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CBC not yet for sale under Harper Tories 

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:15 p.m. June 12, 2007]

Putting a For Sale sign on CBC headquarters used to be a goal for some Conservative MPs. 

OTTAWA  — "I'd like to put a 'For sale' sign on the CBC. We don't need it."
-Conservative MP Myron Thompson, Moose Jaw Times-Herald, June 18, 1994 
  

After nearly 18 months with the Conservative government in power, Thompson's "For Sale" sign is not yet hanging on CBC facilities in communities across the country. 

Reforming the CBC, including privatization or commercialization options, is a long-standing issue for Conservative supporters. 

Conservative blogs and web sites are beginning to reflect growing disappointment and frustration with the Harper government's inaction on the CBC front. 

"It seems to have fallen off the radar and I think that's not a good thing," said conservative commentator Gerry Nicholls in an interview with PoliticsWatch.com. "It's part of their overall drift to the left that the Conservative party has been engaged in for the last year or so."

Nicholls worked with Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the PM's hiatus from federal politics at the National Citizens Coalition.

"It's not a good thing philosophically for conservatives but I also don't think it's a good thing for taxpayers. Why with all the demands on government services these days... why are we still funnelling a billion dollars into a public broadcaster?"

Right now any government decision about the future of the CBC seems to be put on hold. 

Last April, Heritage Minister Bev Oda said the government was preparing to launch a major mandate review of the Crown Corporation in light of the multiplicity of media options now available to Canadians. 

However, that mandate review was put on hold last summer. 

CanWest News reported at the time that a cabinet committee blocked it on the recommendation of the Prime Minister's Office, but a government source told PoliticsWatch the delay of the review was to allow the CRTC to complete a study and to allow the Commons heritage committee to conduct a study into the role of the public broadcaster in the 21st Century. 

The House of Commons committee has been using most of its time over the past few months on the CBC study. Witnesses have included industry executives and top CBC representatives, among others. The MPs have travelled across the country to hear from witnesses. 

Just last week at the committee, Tory MPs grilled the head of CBC News about an altered photo that appeared on the network's web site and had been widely criticized by conservative bloggers. 

The government's point person on the committee is Jim Abbott a veteran Conservative MP who is now Oda's parliamentary secretary. The Tory MP was no friend of the CBC in the past. 

When he was a Reform MP in the 1990s, Abbott was in favour of privatizing the CBC. 

"Mr. Speaker, by comparison with the Liberals, the Reform Party policy is clear and consistent on the CBC," he said in the Commons in 1996. "We call for the privatization of the CBC."

Abbott did not return PoliticsWatch's call to comment on the committee's work or whether privatization is still an option for the government. 

Human Resources Minister Monte Solberg was often critical of the CBC when he was the Conservative Party's finance critic. 

As recently as 2005, Solberg suggested the government should consider the ratings of the CBC before making any additional spending announcements for the network. 

However, with the Reform Party history and the Conservatives operating a tightly-controlled minority government any discussion about privatization or putting a "For Sale" sign on the CBC headquarters is non-existent. 

In fact, when the federal government introduced the accountability act it kept in a provision that kept CBC and other Crown Corporations exempt from lobbying rules, something that private industry says gives CBC an unfair advantage. 

Crown Corporations are allowed to communicate with government departments with in-house staff but they are not subject to the same rules on lobbying as in-house lobbyists at private firms and associations. 

Harper's most recent detailed comments on the CBC came in a November 2004 address to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters

In that speech, Harper lamented that CBC's English-language television service had become too commercial, was competing too much with private broadcasters and had become too reliant on U.S. programming. 

"Along the same lines, we would seek to reduce CBC’s dependence on advertising revenue and its competition with the private sector for these valuable dollars, especially in non-sports programming," Harper said. 

While Nicholls said he would prefer to see the see the CBC privatized, he said if it had to exist it should be a "true public broadcaster which relies more on voluntary contributions than ads like PBS does in the United States."

"The situation it has now where it is a public broadcaster with advertising dollars and competes with private broadcasters I don't think that works in today's communications market," he said. 

: Related Links

> CBC boss grilled about "doctored" photo

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