CBC to cut up to 800 jobs, sell assets

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. plans to cut up to 800 jobs to make up for a $171 million shortfall in 2009-10.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. plans to cut up to 800 jobs as part of its strategy to make up for a $171 million shortfall in 2009-10.

CBC president and chief executive Hubert Lacroix announced the layoffs Wednesday in a broadcast to employees.

He said the public broadcaster also needs to sell $125 million worth of assets to make up the shortfall.

The sale of assets depends on approval by the federal government. Lacroix did not say which assets would be sold.

The CBC is projecting 393 layoffs in its English services and 336 layoffs in French services. An additional 70 jobs will be lost at the corporate level.

Layoffs could start in May. The full number of layoffs could be reduced if some employees opt for retirement.

The public broadcaster will announce more specifics of cuts to individual departments in meetings with employees throughout the country on Thursday.

"For senior executives, coming up with a plan to get out of this mess has been as tough a task as most of us have faced. It's not been fun," Lacroix said.

The cuts became necessary after the federal government turned down CBC's request for bridge financing that could have helped the public broadcaster weather the economic recession, Lacroix said.

Lacroix said CBC would not change some key areas, including:

  • Radio One and Radio 2 will remain free of ads.
  • CBC TV will maintain its commitment to 80 per cent Canadian content in primetime.
  • CBC will continue to invest in new media platforms.
  • Regional stations will not be closed.

However, he warned CBC would be forced to make "many difficult choices" regarding programming.

Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president of English services, told employees CBC's English service must cut $85 million, about $14.4 million from radio and $70.3 million from television.

This will result in layoffs and could also lead to more repeat programming, Stursberg said.

He said job cuts would fall disproportionately on national English television because of CBC's commitment to continue building its regional TV service.

Ian Morrison, spokesperson for the watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said he was most concerned about the impact of the cuts on regional TV, especially as private broadcasters are already eliminating regional stations. 

"It will play out inevitably most severely in the small to medium-sized communities around the country, which are already threadbare," Morrison told CBC News.

"They say they will keep the stations open and keep transmitters on the air but if the stations effectively become like empty warehouses you know, where there's fewer and fewer people who are actually making programming. If they keep the same number of minutes … and keep that going, the quality will drop."

Canadians will be upset when they see these cuts implemented, Morrison said.

Lacroix agreed the general public will notice a difference because of the cutbacks.

"On the programing side, the TV schedules of both CBC and Radio-Canada will see about $60 million less in costs so that means it's going to affect the way people watch our TV and the kind of stuff we put on it."

Viewers might notice more repeats on both TV and radio, Lacroix said. More programs may be cut or put on hiatus until after ad revenue recovers, he said.

CBC has already cut Fashion File and put the Steven & Chris show on hiatus.

"You can't take $50 million out of TV without feeling it. You can't take 800 people out of the corporation without feeling it," he said.

Lacroix said the CBC is currently working with its unions to try to find ways to minimize the number of layoffs. CBC has already agreed to a salary freeze for its executives.

Lacroix said the public broadcaster will consider selling and leasing back some of its real estate assets to raise extra cash. It will also try to negotiate accelerated payments on some assets it has already sold.

Culture Minister James Moore has a veto on any sale of CBC assets.

Opposition leader Michael Ignatieff questioned the prime minister about the cuts during question period on Wednesday.

"Even the private broadcasters understand the importance of a public broadcaster, so the question is what is the government prepared to do now to ensure that this national institution survives this recession?" Ignatieff said. "Is the government prepared to extend refundable bridge loans to the CBC to keep it alive until advertising revenues return?"

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the CBC has already received "an unprecedented amount of funding."

"You will know the House has just passed a budget and that budget provides the CBC with record financing, financing in the order of $1.1 billion, Mr. Speaker," Harper said.

"Broadcasters, both public and private, are having difficulties and it's a terrible thing when someone loses their job and we will obviously monitor these decisions of the board very carefully to make sure they respect CBC's mandate and treat their employees fairly," he said.

The Canadian Media Guild, which represents most CBC employees, lashed out at the federal government for the cuts.

"I blame the loss of 800 jobs squarely on the Conservative government," union president Lise Lareau said.

"This was an entirely avoidable layoff. The Harper government forced the CBC to make these choices over a relatively small amount of money."