By George Blochert
Civil liberties are not always easy to define and may even conflict with each other. Alan Borovoy, who headed the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for more than 40 years, made this his thesis in the book, “When Freedoms Collide: The Case For Our Civil Liberties.”
In essence, what is an ever present concern to Canadians, is the extent of power government has and its often blatant attempts to assume even greater power. This is what I believe to be the basis of the apprehension I and many others have over the recent passing of Bill 60, resulting in subjecting the CBC to direct control by government.
Ever since its inception, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, modeled to a great extent after the BBC, has been a responsible and self regulating broadcaster, living up to the requirements of an independent Crown Corporation.
It is my opinion and I submit it is the law, that the government has no general right to interfere in the operation of a Crown Corporation. In fact one of the principle reasons for a Crown Corporation to exist, is to permit it to function as an independent unit, free of government interference. It is my further opinion, that the operation of the CBC and the potential and foreseeability of government interference is a Civil Liberties matter.
Canadians have a right to a free and unbiased CBC, so it can provide news and political opinions, based on independent editorial policies and intellectual freedoms and not government direction.
Canadians do not want the CBC to present programs, which are produced, directed and delivered by and through government, in particular where there is a likelihood of involvement by cabinet.
Bill 60 provides for a Treasury Board representative to sit on the Board of the CBC, as an independent, who will report to and receive instructions and direction from the cabinet, with a view to further the government’s interest. The likelihood is that the CBC, which until this time, has been intellectually uninfluenced by government, now will have the potential to become a propaganda machine of the federal government. What we are seeing is that it is not only possible, but likely, that the federal government will be in the position to use the CBC as its tool by controlling hiring, wages and content of programs.
It is emphasized by the writer that the Broadcasting Act, S.C. 1991, c.1, provides the governing legislation for the CBC, which in turn permits the corporation to employ such officers and employees as it considers necessary for the conduct of its business.
In the spring of this year under Bill C-60, a budget implementation bill, and as the Huffington Post stated, “buried at the back of the 111 page bill” was a clause that allows the prime minister’s cabinet to approve salaries, working conditions and collective bargaining positions for the CBC (as reported by the Hill Times). This is contrary to the longstanding “arms length relationship” between the CBC and any government in power as required by law for Crown corporations.
The CBC could under the provisions of Bill 60 be controlled by the government in power and instead of providing an unbiased view, will now be forced into the position of representing what the government is ordering.
There are presently and there have been in the past, totalitarian states which have their media under tight governmental control. It is submitted that we, in Canada, do not require a public broadcasting company that becomes “His Master’s Voice.”
We repeat, by law, a Crown Corporation, such as the CBC, must operate at arms length from the government. Bill 60 results in government representative, and through same the federal cabinet, having a seat at the bargaining table whenever the CBC is negotiating a contract. This is unlikely to be limited to rates of pay but can include all aspects of the contract.
Whether this is a provincial matter is dubious; however, this is a Canadian matter and we are certainly part of that. We should consider partnering with other provincial and federal organizations who stand up for civil liberties. In my opinion, having an unbiased and independent public broadcasting company is a true civil liberty of which no Canadian should be deprived. To paraphrase an old adage, civil liberties must not only be unbiased but also be seen to be unbiased.
For further information is a letter written by Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO of the CBC and addressed to the Chair of the Standing Committee on Finance, which covers the subject matter and should be read in conjunction with the aforesaid: http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/_files/cbcrc/documents/press/2013-05-22-finance-committee-C-60-letter-en.pdf.
Free the CBC from Political Interference: Sign the Petition at http://act.friends.ca/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=33&ea.campaign.id=20400
Other Resources: Huffington Post Canada, “Bill C-60: Tories Quietly Taking Control of CBC, Group Alleges,” 30 April 2013 Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/04/30/bill-c60-cbc-harper_n_3187821.html
Tim Naumetz, Hill Times, “Budget bill gives Harper Cabinet new powers over CBC,” 30 April 2013 Online: http://www.hilltimes.com/news/politics/2013/04/30/budget-bill-gives-harper-cabinet-new-powers-over-cbc/34566