BUSINESS

CBC Budget Cuts: Fewer Staff, More Ads As National Broadcaster Slashes Spending

04/04/2012 02:13 EDT | Updated 06/04/2012 05:12 EDT
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OTTAWA - Fans of the CBC can expect fewer new shows on television and more ads on radio as the public broadcaster cuts hundreds of jobs in the wake of the federal budget.

News and entertainment will be hit but marquee TV and radio programs, as well as hockey broadcasts, will be protected, CBC officials said Wednesday.

The changes followed the decision by the Conservatives to axe 10 per cent of the broadcaster's budget as part of a government-wide cost-cutting effort.

Government funding makes up about 64 per cent of CBC's budget and the corporation receives about $1.15 billion a year from taxpayers.

While the Tories have had a bull's-eye on the corporation for years, CBC President Hubert Lacroix wouldn't say whether he viewed the cuts as political payback.

"Parliament came down with a decision to take $115 million out of our budget. It's going to affect our services, it's going to affect the way we connect with Canadians," he said in a conference call.

"Our job now is to take this in, adjust and move on."

The public broadcaster expects to lay off more than 650 people over the next three years, with the majority let go this year.

Lacroix says the financial pressure doesn't just come from the federal government cuts. In reality, the CBC faces a $200-million shortfall, as well as $25 million in severance costs for the layoffs.

About $50 million will be made up in new revenue and the CBC has applied for permission to run ads on CBC Radio 2 and Espace musique.

But to cut costs, the CBC is making major changes across the country.

They'll sell buildings, close music libraries, move broadcasts of Radio Canada International entirely to the Internet and cut back on news, music and sports programming.

That will include a reduction in the number of live music broadcasts, more repeated shows in prime time and delay of an online channel for children.

The savings will be spread between English and French language services.

CBC will also delay the launch of some regional initiatives and shut down analog broadcasting earlier than expected, cutting off some 600,000 Canadians.

The cuts will be difficult in the context of the success the broadcaster has had lately, said Kirstine Stewart, executive vice-president of English services.

"I know that Canadians in large part have been asking for more and more of the content we've been providing them," she said.

"I think we can commiserate with them about the fact that we will not be able to deliver as much as we have in the recent past."

Opposition politicians and union leaders decried the cuts.

Marc-Philippe Laurin, president of the Canadian Media Guild's CBC branch, said Wednesday's announcement marked a tipping point for the broadcaster.

"Our folks are, and have been for years now, stretched," he said. "They work above and beyond, they do everything they can, they've been asked to do more and more, year after year after year.

"I can tell you there is no room for that anymore."

The NDP said the cuts were being made in pursuit of Conservative ideology.

"Today Canadians can see the true cost of this government's disdain for CBC/Radio Canada and their commitment to continuing to weaken our public broadcaster," said New Democrat MP Tyrone Benskin.

"These cuts reflect the misguided Conservative view that they can slash the budget of important agencies like the CBC without affecting services — today we see that is false."

But Heritage Minister James Moore said the CBC still has enough money.

"Our budget provides the funds necessary for the CBC to fulfil their obligations under the Broadcast Act and to go further and implement their 2015 plan," he said.

"And also to have a leaner public broadcaster that serves the interests of not only the cultural communities but taxpayers."

Figures released by the CRTC on Wednesday show CBC spent $758.5 million on television programming last year, 94 per cent of which was spent on Canadian programs.

Private broadcasters spent about $560 million on Canadian content.

In 2009, the CBC laid off 800 people in the aftermath of the economic downturn.

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