There is an argument to be made for ceasing to fund the CBC and putting the $930 million it receives annually to other uses. There is also an argument for increasing the CBC’s funding to a level which permits it to consistently produce excellent radio and TV programming and fulfil its mandate. But there is no argument for a middling option which costs a lot of money and doesn’t deliver.

And yet the middling option is what we have chosen. We spend a great deal of money on the CBC but not enough to allow it to be a great public broadcaster.  The Globe’s Kate Taylor is the latest to lament a most lamentable reality.

Of course when I say “chosen,” I mean something a little closer to “stumbled backwards into without any serious discussion.” What is the purpose of public broadcasting in our dramatically changed information landscape? Is it essential? If so, how can it best achieve our goals? What resources does it need? Any serious policy discussion must answer these questions. But all we hear in the public forum are complaints about wasting $930 million a year from those hostile to the very idea of public broadcasting and complaints about underfunding from those who simply assume public broadcasting is an essential service. The budget itself is determined by the status quo amended by the government’s temporary financial circumstances and ideological inclinations.

The result is a CBC that costs a lot and delivers little — the one result which everyone can agree is unsatisfactory.

Way back in the era of The Forest Rangers, people would say this is a dilemma that calls for the slow, patient, thoughtful investigation and deliberation of a Royal Commission. But that is so old-fashioned and inefficient. Assuming and complaining are much cheaper and easier.

Well, easier, anyway.

Dan Gardner
Dan Gardner is a journalist, author, lecturer, and a former editor of Policy Options. He was a national affairs columnist and an investigative features writer at the Ottawa Citizen, where his work won or was nominated for every major Canadian newspaper journalism prize. Prior to becoming a journalist, Gardner was senior policy adviser to Ontario's minister of education and social policy adviser to Ontario's premier. He is the author of Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear (2008), Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail and Why We Believe Them Anyway (2011), and co-author (with Philip Tetlock) of Superforecasting: The Art And Science of Prediction (2015). His books have been published in eighteen countries and sixteen languages. He holds a master's degree in modern history from York University and a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School.

You are welcome to republish this Policy Options article online or in print periodicals, under a Creative Commons/No Derivatives licence.

Creative Commons License

More like this