A glimpse behind the curtain that hides the Harper Conservatives: are plans afoot to kill the CBC?

From left to right, NDP candidate Brian Labelle thinks about how clever he is, St. Albert election forum moderator John Farlinger reveals what he really thinks of the next question, Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber checks his briefing notes, Green Party candidate Peter Johntson thinks about something good that happened a long time ago and Liberal Party candidate Kevin Taron thinks about something good that might happen in the future. Warning, the thoughts in Alberta politicians’ heads may not be exactly as suggested. Below: CBC logo, entertainment coverage in Pravda, Dagestan edition.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

Are plans afoot to destroy the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation if the Harper Conservatives get their longed-for majority?

A tantalizing hint by Edmonton-St. Albert Conservative Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber at an all-candidates’ meeting Thursday evening in this Edmonton dormitory city of 60,000 suggests this may be so.

“I don’t know that we need a national broadcaster in 2011,” Mr. Rathgeber told about 100 people at a Chamber of Commerce all-candidates’ forum in a local hotel. “…We have to wean them off … of the taxpayer’s dollar…”

It is well known, of course, how since Stephen Harper became prime minister of Canada, the Conservative Party has become a tightly disciplined organization, especially during election campaigns.

No Conservative candidate strays far from the official talking points, and if that means repeating the phrase “constant bickering” seven times in an introductory speech to a local all-candidates’ meeting in a Prairie town, as Mr. Rathgeber did at another forum last week, you can be confident the same phrase is being repeated a similar number of times at dozens of other meetings across English Canada.

Moreover, since any Conservative in Western Canada has a chance of being elected, and because practically all of the party’s candidates in Alberta are a virtual shoo-in, the party tends to attract potential MPs disciplined and smart enough to stay on message through thick and thin. Mr. Rathgeber is no exception, normally sticking manfully and at times artfully to his talking points, no matter where his interlocutors want him to go.

Still, now and then – notwithstanding the best efforts of the Chamber of Commerce types who organize these events to serve up only softball questions from a Conservative perspective – one slips through that really resists a retreat to the official party line. This is especially true, of course, when there are no talking points available about the topic.

So when a seemingly innocent written question about the future of the CBC was handed to the a moderator of the St. Albert Chamber’s forum, Mr. Rathgeber’s commentary was interesting – revealing, as one suspects it surely must, the Harper government’s actual direction on the future of our national broadcaster if it gets the chance to act as it wishes. Remember, after all, that Mr. Rathgeber is a careful backbencher who never strays even one iota from the party line.

I pulled the key points out of Mr. Rathgeber’s remarks above. Here they are in context, as recorded by my handy-dandy iPhone:

“…There was a time when the CBC was necessary because nobody would broadcast in rural parts of Northern Alberta, Northern Saskatchewan or in the Arctic. But with the advent of satellites, I mean, now anybody anywhere can get a thousand channels! “So, I don’t know that we need a national broadcaster in 2011. Um… Sun TV launched this week and they have an annual budget of $17 million. Well, the CBC in addition to its revenues that it gets from advertising, gets a billion dollars from the taxpayer every year. “I think that has to change. They have to become more competitive. We have to wean them off, uh, of the taxpayer’s dollar…”

Sun TV. Really? Think about this for a moment, people, as the Conservative model to replace the CBC. We’re talking about an organization that premieres its vaunted political commentary program with cartoons considered sacrilegious by adherents of the world’s second-largest religion – an item that is offensive to a million or so Canadians and was old news at the same time.

What’s next for the geniuses behind Fox News North? Piss Christ as the backdrop to the national news?

Never mind that the CBC budget Mr. Rathgeber attacks includes the costs of coast-to-coast radio and television news, public affairs and cultural programming in two languages. This in fact costs more than merely running cable news for bigots.

Never mind that the $17-million Sun TV figure he quotes is obviously bogus, as it does not include the cost to Quebecor Media of pressing reporters and newspaper operations from coast to coast into service as low-rent videography studios.

And never mind the cozy relationship between Sun TV and the Prime Minister’s Office, which intends to use FNN as the PMO’s own electronic version of Pravda.

There are probably enough people in a typical Alberta audience who agree with Mr. Rathgeber’s sentiments about the CBC that for all I know they’re outlined in the Conservative Party’s talking points.

The Edmonton-St. Albert MP is certainly not shy or repeating over and over and over again with clear PMO sanction that no serious economist supports the idea of tax increases – although many, including at least one still-living Nobel Prize winner, manifestly do. But maybe he doesn’t read the same newspapers that I do.

But somehow I doubt these particular remarks about the CBC were in the official Harper government MPs’ briefing book. Since the CBC has its supporters, why would the Conservatives encourage a controversy that no one’s talking about just now?

I think Mr. Rathgeber unintentionally let the veil slip aside for just a moment and gave us a glimpse of one of the many things that’s behind it: the destruction of the CBC.

