What if the CBC was sold to a washed-up American wrestling promoter who renamed The National, The N-ACTIONAL and bikini-clad women delivered the weather?
The scenario is far fetched, but the advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting hopes its new ad campaign "Stop the CBC Smackdown" will attract the attention of younger Canadians and go viral. It also hopes it will remind Canadians of the value of having a strong public broadcaster and place pressure on the federal government to support the CBC.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the Huffington Post reported this September, is facing a 10 per cent budget cut as the Conservatives strive to eliminate costs from all government departments, agencies and Crown corporations.
If officials factor in a $60-million top-up that CBC separately requests and receives each year, that could mean an even deeper cut of its $1.1 billion allocation from the public purse.
“We think there is a grave threat, and our goal is to try to remind them (the Conservatives) that if they proceeded with what some of them obviously want to do, there will be consequences,” Ian Morrison, Friends’ spokesman told HuffPost.
Still, according to Friends’ own survey results, released Tuesday, Canadians trust the Conservative Party most to defend Canada's cultural institutions.
“There is a surprising element … a larger number (of respondents), more than we had anticipated, actually place some trust in the Conservative government to defend Canadian culture and identity — and that didn’t used to be the case,” Morrison said.
He suspects it is partly the result of a “lot of positive things” the Tories have been doing over the past year and assurances provided during the election campaign.
The day after the election, Heritage Minister James Moore was on CBC saying the Tories would maintain or increase funding for the national broadcaster, Morrison noted. Something, the Minister has since suggested won't happen.
"They risk putting this new position in jeopardy if they proceed with their plan,” Morrison warned.
“The CBC is a very popular institution, almost everywhere except in the Conservative caucus — and the Government knows this,” Morrison told reporters at Friends' press conference.
Speaking to the International Institute of Communications' annual general meeting Tuesday morning, Moore trumpeted his government's record of investing in festivals, community events and museums — but made no mention of CBC's funding.
CBC's engagement in both official languages and in eight Aboriginal languages, "is not something that the private sector and the free market is doing easily (or) willingly," Moore told a crowd of industry executives including CBC President Hubert Lacroix and Quebecor VP Serge Sasseville. "The importance of the CBC to ensure that both of Canada's official languages are represented in all of the regions of this country is essential and the way that they have done so by embracing new technology is very important," he added.
According to Friends’ online poll of 2022 adult Canadians, conducted by Angus Reid between Nov. 4 and 10, those surveyed thought the Conservatives were most trusted (27 per cent) to protect national culture and identity, the NDP was second (24 per cent) and the Liberals third (14 per cent).
When asked who was most trusted to protect the CBC, 46 per cent of respondents said the NDP, the Conservatives came second with 29 per cent and the Liberals third with 25 per cent. Exactly half of those surveyed, however, agreed the Harper government is "underfunding the CBC so that it can turn it into a private commercial broadcaster." One in four believed that was the right thing to do.
Friends’ survey suggests more Canadians would rather see their MP vote in favour of maintaining CBC’s current funding level (46 per cent) than increase its budget (23 per cent) or support cuts (17 per cent).
More people who say they would vote Conservative, if an election were held today, also support maintaining or increasing funding levels, Morrison said.
“The Conservatives are risking alienating a pretty substantial portion of their support base if they proceed with this neo-conservative, cut, cut, cut,” he added.
The online poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.18, per cent 19 times out of 20.
The survey comes on the heels of another study, this one commissioned by the CBC and released Monday that suggests that if the public broadcaster was forced to eliminate advertising as a source of revenue, it would not be able to fulfill its mandate.
“The Public Broadcasting System in the U.S. is not a viable alternative model for CBC/Radio-Canada,” the Crown corporation said in a news release.
The elimination of all advertising would have a $533 million financial impact on the public broadcaster, the report from the Nordicity Group Ltd. said.
Not only would CBC lose $368 million in advertising revenue, but it would also have to come up with an estimated $190 million to produce content for airtime freed-up by the loss of ads, the broadcaster noted.
The federal government has not publicly suggested the CBC look at different funding models, in fact a suggestion by CBC President Hubert Lacroix two years ago that ads could be added to CBC Radio to make up a government funding shortfall drew a resounding public outcry.
Morrison told The Huffington Post he has little faith that Lacroix can adequately do his job.
“We don’t have a lot of confidence in Lacroix,” Morrison said. “He was appointed by Harper and … he’ll do whatever the government requires of him. He’s not perceived as fighting cuts, he’s campaigning for re-appointment in November of 2012.”
Lacroix has few kind words for Morrison and his organization.
“I'd like to make a point very clear,” Lacroix told MPs on the Commons’ access to information committee last week. “The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting is not friends of CBC. We have no link with this organization whatsoever. I've never spoken to Mr. Morrison. I've never had conversations with Mr. Morrison. I don't know this gentleman.”
Moore, himself noted when speaking with reporters Tuesday, that Friends of Canadian Broadcasting has an icy relationship with the CBC and that the government and the public broadcaster were working together to address the upcoming budget cuts.
The Heritage Minister, however, strongly defended CBC's use of advertising noting that 55 per cent of the public broadcaster's budget comes from ads not taxpayers.
Advertising helps "subsidize things that are commercially not successful, like the broadcasting of news in French to parts of the country where there is no other alternative but the public broadcaster. That’s good for Canada," he said.
The CBC is facing a sustained daily campaign by its competitor Quebecor, owner of Sun Media and Sun News television, accusing it of being bloated, unaccountable and a poor use of taxpayers' dollars. An editorial by Sun personality Ezra Levant suggested Tuesday that the CBC should be sold.
The public broadcaster seems to have put its troubles over access to information legislation behind it, deciding Friday it won't appeal a decision by the Federal Court of Appeal that ruled in favour of the Information Commissioner to the Supreme Court.
But with that front closed, all eyes are now on what the CBC will cut and on the federal government for any indication on how deep those cuts will be.
Morrison said he hopes the fact the federal government recently gave the broadcaster its $60 million extra allocation, shows the Tories talk of cutting the CBC is only “smoke and mirrors.”