Catherine Tait, CBC/Radio-Canada’s president and CEO, faced angry MPs Tuesday over the company’s refusal to rule out performance pay for some managers in a year when hundreds of employees are poised to lose their jobs.
Tait said this additional pay is baked into a manager’s salary — it’s not like an end-of-year “bonus” that’s standard in the private sector. Part of the pay is held back and only paid out if the corporation hits some preset “key performance indicators” or KPIs, Tait said.
If the company misses any of its KPIs, part of the “at-risk” management pay is withheld, as it was in the 2022-23 fiscal year when two of those indicators were not met, she said.
The KPIs are detailed in the company’s annual report and they include certain metrics like audience size and reach.
Despite the political blowback, Tait told MPs on the House of Commons heritage committee that performance pay will continue for the 2023-24 year.
It will be lower than in past years because the company is expected to miss its revenue targets, she said.
“If we achieve the results of the current fiscal year, I will recommend that 1,140 unaffiliated, non-unionized employees receive their fair pay, their performance pay, if they achieve their targets,” Tait said.
“We are on track to meet most of our targets. So that will mean that some portion of the corporate performance award should be awarded.”
Asked by Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu if she would accept her own bonus this year, Tait ducked the question, saying it’s up to the government to decide what she’s paid every year.
Unlike every other CBC employee, Tait owes her job to the government of the day, which appoints her through an order-in-council. It’s the cabinet that sets her pay, she said.
Tait spoke briefly to reporters after her committee appearance. She said she cannot unilaterally take her name off the list of people owed a bonus.
When asked to explain why, Tait walked away from the assembled journalists.
WATCH: MPs question CBC’ Catherine Tait about bonuses
Catherine Tait appeared before the House of Commons Heritage committee on Tuesday to discuss cuts to the public broadcaster. She says performance pay will be reviewed for managers in the midst of layoffs at the end of the fiscal year, and the decision is out of her hands.
CBC/Radio-Canada announced in December that it expects 800 job cuts will soon be carried out — 200 of them will be unfilled job vacancies and 600 other layoffs will be split between the company’s English and French language services as part of a plan to save about $125 million.
A spokesperson for the public broadcaster confirmed that some of those cuts have been enacted already.
“I can now confirm that there have been around 100 layoffs across the corporation: 50 from CBC, 40 from Radio-Canada and 10 from corporate teams,” said spokesperson Leon Mar.
Tait said she’s “hopeful” that not all the expected job cuts will go ahead.
If there’s a meaningful rebound in the advertising market or if the government comes through with more funding, Tait said, some of the job cuts could be avoided.
CBC facing a ‘structural deficit,’ Tait says
She said CBC’s government annual parliamentary appropriation — about $1.3 billion — has been stagnant for the last 30 years.
The corporation starts every year with a “structural deficit” of about $36 million because government funding is not tied to inflation, which has been elevated in recent years.
Because of that, the company has to cut to balance its budget, Tait said.
“As I have said many times, the public broadcaster faces chronic underfunding,” Tait said.
“At $33 per Canadian — a dime a day — CBC/Radio-Canada is one of the worst-funded public broadcasters in the world, with four times less funding than the U.K. and France and eight times less than Germany. Until that situation changes, we must continue to manage with what we have and do our very best to stretch limited resources to meet our mandate.”
Tait defended the concept of performance pay in principle, saying the company must stay competitive.
Pointing to exit surveys from former employees, Tait said staff turnover is driven in part by poor pay compared to what’s offered by other companies and public sector employers like the federal government.
That explanation did not satisfy MPs, who said it was fundamentally unfair for managers overseeing large-scale layoffs to be awarded their usual performance pay.
“When Canadians see like $16 million going out in bonuses, it’s hard to stomach, especially when they see cuts,” Liberal MP Michael Coteau said.
“Usually bonuses happen when things are good. When things are good we give bonuses — but things are not good. About a third of the jobs are being cut,” he said. “It’s hard for us to just accept.”
WATCH: Liberal MP asks Tait to reconsider bonuses
Liberal MP Michael Coteau asked CBC president Catherine Tait whether she would reconsider performance payments, adding bonuses should only be ‘given when times are good.’
Liberal MP Taleeb Noormohamed said it’s fair to pressure Tait about executive compensation “when so many journalists and people who do the real work that Canadians are counting on are facing the uncertainty and the instability.”
Tait said the bonus payout in 2022-23 was $14.9 million (not the $16 million figure that’s been widely cited) and it’s a relatively small amount compared to the approximately $900 million it pays out every year in salaries for all employees.
“I can understand people’s concerns,” Tait said. “It’s an extremely small number and we need to keep our talented managers — it’s not just journalists, although we absolutely honour and support their work.”
“Given the cuts, can you assure Canadians you will not be continuing that performance pay?” NDP MP Peter Julian asked.
“I cannot reassure you of what you what you’re looking for,” she said.
When pressed by Coteau, Tait said she would consider asking the company’s board of directors to review performance pay for the 2024-25 fiscal year, when most of the cuts will be carried out.
‘Everything is on the table,’ Tait says
While Tait presents recommendations to the board on how much should go to managers, it’s ultimately the board that makes the final call, she said.
“I’ve publicly said that everything is on the table. Everything is on the table. We will consider all of our options, yes,” Tait said.
Conservative MP Rachael Thomas questioned how Tait could justify bonuses when ratings reports suggest there’s been a drop in CBC TV’s audience share, with fewer eyeballs on the company’s entertainment, sports and journalism programming in English Canada in particular.
“Most Canadians don’t even see half of that in a bonus, not even a quarter of that in a year,” Thomas said.
Tait said it’s not fair to look at conventional TV ratings alone — she said the company’s programming has generated large audiences on digital platforms like CBC Gem, the company’s own streaming platform, and third-party services like YouTube.
Barbara Williams, CBC’s vice-president of English services, pointed to recent ratings for the company’s flagship newscast, The National.
About 300,000 people watch that show on CBC TV and roughly 200,000 watch on CBC News Network on any given night, Williams said.
A portion of the program is watched by another 400,000 viewers on YouTube every day, she said.
Tens of thousands of people also watch the show on Gem and CBC News Explore, the company’s free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) product.
“We’re a growing, relevant service,” Williams said.
“If you’re measuring viewership — you have to look at the totality of the experience,” Tait said.
She said it’s “nothing short of a miracle” that the CBC serves the country in two official and eight Indigenous languages across six time zones on digital, TV and radio platforms with its current “limited” budget.
Thomas said Tait was “playing the poor-me card.”
“Every other media outlet in this country doesn’t start off with 1.4 billion taxpayer dollars at the start of the year,” Thomas said.
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