The CBC should consolidate its operations in Montreal

Maison Radio-Canada
Maison Radio-Canada

Recently announced cuts to the CBC/Radio-Canada got me thinking: why is this particular crown corporation’s operations split between three different major Canadian cities and why is the CBC/SRC trying to rid itself of potentially lucrative real-estate?

I can’t fathom why the CBC and SRC aren’t located in the exact same place. As it currently stands, French media is consolidated in the Maison Radio-Canada in Montreal, English media consolidated in the Canadian Broadcast Centre in downtown Toronto, and corporate operations located in Ottawa.

Perhaps this was necessary in the past, but is it still necessary today?

Consolidating all of the CBC/SRC’s major operations in a single location is far more efficient and, perhaps most importantly, would allow a greater degree of cooperation between the two halves of Canada’s public broadcaster.

Quite frankly, the CBC could learn a lot from Radio-Canada. The latter is far more successful than the former in terms of creating interesting, engaging, high-quality programming.

To put it another way, I’d like to watch an English version of Tout Le Monde En Parle.

Or put it this way: 19-2 is a successful police procedural/crime drama set in Montreal created by Radio-Canada that, beginning this year, will appear on the CTV-owned Bravo Canada as an English-language equivalent. An idea created by the public broadcaster succeeds in French but is then sold to private interests for English language development. Why the CBC didn’t develop the English-language version of 19-2 is beyond me; it makes absolutely no sense.

Further, there’s been a plan in place for a few years now for CBC/SRC to sell the Maison Radio-Canada for redevelopment. According to the corporation’s public documents, they’re not supposed to invest in real-estate, and this is why they’re looking to rid themselves of an absolutely massive piece of purpose-built broadcasting property. Apparently, it’s too expensive to invest in upgrading existing facilities, and so they’ll sell the land to become a tenant. Whatever money is made from the sale, if it follows an unfortunate trend established by the Federal Tories, will likely not be equal to the actual and/or potential value of the property. Moreover, whatever money is made from the transaction will ultimately disappear paying the rent.

It’s illogical, in a time of constrained budgets, to limit a crown corporation’s ability to develop long term wealth. There is no wealth, no value, in leasing.

It’s also illogical to spread out a corporation’s major operations in three locations when one could easily be expanded to accommodate the whole.

What’s worse, one of the driving forces behind this proposed sale and redevelopment is that the Maison Radio-Canada has too much space for Radio-Canada’s current needs. In a sense I agree – the parking lots are a huge waste of space begging for redevelopment. But it’s the space inside the building which is thought to be superfluous. If that’s actually the case, why not sell off the corporate HQ in Ottawa and the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto and put the whole operation in the Maison Radio-Canada? Proceeds from the sale of those properties (particularly the latter) could finance the modernization of the MRC for just such a purpose. If they were to go a step further, they would use their real-estate holdings for the purposes of generating revenue to fund a public broadcasting trust, much in the same manner as the BBC has. I’m in favour of the plan to redevelop the expansive Montreal property with residential buildings, commercial and green spaces, but I think a far greater value could be derived over the long term by maintaining ownership of the Montreal site. There’s more money in the long term owning several condos, apartment blocks and commercial spaces than simply selling off the property. The undeveloped property is less valuable than a developed property.

Concentration and consolidation make a lot of sense to me, mostly because I firmly believe it will lead directly to greater cooperation and operational efficiency. I think it would accomplish the task of making our public broadcaster ‘leaner’ due to resource sharing, not to mention the fundamentally lower operating costs and greater quality of life offered in Montreal (as an example, and quite unlike Toronto’s Canadian Broadcasting Centre, properties within walking distance of Maison Radio-Canada are still affordable and there’s an established community of people who work in media located nearby, not to mention a concentration of competition). But to top it all off, if the CBC were to consolidate here with Radio-Canada, maintain ownership of their property and redevelop it, they could potentially get themselves back in the green sooner as opposed to later.

A closing thought. Shame on Heritage Minister and Tory cheerleader Shelley Glover for doing fuck all to help the CBC.

It’s a line anyone interested in Canadian politics is likely to hear time and again as Tory ministers dodge any and all kinds of responsibility for their own portfolios: ‘the (insert vital national interest here) operates as an arms-length government agency and thus we’re not responsible for it’.

Well what the fuck are you good for then?

The whole idea behind crown corporations is that they serve the interests of the people, either by providing a necessary service or by generating revenue for the federal government to lessen the tax burden. In some cases they can do both, but the key is that, if the crown corp is in the red or otherwise not accomplishing its goals, the peoples’ recourse is to elect individuals with plans to make these organizations succeed.

The Tory political playbook goes in the other direction, distancing government from crown corps in an effort to both deny any responsibility (breaking the public’s indirect involvement in the direction of the corporation) in an effort to prime it for privatization. Both the Harper and Mulroney administrations have a bad record of selling off major assets for next to nothing. The end result has almost always been the same: worse service, higher costs to the consumer, less competition. I have no doubt at all the Tories would like nothing more than to privatize the CBC, though for the moment they recognize the negative consequences.

Thus, their policy is that the CBC should die a death from a thousand cuts, a ‘creeping normality’ strategy that makes it impossible for the CBC to compete at all but would ultimately serve to facilitate its dismantling and privatization. If the problem, as a spokeswoman for Ms. Glover puts it, is that “the CBC (needs) to provide programming that Canadians actually want to watch” then why did the Fed not step in to protect the CBC’s lucrative monopoly on sports broadcasting rights? Why isn’t the Fed encouraging the CBC to develop a trust whose value is derived from the corporation’s real estate and infrastructure assets as a means to generate revenue?

And why is the minister responsible for our nation’s cultural heritage blaming the CBC for its shortcomings rather than coming up with a plan to make the CBC a focal point of our cultural identity?

What are we paying her for? To find fault or find solutions?

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