CBC chief spars with conservative MPs as she testifies on executive bonuses

An appearance by the chief executive of Canadian Broadcasting Corp. before a parliamentary committee turned personal Tuesday, even before Catherine Tait faced a barrage of questions from Conservative MPs about executive bonuses.

Ahead of Tait’s testimony, the public broadcaster published a letter he had sent to the committee chair in March, accusing Conservative MPs of deliberately spreading false allegations about the company and Tait.

A CBC executive provided the same letter to the media before the meeting.

The letter said “deliberately false allegations” have damaged Tait’s reputation and that of the CBC. He singled out Conservative MPs Kevin Waugh and Rachael Thomas for comments they had made.

Both had accused Tait of lying and misleading the committee about executive bonuses during a March meeting.

Executive bonuses have been a focus of the committee’s work as it studies recent job cuts made within CBC/Radio-Canada.

During an exchange with Thomas about the timeline for when a decision would be made on whether executives will receive a bonus this year, Tait rejected accusations that he was misleading the committee.

“Either you lied on January 30 or you’re lying now,” Thomas said.

Tait previously told the committee that the decision on bonuses would begin in March, at the end of the fiscal year. But during Tuesday’s committee meeting, Thomas, his party’s wealth critic, took offense when Tait had no updates.

“I really object to being called a liar, which has happened several times. This is not the first time certain members of this committee have called me a liar,” Tait said speaking to Thomas.

“This is the first time in 40 years that someone has addressed me this way,” Tait said, speaking to Thomas.

After the meeting, Tait said there has been a lot of misinformation circulating “from certain members,” but he declined to say who.

“I think you saw in committee what happened. I think I’ll move on to the next question,” he said.

Tait said no decisions have yet been made on executive bonuses for the 2023-24 fiscal year, but the issue will be discussed in mid-June with the board of directors.

After the meeting, Thomas said Tait has been a “fierce advocate for bonuses for both herself and the senior executive team.”

“When asked on numerous occasions whether or not he would consider cutting those bonuses, he dug in and insisted they should be considered. He will not take them off the table.”

But Tait insisted the money is a performance payout that forms part of some employees’ overall total compensation under existing contracts.

In December, CBC announced it was cutting 600 jobs and allowing 200 more vacancies to remain unfilled, along with $40 million in cuts to productions. He said his goal would be to avoid a projected $125 million deficit in fiscal year 2024-25.

But projected new revenue, including a $42 million injection from the federal government, will help make it through this year without further job cuts, Tait told MPs on Tuesday.

In total, the public broadcaster eliminated 205 vacant positions and laid off 141 employees since December, it said.

Twice as many managers were fired as unionized workers, and more employees were laid off within CBC, as opposed to its French arm, Radio-Canada, said Marco Dubé, the company’s chief transformation officer.

“But to be clear, we are not out of the woods,” Tait said in his opening statement to the committee.

“You’ve heard it from other witnesses. All Canadian media organizations face serious challenges in a digital world governed by global actors who simply do not share the same commitment to our country’s interests.”

He told MPs that the public broadcaster is there to keep people informed, build trust, strengthen democracy and promote local culture.

Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge has said she wants to redefine the role of the public broadcaster before the next federal election and has turned to a committee of experts to help her do so.

Tait will remain in her role until January and again did not rule out a bonus for herself, which she said she could receive up to nine months after her departure.

“I’ll have to wait,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2024.

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