By John Doyle, Globe and Mail, November 28, 2011
The Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, who represents the good people of Edmonton-St. Albert, wants to know how much money is earned by Pastor Mansbridge, Rick Mercer and George whazzisname. Also, such things as how much the CBC spends on liquor and hotels.
Rathgeber tabled questions about the CBC in the House of Commons on Friday, in an effort to use Parliament to get answers. According to interviews Rathgeber has given, inquiring minds among the good people of Edmonton-St. Albert want answers about salaries and perks at the CBC. Apparently it preoccupies them, when they’re not talking about the Oilers. Rathgeber said that reaction to a personal blog post about the CBC had emboldened him to further his inquiries. ....
After the witch hunt against the CBC, who’s next? Museums, obviously. And then what? Theatres and publishers who receive grants from the government? Every TV show produced in Canada with the help of taxpayer money?
Don’t go calling me crazy or paranoid. In 2008, both the minority Conservative government and the Conservative Party itself were hell-bent on introducing what was essentially a morals clause to the regulations for funding Canadian film and television. A portion of an omnibus bill amending the Income Tax Act sought to allow the Heritage Minister to withdraw tax credits from productions determined to be “contrary to public policy.” The clause was so broad it meant TV and film productions deemed morally offensive by a government ministry could have their tax credits reversed. The clause was withdrawn only after its details were made public by this newspaper and a barrage of complaints from the film and TV industry about being required to self-censor in order to please a government ministry.
This government’s focus of attack on the CBC is bizarre enough as it is. For a start, it follows the corporate agenda of Quebecor, a competitor to the CBC. It’s also a witch hunt that in the case of Brent Rathgeber and Sun News Network is priggishly focused on what CBC personalities earn and what CBC spends on cars, hotels and liquor. It seems as plain as a poke in your eye that the CBC is being bludgeoned because the Conservative Party finds its reporting suspect, but the angle of attack is a ugly prurience about salaries and perks.
The justification for the attacks and the demand for information is that CBC is taxpayer-funded. However, the real reason seems to be that CBC is perceived as not reflecting small “c” conservative values. A lot of what emanates from the arts in Canada does not reflect those values, and those artists and institutions receive taxpayer money. Remember that. Think about who’s next on the attack list. That morals clause in the 2008 bill may have died, but it’s a fair bet the urge to assert such control over government-funded arts has not.
In his blog post about the CBC, Rathgeber asserts that other broadcasters already do what the CBC is funded to provide to viewers. “CTV for instance similarly offers a 24 Hour News Channel and produces reality shows (Canadian Idol) and sitcoms (Dan for Mayor) which are comparable to anything produced by the CBC.”
The MP for Edmonton-St. Albert is way out of date – Canadian Idol was cancelled years ago and Dan for Mayor was cancelled months ago. Now, CTV has even less Canadian-made content. He’s out of date, but perhaps he also represents the future of the government’s approach to all taxpayer-funded arts productions. Museums are certainly on his radar.