In this week's headlines we learn that U.S. President Donald Trump is proceeding to present a budget according to his "America First" policy.
The City of Toronto is currently being asked to make a 2.6 per cent cut on public health, recreation, transit, childcare, affordable housing and everything else. This would almost certainly mean a reduction in services that promote health and well-being. Blanket cuts may balance the books, but the impacts are not equitable.
The Liberals promised a "leaner, more agile" military, raising concerns over the size of the military. With our current commitment and the promised renewal of UN peacekeeping missions, Canadian soldiers will not be able to sustain such a high operational tempo, let alone if we slash our military numbers.
The Canadian Forces will once again have to wait to receive new much-needed equipment. Whether it is new fighter aircraft, ships or vehicles, the federal budget has postponed more than $3.7 billion in military spending until 2020 -- or later. As a matter of fact, the latest federal budget is another slap to the Canadian Forces' face. Bill Morneau, Canada's finance minister, said the Liberals are postponing defence spending to figure out defence priorities.
CBC has boasted that 50 per cent of the cost of its TV services is paid for by advertising revenue. No more. In the year ending August 2015, CBC English TV ad revenue fell off a cliff and was barely $100 million, well under 20 per cent of TV revenues. Funding from taxpayers is now four times greater than ad revenues.
At a time when our consumption of the news is at an all-time high, the very institutions at the heart of our news media are in crisis -- and demanding the attention of our political leaders. Postmedia combined newsrooms in Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver in a move that not only saw many talented and dedicated journalists pushed out the door, but also saw distinctive voices quieted.
In Canada, arts and culture are at a crossroads. They can either move forward or backward, depending on the choices we make. For them to move forward, it will be more than ever necessary for the federal government to play a leading role. The Liberals, under Justin Trudeau's leadership, are determined to make Canada, more than ever, a place where cultural expression is created and enjoyed whatever its roots, foreign or domestic.
Some would say, so what, it's the best the CBC can do in an era of shrinking budgets and audience fragmentation. Besides, that's what the audience wants. True, people love sports but has CBC ever asked the audience if all the sports programming could be found on other channels, would they prefer a CBC focused more on quality drama and entertainment?
The CBC is suffering from a series of funding cuts implemented by the federal government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The 2012 federal budget cut $115 million from the CBC over three years. While this has negative consequences for all Canadians as this national institution is forced to cut jobs and scale back its reach and scope, the country's music and arts communities, in particular, stand to lose. In many cases, it's already happening.
The CBC brass need to pay attention to the general public's growing apathy towards an institution too often in the news for the wrong reasons. Uncomfortable corporate silences. Lingering questions. Unanswered inquiries. CBC fans can't explain this riddle to themselves, much less to lukewarm listeners. As the embattled broadcaster lobbies for increased government dollars to "Save the CBC" underneath a cloud of checkered transparency and puzzling rationales, taxpayers' appetite for increased spending dries up.
Thanks to former Prime Minister Paul Martin, I think we've all been conditioned to think that balanced budgets are very good things. But not all deficits are bad. It is prudent or even smart to slash and scrap into a surplus like Stephen Harper has done. Especially considering that Canada's infrastructure deficit is estimated at nearly $400 billion -- and growing.
The big spending on the income splitting tax break, combined with the impact of lower oil prices has already left only a razor-thin balance and the Parliamentary Budget Officer predicts the budget will slip back into deficit in the next few years. Since it is no secret that this budget sets the stage for the upcoming federal election it is time for us to take a long hard look at the people we elect. We should not allow ourselves to be tricked by tax cut treats but think about who offers a plan for the future. Legacies take guts.
I could, of course, see the dark clouds rolling in when I was still at the CBC -- but these latest cuts are an epic deluge for a place where I spent a lot of time.
When a government underspends to the extent we are seeing with the Harper government, the estimates become unreliable. Parliamentarians aren't able to find out how much the government is actually spending until months after the end of the fiscal year. As a result, they can't inform the public about what programs and services have been diminished in time to make a difference. The way the underspending scheme stifles debate reminds me of the Harper government's omnibus legislation, except it's even worse.
What's really woken me up is what CBC exec Heather Conway et al. are not talking about -- at all. Instead of discussing how she plans to inform and entertain Canadians, the executive vice-president of Canada's biggest cultural institution is confessing to the CBC's chief correspondent that BDSM is out of her "comfort zone."
I am a huge fan of documentaries, good television and select media outlets but there is nothing quite like talk radio. It speaks to you as an equal and keeps you company through daily routines. It doesn't rely on sensational headlines or attractive hosts. And it is very much at risk.