On a drive into Whistler Village last week, a theory I was starting to formulate about the CBC finally gelled for me.
I was listening to Michael Enright's radio show Rewind, a show that promotes the best of the CBC's vast and amazing archives, and on it was a repeat of an interview the late Peter Gzowski had with Beverly McLachlin, 20-or-so years ago.
McLachlin, now Canada's chief justice of The Supreme Court, was back then a member of the court, just not quite as supreme as she is today.
Recently, she was embroiled in a pretty nasty tussle with the Prime Minister's Office and Stephen Harper over whether or not she interfered in the selection process of now-rejected Harper nominee for the court, Marc Nadon.
Just for context, The National Post columnist John Ivison wrote on May 1 that the Tories were "incensed" with the chief justice "actively lobbying" against the appointment of Nadon, who was not a sitting judge in Quebec, to the Supreme Court.
McLachlin's office responded by saying the Parliamentary committee in charge of investigating the candidate shortlist had consulted her about all the appointees. So she provided her views, as requested.
Anyway, in the kinder, gentler days of 20 years ago, McLachlin was speaking to Gzowski about her views, about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, about the difficulties in deciding what is fair and balanced for the Canadian judicial system at the highest level. It was a "colour" interview that was more background about the woman and about her job than it was a critique or analysis about herself or the court. McLachlin was comfortable and expansive; I learned quite a bit.
As I was listening to Rewind, I recalled that I was in two minds about the show – I love the fact that I get to listen to voices and stories long gone (RIP, Gzowski), but I was initially more troubled that repeats were replacing current programming.
Whether you like Rewind, it's down to the cuts, of course.
I'll be clear here, I am on Team CBC – I don't support the cuts, I didn't support them when I first heard about the initial gutting by the Liberal government in the 1990s. I'm not for reckless spending and I am pro-accountability (and forensic accounting for all public bodies as a matter of policy), but I also think that one can also support the nation-building exercise that is the Canadian Broadcast Corporation and feel outraged by the gutting of it.
At the very least, it's a question of geography; the CBC, more than any other media outlet in this country, makes me feel more connected to the length and breadth of Canada. That's important to me. I actually want to know what is going on in Halifax, Quebec City, Whitehorse and Winnipeg. I know some of my friends in and out of the media will disagree with me, but other media sources don't quite seem to give as much of an equal voice to each region. It is the CBC's great success.
I would be totally fine with an annual payment by each of us for the corporation, much like the BBC has in the U.K., where I lived for 15 years. Out of all national broadcasters and the financial support they receive, the CBC is getting among the lowest amount per capita.
More pending service cuts to the CBC, announced by a watchdog group last week, apparently include taking Radio Two online only and significantly reducing CBC-TV's children's programming. Last month, afternoon radio in Thunder Bay, Ontario, was cut. That community now gets its afternoon radio from Sudbury, 1,000 km away. In protest, it is losing some of its biggest national journalists, including Linden MacIntyre of the Fifth Estate and Alison Smith of The World at Six.
" I... saw the cuts that were coming down the road and the effect that it was going to have on so many of our colleagues. It just confirmed for me that this was the right time and it was the right decision for me to make," Smith said.
If CBC folks protest what amounts to a political decision by the Harper government to make these cuts, they are making the situation worse for themselves and tripping into the territory of "editorializing". So what do they do if they don't want to leave?
What I noticed, what gelled for me as I drove and listened to Rewind, is what the CBC, in this case Michael Enright and his producers, chose to play for listeners.
Beverly McLachlin was talking about the important issues of building cohesiveness and consistency in the way the country is governed, and about fairness across the board. It sounded like another world.
I'm less naïve than I sound, I realize that the country she and Gzowski were describing 20 years ago still had plenty of problems, but I like their attitude — and I miss the fact that such basic reasonableness is under attack today.