CBC chief denied ‘misleading’ MPs over bonuses while network pleaded ‘financial hardship’

'Rather than being over-indexing on performance pay, I would urge this committee to think about the solutions for the future of domestic media in this country,’ testified CBC CEO Catherine Tait, who earns $497,000 per year, plus a six-figure bonus.

CBC Chief denied ‘misleading’ MPs over bonuses while network pleaded ‘financial hardship’
The Canadian Press / Patrick Doyle
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The head of CBC continues to dodge accusations that she misled the federal government on the network’s alleged financial hardship.

“I can reassure the committee members that our industry is in crisis—not just CBC/Radio-Canada,” said CBC CEO Catherine Tait. “You’ve heard this from other witnesses.”

Tait last December 4 announced CBC layoffs in response to a $125 million budget shortfall. She further testified January 30 the network “faces chronic underfunding” and had to “stretch limited resources to meet our mandate.”

“It is very worrisome,” Tait said Tuesday evening. “Companies are disappearing, and production houses are shutting.”

“It is terrible to lose one employee, let alone 140,” she added.

Meanwhile, access to information records disclosed by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) said performance bonuses amounted to $14,902,755 last year for 1,143 employees. That number could rise further.

On February 29, CBC received $96.1 million in additional funding for a record $1.38 billion this year. It also received an additional $42 million lump-sum in the recent federal budget.

Tait called the new funding “welcomed news” at the time of the announcement.

Bloc Québécois MP Martin Champoux, a CBC supporter, said Tait was an unsympathetic witness. “A lot of things have made you unpopular in Québec,” said Champoux. “You must know the expression, ‘Read the room.’”

New Democrat MP Niki Ashton, another CBC supporter, said the Crown broadcaster acted like the worst of private sector corporations. 

All but Liberal MPs expressed shock, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

Since Parliament approved media handouts, it has failed to produce any net job creation, according to a 2021 Department of Canadian Heritage briefing note. 

"The decrease in advertising revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to service reductions and newspaper closures resulting in the loss of more than 2,500 jobs," said the note Improving Federal Support For Journalism.

Bob Cox, chair of News Media Canada, successfully campaigned for the subsidies in 2019 on a promise they would be temporary. The bailout money was initially set to expire on March 31, 2024. 

The Liberal cabinet extended the $595 million media slush fund into 2025 last September 12, undermining the initial pledge. 

Last November 21, the Trudeau Liberals attempted to bury in their Fall Economic Statement the doubling of newsroom rebates to $29,750 per employee, amid calls for more subsidies. They will now remain in place until 2027.

“Fifteen million dollars spent on executive bonuses while jobs disappear is wildly irresponsible,” said MP Ashton. “Rewarding oneself for failure while families and communities pay the price of job losses and loss of local programming is unacceptable.”

“Will you commit to cancelling executive bonuses to save as many jobs as possible?” she asked. “Rather than being over-indexing on performance pay, I would urge this committee to think about the solutions for the future of domestic media in this country,” replied Tait, who earns $497,000-a year, plus a six-figure bonus.

She denied misleading the Commons heritage committee Tuesday over payment of millions in executive bonuses amid calls for “sustainable long-term funding.”

“I really take objection to being called a liar which has happened several times,” she testified. “I am not misleading you,” she claimed.

“I’ve been in this business for 40 years, and never before have I seen such great pressure on our domestic industry.”

“As of the end of March 2024, what is the recommendation for your 2023 bonus?” asked Conservative MP Rachael Thomas. Tait replied: “These conversations are subject to internal deliberations by the management team to the board of directors.”

The CBC chief clarified that those conversations are scheduled for next month. “At which point the final results will have been audited and reviewed by the Auditor General,” she said.

“Have you been assigned a bonus for 2023?” asked Thomas. “No, I have not,” replied Tait.

“For 2023, there is no bonus coming your way?” pressed Thomas. “I do not know if I have a bonus because the process we have described for governing council positions is separate from performance pay,” she replied.

Tait explained the process for her to receive a bonus begins with a review by the board of directors, and a subsequent recommendation letter to the federal government. 

“The government will reflect on whether I or other appointees will receive performance pay,” she clarified.

MP Thomas then applied ample pressure on the CBC chief for details on senior executive bonuses. 

“You have a say not only in March as the most senior member of the management team, but then you get a second say at the board level,” she said.

“So, I’ll ask again: will you be up for a bonus at the board meeting in June?” asked Thomas. Tait replied: “I absolutely do not know the answer.”

“Until I’ve had those deliberations with the board of directors, I cannot preemptively say what the results of those future conversations will be.”

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