Is the Harper government trying to control the CBC?

Andy Radia
·Politics Reporter

As is becoming the norm, there's a surprise in the Harper government's new budget bill introduced earlier this week.

As explained by the Globe and Mail, Bill C-60 will give Cabinet the "explicit power to give Crown corporations orders as to how they should negotiate with employees, both unionized and non-unionized."

The Bill affects all crown corporations under the auspices of the federal government but, today at least, it's the supporters of the CBC who are voicing their concerns.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting — an independent watchdog for Canadian programming, radio, TV and new media — believes the bill takes direct aim at the independence of the Corporation.

"CBC is not just another crown corporation. The financial decision-making the government plans to take over will affect CBC's editorial independence," Ian Morrison, spokesperson for the group said in a statement.

"If this Bill becomes law, the government will have one more lever to control what the CBC does, the programs it presents and the editorial content of the news. Our national public broadcaster will take one step closer to becoming a state broadcaster."

[ Related: Casting agent for CBC retracts call for ‘any race except Caucasian’ ]

The Conservatives obviously have a different take.

"The finances of crown corporations are the responsibility of the government. We have to make sure that costs are sustainable," Treasury Board President Tony Clement said during Question Period on Wednesday.

"The Economic Action Plan 20013 says that the government will try to improve the viability of these crown corporations including levels of remuneration.

"We report to the taxpayer. That includes both our responsibilities within government but also the crown corporations that report to government."

But in an interview with Yahoo! Canada News, Morrison called the industrial relations story "government spin."

"[The new bill] removes the arms length [relationship] that is essential to a public broadcaster," he said.

Morrisson worries that Harper is slowly taking control over the CBC in order to "exercise a subtle form of censorship over the public broadcaster." In addition to budget cuts and the new Bill, he notes that 8 of the 11 CBC board of directors have contributed money to the Conservative Party of Canada.

[ Related: Tough times may be ahead for the CBC ]

"Harper hasn't said anything in public about public broadcasting since he was leader of the opposition. largely because his polling would have told him that it was a popular institution," he said adding that his organization's surveys have suggested that 80 per cent of Canadians support the CBC.

"There is a hostility to public broadcasting in the Harper government.

"They know they can't just kill it, there would be all hell to pay. So it's a death of a thousand cuts, a neutering, a neutralizing, making it less independent, less audacious, less capable of playing a kind of a countervailing role in a democracy. That's my judgement of what's going on."

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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