Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge told the Commons heritage committee Thursday she is 'happy' to defend the CBC from Conservative critics, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.
"Our national broadcaster is affected by a current crisis," she said. "Their revenues are affected. Their income is affected. This is without even including the impact of continuous attacks by the Conservative Party."
"They are defending themselves from that and I am happy to help them do that," said St-Onge. "I am proud to do so."
While the minister did not outline what steps she took to help the network, its largest source of revenue includes a $1.3 billion annual parliamentary grant.
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has proposed $1 billion in cuts to CBC-TV English language services. "The CBC frankly is a biased propaganda arm of the Liberal Party," he told reporters last April 13.
A Canadian Press reporter asked him if he would change the Broadcasting Act to defund the English-language CBC. He pivoted, calling them the state broadcaster's "biggest client."
"I just want to be careful that we don't get you into a conflict of interest here," said the Tory leader. The Canadian Press is a wire service which prominent Canadian publications like the CBC and The Globe and Mail pay into.
"We need a neutral and free media, not a propaganda arm for the Liberal Party," he continued. "When I am Prime Minister, we are going to have a free press where every day Canadians decide what they think rather than having Liberal propaganda jammed down their throats."
In February, Poilievre and CBC President Catherine Tait took potshots at one another after the former accused the network of launching a partisan attack on him in a Globe and Mail interview. He said Tait is "not even pretending to be unbiased," accusing her of being a "mouthpiece for Justin Trudeau."
"There's a lot of CBC bashing going on — somewhat stoked by the Leader of the Opposition," said Tait, who accused Poilievre of "inciting attacks" against the network.
"Why is the CBC important?" asked Liberal MP Anna Gainey of St-Onge. She replied: "I have passionately defended the CBC because all democratic countries ensure they have strong institutions to provide journalism across the land."
"Can you tell us maybe one item you’re excited about?" asked Liberal MP Michael Coteau. "I am really looking forward to talking more to Canadians about the future of the CBC," she said.
However, the Tory platform contends that federal funding for all newsrooms "undermines press freedom and trust in [the] media," according to Canada’s Recovery Plan, a 2021 campaign document.
According to Blacklock's Reporter, Tait wrote Poilievre last September to dismiss a "fundraising ploy" premised on defunding the CBC. Poilievre and the party raised $8,306,535 during the first quarter of 2023, promising to "remove the gatekeepers" and "cut wasteful spending."
In to a 2021 Heritage Canada briefing note, Funding Support For The CBC, advertising revenue for the network fell precipitously in 2020 — as much as 20% compared to the same period in 2019.
"The Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges of covering it put immense pressure on CBC’s workforce, operations, finances and systems," it said.
As a result, 80% of its staff worked remotely, with evening TV newscasts suspended for the first time since 1952, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.
Meanwhile, CBC managed to pay millions in bonuses to executives during the pandemic, including $15,013,838 in 2020 to 1,034 employees and $15,398,101 the following year to 1,033 employees. Records show the network had 144 corporate directors paid $135,388 annually on average, excluding bonuses and expenses.
Despite the revenue shortfalls, CBC contracted a chauffeur service on an "as-requested basis in 2022."
They also billed taxpayers nearly $30,000 in travel expenses for their executive Michel Bissonnette this year, including for a now-cancelled trip to the French Riviera.
Cutting the CBC's $1.3 billion annual parliamentary grant would have "implications to this country," she penned in a letter disclosed through an access-to-information request.
On September 16, 2022, she asked to meet with Poilievre, followed by another letter that November to condemn his partisan fundraising efforts.
"These fundraising efforts do not acknowledge the scope or value that CBC/Radio-Canada delivers to Canadians or the implications to this country and its economy were it to be 'defunded,'" Tait wrote Poilievre.
"I think Canadians can rightly expect that the two of us have a responsibility to discuss the implications of your promise," she said.
"It is something I hold very dear," St-Onge testified at the Commons heritage committee when asked about the state broadcaster’s future.
"We need a conversation about the future of CBC because given the media crisis the entire situation has changed," she said. "We need to ensure our national broadcaster continues to play its important role for us."