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CBC trims budget of Quebec investigative program

The Radio-Canada CBC building is seen Wednesday, June 5, 2013 in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The CBC is cutting the budget of its flagship investigative program that lifted the lid five years ago on the widespread swindling of public funds in Quebec's construction industry.

The weekly French-language television show Enquête (Investigation) has been celebrated for a stream of revelations about alleged corruption and fraud involving bureaucrats, politicians, union officials and industry bosses. Many of the most staggering revelations at the hearings of the Charbonneau Commission and various court cases were first brought to the public's attention on the show as far back as 2009.

However, recent cutbacks to cope with a $130-million shortfall at the CBC and its French-language network Radio-Canada have left the program facing the loss of about one-fifth of its staff. Overall, Enquête is losing three journalists and one producer out of a team of 20 reporters and researchers, making it one of the most visible victims in Quebec of the overall wave of 657 job losses at the Crown corporation.

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The cuts will affect the annual output at Enquête, a show that calls on its reporters to spend months cultivating sources and developing subjects – and fighting lawsuits that sometimes come after their scoops.

Alain Gravel, the host of the program who has become a household name in the province, said he will have to cut back on original reporting in the coming season. The regular work could be replaced by foreign investigative pieces, reruns and more collaborations with its English-language equal, the fifth estate.

Mr. Gravel said that Enquête's revelations have helped to clean up politics in the province and led to lower construction costs on public-works projects. The show's stories – as well as parallel investigations by other media in Quebec – have led to the creation of the Charbonneau Commission, police probes and a permanent anti-corruption unit in the province.

"Without these journalists, all of these people [involved in the scandal] would still be carrying on as if nothing ever happened," Mr. Gravel said. "Instead of facing cuts, we should be getting additional resources."

Critics are hoping the public will start to mobilize against the funding cuts at the CBC if high-quality programming is affected.

"People have to understand that there are actual consequences," said NDP MP Pierre Nantel. "It's not as if they are only cutting into the budget for carpets at head offices."

The head of the main union representing reporters at Radio-Canada urged Ottawa to halt any funding reductions until a parliamentary committee looks into the CBC's future.

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A spokesperson for Heritage Minister Shelly Glover said that Radio-Canada is making its own funding choices. "This decision has nothing to do with any actions by this government. Radio-Canada receives significant taxpayer funding, operates at arm's length and is responsible for its own operational decisions," said Marisa Monnin.

Mr. Gravel and his team of journalists became stars in Quebec after a series of interviews – some on the record, others with sources behind panels to protect their identity – documented kickbacks, price-fixing and various other nefarious deals involving all levels of government. Mr. Gravel and other Enquête reporters have also worked over the years in collaboration with The Globe and Mail on topics such as the alleged infiltration of the Canada Revenue Agency by rogue auditors and an arm-twisting campaign to try to influence the appointment of a new president at the Montreal Port Authority.

Brian Myles, vice-president at the Fédération Professionnelle des Journalistes du Québec, said the cuts can only have a negative impact on all of the CBC's news operations.

"When you cut Enquête, when you attack Enquête, you attack what has been associated with the best investigative reporting over recent years. It's a symbolic gesture that says a lot," he said.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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