The Harper government’s latest effort to impose dictatorship-style control on the CBC and other Crown corporations through Bill C-60 likely violates the Broadcasting Act. And the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That’s the message the CBC communicated last Thursday in a letter to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance.
Bill C-60, an omnibus budget implementation bill, proposes amendments that would give the federal government direct control over salary negotiations at the CBC and other Crown corporations. The amendments would compromise the public broadcaster’s journalistic, creative and programming independence.
“We believe that the proposed amendments to the Financial Administration Act (the “F44″), as currently drafted in Division 17 of the Bill, may conflict with key parts of the Broadcasting Act, our Corporation’s governing legislation, and as a result, would reduce the independence that is critical to our operation,” said the CBC chief executive Hubert Lacroix in the letter to James Rajotte, the committee’s chairperson.
The legislation would require the CBC to seek a “negotiating mandate” from Treasury Board ministers, who would also be empowered to the determine the terms and conditions of employment’ of journalists, anchors or senior executives. It would require the CBC to invite a Treasury Board official to attend negotiations between the broadcaster and unions.
“This could potentially embroil the government, our Corporation, and its unions in litigation, a result that could be avoided with an amendment that protects that independence,” said Lacroix.
Lacroix argued the the proposed amendments were unnecessary.
“The Broadcasting Act sets out our Corporation’s mandate as well as its structure and reporting relationship with Government,” his letter stated. “It ensures that the Corporation has both a comprehensive reporting structure to Parliament, and specific safeguards to guarantee arm’s-length independence of its activities.”
Meanwhile, the NDP is concerned about Bill C-60’s “impact on journalistic independence at the CBC” and other Crown corporations.
“This is a barefaced attempt by the Conservatives to control the Bank of Canada, the CBC and other Crown corporations by threatening wage and benefit cuts or termination for employees who don’t toe the government line,” said NDP Finance critic Peggy Nash.
“The implications for journalists’ freedom to publish stories critical of the government are obvious,” said NDP Heritage critic Pierre Nantel. “If the Conservatives are truly interested in improving accountability, perhaps they should start with the Senate or the PMO.”