The CBC is facing an existential crisis unlike anything it’s ever seen. The Conservative Party of Canada, which holds a commanding lead in the polls over the Trudeau Liberals, is vowing to defund the public broadcaster. Given that, the CBC's leaders should be devoting all their time and energy to defend the corporation against what looks to be Pierre Poilievre's inevitable attack. Instead, its CEO just handed Poilievre some extra ammunition.

On Monday, after the CBC announced it will eliminate as many as 600 positions in order to address a $125-million budget shortfall, Catherine Tait joined veteran journalist Adrienne Arsenault for an interview. After the usual questions about the CBC’s economic viability and cultural relevance, Arsenault threw Tait a curveball: Would the CBC still pay out the millions of dollars in annual bonuses to its executives that it did last year?

“It’s too early to say where we are for this year,” Tait offered. When that non-answer didn’t satisfy Arsenault, Tait tried an even more obviously bogus one. “I’m not going to comment on something that hasn’t been discussed at this point.” Her answers were so tone-deaf and so bias-confirming, that you could practically hear Poilievre celebrating in the background.

Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, must have been shaking his head. By extending Tait’s term until 2025 rather than replacing her with someone capable of defending the CBC’s interests, his government has done Canada’s public broadcaster and those who support it no favours. Despite being pressed on the fact that the CBC is stretched increasingly thin, both in terms of its budget (which has been declining on a per-capita basis since the mid-1980s) and responsibilities, Tait seems to think changes to the broadcaster’s areas of focus and coverage aren’t necessary. “We clearly need an improvement to the ecosystem,” she said. “We know that a healthy democracy benefits from the presence of a public broadcaster.”

An “improvement to the ecosystem” almost certainly means “more money” and the federal government’s recent deal with Google will help in that regard. But it’s not nearly enough to save the CBC in its current form, which feels increasingly listless and confused at a time when public broadcasters around the world are under growing pressure from populist politicians. That’s especially true, of course, if a future government slashes its funding.

The CBC’s traditional role as the cultural glue in our country is clearly declining, both because of the rise of technologies like the internet and social media and the growing number of outlets serving different cultural and ideological communities. For as long as I’ve been alive, the CBC has been an important part of my cultural landscape as a Canadian. But I struggle to see how it would, or even could, play the same role in my young son’s life.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of a national public broadcaster, and I think we need reliable and trustworthy sources of information more than ever. The fact that Arsenault was able to gut her own boss on live television speaks to the corporation’s enduring journalistic integrity — a virtue increasingly rare in the modern media landscape. I’ve said before that the CBC needs to stand and fight, and I’ll say it again here.

But so far, I’ve yet to see much in the way of fight. Maybe the Liberal political calculus here is that by letting the CBC put itself in danger, they can use its fate to rally progressives behind them in the next election. That assumes a level of loyalty to the CBC among Canadians I’m not sure still exists, and a willingness on the part of voters to prioritize its existence over their other concerns.

It’s possible Poilievre will back down from his pledge to purge the organization, just as Stephen Harper did before him. But Harper had to govern for two terms in a minority Parliament, and he always seemed laser-focused on the longer game of building toward a durable Conservative majority. Poilievre is different. If he gets a majority, it will almost certainly be in his first term, not any subsequent ones. That’s in large part because he’s a breaker, not a builder. Betting on his better angels winning out seems like a good way to lose money — $1.3 billion to be precise.

The CBC is staring down its own annihilation at the hands of a Pierre Poilievre government. So why do its leaders keep giving him new reasons to attack the CBC's existence?

Rather than hoping for the best, the CBC’s leadership needs to prepare for the worst. That means battle-testing their own assumptions and blind spots and bracing for a political environment where their own existence will be called into question. It means presenting a coherent case for its contributions to Canadian life that acknowledges the rapidly shifting landscape and adjusts the corporation’s aims accordingly. And it means gathering as many allies as possible in order to mount a vigorous defence.

As to what a renewed CBC might look like? It could focus on news coverage in smaller communities and rural parts of the country, where private-sector options have all but vanished. It could retreat from over-covered subjects like sports and politics for areas of Canadian culture — book reviews, performance arts, and other more esoteric pursuits — that aren’t getting attention from online upstarts and other new media alternatives. And it could include a renewed investment in international news bureaus, which have been mostly abandoned by the remaining mainstream media companies in Canada. We still have a need to understand Canada’s unique place in the world, and the CBC is better suited than anyone to take on the challenge of meeting that.

Whatever it means, though, it can’t mean the status quo. Everything has to be on the table, and that should include its mandate and current leadership. If it isn’t, the entire organization could soon become a thing of our political past.

