The Harper government is quietly seizing greater control of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, while a public advocacy group accuses the Tories of stacking the CBC’s board with political allies.
Bill C-60, the Tories’ budget implementation bill, includes a clause that allows the prime minister’s cabinet to approve salaries, working conditions and collective bargaining positions for the CBC, The Hill Times reports.
The move, buried at the back of the 111-page bill, “appears to contradict a longstanding arm’s-length relationship between the independent CBC and any government in power,” the newspaper said.
The CBC would now be required to get approval from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Treasury Board Committee for any collective bargaining agreement the broadcaster reaches with its employees. The Treasury Board would also have the power to approve or deny pay and benefits for non-unionized employees.
The news comes as public interest group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting issued a statement accusing the Tories of “stacking the [CBC’s] board with Conservative supporters.”
Citing data from Elections Canada, Friends said eight of the board’s 11 current members have donated to the Conservative Party of Canada, which the group saw as a sign the government has taken greater control of the CBC.
The new powers over CBC pay and the heavy presence of Conservative Party donors “will further undermine the CBC’s independence from government,” Friends said.
The group identified only one of the reported donors: Remi Racine, the chair of CBC’s board, who Friends said donated $1,200 to the Conservative Party in 2012 “while sitting on the Board.”
According to the CBC’s website, all current members of the broadcaster's board began serving since the Conservatives took power in 2006.
The budget bill would also extend the same powers over the CBC to three other cultural and scientific agencies: the Canada Council for the Arts, the International Development Research Centre and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
Liberal MP Scott Brison told The Hill Times he was surprised the government would go this far in compromising the independence of the CBC and the three other institutions.
“These Crown agencies represent public broadcasting, culture and scientific research, three areas where the Conservatives have been antagonistic,” Brison said. “We will thoroughly scrutinize actions by this government towards these agencies.”
The CBC’s public mandate has long been questioned in conservative circles, with many criticizing the network for taking taxpayers’ money while competing with private-sector broadcasters for advertising revenue.
Sun News Network has famously championed the cause, as has its parent company, Quebecor, whose CEO, Pierre-Karl Peladeau, has attacked CBC’s $1 billion in public subsidies in 2011.
The CBC fought back, putting out statements declaring that Quebecor had itself received $500 million in various forms of subsidies from the government in the prior three years. Quebecor demanded the CBC remove the “defamatory” material, but the broadcaster refused.
Most recently, conservative bloggers attacked the CBC over allegations the network was running Liberal Party ads featuring Justin Trudeau while refusing to run Tory attack ads. Some pointed to statements from the CBC that it only airs political ads during elections.
But, as The Huffington Post Canada previously reported, the CBC changed its policy on that in 2009, and now allows political ads during non-election periods.
According to the CBC, the Conservative Party has not approached the network yet to run its current negative ad against Justin Trudeau.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of money the CBC said Quebecor had received in government subsidies. The Huffintgon Post regrets the error.
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2013 BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS
Revenues for 2013-14 forecast at $263.9 billion, spending at $282.6 billion, deficit at $18.7 billion. Deficit projected to drop to $6.6 billion in 2014-15 and become an $800-million surplus in 2015-16. With files from Althia Raj and The Canadian Press.
Tackling The Skills Gap
The Tories plan to create a Canada Job Grant that will provide $15,000 or more per person -- up to $5,000 provided by the federal government, the rest matched by the province/territory and the employer. Nearly 130,000 Canadians are expected to benefit when the new grant is fully implemented in 2017-2018. Essentially, this is the government saying it is taking training out of the hands of provincial governments because it hasn’t worked and placing it in the hands of individuals. The Canada Job Grant will replace the Labour Market Agreements the feds signed with the provinces, which expire in 2014.
Manufacturing and small business get tax-credits introduced in past budgets extended to help spur investment and growth. There will be $1.4 billion in tax relief for manufacturers by extending the temporary accelerated capital cost allowance for new investment in machinery and equipment. And hundreds of millions for small business owners.
The government has pledged more than $53 billion in infrastructure spending, including $47 billion in new funding over 10 years. This includes $32.2 billion over 10 years for a “Community Improvement Fund” to build roads and public transit as well as recreational facilities and other community infrastructure projects. The Fund will consist of an index Gas Tax Fund and the incremental GST Rebate for Municipalities.
Military spending will be re-jigged that it is modeled on the ship building strategy and aimed at creating more jobs in Canada and key domestic capabilities with an eye towards exports.
Foreign Affairs - Aid Agency Cancelled
The budget has cancelled the Canadian International Development Agency, the primary agency responsible for foreign aid. Its duties will be merged into the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Tax Evasion Snitch Line
The government says it is aggressively going after tax avoiders/and closing tax loopholes. They are launching a “Stop International Tax Evasion Program” where the Canada Revenue Agency will pay individuals with knowledge of “major international tax non-compliance” a percentage of the tax collected as a result of information provided. The CRA will only pay a reward if the information results in total additional assessments exceeding $100,000 in federal tax.
Public Service Cuts
Two departments -- Canada Revenue Agency and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans -- will see big cuts. Departments will see a 5 per cent cut in their travel budgets. The government also says in the budget it intends to work with the public sector unions to “further align overall compensation with other public and private sector employers.”
The federal budget says new projects related to Canada's perimeter security deal with the United States will go ahead as planned, despite budget woes south of the border. The federal budget has given the green light to almost a dozen information-sharing and infrastructure projects related to the Beyond the Border initiative between the two countries. The vaunted deal was announced with fanfare by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama in December 2011 at the White House. The plan aims to speed the flow of goods and people across the 49th parallel while protecting the continent from a terrorist attack.
Tobacco Prices Going Up
The government wants to reduce import tariffs on a number of goods including baby clothing, skis, snowboards and gold clubs. But it plans to offset the $76-million revenue loss from that by hiking excise taxes on chewing tobacco and other manufactured tobaccos, to bring them in line with cigarette taxes.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's spring budget commits Ottawa to five more years of funding through the Investment in Affordable Housing program. The level of commitment is the same as in the past: $253 million a year over five years, which needs to be matched by the provinces and territories and can be spent on new construction, renovation, home ownership assistance, rent supplements, shelters and homes for battered spouses. But there's a new twist to the funding. Home construction in the program will support the use of apprentices so that newcomers to the construction trades can build up crucial experience. The budget also commits $100 million over two years to build 250 more units of affordable housing in Nunavut, where homes are so crowded that illness spreads easily and poverty abounds.