They Want to Sell the CBC Headquarters in Toronto

I am appalled. CBC President and CEO Hubert Lacroix unveiled in June his five-year plan for the future of the CBC. Among other things, he indicated that the corporation aims to offload half of its real estate and, if they receive an offer on its flagship Toronto headquarters, “we will certainly entertain it.” Today, I read in the National Post that they have “hired a consultant to help decide whether it should sell its building.” I don’t know about you but, for me, this is the last straw.

The CBC has been the national institution which has brought this country together since it was founded in 1936. Contrary to what the majority in Ottawa may think, the CBC has provided the voice, told the stories, promoted the music, showed the games, encouraged the debate, and prompted the humour, uniting this country for nearly 80 years. From coast to coast to coast, Canadians share what they have heard and seen on the CBC. New immigrants listen to the CBC overseas before they even come to Canada; they learn English listening to the broadcasts and, when they arrive, they are already tuned into the cross-country nature of our nation.

What madness now prevails in the “national” government that it, and its minions on the CBC Board of Directors, are determined to run this gem of our country into the ground? And now they want to sell the building so that they can use the assets to fund current expenses. And when the assets are exhausted? How much easier it will be to end their lease, shut the door and fade away.

In my view, the CBC’s headquarters in Toronto, The Canadian Broadcasting Centre, is a contemporary cathedral. A very special space which has been set aside to promote citizenship and the cultural values of our nation. The Glenn Gould Studio is named after one of Canada’s most famous musicians. Its intimacy, pristine acoustics, and superb technical capacity have made it the venue of choice for untold concerts, radio productions, debates, and community forums. The Barbara Frum Atrium remembers one of Canada’s most articulate broadcasters. Rising to the sky, surrounded by galleries on each floor, the atrium has been the site of many Choral Concerts, Sounds of the Season, Pierre Berton’s memorial. These are community events which bring people together and are broadcast and/or televised across the country. We need more of them in these venues, not a sell-off to the private sector.

Cathedrals, synagogues, temples and mosques are community symbols of religion as a significant force in the culture. So long as a community exists, these remain sacrosanct. We need to redefine our public spaces as places that fulfill similar needs for those who are non-religious. People meet their spiritual needs in a secular society through community and sharing, through music, art, writing and discussion. These are the values the CBC was created to promote and which are embodied in the CBC headquarters on Front Street.

Would they sell off the National Art Gallery? Or the National Museum of Canadian History (as it is now called)? Or the AGO? or the ROM? Would they sell St. Michael’s Cathedral? St. James? or Metropolitan United Church? Would they sell off the University of Toronto? Massey Hall or Roy Thomson Hall? How can the mandarins deprive of us of our civil patrimony just so they can balance the budget?

I remember not so long ago when Peter Gzowski and his cohort, and legions of broadcasters before them, were working from cramped studios in diverse locations on Jarvis Street and elsewhere. The new CBC building brought them all together with the aspiration that the synergy and symbiosis of proximity would allow their talent to nurture a growing country. That building opened as a symbol of the potential of the CBC and what it could give to the nation. It seems that no sooner did the CBC gain the facilities it merited, and earned with yeoman service over the decades, than the mandarins in Ottawa, of both political stripes, determined that its budget could be cut.

What folly!!!! As the second largest country in the world, with a terrain more far-flung than most of its citizens can imagine, with two official languages, a multitude of diverse cultures, many regional distinctions, a host of first nations, and 250,000 immigrants from abroad every year, the need for a national public broadcaster is as great as it has ever been. And since the technology of “broadcasting” has now proliferated to include so many new platforms, the need is as great as ever to build a common community in whatever formats the public uses.

I agree with Wade Rowland, who wrote in the Globe and Mail earlier this year that “the public broadcaster is not a business…. It exists not to make money… but to fill a public need…. The CBC is a public good, like the school system, like medicare, like our universities and colleges, our public museums and galleries.” Who cares if the Globe and Mail, or the National Post, or Bell carry on their businesses from premises which they now lease? They are private for-profit companies. The CBC is a not-for-profit public institution which is essential to the well-being of our nation. In my view, its flagship Toronto headquarters should be designated and preserved in perpetuity as a National Historic Site.

 
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8 comments

  1. Joan

    Thank you for your excellent article on the CBC, Marion!! I too am an enthusiastic viewer and supporter of the CBC’s daily reporting of local and national events!!

