In our papers today, we report : “NDP MP draws fire over CBC conflict of interest”
We started working on that story after reviewing Cash’s “Disclosure Summary”, a document all MPs file with the Commissioner of Ethics and Conflict of Interest and which is published on the commissioner’s Web site. You can review right here. Among other things MPs are required to disclose are any contracts with the federal government. Cash disclosed:
- Contract with CBC for providing composer-program music to the production of Dragon’s Den Season 6.
Also among the documents published by the ethics commissioner for Cash is this “Disclosure of a Private Interest” dated Sept. 27, 2011. It is not, notably, written by Cash but written by the Clerk of the House of Commons, Audrey O’Brien, to Cash and copied to the commissioner acknowledging commitment Cash had made to O’Brien, the commissioner and to the chair of the House of Commons Standing Committing on Heritage (CHPC).
So at this point, what we have on the public record is a commitment by Cash, to quote O’Brien’s letter, “that you [Cash] do not intend to participate in the debate or voting at [CHPC] on matters dealing with the CBC.”
Well, anyone who has watched Cash at CHPC or in the House of Commons knows he has been a strong advocate for the CBC. We reviewed the CHPC evidence and minutes. Here’s what we found on the public record:
You touched on the fact that a one-dollar input nets a four-dollar output. I think it’s very important for Canadians to understand that the public broadcaster is, among other things, an economic driver.
Mr. Hubert T. Lacroix:
Yes, we believe that, sir. The reason we brought this to the forefront is that we can have a good conversation about Canadian content. We can have a conversation about diversity. We can have a conversation about the broadcaster being the link between Canadians from coast to coast to coast, English and French. But now we can also have a conversation about economic value.
We asked the same people who did a similar study for the BBC in the U.K. to come in with the same robust methodology and to put public inputs—inputs not only from us but from all sorts of sources—into the model they built. That’s how they came to the conclusion that for every dollar we get we generate $3.70 of economic value for Canadians. This is a conversation we also need to have. When you affect the broadcaster, you affect, indirectly and directly, a whole bunch of people we work with.That’s my final question. We are anticipating cuts. We hear the story often that cuts won’t really affect anything, but we know that cuts do. We need to understand more clearly what is on the horizon in terms of job losses at the CBC.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, Minister, for being here today.
… in terms of ideology, we know that the Conservative government has loved to hate the CBC, but they’ve got you, and you are like a knife I have in my kitchen. You know, I’ve got some blunt knives that don’t do a very good job, then I have a beautiful knife with a nice handle and it’s sharp and big. You don’t feel it sticking in at first, but it cuts nonetheless. And you cut. You cut. You say that you love the arts, you say that you love artists, and yet you cut. You are James the Knife. You’ve cut at the CBC, you’ve cut art, you’ve cut funding for artists, Minister.
When you cut 175 hours of programming in prime time on the CBC, you’re cutting funding to artists. You’re cutting funding to actors, to musicians, to directors and producers, to writers. You know, you mentioned Christopher Plummer, and I know you love to be around all these guys, but what you’re doing is you’re cutting the very foundation that nurtured these artists. I don’t know if this government really understands how artists make a living.…On the subject of the CBC, you also say that allowing a large crown corporation with a billion-dollar budget to have three years–let’s say three, let’s not say ten–of budget certainty is not prudent government. How is that a fact when about every large corporation in the country needs that planning time, needs to plan in advance?Now, what you did say was that the CBC has some certainty in terms of what has been cut over the next three years. So are you saying that there are going to be no more cuts other than this $115 million from the CBC? Is that what you’re saying today, that that’s it for cuts to the CBC?First, to your opening analogy with the reference to the knife, thanks for calling me big and beautiful.But look, nice try with the leg-breaking analogy. Not quite so true. As I explained to your colleague with regard to the audio-visual industry, not only are we still spending over a billion dollars every year to the CBC, but there is $375 million in money that didn’t exist prior to, frankly, our government. Not to be immodest, but the first initiative that I took on as Minister of Heritage was to re-establish that public-private partnership and to build the Canada Media Fund.
I appreciate you waving the flag here for a 10% reduction over three years to the CBC, which is $115 million, but feel free to go ahead and acknowledge the $375 million that is also being invested on the other side into the audio-visual sector, looking forward to that analogy.
With regard to the CBC, our economic action plan is a plan and the reductions that we have are over three years. Everything we have put in place is to arrive at a balanced budget by 2015. That’s over three years. Everything that we’ve put forward in the budget is our plan over three years. The certainty that we’ve given the CBC, and every single other government organization, is that these reductions will be phased in over three years. This is a three-year plan, and the CBC is planning accordingly, specifically to their mandate and their plan for 2015.
