Michael Atkins is president of Northern Life – www.northernlife.ca – Greater Sudbury’s community newspaper.
I have written for years about the colonial aspects of living in rural Canada, most of that experience gained from my life in northern Ontario and my family history in Nova Scotia. It does become a little pedantic, but the essence of the message is that you can’t expect to be a grown up, mature, sustainable community or economy, if you have no control or accountability for your environment. If you are not entrusted with responsibility, how would you know how to exercise it?
In the broad spectrum of life in northern Ontario, our people are without influence. We have no meaningful input or accountability for education policy, resource policy, energy policy, social policy, tax policy, immigration policy, economic strategy, or business strategies.
The mining companies do their thinking in São Paulo Brazil, or Zug, Switzerland, the paper companies, to the extent they still have a pulse now, do it in Maryland or Montreal, and all other decisions are made in Toronto or Ottawa. By and large, northerners don’t care that much. They are more focused on the economic hardship they are experiencing, rather than the power relations that exacerbate it.
Northerners are more focused on the economic hardship they are experiencing, rather than the power relations that exacerbate it.
We can add a new silo to this pathetic legacy.
The recent decision to gut the CBC Radio infrastructure in northern Ontario is a case in point. This is a decision made in Ottawa, or maybe Toronto, without one second of consideration for its impact on the north. It is obvious the disconnected geniuses at the senior levels of the CBC sat down and said, “Look, let’s destroy what we do best so that people will really suffer. Let’s show those right wing Tories we mean business. We’ll show them how we will cut off our noses to spite our faces,” and it has worked brilliantly.
The problem, of course, is that the Tories could care less. The CBC is no friend to them and it is payback time. They couldn’t be happier. It is the local private television stations where they send their press releases and video tapes that worries them.
This demolition of a huge pillar of northern Ontario life is devastating for people who value discussion, debate and local storytelling. The CBC Radio imprint in northern Ontario, limited as it is, is one of the few places where northerners actually get to have a mature conversation with one another. It is a place where the proprietor isn’t worried about upsetting an advertiser or, for that matter, worried about upsetting a politician. It is a place where you could actually hear a conversation about northern concerns or listen to a northern artist describe his or her work and have a CD played on the air. It is a place where there was actually some news. It is a place where northerners were actually in charge, where the community could make connections and think in contrast to the pap on commercial radio.
Of course, people like pap on the radio and so do I, but it is harmful to your health if it is all you eat.
The media in the north are shadows of their former selves. Mainline media (television, newspapers, and radio stations) are owned by pubic companies that are preoccupied with cost cutting and economies of scale. They have to be. They have spent so much money buying one another and consolidating markets they have no margin for error. With the exception of Fraser Dougall in Thunder Bay, there is no meaningful local ownership. Almost all decisions are formulaic and just as applicable to Kamloops as North Bay. The media, with few exceptions, lead the colonial parade in northern Ontario. CBC Radio, for a few hours in the morning and afternoon, was an oasis of thoughtful connectivity. It is an embarrassment to have to beg the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to preserve such a paltry investment. It is shameful.
The prime minister should take some of that money he is spending in the Northwest Territories to defend our sovereignty by investing it in the CBC in northern Ontario, so there is actually something to protect.