While the spectacle of Trumpism has many Canadians recoiling in dismay, Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch is undeterred. She has made it her mission to import the worst of American far right demagoguery to our political culture.
What else are we to make of her xenophobic propositions like screening immigrants for “Canadian values” or pledging support for a tip-line to report “barbaric cultural practices”?
Leitch is just the latest politician to exploit the growing tide of nativism sweeping the U.S. and Europe, where reactionary figures like Trump and France’s Marine Le Pen have employed divisive and hateful language to court controversy and significantly boost their popularity.
In a message sent to her supporters on November 9, the day after the U.S. presidential election, Leitch celebrated Donald Trump and the Republicans’ victory as an “exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada.”
So far, this approach has worked. Since announcing her plans for immigration reform, overall awareness of Leitch among Conservative voters has risen. She’s blown the party’s leadership race wide open.
But for all the fearmongering, her recent vow to “dismantle” the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation may be the most disheartening.
To Leitch, the CBC is little more than a dispensable relic serving no inherent or natural purpose in Canadian civil society.
“Just like in the private sector,” she wrote in a November 24 news release, “if a company isn’t competitive and isn’t profitable, it shouldn’t be in business…and we must level the playing field.”
It apparently doesn’t matter to Leitch that the public broadcaster is governed by a mandate to “contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,” reflect Canada’s pluralistic society and provide critical and balanced reporting — telling Canadian stories while confronting the serious political and social issues of the day.
Particularly for those in the North, the CBC provides an essential public service. It is a beloved institution cherished by many across the country. The CBC’s real value cannot rationally be measured simply by the amount of profit it generates.
“The CBC is one of the rare media outlets that has improved considerably in the digital age without abandoning its traditional strengths,” as Montreal-based journalist Peter Wheeland recently commented on a Facebook post.
Indeed, the broadcaster has adapted favourably to an online-focused landscape. It has retained its devoted radio listeners, added opinion journalism and cultivated a substantial social media presence buttressed by engaging multimedia and mobile-friendly content.
The idea that government should be run like a business, promoting a corporate mantra of efficiency over excellence, is precisely the ideology behind the policies which cut a quarter of a billion dollars from the CBC’s budget during the Harper decade, leading to a string of layoffs.
Years of rolling austerity have hurt the broadcaster’s ability to honour its mandate and deepen its relationship with Canadians. At just $33 per person, Canada ranks third in terms of the lowest level of per-capita funding for public broadcasting. That’s 60 per cent less than the $82 average across nearly 20 Western countries. Topping the list is Norway, where the government-owned NRK receives nearly $180 per capita.
The current Liberal government pledged an extra $150 million annually for the CBC through 2021 in its last budget, but challenges remain. Around 35 per cent of the CBC’s revenues are derived from commercial sources, but the shrinking viability of digital advertising sales and pronounced competition mean new solutions are needed. For starters, per capita public funding should increase to a level that is proportionate to other wealthy nations like the United Kingdom.
Of course, the BBC’s world-renowned programming isn’t produced on a shoestring. Britons pay three times more than the average Canadian for public broadcasting, while the corporation earns only seven per cent more in revenues from commercial activities.
Leitch’s urge to privatize the CBC is not just a Tory tradition. Governments tend to loathe a vigorous and well funded media. Why is this so? Because an effective fifth estate, operating outside of the mainstream, strives for truth and holds leaders to account. Without a watchdog, the consent of the public is too easily manufactured by the powerful.
The CBC needn’t suffer the same pitfalls as corporate media organizations because of ideological and expedient policies that abandon it to fend for itself in the wilderness of the free market.
If Leitch wants to relate to those beyond the fringes of her base, she should recognize that, to millions of people, the CBC is an embodiment of what it means to be Canadian, not something that is contrary to “Canadian values.” The sooner she recognizes this, the quicker the federal Conservatives will move towards some semblance of legitimacy.
Harrison Samphir is an independent writer and researcher and the web editor at Canadian Dimension Magazine. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Sussex. Email him at hsamphir[at]gmail[dot]com and follow him on Twitter @HarrySamphir.