  2. Malcolm

    Is this a typical business transaction that many companies do to reduce costs – or is it a real loss of Canadian Identity??

    Selling buildings and leasing them back is a common method of cutting costs. Crown corporations have had issues with this in the past. Most of them do not pay corporate tax, so they cannot depreciate assets in a tax effective way. Instead, they sell the asset to someone that can collect the tax advantage, and lease it back, essentially sharing some of the savings.

    BC Ferries has done this for years. New ferries seem to be routinely sold, – and then leased back on a long term lease. Air Canada used to do the same as a crown corp. and they continue to do this today. In fact, when I last looked, most of the Air Canada fleet was leased. Many of the big buildings that you see in Toronto are not owned by the company that has their name on the outside…

    I too enjoy the CBC, but I would certainly prefer that they spent their resource money on program assets – or other things that will result in better ongoing content. I don’t support putting large amounts of money into a large building – when they can rent the same building – at a lower cost.

    I tend to support the concept of you argument – but is it real – or is it a result of our tax system – and the change may have no impact at all on the operation of the CBC. Perhaps I have missed something here???

  3. Fred Irvine

    Well “they” (that is to say the current, not particularly progressive, Conservative government) would do so; would they not? Last time I checked the CBC was not on the current federal government’s list of most popular institutions: for them the acronym CBC means Communist Broadcasting Corporation . As to whether “they” would sell off the National Art Gallery or the National Museum of Canadian History; probably not, at least before the next election. As to the AGO or the ROM (not to speak of St Michael’s Cathedral, St James, or Metropolitan United Church; or even the University of Toronto, Massey Hall or Roy Thompson Hall), these are not federally owned or constituted institutions, and are thus are beyond the power of a Conservative federal government to sell or better still liquidate, however much they might want to so. Maybe it it just a lawyer’s point of view but the legal fact is that you cannot sell or liquidate what you do not own or control. So far.

  4. Marlene Koehler

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Marion. This might be a very useful op ed piece.
    Not sure what to think of Malcolm’s comment – isn’t there a difference between airplanes or non-descript office buildings and the CBC building in Toronto.
    And, Fred, while the AGO and ROM, etc, are not federal buildings, I would think Marion’s point is that we wouldn’t want to see the appropriate bodies sell those buildings either.

  5. Malcolm

    Marion – it appears that some of your most vocal opposition comes from within your family… to quote John Godfrey – a former MP from Toronto… after a similar discussion many years ago in a local paper… (I recall that the discussion was about the movie The Tin Drum…) “surely family…. we could settle this around the kitchen table!!!”

  6. Bob I

    You know, this is a very “cbc listener” reaction.

    Sure, the leasing of property rather than owning it is a common (read: near universal) commercial practice. Sure, it makes sense to have buldings owned and operated by professional landlords rather than by the people who thought Jian Ghomeshi was a genius. Sure, all sorts of “public” spaces (churches, synogogues, mosques, courthouses, university facilities) are leased rather than owned. I can think of a number of courthouses in the GTA for which that’s also true (College Park, the federal and superior court facilities in the Canada life bulding, as well as the superior court facilities north of Osgoode Hall). Nor it is obvious why the quality of events at the cbc building would be remotely effected by the fact that it’s owned by XYZ Realty Inc. (or more likely XYZ REIT) rather than Elizabeth Windsor.

    But no, it’s the Harper government being evil (cue scary music). Seriously, people, get out of the echo chamber.

  7. Des

    If XYZ Corporation is only interested in buying the building and leasing it back because it can make a profit in part through the tax advantage described by Malcom , does that not mean that the tax not collected by Revenue Canada simply impoverishes the Crown which ,in turn, funds the CBC ? How is that an advantage to the taxpayer ?

  8. Anne-Marie and Tom

    Well noted, Marion.
    We strongly agree with your blog piece about selling off the CBC headquarters building and could not help thinking of what Elizabeth May quoted as the start to her dissection of the Harper ‘vision’ (link below):
    “You won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it,” Stephen Harper in 2006,
    -Noah Richler, National Post, May 5, 2012
    CBC, and Canada, are already near ‘unrecogniz-ability’. The programming cuts to the CBC radio budget have made it a shadow of its former self.
    We humbly submit that the country is in much need of an ‘Anti-error-ism Act’ to prevent further debacles and to safeguard our national fabric.
    http://www.greenparty.ca/en/blogs/7/2013-01-31/how-re-make-country

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