In a bold initiative to continue making conservative values Canadian values, this column can breathlessly reveal that Stephen Harper has come up with his masterstroke. When future historians look back on the Harper years, they may well consider this his most sublime move ever.
Although the official announcement is yet to be made, we understand from sporadically reliable sources that all the pieces are in the works and all the players are on board. The announcement, apparently, will be couched in terms of a celebration of this year’s 75th anniversary of the CBC. Mr. Harper is said to be gobsmacked that the public broadcaster created by esteemed Conservative prime minister Richard Bennett, who also played a heroic role in the War of 1812, will be privatized by a man his cabinet appointees consider the greatest Canadian prime minister of all time — himself.
It is well known that Mr. Harper has long felt CBC TV was ready for a radical makeover. Eliminating its public subsidy was one appealing alternative. But a series of coincidences, so the story has it, led him direct to his new inspiration.
At first conservatives hoped the Sun “News” Network, a meretricious imitation of Fox News so envied by Canadian conservatives, would be a competitor for CBC TV. But it soon became clear the two in fact perfectly complemented each other and indeed that the CBC was monopolizing talent that naturally belonged with Sun TV. Besides, add Sun’s dozens of viewers to what’s left of the CBC audience and you get a true mini-Leviathan.
As a strategy to destabilize CBC TV, Sun hosts have spent hours of turgid airtime making believe that the CBC was actually too liberal. Look at David Suzuki, for heaven’s sakes! Look at — well, David Suzuki!
And then there was Rick Mercer’s hysterical rant against those who exported deadly asbestos to poor countries, while Sun TV itself would instinctively rally to the cause of Ethical Asbestos. Seriously, if you were a labourer in India, would you rather die an excruciating death from the asbestos sold you by some swell Canadians or asbestos sent by Islamist sheiks and South American commies? The question surely answers itself.
The final pieces in the puzzle were filled in only recently when conservatives could no longer stand by and watch the likes of Don Cherry, Amanda Lang and Kevin O’Leary waste themselves on the CBC. Several incidents closed the deal. One was a remarkable Sept. 12 feature on CBC TV on the roots of the global economic crisis by the network’s “senior business correspondent” Amanda Lang. Ms. Lang magically succeeded in blaming the meltdown on “America’s own actions” without even alluding to the central role of the deregulated, out-of-control and deeply venal finance sector. Even Finance Minister Jim Flaherty acknowledges the responsibility of America’s financial institutions for the crisis.
Another tipping point was the CBC’s own Don Cherry joyfully razzing Toronto’s “left-wing bike-riding pinkos,” calling former hockey enforcers “pukes” and comparing certain coaches to “some kind of dog food.” This too drove conservatives up the wall. What in the world was Mr. Cherry doing at the CBC? If anyone was ever made for Sun TV, he was the man.
As is Kevin O’Leary. The final domino fell when CBC elevated Mr. O’Leary, its own cherished Gordon Gekko, to be their ubiquitous star. You could hardly tune in to the CBC without encountering his scowling demeanour. Mr. O’Leary of course came from Dragon’s Den, a show on which hard-working, enterprising Canadians are regularly humiliated and rejected by rich people.
An unapologetic believer in the survival of the fittest, Mr. O’Leary seems to wallow in his reputation for ruthlessness as he demonstrates in the other show he was handed by the public broadcaster, with Ms. Lang as his Ron MacLean. Last week he interviewed Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer-winning former New York Times reporter turned left-wing gadfly, on the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon.
It is true that Mr. Hedges frequently leans toward the apocalypse. Still. First a contemptuous Mr. O’Leary dismissed the Occupy Wall Street protests out of hand. When Mr. Hedges explained some of the protesters’ grievances, Mr. O’Leary responded by calling him a “left-wing nut bar.” An infuriated Mr. Hedges shot back that he expected from the CBC a discussion of the issues and not character assassination, and that “This sounds like Fox News.” At the end of the interview, thanked for appearing, Mr. Hedges declared on air: “This will be the last time.”
He had it exactly right. Public money, after all, brings all these swell folks to the CBC. If there’s any justice in this world, surely the O’Leary-Lang lollapalooza, together with Dragon’s Den and Don Cherry, belong as a matter of natural justice to the ethic and aesthetic of the Sun “News” Network. The intention is to create a joint prime-time program as the new network’s flagship show, tentatively being called The Puke Hour.
The new media semi-colossus is already being seen as a win-win for everyone who counts in Stephen Harper’s Canada — the Tory Base. This includes its new owner, Pierre Karl Péladeau, a hard-boiled Quebec media tycoon whose role model may be Rupert Murdoch.
Through a company called Quebecor, Mr. Péladeau owns the Sun chain of tabloid newspapers, Sun TV, Quebec’s largest cable-TV-cell phone provider Videotron, Quebec’s most popular conventional broadcaster TVA, commuter papers in various cities and the high-profile tabloid Journal de Montréal. Mr. Péladeau’s many organs regularly bash trade unions and demand drastically reduced public funding to the CBC. No doubt in gratitude, Mr. Harper will now gift him CBC TV.
According to Florian Sauvageau, Quebec’s pre-eminent media expert and former co-chair with none other than myself of the landmark Task Force of Broadcast Policy, Mr. Péladeau is already extraordinarily powerful. If you’re looking for creative work in Quebec, “everyone needs Quebecor.” A CBC profile added that “Péladeau doesn’t quite have the reach of Orwell’s Big Brother, but he comes pretty close, especially within the relatively closed world of Quebec media.” But life, as we know too well, is often unfair. I’m reliably told that Mr. Péladeau long dreamed of adding the rest of Canada to his empire, especially CBC TV itself. Mr. Harper, it appears, will make his dream come true.
For the sake of harmony in the blended family, I understand the new media colossus will be called neither Sun nor CBC. The smart money is betting on Fox TV Canada.
This article was first published in The Globe and Mail.