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Ottawa adds funding to CBC, despite executives' claims it was asked to cut its budget

OTTAWA — Canada's public broadcaster is getting an increase in funding, despite executives insisting that a request to cut CBC/Radio-Canada's budget for the next fiscal year was one reason they announced layoffs for 10 per cent of staff.
Canada's public broadcaster is getting a small increase in funding, despite executives' claims that they were asked to cut its budget for the next fiscal year. The CBC logo is projected onto a screen during the CBC's annual upfront presentation at The Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto, Wednesday, May 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin

OTTAWA — Canada's public broadcaster is getting an increase in funding, despite executives insisting that a request to cut CBC/Radio-Canada's budget for the next fiscal year was one reason they announced layoffs for 10 per cent of staff. 

Documents Canadian Heritage released on Thursday show CBC will get a $1.4-billion budget in 2024-25, an increase from the $1.3 billion it spent in the previous fiscal year.

The increase amounts to $96.1 million, which the department says is primarily attributable to salary increases following the ratification of collective agreements. 

The broadcaster announced in December it would cut 800 jobs and $40 million from its production budget because of a $125-million projected shortfall for the coming fiscal year, which begins on April 1. 

Thursday's funding announcement will "lessen, but not eliminate" the $125-million shortfall, said Leon Mar, spokesman for CBC/Radio-Canada.

"We still face significant financial pressures — the result of the same structural factors affecting all media companies in Canada, including rising production costs, declining television advertising revenue and fierce competition from the digital giants," Mar said. 

Mar had said earlier this month that about $11 million of the projected shortfall would come as a result of an expected 3.3 per cent budget cut.

Treasury Board president Anita Anand said it was "premature" for the broadcaster to announce the cuts without knowing how much funding they'd be receiving next fiscal year.

"We're upholding our support for CBC/Radio-Canada and we encourage that organization to uphold its important mandate, and to maintain as many employees as they can in all regions of our country," Anand said Thursday.

CBC is also expected to get $7 million from Google, following the company's deal with Ottawa to support news organizations and avoid regulation under the Online News Act. 

Mar said CBC doesn't view the money as "additional funding" because it's "due to the government's retroactive reimbursement for salary increases for inflation that the corporation has been paying over the past two years."

Executives insisted earlier this year that the job cuts were coming in part because the government asked them to cut 3.3 per cent from their budget. 

President and CEO Catherine Tait and Shaun Poulter, executive director of strategy, public affairs and government relations, said in January they were expected to plan for that cut. 

"We were told to budget a 3.3 per cent cut, and that's what we've done," Poulter said after a parliamentary committee hearing in January.

But the Treasury Board, which oversees spending in the federal budget, said there was no such directive. 

Instead, departments, agencies and Crown corporations were asked to report on how such a cut could affect them. This, Canadian Heritage said, was only an "exercise" handed out across the board and not an indication of where cuts would actually be made. 

"I've said right from the beginning that the reallocation decision for CBC/Radio-Canada was still pending," Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said in a statement on Thursday. 

"Our government's objective isn't to jeopardize the vital role of CBC/Radio-Canada, when it's a critical time to keep Canadians connected and informed from coast to coast to coast."

The Treasury Board announced Thursday that CBC is not on the list of government bodies whose funds are being reallocated as part of the government's belt-tightening exercise. 

That was "welcome news," Mar said, and is a "recognition of the continued value of public broadcasting to Canadians."

To date, 281 positions have been affected by the cuts, including 126 layoffs and 155 vacant positions, Mar said. 

The president of the union that represents CBC employees, Annick Forest of the Canadian Media Guild, said most of the cuts were expected after the current fiscal year ends on March 31. 

Once the public broadcaster finalizes its financial statement for the current year and planning for next year, it will be able to offer more information about what's to come, said Mar.

"In the meantime, we remain committed to minimizing the impact on our staff and on the programs and services we deliver to audiences across the country."

In recent months, Tait has faced pressure from MPs across all major federal parties over her decision not to rule out bonuses for executives — or for herself — despite the looming cuts. 

That includes Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, who has called for Tait to be "shown the door."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 29, 2024. 

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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