OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are voicing their support for the public broadcaster after it announced layoffs on Monday, but Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland won’t weigh in on whether Ottawa will exempt it from across-the-board budget cuts.
Freeland told reporters on Tuesday morning that the CBC and Radio-Canada cuts were “very sad news.”
But when asked whether it was an option to exempt the public broadcaster from overall spending cuts, Freeland skirted the question.
“Our government strongly supports Radio-Canada and CBC,” she said in French. “We will continue to be there.”
The federal government had announced in its spring budget this year that it would cut spending across departments and agencies by three per cent by the 2026-2027 fiscal year.
CBC and Radio-Canada said Monday that they plan to cut 600 jobs and not fill 200 vacancies over the next year as they reduce their English and French programming budgets.
The broadcaster says the move would result in fewer renewals and acquisitions, new television series, episodes of existing shows and digital original series.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who has vowed to strip CBC of public funding while maintaining Radio-Canada’s French-language services, called out the public broadcaster for its layoffs after handing out bonuses.
“CBC says it’s broke again and laying off staff. This after they paid $99 million in bonuses to incompetent executives and Liberal talking heads,” Poilievre said in a post on X Monday.
Documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation earlier this year reveal the public broadcaster has awarded $99 million in bonuses between 2015 and 2022. Last year, it gave out $16 million in bonuses.
Despite the latest cuts, the public broadcaster’s president didn’t rule out more bonuses this year in an interview aired on CBC News’s The National on Monday night.
“I’m going to presume no bonuses this year,” said CBC host Adrienne Arsenault. “Can we establish that’s not happening this year?”
“It’s too early to say where we are for this year. We’ll be looking at that, like we do all our line items in the coming months,” Catherine Tait responded.
In an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday, Tait had said the latest round of layoffs and programming cuts the broadcaster announced this week could mean changes in what viewers see on television.
Tait said slashing millions from the Crown corporation’s overall budget may mean fewer unscripted, factual or game shows.
She said those kinds of programs don’t fall under the broadcast regulator’s national interest policy, which CBC has to remain committed to.
But some jobs and programming could be saved from the chopping block, Tait said, should the broadcaster’s revenues or funding improve.
“We play an outsized role as a vehicle of cultural production and creative production in the country, and so if we are going to play that outsized role, we’re going to need an adjustment in our funding,” Tait said.
“Whether that comes from advertising or government investment. We will take it where we get it.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2023.