The article written by Greg Weston and published in The Sun newspaper chain yesterday presents a flawed picture of the situation CBC/Radio-Canada is facing. In fact, almost all assertions in the article are either a distortion of facts or are flat-out wrong. We should point out that Mr. Weston did not check any of his facts with us before writing this article.
The public broadcaster will not be in the red this fiscal year, which ends March 31, 2009. CBC/Radio-Canada will break even, in spite of the economic downturn, because of cost-cutting measures put in place by management starting last August. In fact, we have not been in a year-end deficit position in 10 years.
Contrary to Mr. Weston’s statement, our parliamentary appropriation was not increased by 8% this year over last year. Our appropriation was exactly the same as the previous year, save for a 1.5% salary increase that Treasury Board allotted to all Crown Corporations and a carry over of some funding originally projected for the previous year. In fact, our base operating appropriation has not been increased in constant dollars for 35 years.
Mr. Weston writes, “The CBC brass evidently continues to operate on the assumption there isn’t much a government cheque can't cure.” CBC/Radio-Canada has not asked Government for a hand-out, an increased subsidy or an increase to our appropriation. In this economic environment, when every industry is in difficulty, everyone has to tighten their belts. We understand that.
CBC/Radio-Canada is trying to manage its existing appropriation in a way that spreads the effect of the financial crunch over several years. Private broadcasters have the financial flexibility that comes from access to capital markets and commercial borrowing. As a Crown Corporation, CBC/Radio-Canada has no access to this type of borrowing for working capital purposes. To finance a short-term financial gap, we have to make cuts to services, programs and people. That is what we are faced with today. Far from being immune, we too will need to take decisive action in the coming months, whether we find a way to increase our financial flexibility or not.
Meantime, we are exhausting all possible avenues for financial flexibility in order to protect the investment Canadians have made in public broadcasting, and the services they get that no one else will provide, through this economic crisis.