Canada's public broadcaster says it takes the management of taxpayers' money "very seriously" and a recent report of overspending by one of its executives is largely a distortion of the truth by some of the CBC's competitors.

Timothy Casgrain, the chairman of CBC's board of directors, said the Crown corporation has taken several steps this year to strengthen transparency and the approval process for expenses incurred by staff and executives.

To that end, the travel and hospitality expenses of all senior management are posted on CBC websites. Additionally, the expenses of CBC/Radio-Canada president Hubert Lacroix, as well as Casgrain, are now subject to scrutiny by the audit committee of the CBC board of directors.

"The people who work at this corporation are mindful of the need to manage public resources responsibly in order to maximize the effectiveness of the services Canadians expect us to provide," Casgrain said.

His comments were made in a letter sent Friday to Heritage Minister James Moore, who two days earlier had sent his own letter to CBC demanding that it outline what measures were being taken by the corporation to "ensure the highest level of accountability to taxpayers."

Moore's letter came on the heels of a Sun Media report that claimed documents obtained through access to information laws showed the CBC's executive vice-president for French services, Sylvain Lafrance, claimed almost $80,000 in expenses for theatre tickets, meals and travel in 2006.

"I am sure that you are sensitive to the fact that, at a time of fiscal restraint, when Canadians are struggling to maintain their jobs and savings, this sort of reported excess does not sit well with them," Moore wrote in a letter addressed to Casgrain.

Total includes corporate expenses: Casgrain

The report, according to Casgrain, was taken out of context and paints "a totally distorted picture of the expenses of one of our most effective executives."

"Some of the items mentioned are expenses incurred by M. Lafrance in the conduct of his duties, while others are corporate expenses of French services for which he is responsible.  That distinction was lost in the media reports," Casgrain wrote.

He said that while the CBC is mindful of its financial responsibility to the Canadian public, the public nature of its operations makes the corporation particularly vulnerable to attacks from its competitors.

He noted the CBC has received more than 150 access to information requests this year — far more than those received by other Crown corporations — and that the bulk of these requests have come from two sources.

CBC was added to the list of agencies subject to access to information laws after the Conservative government came into power in 2006.

Casgrain also noted that Lafrance, as well as CBC/Radio-Canada, are currently the targets of legal action initiated by Quebecor Inc., which owns the Sun newspaper chain and Le Journal de Montréal.

Lacroix sent a memo to the entire corporation Friday detailing ways the public broadcaster intends to reduce costs in light of the recent economic downturn in Canada.

Lacroix's letter says the CBC will:

  • Review all plans for capital expenditures to determine whether they can be deferred or cancelled.
  • Review all new hires on a case-by-case basis at the vice-presidential level.
  • Significantly reduce expenditures for travel, hospitality, overtime and in other areas.

Lacroix said that more details and guidelines will be available from CBC managers shortly.