On the first day of the lock-out of CBC employees, the NDP urged Heritage Minister Liza Frulla to protect Canadian programming at the CBC and reverse years of neglect of the public broadcaster.

“We can’t afford to lose any more of Canada,” said leader Jack Layton in Victoria. “It’s vital the CBC’s capacity to connect Canadians to each other be protected. In news, regional programming and drama the CBC plays a crucial role in building our identity. A strong public broadcaster is crucial in connecting a large and diverse country, and maintaining a distinct identity from the United States.

“Canadian culture and news is a full-time job, and diminishing the CBC’s capacity to produce programming is the wrong path,” he said.

Heritage critic Charlie Angus said the current CBC negotiating position is the result of a lack of commitment from the Liberal government to protect and promote public broadcasting. After Paul Martin’s budgets in the mid-1990s made drastic cuts to the CBC, funding has never returned and current senior executives have failed to demonstrate commitment to regional programming.

“If you’re not committed to regional programming, you won’t be committed to the people who provide it,” said Angus, MP for Timmins — James Bay. “Paul Martin chose to put the CBC on a weaker path before, and his government must now make better choices — that respect public broadcasting and the people who bring it to Canadians. The CBC is a really important voice. Here in Northern Ontario people listen to that voice, they look for it, they need it and I don’t think we’re sending a good signal by having it off the air for any length of time.”

He noted the government’s lack of response to Our Cultural Heritage, the Lincoln Report on broadcasting, and its refusal to revisit the 1999 television policy are troubling indicators of the lack of commitment to Canadian drama.

“It’s time Liza Frulla emerged from hiding and started to take the government’s role in public broadcasting seriously,” said Angus. “The vicious cycle of Liberal ambivalence feeding bad management direction has to end, and it’s time Ms. Frulla came out clearly in favour of protecting programming capacity at the CBC.”

‘Three big lies’

The Canadian Media Guild, representing the locked-out employees, accuses the CBC management of misleading their employees — and the public — on the issue of hiring contract and/or temporary employees. Their position is strongly presented, as follows, for their members on their website.

Contract employment vs. permanent employment

To be absolutely clear, the Canadian Media Guild is not opposed to hiring employeesunder individual contracts. Existing contract employees provide an invaluable service and arevery much a part of the CBC family. We have proposed language that would allow theCorporation to continue to hire non-permanent employees in specific situations but we alsowant to ensure they are hired and treated fairly.

Our position is and has always been: permanent people for permanent work. This is not aquest for a job for life. It is a way to ensure employees have access to the CBC pension andbenefit plans and protection from unjust dismissal.

The CBC seeks to turn the clock back a quarter-century to be able to hire virtually all newemployees on contract. It is trying to do a sales job on employees by misleading them.

Lie #1

The CBC says its proposal for future staffing will not affect existing staff.

Of course it will. Any time you create a two-tier structure for employees, where one grouphas fewer rights and benefits than the other, both types of employees suffer. An employee whocan be terminated with little or no notice is far less likely to demand or protect his/her rights.This, of course, impacts on the rights of everyone.

When it comes to terminating employees for lack of work, we ask you to consider whichgroup is more likely to be targeted: the employees with more rights or the employees withfewer rights? Obviously, the Corporation would lean towards getting rid of a longer-termemployee who enjoys more rights and benefits, since — in its approach — he or she is seenpurely as a liability. The Corporation can get rid of a contract employee any time withoutneeding to show any justification at all.

Such a proposal would also create two pension plans, meaning an inferior plan for onegroup and reduced contributions to the existing plan covering permanent employees.

Lie #2

The CBC says it needs a new hiring model to give it a competitive advantage andoperational flexibility.

“In order to survive and thrive in the future, we have to be able to change formats,change structure, put the right people in the right place and move resources more quicklythan before.”

This is a direct quote from a recent Corporation bargaining communiqué. Note thisstatement never actually talks about what the Corporation wants to do that it can’t do now — get rid of employees on a whim.

Over the past 15 years, no group of employees anywhere has demonstrated morecapacity for change than CBC employees. It is particularly insulting to employees who nowwork harder and do more than ever before to suggest their sacrifice and contribution is notgood enough. We provide more product than ever, on more platforms, and with 3,000 feweremployees. Constant innovations in programming and production have been driven by existingemployees.

In the end, it comes down to an issue of what the CBC really needsâe¦not what it wants.We firmly believe our proposal on employment status addresses the Corporationâe(TM)s needs.Its proposal is simply a want and represents a significant loss for employees; and we willnever accept it.

Lie #3

The CBC says just because it wants the right to hire virtually all future employeesunder a contract, it wonâe(TM)t necessarily do it.

That’s nice to say but history demonstrates otherwise. In virtually every situation whereCBC can choose between hiring a permanent employee and a non-permanent employee, itchooses a non-permanent employee. The reasons have much more to do with disposabilitythan flexibility.