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Poilièvre seems to be talking out of both side of his mouth. In French, he seems to say that he would ONLY defund the CBC side; that he wouldn't touch the Radio-Canada side of the broadcaster. Given his blind ideological streak, I wouldn't bet any money on that!!!!

Are all the members of the Board that Harper put in place still there? A Trojan horse attack that’s been beavering away all these years?

Why would a publicly funded CBC be paying "annual bonuses to its executives"? This is getting ridiculous with corporate fat cats that don't deserve them for starters and do ZERO to get CBC self-sufficient, instead are happy to suck off the tax payer's tit.

As far as Pierre Poilievre, he talks out of both sides of his mouth between English and French and constantly misleads Canadians at every turn. Just like his "axe the tax" nonsense, where he neglects to tell Canadians that if they earn less than $250K, they get more in rebates than they pay in carbon measures. If eliminated, only those earning $250K or more will benefit, while the rest of us lose.

This country is doomed if Poilievre manages to become PM, for years it has been shown he is economically illiterate from the get go. The only thing Poilievre is good at is spreading disinformation and propaganda through third parties.

France 24 and Germany's DW are excellent public broadcasters. These are the models CBC renovators should be encouraged to use.

24/7 international news and good quality analysis and investigative journalism and hard hitting Front Line-style documentaries would be nicely complemented with live concert recordings and top notch drama. The BBC, Acorn Medua, Canal, Kino Lorber and other media produce a lot of riviting drama that is sold internationally. Internet media should be explored more. As mentioned in the comment above, bringing programming to remote communities would also be an important part of a CBC mandate. Leave ads and mindless junk TV like Family Feud to the commercial channels.

This would require the CBC to become leaner. But giving bonuses to a bloated senior administration while laying off 600 staff is unbelievably mean and stupid and not wise for its future funding. If there are layoffs, start with the top dogs who make such blatantly blind decisions to pay themselves more while planning to bring down the axe on their staff.

"... giving bonuses to a bloated senior administration while laying off 600 staff is unbelievably mean and stupid and not wise for its future funding."
Amen to that.
And we need more programs like "The Current" on the radio, not "Commotion" or "Just For Laughs"

I'm baffled as to why the Liberals aren't making more use of CBC as Canada's sterling flagship. It may be the last bastion of the inspiring, defining idea behind this country, possibly all that's left for us to rally around at a time when right-wing privatization has so methodically splintered our media (along with us and potentially our democracy) into a plethora of floundering, competing pieces. I think this is an example of Trudeau's natural affinity to brinkmanship, truly exasperating.
The widely-respected and proximal BBC also continues to provide a stellar, enduring example of public broadcasting despite years of conservative governments bent on the destruction of this thing Thatcher so disparagingly called "society."
If only that telling mission could be more widely broadcast.
International correspondents should remain the core mission of CBC along with the remote reach, a glue to remind residents far and wide that they're part of something bigger.
I have always watched and listened to CBC but lately fume at how much bothsidesism persists along with the illusion of journalistic objectivity as if the Reform cons AREN'T intently focused on that Thatcher mission.
It's like Bill Maher who keeps inviting Republicans to his panel discussions with the same dated (enough to now be truly called "quaint") notion that we simply must keep talking to each other in order to address this alarming political polarization, as if one side hasn't deliberately and strategically created it. So anyone who has remained an active enough Republican to still come on a talk show post-Trump basically has to admit to being crazy or just plain stupid, and I find Maher's heroic view of himself as some sort of pioneer here increasingly tedious.
Bottom line, under the current circumstances there's more honesty and some real utility in the between an MSNBC and a FOX.

Give Tait some credit. Listen to her conversation with Paul Wells. It shows she has a pretty good insight in the CBC's role and the changed news and entertainment world.

I'll check that out but did hear the conversation with Adrienne Arsenault last night and saw how she hedged on bonuses, which Adrienne asked her twice. Bottom line if there ever was one.
I also noticed her saying the right things and apparently having a handle on that "challenging change" that everyone talks about like it's the weather rather than runaway big tech, not to mention the disturbingly avid guys in charge like Zuckerberg and Musk whose dazzling footwork can't hide their megalomania OR the fact that they're probably either psychopaths at worst or some variation of "on the spectrum" at best. Not ideal.
And I never heard anything about why the amount each taxpayer pays can't be increased since it's apparently the lowest of the public broadcasters. Why is that? Why are we never asked, why do we always have to battle all these greedy conservative a**holes as if they and their outsized business models are the default and/or the holy grail?