At 3 p.m. on Feb. 27, only 90 minutes before the federal budget was tabled in the House of Commons, CBC president Anthony Manera was handed a single sheet of paper that made him do a double take. In three neat columns, figures spelled out the bleak financial future of the Crown corporation. By 1998, the CBC was expected to chop $270 million from its $1.1-billion budget, including cuts of $100 million imposed by the Tories. After months of rumbling from the Liberal cabinet, Manera had been suspecting the worst. But he was unprepared for the casual aside at the bottom of the page: Radio-Canada International, an overseas broadcast service operated by Foreign Affairs, was to be reabsorbed by the CBC, along with its annual $15-million price tag. The next day, at 9 a.m., Manera resigned - citing "purely personal reasons" - in a cryptic letter to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Only later did the president make his reason clear. "I will not preside over the dismantling of the CBC," Manera told Maclean's.
While the cornerstone of Canada's cultural industry is indeed besieged, it is unlikely to be dismantled - at least not yet. In last week's budget, $44 million was shaved from the public network's coffers under orders that its mandate undergo yet another review. That alone has shaken the 9,000-member corporation. Since his appointment on Feb. 3, 1994, Manera had struggled to minimize the damage of Tory budget cuts. More troubling to CBC supporters, however, is the fact that the federal government has reneged on its promise to provide the network with the "stable multi-year funding" set out in the Liberals' so-called Red Book of campaign pledges. Last February, Heritage Minister Michel Dupuy wrote to Manera, declaring that Ottawa "does not intend to impose new reductions" on the CBC for at least five years. Last week, Dupuy, as well as Chrétien, denied that such a promise was ever made. "It was indeed an intent, but the world evolves," Dupuy told Maclean's. "The choice of the word 'intent' was deliberate."
Amid the furor in Ottawa over Manera's abrupt resignation, there was some curious dancing around the facts. At first, Dupuy insisted that the 1995-1996 cut was the only figure of any relevance. "All the rest is invention," Dupuy told the House of Commons. But the figures that Manera received on budget day came from Dupuy's deputy minister, Marc Rochon - with, as Dupuy later told Maclean's, the minister's prior knowledge and consent. "I knew that we were looking at 15 per cent over three years for a number of months," Dupuy acknowledged in an interview. "I made a point to keep in touch with Mr. Manera so that he would not be short of information." But Dupuy also confirmed that he never alerted Manera to the transfer of responsibility for Radio-Canada International, because, he said, it would be a breach of budget secrecy. "You know that budget leaks are not welcome," explained Dupuy. "We had to be very tight."
In the House of Commons and in interviews, Dupuy and Chrétien were quick to seize upon Manera's initial explanation that he was resigning after only 12 months of a five-year term for personal reasons. But Manera, a 54-year-old former electronics engineer, eventually confirmed that the cuts were a major - if not the major - factor, telling Maclean's: "I was simply trying to be a good soldier and not raise a fuss. Now that somebody is pushing these kind of lines I have to come right out and say, look, the 'personal reasons' are that what is happening to the CBC affects me very much. I believe in the institution."
If the three-year cutbacks are imposed, says Manera, a total of $350 million will be lopped off the CBC's budget, making it difficult to fulfil its legislated mandate. The projected drop in funding would have wide-reaching ramifications. Manera estimated that as many as 4,000 employees would have to be laid off, while the CBC might need to close more regional stations and merge the am and fm radio networks. Dupuy assured the House of Commons that the CBC will not be privatized. But the new cuts have added fuel to demands, especially by the Reform party, that such options be explored. Said Reform mp Janet Brown: "The CBC cannot continue as we know it today."
That is precisely the concern of many CBC supporters. Ian Morrison, spokesman for the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a 40,000-member lobby group, reserves his harshest criticism for Dupuy, whom he accuses of failing both the public broadcaster and his Liberal colleagues. Said Morrison: "He should have been a messenger between Manera and the cabinet. His failure to do even that kind of communications role just makes him useless." In fact, the lingering question in the cultural industry in the wake of last week's budget is whether the right person resigned.
Maclean's March 13, 1995