By Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press on December 29, 2023.
OTTAWA – The role of the public broadcaster should be redefined before the next federal election, Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge says, as the Liberals hedge against a possible change in government.
In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, St-Onge said now’s the time for her Liberal government to begin working with Canadians and experts to define what the CBC should like over the next year and decade.
“And I really want to achieve that before the next election, to make sure that our public broadcaster is well-positioned as possible for the future,” St-Onge said.
Canada’s news and cultural sectors would be at serious risk should the Conservatives form government under leader Pierre Poilievre, St-Onge said, which has her thinking about the next election and what she believes is on the line.
“(Conservatives) have shown they think that the arts and cultural sector should be left to the free market,” she said.
“And we know that with foreign companies and foreign entities that take so much space online, and in Hollywood and in San Francisco, it means that we would basically abandon our cultural sector in Canada.”
The Opposition Tories, who didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, have promised to defund CBC and turn its Toronto-based headquarters into housing, though Poilievre has also suggested maintaining support for services tailored to francophone minorities.
The federal Liberals have been promising for years to update CBC’s mandate to meet the modern needs of Canadians, even as the news industry faces job cuts and declining ad revenue.
That includes recently announced cuts at CBC/Radio-Canada, which said early this month it was planning to eliminate about 600 jobs and let an additional 200 vacancies go unfilled as it contends with a $125-million budget shortfall.
St-Onge said she would like the broadcaster’s new mandate to fill information gaps in local regions, include a strong online presence, invest in international reporting and ensure minority-language communities are supported.
“I think it’s time we do it now because the Liberal party comes from the perspective that we do need a strong public broadcaster, and we will continue to support it,” St-Onge said.
CBC/Radio-Canada will assist in the mandate review in any way possible, said Leon Mar, a spokesperson for the public broadcaster.
Beginning next year, the Canadian Heritage Department will put together a committee to find a new head of CBC who can lead the public broadcaster into its transformation, St-Onge said.
Catherine Tait, current CEO and president of CBC/Radio-Canada, is slated to stay in her role until 2025.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2023.