Heritage minister at odds with CBC over funding
Heritage Minister James Moore says he has never been approached by the CBC for an emergency advance on future federal funding — a statement disputed by the public broadcaster.
It's another confusing twist in the verbal ping-pong match between Moore and CBC President Hubert Lacroix over emergency aid.
CBC brass have been saying publicly that they would like to get an advance loan on their annual federal appropriation in order to get through a time of great financial difficulty.
But whether that is what they directly requested of the minister is in dispute.
"A loan against future allocations was never discussed. I've seen it in some news stories, I don't know where that came from," Moore said in an interview.
He said he was asked for a "straight loan," but rejected that idea because he was concerned it would put the network into an even bigger financial hole when it came time to repay if the economy were still in dire straits.
"Then you'd really start to see the cannibalization of Canadian broadcasting on the CBC and that could put them in an even more difficult situation," Moore said.
However, a source close to the discussions said that not only was an advance on the corporation's principal request to the minister, but it was also the subject of direct correspondence with the Department of Heritage and the Privy Council Office, the central policymaking agency.
Marco Dubé, a spokesman for the CBC, reacted to Moore's remarks with a terse email.
"The minister is fully aware of what CBC/Radio-Canada's request to government has been," Dubé said.
He also underlined a major speech delivered by CBC President Hubert Lacroix last month to the Empire Club of Toronto, in which he raised the issue of an advance on federal appropriations as a way of helping the corporation.
The CBC has taken pains to emphasize it is not asking for a cash handout from the government, but only an advance on what it would normally receive.
The CBC has argued that an advance would allow it to budget easily for loan repayments in future years, just as it holds back money in order to pay for major expenses such as Olympic Games coverage and election campaigns. Corporate executives say they need money to manage the severance pay for the hundreds of workers they need to lay off.
Dubé noted that while private broadcasters are able to get loans from the marketplace to get through tough economic times, the Crown corporation cannot. The CBC is facing a $100-million-plus shortfall this fiscal year, mainly due to a sharp decline in advertising revenue because of the global financial crisis.
NDP heritage critic Charlie Angus said it is widely known that the CBC has asked for a loan on future budget allocations.
"It would be better for James Moore to stand up and say, 'Listen, our government has always hated the CBC, we've never been supportive of it, and we've don't have the guts to take it apart in a minority situation so we'll let the recession do it for us,"' said Angus.
"At least say that rather than play these silly games about trying to pretend they've never been asked [for an advance] against future appropriations," he added.
Lacroix and Moore have been out in the media with duelling positions on the CBC and its funding predicament. Moore was supposed to attend a meet-and-greet with CBC board members this week, but was asked to come a day later to avoid an appearance of meddling in the board's affairs.
What ensued was another case of he said-he said, as each party claimed the other has been responsible for spoiling the potential meeting.
Sources close to the discussions say Moore has been sympathetic to the CBC behind the scenes and has sought assistance for the cash-strapped broadcaster internally but been turned down.
In a memo to staff this week, Lacroix underlined that he had a good relationship with Moore.
"I would not lend much credence to the rhetoric in the press that pits us against the Minister of Heritage," Lacroix said. "I have had a fair amount of contact with our minister over the past few months. I like him. I think he is someone we can work with and who understands the role that public broadcasting plays and must play in this country."
But Moore has taken a hard line against the CBC in recent public statements.
"The question of financing for this fiscal year is closed," he has said. "They're receiving $1.1 billion, the largest amount in straight dollars from the federal government that they've ever received."