As CBC employees brace for a new set of spending cuts, a Senate committee is calling on the public broadcaster to do more to deliver francophone programming across the country.
“In many parts of the country, it’s the only French presence, whether radio or television,” said Senator Claudette Tardif, the chair of the Senate Committee on Official Languages.
The committee says the public broadcaster must ensure both English and French speakers “have access to programming of equivalent quality in all regions of Canada.”
Wednesday’s report comes just in time for a budget announcement from CBC’s president. Hubert Lacroix will address employees in a national town hall meeting Thursday afternoon.
“The focus of that meeting will be about financial pressures CBC-Radio Canada is facing, and how we’re going to move forward,” said CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson.
Government funding to the broadcaster has steadily declined in recent years. The 2012 federal budget reduced CBC’s parliamentary appropriation from $1.03 billion in 2011-12 to $913 million in 2014-15.
Since then, the broadcaster has eliminated 650 jobs and started running commercials on music networks Radio 2 and Espace Musique.
The latest blow was the loss of the rights to Hockey Night in Canada to rival broadcaster Rogers last fall. Under the terms of the new partnership, hockey games will still air on CBC on Saturday nights, but CBC will not earn any of the ad revenue. That loss in revenue is estimated at $100 million.
But Tardif said a shrinking budget does not excuse the CBC from fulfilling its role as a national broadcaster.
“No matter what financial constraints that the broadcaster is faced with — and I’m sure that there are many, and I don’t envy their situation in any way — but that having been said, they cannot escape from their responsibilities in regards to their obligations under the Official Languages Act,” said Tardif.
The Senate report recommends the government provide more money to help the CBC support local production in minority francophone and anglophone communities. Tardif said the CBC is not bound to follow the committee’s recommendations, but the committee will ask the CBC board of directors for updates on their progress.
In the run-up to Thursday’s announcement, Ian Morrison, the spokesperson of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, estimated CBC faces a budget shortfall between $130 million and $150 million and may have to eliminate 600 jobs.
“I don’t think you can keep bleeding resources out of an organization and demanding the highest standards out of it in adhering to every law and regulation in the land,” Morrison said.
“They are being asked to do a lot of things and being starved,” he said.
Currently, CBC has 6,994 permanent employees, 859 contract employees and 329 temporary employees.
CBC’s English-language television draws 8.4 per cent of the prime-time audience, according to the broadcaster’s most recent quarterly report ending Dec. 31. Radio One and Two collectively have an audience share of 15.5 per cent. Its website is visited by about 6.8 million people every month.