There is chaos in the Canadian media. A few weeks after the announcement of 547 layoffs in the Quebec television channel TVA, or a third of the workforce of the subsidiary of the giant Quebecor, Catherine Tait, the CEO of Radio Canada (RC) and its English-speaking counterpart, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ( CBC), is laying off 600 employees and will not renew 200 vacant positions. Or approximately 10% of the positions in the overall workforce, which includes 6,597 permanent employees and 2,065 temporary employees.
The boss of the public radio and television group cited the drop in audiences and an increase in production costs linked to inflation. Not to mention a drop in advertising revenue of 31.2% for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, to the benefit of Google and Meta, as well as a reduction in funding from the federal government of $32 million this year, on a budget of $1 .2 billion dollars. Ottawa recently asked all its ministries and public agencies to reduce their spending by 3%. By dismissing 600 employees, Catherine Tait knows that she is putting pressure on the government. “We decided to review all government spending and we asked the public broadcaster (…) to carry out this exercise, but the final decision has not been made,” cautiously declared the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pascale St-Onge, upon the announcement of the job cuts.
The financing of Radio Canada-CBC is an eminently political subject. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals have always heavily subsidized the broadcaster. The Prime Minister had promised it during his first electoral campaign in 2015. In particular via an additional $675 million to RC-CBC if he was elected. A promise kept, which earned him the recognition of journalists from both channels. For his part, the leader of the Conservatives, Pierre Poilievre, wants to eliminate public funding for the CBC alone, which he accuses of paying "$99 million in bonuses to incompetent executives" and to journalists he considers " liberal spokespersons.”
Radio Canada employees are furious at the idea that their company is paying for the poor audience performance and low advertising revenues of the CBC, which only garners 5% of the audience in English-speaking Canada, compared to 23%. % for Radio Canada in Quebec. And the cuts concern the same number of employees in both entities, while CBC represents 55% of the audiovisual group's budget. Among the causes of the decline of the public audiovisual group's channels, experts agree that the group is present in too many areas: entertainment, information, documentaries... "In wanting to be everywhere, CBC-Radio Canada takes the risk of find nowhere. Radio Canada cannot do everything, let alone try to emulate each of its competitors in the private sector,” said the president of the Radio Canada Workers’ Union, Pierre Tousignant. The audiovisual group is also constrained by its public service obligations. It must broadcast its programs both in Toronto and in Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs, a municipality of less than 100 inhabitants.
Another downside is the consortium's growing payroll and expenses. Nearly 1,000 employees earn more than $100,000 a year. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation noted that the payroll of the highest paid staff increased from $59.5 million in 2015 to $119 million in 2021. The expenses of Radio Canada management raised eyebrows in a context of budgetary restrictions. Like this $7,901 plane ticket between Canada and the Czech Republic, taken by the CEO last October. However, for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, CBC-RC posted a loss of $125 million.
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The consortium is not the only one experiencing difficulties. Bell Media has laid off 1,300 people in 2023 in its television channels, closed six radio stations, citing a migration of its cable subscribers to digital broadcasting platforms. Métro Média, publisher of the daily Métro and around twenty hyperlocal media outlets, has closed its doors. Quebec's regional dailies have laid off 125 employees and are abandoning their paper editions at the end of the year.
Finally, the English-speaking group Postmedia reduced the workforce in the newsrooms of four of its newspapers by 11%. In addition to competition from social networks, there is the rise in the price of paper, which has led to an increase in the retail price of newspapers, while everyone is struggling to stand out from the competition through their excessive use of press agencies. . Only Le Journal de Montréal, with its gossip and investigations, is resisting the crisis. Thanks to a proven recipe: land, only land.