Harper’s next target: the CBC.

Let’s see now, what’s next on the Conservative agenda?

Shut down the wheat board, despite the protests of farmers? Check.

Enact a tough-on-crime agenda that throws more and more people in jail, despite the fact that every expert in the world tells you what you’re doing is wrong? Check.

Tack the word ‘royal’ to as much crap as possible, turning back the clock to a colonial era? Check.

Withdraw from the Kyoto accord, because it’s just too much work? Upcoming check.

Yes, it’s been a busy time for Stephen Harper, who is succeeding in remaking Canada in his own image. So, what’s left to do?

Well, the CBC is still intact. But not for long.

Last week, the Conservatives gave the Destroy the CBC file over to Edmonton-St. Albert carbon blob Brent Rathgeber. If you’ve never heard of Rathgeber, don’t worry; Rathgeber isn’t a household name in his own household. (Back in my reporter days, I interviewed Rathgeber when he was running for the provincial PCs. He was, without a doubt, the single least impressive electoral candidate I have ever met. And he won, of course.)

Last week, Rathgeber tabled in the Commons four questions about the CBC. He wants to know the salaries and perks CBC gives to its star performers (a very short list), how much the CBC spent on Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy (which, by the way, are the CBC’s only two American import shows, as compared to CTV and Global, who spend untold millions on American shows), how much the CBC’s bureaus in Paris, London, Washington and Rome spend on hospitality, etc, and a list of all CBC employees who make more than $100,000.

The Harper government’s loathing for all things CBC (except when Harper can use the CBC to his advantage by appearing in friendly spots with toothless satirist Rick Mercer) is well known. Conservatives believe the CBC is too liberal in its leanings, although I have yet to see or read any real evidence of this so-called bias. Given their druthers, the Harper government would turn the CBC over to private broadcasters, which would give us yet another outlet for American programming. (Rathgeber’s blog (http://www.brentrathgeber.ca/brents-blog) gives an insight into just how clueless Rathgeber is. He points to CTV as a producer of programs that are “comparable to anything produced by the CBC”, and cites Canadian Idol and the comedy Dan for Mayor. Canadian Idol, despite strong audience numbers, was cancelled three years ago. Dan for Mayor, a comedy I grew to like, was cancelled after a couple of seasons of being bumped around the schedule to make room for imported TV. Perhaps Rathgeber should have mentioned So You Think You Can Dance, Canada, which, again despite strong viewership, was cancelled this year by CTV.)

So, what’s the point of asking for the salaries of CBC employees? It’s obvious: Conservative supporters are (in the famous words of Justice John Gomery in describing Jean Chretien’s monogrammed golf balls) ‘small town cheap’. The Tories know that they could cause outrage in their base if they knew how much Peter Mansbridge made, or how much George Stroumboulopoulos is paid (once they got over the shock that someone named Stroumboulopoulos is on the CBC), or how much Kevin O’Leary is raking in for humiliating people on Dragon’s Den, or the outrageous salary of Ron MacLean gets for kissing Don Cherry’s ass on Hockey Night in Canada.

Going after the CBC also works in favour of the unofficial Conservative house organ, the Sun newpaper chain, and its hilariously amateurish ”news” channel, Sun news. Quebecor, which owns both, sees the CBC as a competitor using public dollars, and wants it gone. The Conservatives, who have a love-love relationship with Sun newspapers and TV, is only too happy to oblige.

Now, I’m not a rabid supporter of CBC Radio the way some people are (I like Q with Jian Ghomeshi sometimes), and most of what CBC TV offers up I can safely ignore (Little Mosque on the Prairie? Please.), just the way I ignore most of what American network TV offers (Glee? Please.). But we’re getting pretty good value for our $1.1 billion we spend on CBC (nation-wide English and French radio and TV networks). And CBC is a beacon of creativity compared to CTV (name one Canadian show on CTV) or Global (same question), both of which devote almost all of their prime-time hours, and hundreds of millions of dollars, to rebroadcasting American TV that we already get on cable.

The Harper government, using a deservedly obscure MP, has launched another attack on the CBC, which is driven not by responsible financing, but by perceived slights over the years. It’s the beginning of a vindictive, scorched earth attack on the CBC that Harper and his goon government know will find a receptive audience in small-town cheap Canada.

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Marg Delahunty vs. Rob Ford: Plenty of stupid to go round.

The Centre of the Universe has been convulsed for days now over the great Rob Ford Doesn’t Have 22 Minutes brouhaha. It’s so insipid, with so much egg on so many faces, it deserves comment, even this far from the Centre of the Universe.

First, some background.

Rob Ford is the mayor of Toronto who seems to be beloved by some, despised by others. From what I’ve been able to gather, he is a bit of a right-winger, so much of one that he had Don Cherry speak at his swearing in ceremony. The Toronto elite is quite appalled that a right-wing idiot is in charge of their World Class City. (Toronto is suffering a severe case of Nenshi envy: they can’t believe that Calgary has elected a hip Muslim, while the Centre of the Universe has Rob Ford.)

