Friday, February 27, 2009

CBC versus The Tar Sands, Future versus the Past

"There's substantial financing for CBC in the budget: $1 billion...traditionally, in recent years, they've received an additional $60 million." Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance quoted in The Toronto Star, 26 February 2009

"...much of the approximately $1.4 billion in annual tax breaks to the oil and gas industry will continue until at least 2015..." From the ecojustice website, 2007

"The federal government has confirmed that it will spend $1.5 billion dollars in additional subsidies to tar sands companies as a result of its slow phase out of tax breaks for one of Canada’s largest greenhouse gas emitting (GHG) industries." From the Tar Sands Watch website, 2008
Due to a sharp drop in advertising revenue, CBC, like all Canadian broadcasters, is facing budget red. Well, one could say they should just take their lumps and cut cut cut like the private broadcasters. Flaherty is probably not alone in hoping that this shortfall will lead to CBC's demise. But that would be pretty short sighted.

Alone of all the broadcasters, CBC showcases our culture to us during prime-time night in and night out. It's ratings have risen sharply these past couple of years as it has determinedly focussed on fulfilling the first letter of its name. In contrast, CTV has been determinedly downplaying its first letter. And Global and Citytv have fallen somewhere in between.

This is not just about Canadian boosterism, this is about how our tax dollars determine where we're headed as a country together. The Conservatives do not blink an eye when chucking money the tar sands way. It's a way that harks back to our beginnings when Canadians, mostly a rural lot, were hewers of wood, drawers of water, and pumpers of oil. Canada built her economy on her plentiful natural resources, shipping the wood, oil, and rocks down south or elsewhere along with the value-added jobs. Some of these jobs were created here, but oil refineries are now falling apart and are not being replaced. Chalk River is nearing the end of its life and not being replaced. Value-added jobs are the ones that create more wealth for a nation than simply pumping the oil out and shipping it off to another country.

CBC not only creates value-added jobs here, but it also creates jobs of the future. The world is in the midst of an information revolution. Jobs are shifting from manufacturing and resources to creative- and knowledge-based work. While natural resources jobs dropped 0.6% and manufacturing 5.2% from December to January, scientific gained 0.3% and cultural dropped only 0.3%. In fact, the information, culture, and recreation sector employs more than twice the number of Canadians as the natural resources sector. You could say a subsidy buck to information and culture gets more bang than in the oil patch.

Canadians excel in all creative endeavours from software design to innovations to space technology to medical pioneering to arts, including television shows. These jobs create other jobs in Canada; these jobs often require more education and thus are usually going to pay more; and through licensing and exports to other countries, these jobs result in wealth flowing back towards us. Once the oil (and wood) flows south, that's it, no more wealth coming back. If anything we pay more if we then have to import refined oil or paper back up here because the jobs created in other countries to make those products increase the value of the basic oil and wood.

The government though still sees us as pumpers of oil genuflecting to the superior intellect of the American workforce. Thus they drag their feet in decreasing subsidies to the oil sector, while complaining about helping the CBC ensure the steady employment of workers who both reflect our identity back to us and stabilize our economy. There's no boom and bust in creativity like in oil. The CBC is more than just news and Fifth Estate; its main function is to make our culture strong. Watching CBC dramas and comedies, heck all Canadian programming on all stations, we see us, all of us, our quirkiness, our humour, our regional similarities, our diversity, our courage to see as just another Canadian Muslims, Jews, Caribbean-Canadians, our ancestors, our innovators living in Toronto, Saskatchewan, Vancouver, connected to each other in our land. It's exciting. Finally, I can see myself on the boob tube night after night. No more jobs created in a foreign land for another's amusement or enlightenment tossed casually to me as a way to create more wealth for Americans and Brits. These Canadian shows create jobs for my fellow Canucks specifically to speak to and entertain me.

But while the world trips merrily along to the future and Canada's citizens long to lead that train, the Harper government gazes to the past in a nostalgic mist of unthinking tax policy, subsidizing the oil, disdaining the knowledge and culture.

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