The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Canada’s financially troubled public broadcaster, has plans to sell all of its properties and buildings across the entire country.
According to the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), the plan was announced today during a staff town hall in response to continued federal government funding cuts that have stripped the CBC of its ability to carry out its mandate of creating quality and original domestic programming.
Every single property will be sold – no stone will be left unturned. This includes the Toronto headquarters, Montreal studio, and the recently renovated and expanded Vancouver studio.
“The decision to close down production centres is of great concern for our members as it should be for all Canadians, and seriously jeopardizes the CBC’s ability to do meaningful production in the future,” said Marc-Philippe Laurin, CBC Branch President for the Canadian Media Guild, in a statement.
“Our members believe the public broadcaster can’t only be a distributor, it has to also be a producer. This plan threatens the ongoing legacy of award- winning documentaries, drama and other quality production at CBC and Radio Canada.”
The union also notes that the plans make no sense given that three of the four federal-level parties have vowed to increase the public broadcaster’s funding.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party has promised to increase the CBC’s annual funding by $150 million while the NDP will reverse the $115-million budget cut the Conservative Party made over three years beginning in 2012.
If elected into office, the Green Party would be the most generous with its commitment of an increase of $285 million.
If the fire sale plan moves forward, the CBC would have to pay rent for the remainder of its existence – it might provide a short-term reprieve, but it would drastically increase its already tight annual operating budget.
“Proceeds from one-time asset sales give the CBC a temporary cash infusion, which allows it to defer part of the Government’s operating subsidy until later in the fiscal year,” the Parliamentary Budget Officer wrote earlier this year.
Since 2008, the CBC has eliminated more than 2,800 jobs and plans to cut another 1,600 by 2020. Over the past year alone, the CBC cut 1,400 positions including 244 from its newsrooms across the country.
In more recent years, the CBC lost the Canadian rights to cover the NHL in Canada; its once-leading sports department has been completely decimated, it is no longer able capable of broadcasting professional sports.
As well, the CBC has had to close down a number of foreign bureaus and slash the duration of its supper-hour news broadcasts and the number of original shows and documentaries. Instead, the broadcaster now relies on purchasing content made by other entities and is focusing its resources on digital and mobile platforms.
Analysis: Why now?
Over the summer, there was speculation the CBC was considering selling some of its property to subsidize its operational costs over the short-term. A report in The Globe and Mail only speculated the sale of the downtown Vancouver studio, which was renovated and expanded at a cost of $65 million just in time for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
To fund the building project, CBC sold its parking lot on the south end of the city block to Concord Pacific for the purpose of developing two condominium towers. The property has an assessed value of $57 million and is the public broadcaster’s second largest English production centre outside of Toronto.
The renovations upgraded the studio’s technology and expanded the floor plan with new integrated workspaces, production studios and offices, but much of this space and the accompanying furniture is sitting unused due to major layoffs induced by the Conservative Party’s budget cuts.
The plan to sell off all of its property across the country is a last-ditch attempt for the broadcaster to save itself. As the revelation comes just one month before the federal election, this positions the CBC’s existential crisis as a front-and-centre election issue.
Funding cuts led to less quality original programming, and this in turn brings less viewers. And less eyes watching CBC programming has helped accelerate the decline in lucrative advertising revenue.
The CBC has ‘rode through the storm’ of the Conservative Party’s first term of majority government. The question everyone at the CBC is asking now is whether the 79-year-old institution can survive another four years under Conservative majority rule.
It is clear that the CBC is putting all cards on the table to save itself: there is nothing to lose.