Kellie Leitch may not be the only Canadian politician borrowing policy ideas from her right-wing counterparts in the United States. Six months after announcing his candidacy for Conservative Leadership, Quebec MP Maxime Bernier announced that if elected Prime Minister, he would follow U.S presidential candidate’s Mitt Romney’s 2012 proposal and gut the country’s national broadcaster, the American equivalent of which is the CBC.
Admittedly, the two candidates proposed approaching such cuts in drastically different ways. Romney, who first brought up the idea in an awkward television debate hosted by PBS itself, suggested ending the public subsidy for the broadcaster to help eliminate the nation’s massive debt. Meanwhile, Bernier has suggested the CBC simply needs a new streamlined mandate that will take the public broadcaster out of competition with private companies and remove it from the over saturated advertising market. Under a Bernier government, the broadcaster would also lose over 100 million dollars of public funding which would devastate the public corporation when combined with lost advertising revenues.
Bernier, however, should be leery –no pun intended –of how he approaches the CBC. Without divulging into a lengthy debate as to why public broadcasting is valuable, I believe it would be a political misstep for Bernier to launch an offensive against the CBC. When Romney first introduced the idea in 2011, Americans flooded Twitter with support for public broadcasting; Big Bird was mentioned in 17,000 tweets per minute. A poll in 2011 suggested only 22 per cent of Canadian want to see the CBC’s funding reduced and even less, 12 per cent, would want to see the broadcaster eliminated. Americans reflect this sentiment; only 16 per cent of Americans support eliminating PBS’s subsidy. I believe the CBC is a distinctly identifiable element in Canadian culture and Canadians value its history and importance.
The CBC was born out of a conventional Canadian dilemma. In 1932, out of a fear that Canadians were being overexposed to American culture or that rail passengers on transcontinental journeys would be bored, the Bennett government created the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission.
The broadcaster has since replicated its important role by creating programs to remind Canadians of their shared past. CBC programs like Canada: A People’s History, remain essential in classes across the county as comprehensive cinematic examinations of our past. The Greatest Canadian, a 2004 television series, engaged the country in a national dialogue and highlighted heroes like Tommy Douglas and Terry Fox.
Additionally, public broadcasting has the increased importance of delivering news to isolated communities. The CBC goes where no commercial markets exist and no private company will set up shop. Beginning in 1969, the CBC built transmitters across the Artic territories and flew tapes into the region by plane to provide four hours of television per day to remote communities. Throughout the 1970s, the CBC made a widespread effort to record Indigenous music artists. The network continues to provide local news in multiple Inuit languages, as well as English and French.
The CBC’s significance primarily relies on the broadcaster’s integration into Canadian culture. Despite declining viewership in a thousand channel world, I believe Canadians are hesitant to let their public broadcaster go because it’s deeply rooted in the country’s collective psyche. After attending a recent studio recording of the Rick Mercer Report at the Canadian Broadcast Centre on Front Street, I realized the nationalism tied up in the CBC. The larger-than-life murals of personalities like Peter Mansbridge, Don Cherry, and Matt Galloway made me all too aware of how patriotic I really am.
The CBC created Canadian television classics like Kids in the Hall, The Red Green Show, and The Friendly Giant. More recently, popular programs like Little Mosque on the Prairie and Kim’s Convenience reflect the network’s dedication to establishing dramas that reflect the livesof the nation’s growing immigrant population. The network’s hit show, Hockey Night in Canada, despite being shared with Rogers since 2013, remains the most popular sports broadcast in the country. One can expect that multi-generational Canadians outside of the Toronto-Montreal corridor would find personalities Ron McClain and Don Cherry more recognizable than most Canadian politicians.
The CBC has become a recognizable part of Canadian culture. It knits together the country’s cleavages and creates pan-Canadian personalities. Its commitment to broadcasting in French and English, as well as Cree, Inuktitut, and Gwich’in are a perfect representation of Canadian values. With the broadcaster leading the charge for the digital celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, the CBC has a chance to hammer home its relevance in the modern world. That being said, it seems that the CBC has already cemented its place in Canadian society.
Image curtesy of Sabine Osmann-Deyman.