An image of the CBC's Twitter page on April 21, 2023.
CBC's Twitter page on April 21, 2023. Credit: CBC / Twitter Credit: CBC / Twitter

It sounds like a stage direction. CBC “paused” its use of Twitter after being labelled “government-funded media” there. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who’d campaigned for the slur, danced a jig in delight.

CBC huffed that it’s “arm’s length” from the government that funds it, has journalistic independence etc. But between us, I think the term’s accurate enough, provided Twitter also labels CTV, Global, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, as well as the New York Times, “corporate-funded” media, or advertiser-funded, and Twitter itself as funded by a manic, right-wing narcissist.

My argument isn’t that CBC faces no pressure, but that it’s no worse and possibly less, than the pressures on private media outlets. For most of the last century, every Toronto paper rigorously avoided any reporting on unionization drives at Eaton’s.

Why? Because every edition every day contained a full-page Eaton’s ad. What’s surprising about CBC, given the difference in funding sources, is how similar CBC is on basic coverage to the commercial networks.

To test this, I flipped CBC on randomly Wednesday and found an interview by CBC’s David Cochrane with retired general David Leslie. It was a congenial gang-up against Justin Trudeau over a leak in which he told NATO that Canada would never meet NATO’S target of 2 per cent of GDP for defence spending. They were both scandalized — though there’s never been a rationale for the number and only seven of NATO’S 30 members meet it. Personally I think it’s despicable to prioritize that when a generation of Canada’s young have lost hope of ever owning homes.

If CBC was carrying water for anyone here, it wasn’t for the government that funds them, it was for the U.S., which aims to dominate Europe through NATO, or Brussels, where careers are built on NATO’s inevitability.

Democracy under assault

Tennessee’s legislature recently expelled two Black members on frail, spurious legal grounds. That echoed post-Civil War efforts to (successfully) disenfranchise freed slaves. But it’s also part of the current anti-democracy global tool kit.

India’s main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, lost his seat over a silly defamation charge and got exactly the length of sentence required to bar him from running again. Pakistan’s election commission barred its most popular politician, former PM Imran Khan, from running again as well.

Don’t be smug, we share this tradition. In the 1830s, Toronto’s first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, the leading critic of the colonial Tory oligarchy, was thrown out of the assembly — which wielded no real power — five times and returned each time by voters.

In a late echo, the only serious challenger to Pierre Poilievre for the Conservative leadership in 2022, Patrick Brown, was disqualified by a party bureaucrat over claimed violations of the Elections Act, which weren’t revealed for reasons that were also concealed.

What stands out is non-electoral processes for dumping legitimate reps. In other words, take it out of the hands of the citizenry. The New York Times’ scrupulous Thomas Edsall did a piece this week on ways that democracy is “under assault from the ground up.” I would add the discouraging effect of seeing how casting your vote for someone can be so easily turned pointless.

Spies like us

The most recent leaker of U.S. state secrets, Jack Teixeira, was no spy. He was a young guy out to impress his gamer friends. He sloppily jammed the confidential papers into his pants.

It sounds like Canada’s greatest spy caper, the Gouzenko affair. Igor Gouzenko was a Soviet cipher clerk in Ottawa who stuffed papers into his shirt in 1946 and wandered around Ottawa trying to defect, but was rebuffed by everyone at first: police, Mounties, media, the prime minister.

Yet the event turned into the kick-off for 45 years of Cold War. As they say, it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up. And it’s not the shabby players, it’s their chroniclers and glamourizers. John le Carré’s elegant writing style has a lot to answer for.

This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.