CBC and Poilievre joust with public broadcaster's future uncertain

CBC President Catherine Tait says "the concern about bias" has been a complaint from Tories stretching back to former leader Stephen Harper, who also campaigned to defund the CBC.

CBC and Poilievre joust with public broadcaster's future uncertain
Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
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Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre and CBC president Catherine Tait engaged in a war of words over the week after Poilievre accused the public broadcaster of launching a partisan attack on him in a Globe and Mail interview. He said Tait is "not even pretending to be unbiased."

"There's a lot of CBC bashing going on — somewhat stoked by the Leader of the Opposition," said Tait.

She accused Poilievre of "inciting attacks" on the broadcaster.

Poilievre pushed back against Tait, calling the crown corporation a "mouthpiece for Justin Trudeau."

Tait fired back at the Tories, claiming "there are a group of dissenters and detractors, and they have been given voice."

"They have a megaphone, and they're using it."

On Tait, Poilievre said, "She launched a partisan attack against me, proving my claim that the $1.2-billion corporation is a mouthpiece for Justin Trudeau." At the time, he promoted a fundraising drive linked to a petition on defunding the broadcaster.

Tait responded: "They have an online fundraising campaign, specifically saying, 'We'll save you a billion dollars. Please send in $20.'" 

In the interview, Tait rebuked the Tory leader's persistent calls to defund the CBC. She called it a ploy to solicit donations. 

NDP deputy heritage critic Heather McPherson criticized the Tory leader's attacks on the CBC, claiming it was wrong to "weaponize media" to raise funds. 

"It's cheap. It's American-style politics," said McPherson.

During a media blitz Friday on gun control, the Tory leader accused a CBC journalist of aiding the Prime Minister.

CBC's president said "the concern about bias" has been a complaint from Tories stretching back to former leader Stephen Harper, who also campaigned to defund the CBC

"But he realized it wasn't worth the effort, you know, the culture wars that would ensue," she said.

She claimed that CBC/Radio-Canada is working with the same budget as 30 years ago — "so in real dollars, a third less."

In 2022, the CBC received $1.24 billion from the government — 66% of CBC/Radio Canada's funding.

During the Globe interview, Tait signalled the change to scrap TV and radio broadcasts is unlikely to happen over the next decade. But, she said to expect a shift to online-only eventually.

"We don't want to drag Canadians to digital. They are dragging us," added Tait, who, before taking the top job at the CBC, set up the digital content provider iThentic. "We saw it in the pandemic; streaming subscriptions go way up, and those people don't go back to conventional television."

In the Senate, Conservative Senator Leo Housakos called on the government to freeze the CBC's funding Tuesday, stating Tait's goal "would violate the CBC's broadcasting licence that requires that they provide service to all Canadians and all regions."

On Wednesday, he asked the government's representative in the Senate whether Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez would write to the chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to pledge not to "guarantee that CBC funds are being used properly in line with their licensing obligations."

"We are the only broadcaster in the system that must serve all Canadians," said Tait, claiming the CBC would not abandon rural audiences who may only have a TV.

According to the Broadcasting Act, the CBC "should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains."

A shift to online-only would require a change to the act.

Tait also said she is watching closely this week whether Rodriguez accepts a Senate amendment to Bill C-11, stating the CBC cannot develop or broadcast an "advertisement or announcement on behalf of an advertiser designed to resemble journalistic programming."

The CBC already has paid content on some digital pages, though not on national news, and it is labelled as such.

Tait said the Senate's amendment on CBC's paid content was "odd" because Bill C-11 is "not the place for that conversation."

"Do I think there should be a conversation about the financial model of the public broadcaster? Of course," she said. "But that's not the venue."

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