Our whole approach to this, on policy and on funding, has been to support and recognize the 2015 plan and to make sure that it is realized in the full scale they hope it will achieve, and the funding is there in order to do that.Yes, but when they presented their 2015 plan they presented also $50 million in cuts. At the time, you said you were satisfied with that and that CBC had what they needed to fulfill the mandate. Then you proceeded to cut another $115 million.These cuts are…. You know, you can talk all you want about the various other ways in which you—It’s just a third of a billion dollars. It’s no big deal, right?What’s that?It’s just a third of a billion dollars.But that doesn’t relate to the CBC.Your time is up.
Moore had appeared before the committee to talk about the spending plans for all agencies for which he’s responsible — museums, the Canada Council, the National Film Board and so on — but Cash spent most most of his time with Moore focusing specifically on CBC and its funding.
After Moore left, the members of CHPC voted on the spending plans for, among other things, CBC. As with most votes at any committee, votes are not recorded so we do not have a written record that Cash voted on CBC funding. But the minutes of the May 29 meeting show him to be present and the minutes do not record any notice by Cash that he had a conflict nor is there any indication that the chair of the committee, Rob Moore, acknowledged the letter he had received from Cash or otherwise informed the committee about it.
So now we have questions.
Did the other MPs on this committee — aside from chairman Moore — know about Cash’s disclosure and financial relationship with CBC? Could any committee member ever recall Cash informing them privately or at a committee meeting about this issue or his letter to committing not to debate on or vote on CBC matters?
Conservative MPs Gord Brown, Scott Armstrong (who moved off Heritage last month) , Paul Calandra and Liberal Scott Simms did not know about this nor could they ever recall it being disclosed privately or publicly. Other MPs, who declined to be identified, said the same thing.
So with all that’s on the public record, where are we at?
- The Clerk of the House of Commons believes Cash will abstain from voting on or debating “matters relating to the CBC.” Full stop.
- Cash certainly debated on and likely voted on “matters relating to the CBC.”
So we have questions for Cash. Here’s what we asked him, by e-mail, and invited him to respond by e-mail or phone.
- How are we to reconcile the commitment made to the ethics commissioner with your activities at those committee meetings?
- Would you be able to say how much you earned for the Dragon’s Den contract?
- That disclosure summary was dated Dec 8, 2011 and it is the most recent disclosure at the commissioner’s Web site. Did you continue to earn income as a result of this CBC contract in 2012?
- Given the fact that you earned this income, do you think that being a member of this particular committee is the most appropriate committee assignment for you?
Cash chose to respond by e-mail. Here is what he had to say:
Thank you for the opportunity to clarify this issue for you. Since getting elected, I have continued to be in touch with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner in order to proactively avoid any potential conflicts of interest arising from my previous work as an artist, particularly my work as a songwriter.
[To question 1] After my initial disclosure, it was clarified to me that it was only with respect to matters pertaining to my private interests that I needed to recuse myself. I could, in fact, participate in broad discussions about CBC funding or the CBC. I am attaching the initial letter I received from the Commissioner as well as the letter I sent to the clerk.
[Here is the letter, which Cash was not obligated to disclose but provided to us, from commisioner Mary Dawson to him:]
[And here is the letter Cash sent to House of Commons clerk Audrey O'Brien:]
As a further example, the Commissioner’s office sent me the following email in response to a question I put to them about participating in the debate and vote on Bill C-461
While your contract with the CBC is considered a private interest, it is clear that Bill C-461 An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act does not affect or even relate to your private interest. In fact, if Bill C-461 is adopted, the specific salaries and responsibilities of employees of the CBC (DM1 and higher) will be subject to Access to Information requests.
Therefore, you are not prohibited from participating in the debate or vote of Bill C-461.
Should you have any questions or require further clarifications, do not hesitate to contact me.
Nathalie H. Trépanier
Advisor / Conseillère
Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner of Canada
[To question 2] I earn a royalty of $2426.44 for each new episode aired that uses music I composed. I should note that this amount is negotiated as part of the collective agreement between the musicians’ union and the CBC, I didn’t negotiate this amount personally with the CBC.
[To question 3] I continue to earn royalties from each new episode that airs, but I have not done any new music for the show since I was elected as an MP, as I am focussed on my new job now.
[To question 4] As I have extensive experience in the field it was clear to me that I had something to contribute to this committee and, after discussing with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, it was also clear I could do so without putting myself in a conflict of interest.
I certainly don’t think artists should be excluded from sitting on the Heritage committee – just like there’s certainly nothing wrong with lawyers sitting on the Justice Committee or doctors on the Health Committee.
I will continue to stay in touch with the Commissioner as any new issues arise and remain vigilant, as I have done since getting elected, about avoiding conflicts of interest.