Politics

CBC/Radio-Canada to cut 10 per cent of workforce, end some programming as it faces $125M budget shortfall

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio-Canada announced Monday that it plans to cut about 10 per cent of its workforce and axe some programming to cope with a $125 million budget shortfall.

Public broadcaster says most cuts will take effect over the coming year 

Pedestrians cross the foyer of the Radio-Canada headquarters in Montreal on Oct. 31, 2023.
Pedestrians cross the foyer of the Radio-Canada headquarters in Montreal in October 2023. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio-Canada announced Monday that it plans to cut about 10 per cent of its workforce and axe some programming to cope with a potential $125 million budget shortfall.

In a news release, the public broadcaster said it plans on cutting 600 union and non-union positions across the entire organization. The corporation said about 200 vacant positions will be eliminated on top of that.

CBC and Radio-Canada, the French-language arm, will each be cutting in the range of 250 jobs, while the rest of the cuts will come from the technology and infrastructure department and other corporate divisions, said spokesperson Leon Mar.

He said some of the cuts will begin immediately but most will take effect over the coming year.

CBC/Radio-Canada — which received around $1.3 billion in public funding in the 2022-2023 fiscal year — also announced Monday it will reduce its English and French programming budgets for the next fiscal year and cut about $40 million from independent production commissions and program acquisitions. CBC programming will take a $25 million hit and Radio-Canada will see a $15 million reduction. 

The corporation said earlier this year it had begun cutting $25 million through measures such as limiting travel, sponsorships and marketing, and delaying technology initiatives.

The public broadcaster blamed its budget issues on "rising production costs, declining television advertising revenue and fierce competition from the digital giants."

CBC/Radio-Canada said it's also grappling with "forecast reductions" to its parliamentary funding beginning in the next fiscal year. A fund to help the public broadcaster offset revenue losses during the pandemic is also ending, it said. The fund supplied the CBC with $21 million a year for two years.

WATCH | CBC president addresses staffing cuts, impact on Canadians:

CBC president addresses staffing cuts, impact on Canadians

6 months ago
Duration 10:09
Catherine Tait, the president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, talks to Adrienne Arsenault about the corporation announcing it will cut roughly 10 per cent of the workforce and what difference Canadians will notice.

In an interview, CBC/Radio-Canada president Catherine Tait said she hopes Canadians "won't notice too much."

"Journalism is core and wherever possible we are trying to protect those positions," she told The National host Adrienne Arsenault.

"So my hope is that certainly in local news and in the regions, there won't be that dramatic an impact for our audiences." 

Tait said the audience may notice some changes to prime time television.

"Fewer programs on Gem, for example, perhaps not all the renewals of your favourite series, and perhaps fewer episodes of some of your favourite series," she said.

Tait says CBC/Radio-Canada facing a 'perfect storm'

When asked how the corporation ended up with such a large shortfall, Tait said the public broadcaster has obligations that differ from those of its private sector competitors.

"We serve minority language communities in the areas outside of Quebec for francophones. We're in the in the North. These are markets that will never be commercially viable, but it's important work and it's absolutely core to our mission," she said.

"But we also have the same pressures with respect to inflation, cost of production, cost of operations, declines in revenue related to our traditional television services. All of that has created a perfect storm."

When asked if the corporation would drop bonuses given the job cuts, Tait said "it's too early to say."

"We'll be looking at that like we do all our line items in the coming months," she said.

The proposed cuts come as collective bargaining continues between CBC and the Canadian Media Guild. 

Naomi Robinson, the union's CBC branch president, said the broadcaster has been challenged by decades of successive cuts.

"These job losses will impose additional burdens on employees who are already grappling with making ends meet on wages that have not kept pace with the rising cost of living," she said in a media statement.

"While our members remain committed to their work with Canada's public broadcaster, the reduction in journalists and technicians means that fewer stories will be told, and the richness of Canada's narrative will diminish."

Robinson said it's "imperative for the public broadcaster to have secure funding immune to political interference."

Time to re-think CBC's mandate: journalism prof

Chris Waddell, professor emeritus at Carleton University's school of journalism, said the cuts come as no surprise at a time when news organizations around the world are struggling.

The author of the book The End of the CBC? said it's time for the federal government to take a serious look at the role of the public broadcaster.

"I would argue that they should get out of everything except news and current affairs. Get out of entertainment programming, get out of children's programming, get out of sports programming as well. There are other people who do that," he said.

"They're trying to do everything for everybody. And in a time of declining advertising revenue and competition, you can't afford to do that anymore. You have to pick areas that you think you can be good at and better than anyone else and focus on them."

Waddell said he'd like to see CBC stop taking private advertising dollars and allow other organizations to take its content.

"What we need to see, I think, is a very different CBC that has no advertising, that focuses on narrower things, whose content is available to anyone free that wants to use it. Because that would be a big help to small news organizations and local news organizations that have lost their own reporters," he said.

"And also because most Canadian news organizations have pulled out of international news coverage. CBC still is in international news coverage and should be doing more in international news coverage, I would argue. And make that available to any broadcasters or any websites in Canada as well."

WATCH: Heritage minister discusses CBC's future  

Federal minister on CBC/Radio-Canada’s future

6 months ago
Duration 1:55
Amid reports of pending job cuts, Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge says CBC/Radio-Canada plays a unique role in informing Canadians domestically and internationally.

The layoffs at CBC/Radio-Canada are just the latest disruption in Canadian journalism in recent months.

Earlier this fall Nordstar, the company that owns the Toronto Star and other newspapers, announced that it would be seeking bankruptcy protection for the unit that owns more than 70 local newspapers and cutting about 60 per cent of its total workforce — about 600 jobs.  

In June, Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) Inc. announced it would be axing 1,300 positions and closing or selling nine radio stations.

At the time, Bell — the parent company of CTV National News, BNN and CP24 — said the job cuts were a response to unfavourable public policy and regulatory conditions that it could no longer wait out.

Liberals plan to update CBC/Radio-Canada's mandate 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tasked Heritage Minister Pascal St-Onge with updating CBC/Radio-Canada's mandate. Speaking to reporters Monday, St-Onge said she hopes to start that process "as soon as possible."

"Even though there is a very difficult media crisis impacting all our broadcasters right now, we still need to revise CBC/Radio-Canada's mission and mandate and make sure that it fits the current situation, but still making sure that we have a strong public broadcaster," she said.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has frequently pitched defunding CBC.

At a recent policy convention, the party's Quebec caucus defended keeping Radio-Canada.

"It's a sad day," said Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, who represents Saskatoon—Grasswood.

"On the weekend I talked to several media people back home and it's bleak more than ever. This is just a continuation. I don't know the way out."

NDP critic Peter Julian called news of the cuts "devastating." 

"For many people, especially those in northern, remote and Indigenous communities, CBC/Radio-Canada is one of the few sources of reliable and bilingual news across Canada," he said in a media statement.

"New Democrats want to see the Liberals take real steps to protect news in communities that rely heavily on CBC/Radio-Canada to stay connected with the rest of the country."

The Canadian Media Producers Association said it was too early to comment on the proposed cuts to programming.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC's Parliament Hill bureau, where she covers national security and the RCMP. She worked previously for CBC in Nova Scotia. You can reach her at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca