CBC approves budget; cuts expected

The CBC's board of directors, faced with a possible $200-million shortfall, has approved a budget for the coming year that includes deep cuts.

Canadian content shouldn't be sacrificed: heritage minister

The CBC's board of directors, faced with a possible $200-million shortfall, approved on Tuesday a budget for the coming year that includes deep cuts. 

No further details were available about the size of the cutbacks, although the public broadcaster said it would make an announcement to staff by the end of the month.

CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix had called on the government for flexibility in the public broadcaster's parliamentary appropriation, such as an advance on or loan of upcoming funds, to help the CBC weather the current economic turmoil. ((Canadian Press))
In a speech to the Empire Club of Canada last month, CBC/Radio-Canada president Hubert Lacroix said a decline in advertising revenues, increased salary and infrastructure costs and higher programming costs contributed to a budgetary shortfall of between $115 million and $145 million.

The federal government, which for the past seven years has given the CBC a non-recurring $60 million in special funding on top of its $1.1-billion base allocation, did not announce in this year's budget that the special funds would be renewed. If the money isn't given, the broadcaster's shortfall could go to over $200 million.

Lacroix had appealed to the federal government for flexibility in its parliamentary appropriation — such as an advance on or loan of upcoming funds — to help the CBC weather the current economic turmoil. But the Conservatives said the CBC will not receive any bridge financing or additional money for the coming year.

Heritage Minister James Moore, speaking to CBC Radio on Tuesday, acknowledged the broadcaster has some "difficult decisions to make in the near future." He said it was not for him to tell the CBC how to run itself.

"Two-thirds of CBC's budget comes from taxpayers, one-third from ad revenue. If ad revenue is down, then CBC has to make decisions about how it's going to make adjustments for the immediate future," Moore said.

Lacroix has said that selling assets, increasing advertising and cutting jobs and programs could help bridge part of the budget shortfall. Media reports circulating this week indicated the broadcaster was looking at 600 to 1,200 job cuts, although this has not been confirmed.

'Canadian content, not American game shows': Moore

Moore voiced his opposition to the CBC possibly airing additional U.S. programming — a move that Lacroix has touted in an effort to increase viewership and boost ad revenues. Moore said Tuesday that CBC's role is to be a pan-Canadian broadcaster in both official languages, and not to compete with private broadcasters.

Heritage Minister James Moore said he is against CBC possibly airing additional U.S. programming or introducing ads to CBC Radio. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))
Moore said he understands the commercial appeal of hosting U.S. shows in order to "cross-subsidize the needs of CBC." Lacroix has defended putting American shows like Jeopardy on the CBC's schedule, saying it lures people to the broadcaster's Cancon-laden prime-time lineup.

Moore said that should not interfere with providing Canadian programming.

"Canadians built the CBC, Canadians have invested through tax dollars over $30 billion in the CBC over 30 years, and when they turn on the CBC they expect to see Canadian drama, Canadian arts, Canadian kids programming, Canadian news and Canadian content, not American game shows," Moore said.

"I think Canadians want to make sure the CBC retains their regional coverage, their local news. They don't want to have the perception that the CBC has become a taxpayer-subsidized competitor to the private broadcasters."

Moore also said he doesn't favour adding commercials to CBC Radio, which he said wouldn't serve its best interests.

Karin Wirsig, of the Canadian Media Guild, the union that represents CBC workers, said the public broadcaster is increasingly reliant on ad revenue because its government allocation was slashed in the mid-1990s and has never recovered.

"I think the minister is not very realistic when he says the CBC needs to stay in communities, needs to commit to Canadian programming and yet is bleeding revenue — [I'm] not quite sure how that all adds up," she said Tuesday.

She cited a report by the Commons heritage committee, released last year, that recommended boosting CBC's per capita funding to $40 as the kind of help the government could provide.

The CBC currently gets about $33 from each Canadian taxpayer, compared to $124 to support the public broadcaster in the U.K. and $77 in France.