What exactly did Parks Canada secretly pay the CBC $65,000 for? - Macleans.ca

What exactly did Parks Canada secretly pay the CBC $65,000 for?

Jesse Brown on the broadcaster’s deal with the government agency


Peter Mansbridge with crew on the Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

Here are some alarming bits from a confidential 2012 agreement between CBC News and Parks Canada:

  • “Parks Canada can benefit from CBC’s broadcast and online experience and platforms to reach Canadians with information in both official languages.”
  • “It is CBC’s intention, but not guarantee, to produce: a documentary segment for The National, an online component on cbc.ca, segments for nightly news on CBC…”
  • “Parks Canada shall pay to CBC a cash contribution of $65,000 CDN.”

The contract was unearthed by the QMI news agency through an Access to Information request (you can read the whole thing here) UPDATE: the identity of the ATIP requester is unknown, but the first to report on this was independent news site Blacklock’s Reporter.  The document lays out a partnership that resulted in Peter Mansbridge and a CBC News crew joining Parks Canada archaeologists in Nunavut as they searched for sunken 19th century ships.  The salvage mission (thus far unsuccessful) was documented over two episodes of The National.

The story was picked up by Huffington Post Canada and various Sun newspapers. Sun News’ Brian Lilley, a regular critic of the CBC, wrote that this was a clear case of the CBC being paid for news coverage.

Late last Friday afternoon, CBC News’ Editor in Chief, Jennifer McGuire, took to her official blog to say it ain’t so.

McGuire writes that her critics have “blurry” vision: the deal was simply a way for the CBC to save money, in two ways:

“The first was to share the costs of chartering a single plane together along with communications costs for phone, email, etc. That was smarter and more fiscally responsible than paying separately. The second was to create a joint website…For us, the motivation was to create a stand-alone website… Creating such a website would have been too expensive for us to do on our own.”

McGuire says Parks Canada’s payment of $65,000 to the CBC was absolutely not payola for a segment on The National–it was reimbursement for their share of the website building costs. The Huffington Post points out that the resulting $65,000 invoice ($74,733.75, after tax) makes no reference to a website, but does say that “CBC will provide news coverage on various platforms.” There’s also no discussion of building a joint website in the contract itself, where the $65,000 fee first appears.

But let’s say that this was still somehow the case and that the money wasn’t for coverage on The National, it was for this site:


Let’s leave aside the head-scratching claim that a simple site like this, built using the CBC’s existing web architecture, somehow cost over $65,000 to produce. Instead, let’s consider the distinction that McGuire is trying to make: Parks Canada paying the CBC to build this site is somehow different than Parks Canada paying the CBC for TV news coverage.

Well, how so?

McGuire calls the site a “standalone…joint” website. It is neither. The site doesn’t stand alone, it sits under CBC.ca’s URL, in the “news” section, as a “feature.” As for being a “joint” site, which suggests it’s not the result of CBC covering Parks Canada, but of teaming up with them, there is no indication of this on the site. There is an embedded Twitter feed from Parks Canada, and you can make of that what you will, but I’d say that there is no reasonable way a visitor would be able to distinguish the site from other CBC news content or have any idea that it was paid for in any way by Parks Canada.

If indeed what Parks Canada was paying for was the website, as McGuire says, then Parks Canada was still paying CBC for news coverage. Whether it was on air or online is irrelevant.

In splitting hairs between television and Internet, between taking money for travel costs (which the CBC’s journalistic standards guide forbids) and taking money to build a website (which the guide neglects to ponder) the CBC is obfuscating, evading, and eroding its credibility.

Viewers don’t care whether or not the CBC found a loophole to its own internal rulebook. And if viewers had been told that a light, puffy adventure story of little political consequence like this was the result of a financial relationship between Parks Canada and the CBC, they might not have cared much about that, either.

But nobody likes getting duped, and no public broadcaster should be striking secret deals with their subjects over news content. It makes one wonder: is this the only such deal, or are there more? With whom?

Until now, when watching The National or visiting CBC.ca, I never imagined for a moment that the subjects of the news stories I found had paid the CBC to be there. But until the CBC makes a complete and honest account of this…well, who knows?

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown


What exactly did Parks Canada secretly pay the CBC $65,000 for?

