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Hill Dispatches: Heritage Minister joins the gang-up on CBC

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Pity the poor CBC.

It gives pride of place to Kevin O'Leary, Don Cherry and Rex Murphy, all of whom get to freely express their generally right-of-centre views with alacrity. And yet, a good many Conservatives still think of the Corporation as some kind of left-wing conspiracy.

"One-sided caricature of itself"

CBC has been the subject of much chatter on Parliament Hill of late.

They have been talking about it at the Commons ethics committee (considering the controversy over CBC's resistance to Access to Information requests from Sun Media), at the Canadian Heritage committee, and in the House.

And that chatter has not been very friendly.

New Brunswick Tory, John Williamson, crystallized his party's perspective when he said to the CBC president:

"Your approach to news tends to be one-sided and viewers are tuning out because they're looking for a good debate and they're not getting it ... CBC is, in fact, becoming a caricature of itself."

What about the "greed is good" guy?

Too bad the CBC president didn't invite the Tory MP to watch CBC News Network's daily business show, the Lang/O'Leary report, in which Kevin O'Leary gets to express his market fundamentalist view on everything under the sun; or to review some of the Rex Murphy's commentaries on The National, especially those that deal with climate change (which is a passing intellectual fad, Mr. Murphy seems to think).

The CBC president could have directed Mr. Williamson to Kevin O'Leary's now infamous interview with writer Chris Hedges. That's the one where O'Leary called his interlocutor a "left-wing nut-bar."

Or, better yet, the CBC president could have pointed to a lesser known exchange, where O'Leary lectured Steelworkers' leader Leo Gerard to "get with the program" and accept that wages have to be lower if Canada was to be competitive. That interview took place during the Vale-INCO strike, and Gerard admirably did not lose his cool. Instead he asked O'Leary if he thought a Brazilian salary of $150.00/week would be reasonable for Canadian workers.

A broadcaster that sought to present a one-sided, left-of-centre perspective on news and information would not bend over backwards to give such significant air time to "greed is good" or "climate change is bunk" commentators.

Not even any fair weather friends

None of this appeases the current crop of Conservatives. Whenever they hear the word CBC they set to loudly sharpening their knives

Prior to the last election, the CBC could count on a certain measure of rhetorical support from Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore. In those good old days Mr. Moore would boast that his government had actually increased funding for the public broadcaster, while the previous Liberal government had cut it.

One had the impression that James Moore was a not-so-secret supporter of the notion of public broadcasting and the vital role CBC plays in Canada.

Since the election, and since his backbench colleagues have taken to using the CBC as a punching bag, the Heritage Minister has changed his tune.

Was Moore getting attacked for seeming too soft on CBC?

Last week, this is how Moore answered a question about the CBC from the NDP's Heritage Critic Tyrone Benskin (who is, by the way, an accomplished actor, writer, director and musician):

"The NDP started question period by saying we should not spend more money on fighting crime. Then it said we should not spend more money on the Canadian Forces ... Now the NDP stands up and says, 'However give hundreds of millions to the CBC.' That tells us everything we need to know about that party versus where Canadians stand."

Is it possible that Moore was getting beaten up in caucus and cabinet for being soft on the reviled Corporation?

We'll never know for sure.

CBC President was appointed by Harper

Moore is the minister through whom the CBC reports to Parliament. Normally, whatever the political stripe of the government, that minister has seen it as part of her/his role to advocate for the CBC, however timidly in some cases.

Today, the CBC cannot count on the Canadian Heritage minister. And it does not even have a few fair weather friends on the government side of the House.

The irony of it all is that the CBC's president, Hubert Lacroix and most of its Board of Directors are Harper appointees. Did the prime minister not make any undertakings to Lacroix when he asked him to take on the job? Who would accept such an appointment, if it meant presiding over the decimation of the organization he/she headed?

A matter of principle

The CBC lived through something similar, not too long ago, in the Chrétien era. The CBC president in the early years of that government was Tony Manera -- who, as a former vice president had "come through the ranks," rare for a CBC president.

When he was appointed, in 1993, Manera thought he had a commitment from the prime minister as to levels of funding for the Corporation.

Then,when he discovered, in 1995, that the commitment was a chimera, Manera didn't try to adapt to new financial realities. He didn't "look at the bright side" and hide his sense of betrayal.

Manera took another course.

He resigned, on principle, and said bluntly that he was leaving because the government had not lived up to its promise to him.

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