OTTAWA — Conservative leadership hopeful Erin O’Toole says the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation can expect to see its budget on the chopping block if he becomes prime minister.
O’Toole made his pitch to “modernize and reform” the CBC in a video Friday. He promised to end funding for the public broadcaster’s English digital arm, and to cut CBC English’s television production budget by half.
“Our plan will phase out TV advertising with a goal to fully privatize CBC English TV by the end of our first mandate,” he said.
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“This expanded CBC digital presence hurt local newspapers and media outlets fighting for declining advertising revenue,” he claimed.
He called the Liberal government’s plan to divide $595 million in support for struggling media outlets “complete lunacy.”
But there are some areas of the CBC O’Toole promised to leave as-is.
“We will preserve CBC Radio — it is commercial-free and delivers public interest programming from coast to coast,” the Durham MP said. “We will also preserve Radio-Canada, which plays an important role connecting Quebecers and Francophones across Canada in their own language.”
The campaign ad uses footage of O’Toole speaking outside CBC/Radio-Canada’s Ottawa studio earlier this week on the same day he spoke to “Power & Politics” host Vassy Kapelos. Campaign spokesperson Melanie Paradis told HuffPost Canada that O’Toole was filming the video outside the building when Kapelos came out with a film crew.
“It was not prearranged,” Paradis said.
O’Toole’s ad also blends in footage of the Toronto Star’s print centre. The MP recently suggested the newspaper’s editorial board sets the federal government’s agenda.
O’Toole previously ran for leader in 2017, finishing a distant third behind Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier. Candidates in that race also floated the idea of trimming the CBC’s $1-billion budget.
Before Scheer won that year’s contest, he made a vague promise to cut the public broadcaster’s news division, citing taxpayer frustration over the crown corporation’s operating costs. Former leadership candidate Kellie Leitch also called for the CBC to be “dismantled.”
Ex-MP Brad Trost introduced a private member’s bill while running for the Tory leadership that sought to privatize the CBC. It was overwhelmingly rejected in the House of Commons by a vote of 260-6. O’Toole did not vote on the bill at the time.
Conservative MP Michael Chong, who also ran for his party’s leadership in 2017, was an outlier.
He told iPolitics at the time that debate over the CBC’s budget is “another distraction” away from issues the party needs to stay focused on in lead up to the federal election.
Chong, who was also the only Conservative leadership candidate at the time to support a carbon tax as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, confirmed last month that he won’t be a contender in this year’s race to replace Scheer.
The Liberals promised during the 2015 election campaign to reverse years of Conservative government cuts to the CBC, with new funding. That pledge came through in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first budget with $675 million allocated for the public broadcaster over five years.
O’Toole is fashioning himself as the “true blue” candidate in the race, a dig at his former cabinet colleague and presumed front-runner Peter MacKay.
Conservative members will vote for the party’s next leader at a leadership convention in Toronto on June 27.