If you care about Canadian culture, and if you prefer news not to see what’s left of the media completely dominated by the northern equivalent of Fox News, I think you should pay attention to what Mr. Rathgeber had to say on Thursday night, and I think you should take it seriously.

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

9 Comments on "A glimpse behind the curtain that hides the Harper Conservatives: are plans afoot to kill the CBC?"

  1. Offroad Artist says:

    This leads to further thoughts about Peter Mansbridge's no holds barred treatment of Ignatieff and mollycoddling of Stephen Harper last week. Is Mansbridge forced to compromise his integrity to temporarily stave off Conservative attacks on the CBC?

  2. Edeana says:

    I was at one of the Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca all-candidates' meetings and the Conservative candidate Troy DeSouza was very supportive of the CBC. I suspect Mr. Rathgeber's comments were his own opinions. He slipped up from his briefing notes and should be reported to the authorities.

  3. jerrymacgp says:

    "Weaning the CBC of the taxpayer's dollar" would require the Mother Corp to increase its advertising revenue, when culture lobby groups like the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting advocate the exact opposite: weaning CBC-TV off of commercial advertising revenue altogether, just as CBC radio is commercial free.

  4. Filostrato says:

    Even though some pundits insist that there is no "hidden agenda", I find it very hard to believe it. Con candidates at every "debate" (sorry for all the scare quotes) are literally singing from the same hymn book. No matter who they are and where they are, they are as interchangeable as mass produced screws. Evangelists for the cause, they never waver from The Master's talking points. Don't they ever get tired of being told what to say?

    There was a large turnout for early polling around here. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing. I wasn't there when the line-ups snaked out the door and around the block at noon on Friday.

    There are people in this area who are surviving on inadequate pensions and are heavy users of health care services who sport Con lawn signs. It makes no sense.

    Defunding the CBC would be a moist dream for the Harperistas. One more voice that dares speak the truth about our contemptible government would be silenced at last. Very East German of them.

    These days, all I seem to feel is a general free-floating anxiety.

    There were more reports of vandalism of cars and spray painting of graffiti on houses displaying Liberal lawn signs in another Toronto riding overnight.

    Someone had spray-painted "Lie-beral scum" on one such house. I often see "Lie-beral" and "Libtard" in posts from Con supporters on both the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail websites. Nice job there, Stevie. How does it feel to have people like that supporting you?

  5. Carlos Beca says:

    Having any doubts of what Mr. Harper will do with the CBC if he gets the majority is in my opinion naive. He detests the CBC and anything public anyway. This man only accepts and respects the invisible hand of the market and the precious beliefs of his chosen God. His recent 'God Bless Canada' without the hand on his chest (for now)says it all. He hates being challenged by people that can think and have too much time to dig deep without the useless comercials. He does not have any use for any thinking outside of his ultra reductionist way of interpreting life in general and I would even dare to say that as far as he is concerned the CBC is a serious challenge to his belief in absolute control. We have seen how unconfrotable he is with very simple democratic principles. In the interview with Peter Mansbridge he could not even accept the fact that our constitution allows for the possibility of different types of coalitions in case the party with the more seats fails to form a government. Because it does not fit in his plans it is illegitimate. I do not have any doubts that if Canadians make the mistake of giving this guy a majority we may be facing a very difficult political environment in Canada for the first time since the Quebec crisis in the 60s.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Rathgeber is a useless wind bag. That being said, I am sure his CBC comments reflect the bar room talk of Con's he hangs around with. Its a shame his riding has St. Albert tagged onto it, or he would be blown out of the water with any real campaign waged against him.

  7. Anonymous says:

    We can only hope that some of the cutbacks will be to the CBC. It does not serve the national purpose anymore. It should face the same requirements of any media outlet – pay its own way.

    And the argument about culture doesn't stand. Rick Mercer as culture?

    Let popular culture pay its own way. In this day and age, supporters can be connected easily via social media. I pay for the visual and performing arts I am interested in.

    There are ma ny other avenbues for public support of the arts – the CBC hardly fits any of them!

  8. Anonymous says:

    The CBC is Canadian identity and the last stand of a truly independent media in Canada that is balanced and fair.

    One billion is cheap, considering we get democracy out of it. Isn't harper supposed to make us buy jets for $29B that don't even have engines?

    These Right wingers want to destroy human rights commissions, destroy free media, the constitution, healthcare and education. When you destroy these precious entities, these are the sort of actions that make a nation ripe for horrific acts of human cruelty and repression. We will leave it at that. These RW nuts want to destroy democracy and freedom.

  9. Peter McNicol says:

    Mr. Harper and his neo-fascist reformist disciples seem to think the CBC funding comes out of their party’s pockets. Hey guys, it’s paid by all Canadians, for all Canadians and is the glue that holds this country together, or part of that glue at least.
    We all know that Mr. Harper would love to be known as the President of Canada for life and have absolute power – well Buster, it ain’t happening.
    Saner heads will prevail I hope.
    Oh and by the way, SunTV is garbage and even a real right-winger would admit that.

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