  1. You do realize, don’t you that Ezra will probably dine out on this for a week or so. Who knows what other scary contracts the CBC has in its closet. Maybe they’re bank rolling all kinds of things like climate change and young Trudeau’s rise in the polls. It’s a liberal media conspiracy fur sure.
    C’mon Jesse. This is pretty weak for you…the cbc secretly doing deals with Parks Canada – the horror!

    • “The horror” indeed.

      If you’ll recall, the search for the Franklin ships was a government initiative, announced personally by Harper. It’s clearly part of his attempt, along with War of 1812 commemorations and putting the “R” back in the Forces, to invoke a Colonial past that his base longs for.
      Now we have a public news agency filling broadcast time with a covert infomercial promoting the initiative.

      It wouldn’t be much of a leap further for the Finance Department to pay the CBC to do fluff pieces about the Economic Action Plan.
      It seems the Conservative shrieks about a “state broadcaster” were just another case of projection – they couldn’t imagine having power over a public broadcaster without turning it into a mouthpiece of the state.

      • I just don’t see the fuss. A lot of people want to see stories about maybe finding Frankin; it really doesn’t bother me if it happens to align on occasion with Harper’s attempts to brand our history with a big C – at least the parts he likes. I just don’t think most people are that small minded as to go aha…there you go, we are a Conservative country after all.[ any more then they buy we are a large L liberal country cuz Trudeau gave us the charter]
        Harper’s exercise is doomed to failure except where people do want to see our past military exploits honoured. The rest they will just sluff off.
        I get the cbc shouldn’t be making secret contracts with anyone, but If this was simply out there in plain daylight i doubt many people would be going – Park’s Canada! What the hell next!

        • I don’t think the objective is to convince Canadians of anything, so much as it’s a dog whistle to the base. But, that’s beside the point.
          How would you feel if the finance department was paying the CBC to send Peter Mansbridge around the country, posing in front of EAP signs?

          • Obviously not good. I’m just not convinced a contract with PC necessarily is a slippery slope toward becoming a govt patsy. At the moment we can safely leave that up to sun tv. I guess we’ll have see if there are more secret deals before I start worrying.

        • Well at least they’re not doing a knock-off of ‘Parks and Recreation’. Even if they were they’d be the only ones to carry it. Canadian actors portraying a made in Canada TV feature? What’s next on the agenda? Steve’s Big Adventure with the Arctic Rangers?

    • Well, the CBC should confound us all and do a story
      on Brian Lilley. Get one of CBCNN’s shiny young things
      to talk loudly, with dramatic emphasis, and wave her hands.
      It’d be great.

    • When the CBC keeps the ‘news story alive for weeks on end’ that Bev Oda consumed some $16,00 orange juice on the public dime (Oh, the horror!!), then it would be nice if Peter Mansbridge himself would come clean on how many glasses of orange juice HE has consumed on the tax payer’s dime.

      But the CBC is taking the government to court if the government presses for opening the CBC books. Go figure!

      • Selective memory Francien: The $16.00 orange juice + the move to a more expensive hotel + the limo rides from aforementioned hotel to conference being held in hotel where she was originally booked. And what was the conference about – POVERTY!

        • “June 26, 2012 – Canadian Mental Health Association – Halton Region, Burlington, ON. $20,000”

          Justin is clever. He knows how to pluck from the mentally ill.

          • Hey, when you’re caught lying, shouting “Justin!” is as good as anything else.

          • The issue of the coiffing costs of the PM weighs heavily on all of us.

          • Give it a rest Francien. Your response in no way relates to my response to you.

          • But did you know that limos picked up Justin when he delivered his speeches (for hefty fees of course) to schools and universities?

            Yes, limo service to pick up Justin from the airport!

            But when Justin does it, it’s ok, right? When Justin abuses the system, it is considered a virtue, right?

          • Again I say – give it up. There is a vast difference between a Government Minister’s lavish travel expenses on the taxpayer dime & non-governmental organizations agreeing to hire an MP as a speaker, for whatever fee/expenses the organization AGREES to pay. It is not an abuse of the system. I don’t recall any organization saying they were forced to hire Justin Trudeau.

          • 1. Who are you to tell me to give ‘it’ up?

            2. Who sets the boundaries here of what can be discussed and what cannot be discussed? You?

            3. You are not being forced to read or respond to any of my posts. Do you not understand that?

            4. You understand that schools and libraries and universities are all being funded by taxpayer’s dollars, right? JT gave many speeches while he as on an MP salary while getting paid extra fees, to schools and libraries and universities.

