CBC “Post”-script

April 18th, 2012
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There are so many layers to the CBC debate that  I can’t resist adding some (more)comment. I feel a little bad singling out Jonathan Kay for criticism – because I agree with many of his views – but the CBC is such a hot button for many taxpayers that it simply screamed out for rebuttal. Full disclosure, and perhaps I should have made this clear last time – I know Jonathan Kay personally and he was my editor at the National Post for several years, while MrK and I were still able to write more frequently.

It’s what Jonathan describes as a commonly held view of the CBC’s role: the “creation and sustenance” of a “coast-to-coast identity” that I keep coming back to. As discussed in my last entry, the identity created by the CBC is one that many Canadians feel does not reflect them and their views.

But what of the broader question of whether such an identity needs “creation” in the first place? I think there is a strong argument to be made that Canadian identity is formed organically through our individual and shared experiences. I would argue that, every day, Jonathan Kay is building this identity, as much or more than anyone at the CBC. So are the private television networks, CTV and Global, not to mention Sunmedia.

That commerciality is somehow incompatible with identity building simply doesn’t follow. Is the little-watched CTV Newsnet any less Canadian than the little-watched CBC Newsworld? A model of national identity that depends on a group of elite arbiters at a public broadcaster in Toronto seems, again, incongruous with the age of instant networking. Come to think of it, CBC’s centralized arbitration of culture and identity didn’t work that well in its heyday 30 or 40 years ago. Did traditional fiddling or church music become less meaningful to people just because CBC executives decided to cancel Don Messer and Hymn Sing?

The second part of what JK gives as typical justifications for tax-subsidy of CBC is the “support of homegrown artists and intellectuals”. You get into deep water on this one pretty quickly. It’s the latter that he defends specifically in his piece.

This is odd. The fact that he wrote a well-researched, provocative book should speak for itself. Sure, it would be nice to get extra recognition on a tax-subsidized network, but is it necessary or even desirable? Call me a contrarian, but I don’t see the point of seeking affirmation from what Matt Gurney calls a “self-styled elite”, nor do I see any attraction at being part of some kind of pan-Canadian collection of intellectuals. What litmus tests would my ideas and conduct have to pass and what “incorrect” positions would I have to drop or soften to gain favour? Again, the ability in the digital age to interact with sympathetic, sharp, original thinkers spontaneously – without application of any ideological yardsticks – seems much more preferable.

I needn’t remind readers that the new conservative movement in Canada, which began in the mid-1980′s, arose completely outside of, and essentially in opposition to the pre-existing “Canadian consensus”. In fact, the “right-thinkers” of the political establishment and commentariat went through a kind of mini 12-step process over the years with regard to the new conservatism. It went something like: first ignoring it – then surprise – then virulent,  vehement opposition – then smouldering contempt and/or ongoing derangement. Notice that, unlike other psychological processes, with much of the establishment has been no ultimate stage like “acceptance” or “resignation”.

It’s probably no exaggeration to say that many conservatives wear the contempt of the old establishment like a badge of honour. Our ideas, like Jonathan Kay’s work, stand on their own merit. It would be nice to have our ideas subsidized by others, especially our opponents, but let’s not stoop to that.

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By John Weissenberger