POLITICS
03/29/2012 04:06 EDT | Updated 05/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Conservative budget slashes CBC spending by 10 per cent over three years

OTTAWA - The annual grant the CBC gets from taxpayers is being chopped by 10 per cent over three years.

The corporation, which has been a Tory target for years, the offered no immediate details on how the eventual cut of $115 million will affect television, radio and online services.

"CBC/Radio-Canada will review its approach for dealing with this reduction in a way that doesn't overly compromise its strategy for the future," the corporation said in a statement Thursday.

"The measures that CBC/Radio-Canada intends to take over the next three years will be set out in greater detail for our employees and the Canadians we serve as soon as possible."

The CBC's union said it plans to meet with management early next week, and will be involved in the layoffs to come.

"This is a sad day. We don't yet know exactly what these cuts will mean for CBC/Radio-Canada services and employees," Marc-Philippe Laurin, president of the Canadian Media Guild's CBC branch, said in a statement.

"However, this is a major cut that will surely have a devastating impact on CBC services by 2015."

Thursday's cut didn't come as a surprise, as CBC was included in the government's spending review program that required all departments to submit plans to shave either five per cent or 10 per cent of spending. The Tories ordered the broadcaster to deliver the higher of the two chops.

But the trimming does represent the lion's share of cuts made to the department of Canadian Heritage, which oversees funding to the broadcaster. The department is having its budget slashed by 6.9 per cent overall.

The CBC currently receives about $1.15 billion a year from the government, representing about 64 per cent of its operating budget. The rest is made up of advertising and speciality services revenues.

While the Conservatives have had funding to the CBC at the top of their must-cut list over the last few years, they held off, and had been renewing an annual $60-million top-up to the broadcaster's budget.

But the top-up is being eliminated as part of the $115 million in cuts the broadcaster must make over the next three years.

The first cut isn't the deepest: the CBC will lose only $27.8 million in 2012-2013.

But the broadcaster's long-term strategic plan had been built around receiving stable funding through to 2015.

The plan includes more service for regional markets, expanding speciality channels and a renewal of news services in English and French. But whether they can afford to move forward with that strategy in the context of the cuts is unknown.

"While a government funding reduction would not change the path of the new strategy, it could force the corporation to make adjustments," says the 2010-2011 annual report.

CBC officials told MPs earlier this month that the $60 million is used for everything from investigative journalism to coverage of local arts events.

"It's been something that we used for Canadian programs, trying to make sure that we can reach the regions or provide more Canadian content to the television schedules," CBC President Hubert Lacroix said at a parliamentary committee.

The tension between the Conservatives and the CBC cuts deeper than just public funds.

The two sides have been locked in a dispute over the Access to Information Act, with the broadcaster seeking to withhold documents under a provision that allows them to protect information that relates to journalistic, creative or programming activities.

The Conservatives now want to tighten the laws to force the CBC to disclose more information.

Several MPs have tabled petitions from their constituents in recent days asking the federal government to maintain funding to the CBC.

And in December, an advocacy group released a satirical video imagining a scenario where the CBC was bought out by U.S. wrestlers.

Another pro-CBC group said Thursday it considers it a victory that the cuts weren't deeper.

Tyler Morgenstern of the group Reimagine CBC said he sees the first rounds of cuts as trial balloon being floated by government to see how much the public will take when it comes to eroding the network.

It's possible the cuts won't go all the way, Morgenstern said.

"There's an opportunity for us to really rally support and show the government that Canadians won't stand for these severe budget cuts to the CBC, and their public media and their culture."