02/06/2013 05:22 EST | Updated 04/08/2013 05:12 EDT

The Latest Sun News Endorsement Is Out of Line


The National Citizens Coalition is an organization that, in theory at least, is supposed to stand for the conservative principle of "more freedom through less government."

But it has recently taken on a cause that promotes the exact opposite.

It's true.

Recently, NCC "Director" Stephen Taylor sent out an email blast urging the group's supporters to demand the CRTC force cable carriers to distribute the Sun News Network.

"Help me save Sun News and help ensure conservatism becomes a permanent fixture on the cable news TV dial," writes Taylor in the email.

Admittedly, it's a call to action many Canadian conservatives would likely support. In fact, the Sun News Network has been actively and successfully rallying conservatives to back its highly publicized appeal to the CRTC.

But even though the Sun News Network's position might be popular with grassroots conservatives, that doesn't make it right.

Simply put, the conservative-leaning network says it needs a "mandatory carriage" license to help it stay in business. And a mandatory carriage license means cable carriers would be compelled to offer Sun News and consumers would be forced to pay a fee.

Clearly, this runs counter to the conservative free market principle of allowing consumers to make their own choices. And that's why the NCC's support for Sun News on this issue is so wrong.

To be blunt, the NCC shouldn't be in favour of "mandatory" anything. And certainly the group should oppose, on principle, the idea of forcing Canadians to pay for the Sun News Network whether they like it or not.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not by any means anti-Sun News. In fact, I agree with Taylor when he writes, "Before Sun News Network came along, conservative voices were only token attractions on the likes of CBC and CTV. Now, we're finally having the principled conversations that we want to have and we're doing it our own terms."

To which I might add, Sun News provides a perspective on the issues that you won't find on the other networks and it breaks stories mainstream outlets might ignore.

Plus it's fun to watch.

In short, having Sun News on the air is good for conservatism and it's good for the news industry. The more voices the better. For these reasons, I want the network to survive and thrive.

And I can even understand and fully sympathize with the network's desire to get mandatory carriage. After all, the Sun Network's primary goal isn't to promote conservatism, it's to make money. And right now, it's losing money. Lots of it.

So from a business perspective, it makes all the sense in the world for the Sun News Network to do what it can to stem its financial losses. Hence, its appeal to the CRTC for mandatory carriage.

Besides, as the network rightly argues, it isn't competing in a true free market. In fact, both of its main rivals, CTV News Channel and CBC's Newsworld, enjoy the advantage of mandatory carriage.

As Pierre Karl Peladeau, the CEO of Quebecor Inc., of which Sun News is a subsidiary, recently wrote, "While a free-market approach is a noble vision, and one to build toward, it bears little resemblance to the television market as it operates today."

In short, Peladeau wants a government agency to use its muscle to level the playing field. And there's nothing unusual about a businessman like Peladeau taking this sort of stance. Indeed, just about every big business and corporation in Canada has at one time or another sought out some form of government intervention.

Sometime that means asking for a government subsidy, sometimes that means asking for protective tariffs, sometimes that means asking for a regulation that could stifle competition.

This is why, ironically, big business is not the best advocate for the free market system; all too often it doesn't practice what it preaches.

And this is why it's so important to have groups like the National Citizens Coalition. The NCC isn't a business and its purpose isn't to make money; its job is to unabashedly promote and defend conservative principles, values and ideals.

That includes promoting the free enterprise system and individual choice, even if that makes its friends in the business world unhappy.

This is not to say the NCC shouldn't come to the aid of Sun News. But it should help the network in a way that's consistent with its philosophy, i.e. run a campaign urging the dismantling of the CRTC and the ending of the mandatory carriage license.

The NCC's goal, in other words, should be to create an environment where the various TV networks compete in a true free market without any form of government assistance or coercion.

The NCC chose instead to mimic the Sun News Network's arguments and in doing so it has undermined its credibility. How can it now oppose any future government subsidies to businesses without looking completely hypocritical?

It's too bad. In this day and age of stimulus spending and run-away government deficits, we need all the principled conservative voices we can get.

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