By Frank Moher
The CBC cut some more jobs last month. Where’s the news in that, you say? It was just 140 jobs, you say? Just a droplet in the bloodletting of 1500 jobs projected to be lost by 2020?
Well sure, but besides the fact that another swack of people are out of work, this round of cuts, to newsrooms across the country, hit Alberta and BC disproportionately. Here’s what they looked like:
- Newfoundland and Labrador: 7
- Nova Scotia: 11
- Prince Edward Island: 2
- New Brunswick: 4
- Quebec: 9
- Ontario: 30
- Manitoba: 3
- Saskatchewan: 11
- Alberta: 37
- British Columbia: 25
- Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut: 5
That’s a lot of red stuff on the floor in the west, mostly in Calgary and Vancouver, and effectively puts an end to the notion of a decentralized CBC. It’s an ironic turn of events, considering that it occurs under a federal government that once launched itself with the slogan “The West Wants In,” but has now seen to it, with its cuts to the national broadcaster, that the west is out the back door.
It’s an especially low blow for Calgary, which was the standard-bearer for the decentralization of CBC News back in 1989, when CBC Newsworld launched. (That would be roughly two years after Stephen Harper gave his speech to the founding convention of the Reform Party.) As you’ll see in the video below, Calgary was given the entire six p.m. to midnight slot on the network. You’ll also see that male news anchors still looked pretty much like Ron Burgundy in 1989, but that’s another matter.
Perhaps it’s significant that then-CRTC Chairman Pierre Juneau, who presided over Canadian broadcasting at a time of great change, opens the video. Juneau is often mentioned in assessments of current Chair Jean-Pierre Blais, who is also presiding over a period of change, and hanging on for dear life as he does. That change, of course, is another reason for the convulsions at the CBC, and is used to assure us that, really, all this is to be expected and all will be well. Said CBC News general manager and editor in chief Jennifer McGuire when she announced the cuts: “Where we’re going with our local services is really prioritizing towards digital. That’s in recognition of where the audience is going – they’re migrating to digital, as we know in the news business.” Thus the CBC will also add 80 jobs to its digital news operation — where, we don’t know.
In any event, the party is over in Calgary, and largely over in Vancouver, although Ian Hanomansing still hangs on as one of the hosts of “CBC News Now” and a contributor to “The National.” And while these cuts will most immediately affect local newscasts, most of which will be shortened to 30 from 60 minutes, these are the same newsrooms that feed stories to the network. Or rather, used to. Now we’re back to letting the staff in Toronto tell us what mattered in the nation that day.
And this at a time when, thanks to that very same technology the CBC claims it’s adapting to, broadcast journalism elsewhere is decamping to micro news operations in all sorts of previously unthinkable places, like Baltimore and Irving, Texas. But it’s hardly the CBC’s fault. They have little choice under a government that wishes to starve our public broadcaster into submission, and a Board of Directors who are only too happy to assist.
It’s another indicator of just how little Harper has done to fulfill his alleged intention to decentralize Canada. The Senate is still unelected, still there, and sleazier than ever. The most he’s been able to do is stop making appointments to it. He’s built one national museum in not-Ottawa, and another is on the way. He doesn’t attend the first ministers’ meetings, which could be seen as a symbolic attempt to reduce federal power, but probably has more to do with not wanting to be yelled at and asked for more money.
And now he’s presiding over the retrenchment of the CBC to Toronto. But then, the Harperites’ commitment to decentralization was only ever a beard for their far-right fiscal policies — a way to develop and reinforce their base in the west in the ’80s and ’90s. It worked. That they’ve now lost interest in regionalism shouldn’t be a surprise. For one thing, maintaining a healthy Canada — by, say, funding the CBC at a level that would allow it to remain genuinely national — would cost, you know, money.
Hopefully the blood-spilling in Alberta and BC will alert a few more westerners that they’ve been had. Calgary’s celeb-mayor has sent an e-mail in protest; beware the Nenshi. Meanwhile, the CBC’s actually-national national news service was nice while it lasted. Welcome back to the 1970s.