The other player in this sorry saga is Mary Walsh, a performer on the long running (19 seasons, which, by the standards of some CBC shows, makes it a youngster) CBC news satire program, This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Walsh plays a character named Marg Delahunty, whose specialty is ambushing politicians. This is apparently considered to be quite funny for some, and by “some” I mean the 0.000001 per cent of the population that watches, or has ever watched, 22 Minutes. Here’s a sampling of some of her work.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r55aONsoIlw

Anyway, Walsh (in her Delahunty character) thought it would be funny to ambush Ford at his home as he squeezed himself into his car to take his daughter to school. Here’s the bit as seen on 22 Minutes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjD4tD5-mnA

Not particularly funny, but then, very little on 22 Minutes is particularly funny. But things get absolutely hilarious off screen. Ford, apparently terrified by a middle-aged woman with a microphone, went into his house and phoned 911 in a profanity-laced, panicky call. He apparently got really angry when the police didn’t respond, and phoned back with one of those “do you know who I am?” calls, only with plenty of F-words.

Things got even more complicated when a CBC report claimed that Ford called the 911 dispatchers “bitches”, which was later refuted by Toronto’s police chief. This, of course, gave CBC haters (that would be anything owned by Quebecor) a chance to turn on the CBC for its inaccurate report.

This bit of silliness has led to lots of chatter amongst the Toronto chattering classes. Some people feel Ford overreacted, and there was no excuse for profanity. Others feel the CBC stepped over the line in invading a politician’s privacy.

Well, guess what? They’re both right.

First, Ford’s reaction was incredible. Was he in actual fear for his life? It’s entirely possible that he had no idea who Mary Walsh is (I would generously say 98% of Canadians couldn’t identify her either), but clearly this was something for TV. A politician with an ounce of common sense would play along, and the whole thing blows over. Calling 911 just solidified the views of many that the man is an idiot.

BUT… 22 Minutes did step over the line. Politicians do have a right to a private life, and accosting a politician outside his home on his way to work is an invasion of his privacy. Politicians, particularly high-profile ones like Ford, live life in a fishbowl. I think most Canadians believe our politicos deserve to be left alone while they’re at home. Politics is a bad enough business without being accosted outside your own home.

So, there’s plenty of egg to go around. Ford panicked and looked stupid, and Walsh overstepped an invisible line. And all this over a lousy 3 minute bit on a show hardly anyone watches.

Metro plays the blame CBC game, but it’s just shabby reporting.

So, I picked up a copy of Metro on Friday. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a free newspaper (in the broadest sense of the world) that is filled with stories of maybe 200 words. Most of it is advertising, and a big piece of the editorial space is filled with celebrity gossip. It’s the kind of newspaper read by people who don’t read newspapers.

Anyway, I grabbed it because of the blazing front-page headline: “OILER FANS MAD OVER CBC SNUB”. That has all the elements of a story to get the old western Canadian blood boiling: Edmonton Oilers slighted by big, bad, Toronto-centric CBC. Prepare to be outraged, I thought.

I’m outraged, all right. But only at the shabby quality of reporting in Metro.

“CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada is leaving some Oiler fans feeling snubbed after the release of its broadcast schedule for the upcoming hockey season,” the story begins.

The story says the “broadcast company” (it’s called a corporation, by the way) will show “only 13 of the Edmonton Oilers’s 82 games”. As for the supposed outrage from fans, the writer quotes two random people as being mildly peeved. Who these people are, aside from being Oiler fans, is not expanded upon.  Using ‘streeters’ (random quotes from ill-informed people walking down the street) is shabby journalism, always has been, always will be. It is not, in any way, a gauge of public opinion. It’s something you see on television news.

Anyway, opinion of supposedly angry fans aside, what about the facts of the story?

First, the story is factually incorrect. The CBC is showing only 12 of the Oilers’ 82 games. That should make an Oiler fan even angrier, right?

But what the story doesn’t say is that the Oilers are playing only 16 Saturday games all season. So, put another way, the CBC is showing 12 of the Oilers’ 16 Saturday games. But why don’t they show them all, you ask. Well, of the 16 Oiler Saturday games, the four the CBC is not showing are afternoon games. With a few exceptions for season opener games and rare mid-week games, the CBC airs Hockey Night in Canada at night (hence the title) and only on Saturday. It’s been that way for more than 50 years. So, the CBC showing 12 Oiler games is perfectly reasonable, considering the Oiler schedule.

The story does, at the end of the story, quotes the CBC as saying it is showing all Saturday night games involving Canadian teams. But the reporter and/or the editor have made up their minds — the CBC is the villain, facts of the story be damned.

I’m sorry, but this is pathetic reporting, even for a free newspaper. There is an attitude in some newspapers (particularly in the Sun chain) that if you really want to get people angry, just blame the CBC for some alleged affront. The CBC does a lot of things wrong, for which it is excoriated mercilessly, and some things right, for which it gets little credit. Trying to pin the “blame” for the Oilers appearing “only” 12 times on the CBC is shoddy journalism.