By CBC President Catherine Tait
As the CBC is faced with yet another round of unfair budget cuts resulting in the unavoidable layoffs of more than 600 employees, it is clear what is at risk: CBC executive bonuses.
Since its inception, the CBC has been a paragon of original Canadian content, and that content extends to the contents of our executives’ paycheques.
To borrow a phrase from Pierre Trudeau, as we live next to the proverbial cultural elephant that is the United States, Canadians are overexposed to depictions of American media executive bonuses in news and pop culture bleeding over the border.
These American media executive bonuses do not reflect the unique cultural mosaic of Canadian media executive bonuses. For one, they are paid in American dollars. Secondly, they are paid by a small group of private shareholders, rather than every single Canadian taxpayer, which is a beautiful and unique cultural nuance we must cherish and preserve.
Indeed, over the decades, the CBC has brought Canadians and the world many of the cultural mainstays that have defined Canadian arts and culture for the world. Incredible, groundbreaking shows like Trailer Park Boys, Kenny vs Spenny, Letterkenny, Slings & Arrows, and Orphan Black. Sure, none of those shows were made by the CBC, but our development executives got bonuses anyway, a cultural phenomena unique to Canada we must protect.
If Canadian media and entertainment is to be taken seriously, we must show that we too can pay talentless, underperforming media executives outrageous bonuses that rival the rest of the world.
Canadian TV executives are already making great inroads. In order to keep up this momentum, we must ensure we can continue to pay executives large sums of taxpayer money to fly to LA and wine and dine Netflix executives into licensing the 2-3 shows that are too good to dump on CBC Gem. Shows like Schitt’s Creek, Kim’s Convenience, and Schitt’s Creek.
The above cultural arguments aside, calls to forgo bonuses for CBC executives overlook the fact that many of these bonuses are contractually agreed upon when they were hired. For ethical and legal reasons, contracts must be honoured. Except for the contracts of the 600 workers we laid off, that was different.
Even if there was a legal avenue to withhold executive bonuses, one should bear in mind that these bonuses are intended to attract and retain top media talent. How else could we attract the top media minds in the country who are tasked with bringing Canadians high quality cultural content? Content like a knockoff of an American game show and 17 seasons of a Wish.com version of Yellowstone.
Not every media executive has the talent, taste, and vision to remove the “g” from Workin’ Moms or greenlight 2 seasons of Strays. Attracting and retaining these top performers requires top compensation.
Moreover, it is misleading to claim that only executives receive bonuses. Much of our on air talent also receives bonuses. People like Eugene Levy, Dan Levy, Sarah Levy, and other members of the Levy family have been given additional compensation for their contributions to Canadian culture.
In sum, Canadian media executive bonuses reflect a unique piece of our cultural output. To restrict these bonuses would be nothing short of restricting Canadian culture itself. As for me, an executive myself, I am proud to go to work every day for Canadians to bring them critically acclaimed news, drama, and comedies, because at the end of the day, they’re the ones who pay my salary… and bonus… and car allowance… and housing stipend… and business class work travel.