CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix has had a rocky eight years at the helm of Canada’s public broadcaster, and the union that represents most of his employees is now calling for him to step down.
The Canadian Media Guild, which represents the employees of CBC’s English services as well as its French services outside Quebec and New Brunswick, says Lacroix and his board of directors have lost their legitimacy and the confidence of the staff.
Lacroix, a Montreal lawyer with no previous media experience, was appointed in 2007 by Stephen Harper and has long fended off accusations that he was looking to gut the CBC because of his close ties to the Conservative Party. It has been reported that at least nine of the 12 members on the CBC board have contributed money to the Conservatives. The CMG may be counting on a new Liberal government to give the CBC top brass a clean sweep.
While Lacroix has presided over budget cuts, asset sales and falling ratings, his biggest challenges have been ethical and personnel scandals that challenged the CBC’s personality-focused system. Here’s a look back at some of the biggest controversies involving CBC stars since Lacroix — who wasn’t immediately available for comment — took over.
Rex Murphy & Peter Mansbridge
Jesse Brown, whose Canadaland podcast has been instrumental in revealing many of the allegations against top CBC employees, gained notice in February 2014 for his coverage of the paid speaking gigs of The National anchor Peter Mansbridge and Cross Country Checkup host and CBC commentator Rex Murphy. Murphy’s speeches to oilsands groups and other business audiences were first publicized by Andrew Mitrovica at iPolitics.
Brown said that neither man had disclosed the paid speaking engagements during their coverage or discussion of the issues. While Mansbridge defended his speeches as non-partisan, Murphy’s endorsement of the controversial development of Canada’s oilsands was enthusiastic in a recording broadcast by Brown.
The CBC protested that Murphy was officially a freelancer and therefore free to express his own views elsewhere, but relented in April 2014 and changed the rules to add transparency to the speaking fees earned by its hosts. It wouldn’t be enough to stem future controversy, however.
CBC’s senior business correspondent came in Brown’s sights in December 2014 for giving what he called uncritical interviews to bank executives without disclosing that those same banks had recently paid her for speeches and appearances. Yet that alleged breach paled in comparison to a story Brown published in January 2015 suggesting that Lang had intervened to try to sabotage a story critical of the Royal Bank of Canada’s temporary foreign worker policy and, when that effort failed, had given the bank’s CEO a platform on The National to make his case in a softball interview. Lang had taken speaking fees from RBC, and was reported to be in a romantic relationship with a member of the bank’s board of directors. None of this was disclosed during her coverage.
While the CBC’s review of the case was underway, it banned paid speaking gigs entirely for its on-air talent. That review, which was widely criticized in part because it was focused on all of her coverage of RBC over a two-year period and not the specific incident, mostly exonerated Lang, who remained the host of her nightly program. She left the CBC earlier this month to host a show on the new Bloomberg TV Canada.
In contrast to Murphy and Lang, who remained on the broadcaster’s payroll after their respective scandals came to light, Evan Solomon was fired soon after the CBC became aware of his alleged role using his journalistic contacts to set up high-priced art deals between prominent Canadians. The former host of Power & Politics, the CBC’s daily televised political gabfest, and radio show The House was reported to have demanded more than $1-million for brokering an art deal between collector Bruce Bailey and RIM co-founder Jim Balsillie. His art deals were also said to include Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of Canada and now governor of the Bank of England.
Solomon had been widely tipped to succeed Mansbridge at the CBC’s flagship nightly newscast, and although Balsillie had never appeared on his program and Carney’s appearances had apparently occurred before Solomon’s ill-fated foray into the art world, he was fired almost immediately.
The sordid details of the allegations against Jian Ghomeshi, currently on trial for multiple counts of sexual assault, became public in October 2014 thanks to the investigations by Brown and the Toronto Star’s Kevin Donovan. To get ahead of the story, Ghomeshi went to CBC brass to show them a video that reportedly showed a woman with bruises and a cracked rib because of what he said were consensual sexual activities, and he was fired later that day. In a since-deleted Facebook posting, Ghomeshi said the move was in “good faith” to show that he had nothing to hide.
Since then, at least eight women have come forward with stories of violence or abuse suffered at the hands of Ghomeshi, from beatings and rape to sexual harassment at work. Actress Lucy DeCouture went public where her story of being violently choked and slapped by Ghomeshi. The workplace environment at his radio show, Q, was revealed to be deeply toxic, and an independent report found CBC management failed multiple times to address staff complaints or rein in his abusive behaviour. The report’s authors, lawyers Janice Rubin and Parisa Nikfarjam, went so far as to suggest that by their inaction CBC management was condoning his “disrespectful and abusive conduct.” The CBC apologized for its actions, fired two executives implicated by the report, and pledged workplace reforms, including the launch of a tip line for workplace bullying and harassment.
Ghomeshi has hidden himself from the public eye since the full story of his allegations has come to light. He pleaded not guilty to four charges of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking earlier this month.
Brown told the Guardian that the CBC’s system of focusing attention on a few stars, highlighting them in its national advertising campaigns and plastering two-storey high promotional shots outside its Toronto headquarters, was at the root of the problem.
“When you create these celebrities, you create monsters.”