A Conservative MP’s quest to shed light on the salaries of CBC’s big earners such as Peter Mansbridge and George Stroumboulopoulos hit the floor of the House of Commons Monday.
Edmonton MP Brent Rathgeber said he has no burning desire to find out how much Mansbridge and Strombo make, but he wants to make it easier for anyone who does to gain access to the numbers.
His private member’s bill, C-461, amends the Privacy Act to allow the disclosure of someone’s name, salary and title if they are employed by a government institution and earn more than than a deputy minister, about $188,600 a year. If an employee makes less than that, only the salary range will be disclosed.
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Rathgeber tried to press the government last winter to release the salaries of top CBC employees. The Conservative government refused. Heritage Minister James Moore would say only that 730 people at the Crown corporation earned more than $100,000 a year. (At the same time, the government — citing access and privacy laws — refused to disclose the number of people in the Prime Minister’s office who earned more than $100,000).
Rathgeber said his bill also strips the CBC of a blanket protection when it comes to anything touching upon “journalistic, creative or programming activities” — a section known as 68.1 of the Access to Information Act. Instead, his bill states the public broadcaster “may refuse to disclose” any record that could reasonably be expected to prejudice the corporation’s journalistic, creative or programming independence. That difference, gives the Information Commissioner, an arm’s length officer of Parliament, the final say about whether something should be disclosed, Rathgeber said.
The CBC fought an expensive battle with the Information Commissioner last year over that very issue in federal court and lost — something the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) calls a giant waste of money and the reason it is supporting Rathgeber’s bill.
“It should be possible for the Information Commissioner to deal with access to information complaints without having to go to court against other governmental agencies,” said Gregory Thomas, the CTF’s federal director.
“We are satisfied that [Rathgeber’s bill] protects the ability of the CBC to protect its journalistic sources and its newsrooms and its intellectual property, its works and productions, all those kinds of things,” he added.
Thomas said his group has not petitioned its members on whether Mansbridge’s and Strombo’s salaries should be made public and does not yet have a position on that.
Reached in Toronto, Mansbridge would say only that the bill doesn’t mention him so he has “no comment.”
CBC spokesman Angus Mckinnon said the public broadcaster thinks the disclosure of salaries of individual employees could “prejudice its competitive position.”
What’s more, McKinnon said, section 68.1 provides independence that is fundamental to the role and the responsibilities of the public broadcaster.
“As an independent news organization, we need to be able to protect sensitive information such as the files of our journalists, investigative materials and the identity of confidential sources,” he said.
Since CBC/Radio-Canada operates in a hybrid public and commercial model, McKinnon said, the broadcaster needs to protect its programming strategies from its direct competitors if it is to remain viable.
That’s hogwash, Rathgeber responded.
Everyone agrees that CBC journalists’ sources should be protected, he said. But “I don’t know that you could establish prejudice based on the salary of an individual that happens to be part of your on-air lineup,” he said.
The Ontario Government publishes a sunshine list of all employees — public servants and Crown corporation staff — who make more than $100,000 a year, he noted. TV Ontario host Steve Paikin made $279,258.94 plus $4,789.67 in taxable benefits in 2011, and Rathbeger said that doesn’t seem to have harmed Paikin or TV Ontario.
Despite TVO’s precedent-setting disclosure of the anchor’s salary for their flagship evening news program, he said, “they don’t seem to feel that they are in any way prejudiced or injured by disclosing Mr. Paikin’s salary.”
The Conservative MP told HuffPost he had not spoken to Quebecor, owner of Sun Media, which has filed thousands of access to information requests about its publicly funded competitor. But, in an interview, he said the bill would “certainly be supported by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Quebecor and others who have an interest in this.”
The bill should be up for debate in early February.
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