            5. Justin Trudeau made the CHOICE to speak for a fee while he was an MP on salary. He could have decided differently, just like Duffy could have decided differently, just like Bev Oda could have decided differently, just like the CBC could have decided differently, just like Nigel Wright could have decided differently.

            6. Thank you for reading and responding to my posts.

      • If Mansbridge bought OJ of any price and it came out of his own pocket that wouldn’t be any of your business now, would it? But for what it’s worth i think the cbc made a mistake in not subjecting itself to public scrutiny – provided all crown corp execs played by the same rules.

  2. Macleans is just envious of CBC because they land lucrative contracts. This is just business as usual. Maybe Jesse should report on real news!

    • Maybe the CBC should.

      • Bingo!

  3. So one part of the crown shares costs with another part of the crown and somehow this is news? Regardless of who picks up the tab it’s all taxpayers money isn’t it and the total would still be the total whether they went dutch or not wouldn’t it?
    I expect this rubbish from Levant, Lilley or some other partisan opinionist shill for the corporate media but didn’t expect such lax thinking here even though this is the corporate media too.
    Please tell me that you aren’t aiming to move to QMI or Fox News North

    • I’m no fan of QMI or Faux News North & CBC is my main news source, but don’t like the sound of this – calls CBC’s judgement into question in a big way. Nothing wrong with the concept of partnering with Parks Canada, but needs to be open and transparent, which this doesn’t appear to be.

      • An insistence on transparency is fine, I’m all for it. But this isn’t an issue, even if the CBC is cheerleading for Parks Canada and being paid for it. Parks Canada isn’t a political party and who doesn’t like video of our northern landscapes?

        On the other hand when cheerleaders for the most secretive Government in modern history decide that transparency is for others bit not for their boy, I start to consider the source. Anything coming out of QMI/SNN is probably being inspired by the oh so transparent PMO as QMI/SNN are nothing but the propaganda wing of the CPoC. QMI/SNN are the Volkischer Beobachter of the modern day Canadian Tea Party and their opinion columnists are nothing but political operatives selling propaganda and Jesse is their useful idiot.

    • So by your logic, you’d have no problem if the CBC cut a check for $10,000,000 to DND, because it all comes from the same pot?

      The government makes budgets, and departments are expected to work within those budgets. This whole fiasco completely circumvents the will of our politicians by transferring money from one department without any consent from our politicians. It is a breach of public trust.

      Then there’s the whole issue of “balance”. We constantly hear from CBC fans that they’re the only unbiased news reporting organization in the country, yet here we have evidence of them accepting money to do puff pieces.

      But I know, it’s the CBC, they can do no wrong, because they’re as pure as the driven snow.

      • ” …without any consent from our politicians.”

        And you know this, how?
        You think it’s just coincidental that the infomercial was for one of Harper’s pet projects?

      • I thought under the doctrine of “ministerial responsibility” so beloved of the Harper Party when they didn’t want officials answering questions in committee that ministers knew what their departments were doing and took responsibility for it.

        So as far as I’m concerned the minister with responsibility for Parks Canada and in your example the DND, would know what their department was up to and would have approved this action, meaning there would have been consent from the politicians – the ministers who ran the department.

        This isn’t too hard to follow you know Rick, but your visceral hatred of the CBC seems to have turned you into a frothing idiot.

  4. Asking for the CBC to be open and transparent? You must be dreaming.

    This government has tried for years now to make the CBC more open and transparent. The CBC has either taken the government to court or has threatened to take the government to court if it pushes ahead for opening the CBC books.

    How many glasses of $16,00 orange juice has Peter Mansbridge consumed on the tax payer’s dime? Would be interesting to know!

    • Oh Francien
      Your point would carry more weight if you weren’t a cheer leader for the uber secretive and exceedingly corrupt Harper Government. I guess the dissonance it takes to be you is still working.

  5. I’m going against my better judgement and give you all a thumbs up on this set to. Funny, witty, and oh so brutally honest. But then conversations about the CBC tend to bring out the best in us.

