Harper's team thanks the CBC through a steady stream of fundraising letters to core Conservative voters, asking for donations to fight back against our public broadcaster and -- possibly -- to do it harm.

Why would Mr. Harper want to end this seemingly-profitable relationship, through a lethal attack on the CBC's funding? The Conservatives lost their chance at a majority in 2006 over cuts to the arts (and have remained almost Liberal-like in their irrelevance in Quebec ever since).

I think the answer is a philosophic one. The Conservatives just plain disdain Canada's arts and its culture. They are, it would seem, therefore spoiling to return to the file and to pick up where they left off in 2006.

A curious priority for a Heritage Minister who, very commendably, throws Canadian film nights in Ottawa. And for a prime minister who loves Canadian television shows (like Murdoch Mysteries, in which he has appeared).

But perhaps the need to get the base angry trumps this. It seems the Conservatives have Canadian culture on their minds as an excellent hot button to press with people of their sort. Thus the big target painted on the CBC (founded, lest we forget, by a Conservative government).

Canada is a cultural exercise of will. A decision by a sugar cube not to dissolve into the cup of hot coffee it finds itself in. Buried under billions of dollars of television, film, books and music dumped into our market for pennies by our best friend to the south, Canadians still find ways to talk to each other about ourselves. To tell our own stories. To read our own books. To sing our own songs. To see our own films on a handful of screens. To marvel at our own stars and poets and dreamers.

In the circumstances we find ourselves in, this will always require acts of collective will. Including, for all its faults, our public broadcaster. In fact, much more needs to be done.

In the meantime, I'm betting Mr. Harper will be surprised -- once again -- by how strongly Canadians feel about this, should that Queen Mary of a trial balloon turn into a budget measure.

This article was first published in The Globe and Mail.

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