  6. I will remind everyone that these aren’t evidence of left-wing shenanigans. The news bits in question clearly feed in to the current government’s desire to assert Canadian control over the northern archipelago. I don’t have a problem with that goal, given that they are Canadian lands, but I do have a problem with overt propaganda coming out from a joint Parks Canada/CBC agreement. At the time, I believe Jim Prentice (hardly a left-winger) was minister of the Environment.

    The CBC is currently headed by Harper appointee Herbert LaCroix. I don’t know his politics, but I do know the politics of his appointer…

    • Yes, clearly this is another Harper conspiracy to secretly funnel more funds to the CBC. Clearly it’s just another aspect of Harper’s super secret hidden agenda.

      • I never said it was, NotRick the Used Car Guy. But Ezra and friends certainly think it’s a left-wing conspiracy. I’m just pointing out that Ezra and friends are pretty stupid if they think the CBC and Parks Canada are left-wing institutions after this eternity of Harper rule.

        • I’m guessing Fox North is covering the story of the “state broadcaster” being paid to do news items about the PM’s pet project without mentioning that fact, or just who has been running the state for the past 7 years, though they probably manage to get the word “liberal” in there somewhere.

      • You reading comprehension skills just aren’t getting any better, are they?
        Nobody is talking about an objective to “funnel more funds to the CBC.” Obviously the objective would be to promote Harper’s project.

        Shoveling money to the CBC via Parks would be the means.

  7. Someday we are going to have to finally put the old dead horse the CBC out of it’s misery and save ourselves a billion dollars a year – as it stands there is no finer example of poltical corruption, nepotism and patronage that even makes the senate look like a bastion of purity – if people think any PM can reallly take it it on including Harper the Hammer they are sadly mistaken – it is a giant trough filled with fat cats long in the tooth and fat in the wallet and the sooner we taxpayers realize this and go get the shotgun the better off we all will be – yes at times in the rearly years it was a necessary and important organization but years and years of feeding in the trough noses nuzzling up mostly to Liberal but sometimes Conservative PM’s and rolling around in the waste has doomed this once might national organziation – we need a real Public Broadcasting system and it should be setup like all the others – in other words drop the gov’t subsidy – give them a tax number so donations can be written of and start manning it with volunteers and those who are truly willing to give real public service and not just grab at the teat !

    • These others you talk about, would that be the BBC? Because if it is then guess what? It and the CBC are both government run, taxpayer subsidised entities.

      • With a budget approximately 5X that of the CBC, it’s a pretty safe bet he’s not.

        When someone like Wayne says we need “a real Public Broadcast(er)”, it’s a pretty safe bet that what he means is a Broadcaster that really isn’t public.

        • no doubt
          I thought it was a case of concern trolling, but thought I’d ask for a clarification.
          It’s funny how these teabaggers only see the USA when they talk about the rest of the world.

    • I Want the CBC to succeed. The problems – huge if you are correct – need to be addressed. In theory, this medium operates independent of government, ethnic, religious and corporation entities. It should represent and be responsible to the general Canadian public. Their programming / reporting should reflect the diversity of our nation, not ( as you suggested) the donations of a certain strata of our society. BTW, I think the CBC calls the volunteers ‘interns’.(joke)

  8. For the record, QMI did not “unearth” this story. Rather, it bought a subscription to Blacklock’s Reporter in order to see “Cash For News” and Mr Lilley lifted the information for his column without attribution and without requesting the Access documents. Blacklock’s provided Jesse Brown of Macleans the copy and documents when he contacted our editor for comment.
    Yours in content,
    Holly Doan
    Blacklock’s Reporter

    • Surely you didn’t expect the opinion writers at QMI/SNN to actually credit their sources did you? They come from the same school of writing as Wente and the other bomb throwing lightwieghts that inhabit our media these days.
      Well done on the discovery, it will remind departments that folk are watching them and that until Harper removes all access to information channels they should be careful.

  9. For the record, QMI did not “unearth” this story but rather bought a subscription to Blacklock’s Reporter in order to see “Cash For News”. Mr Lilley lifted the information for his column without attribution or requesting the Access documents. Jesse Brown of Macleans was provided with the copy and documents when he contacted Blacklock’s editor for comment.
    Yours in content,
    Holly Doan
    Blacklock’s Reporter

  10. What`s the frigging difference, it`s all controled by that NUT CASEnut, the Hounorable Priminister of Canada and his dishonourable Cabinet