TORONTO - The CBC may have to sell some of its assets in order to cope with the economic downturn, president Hubert Lacroix said Thursday, a day after the federal government suggested it wasn't willing to extend financial help to the public broadcaster.
Lacroix insisted he's committed to maintaining the CBC's national role but said tight funding has meant hard choices for the corporation.
"Frankly, all the options are on the table in terms of trying to monetize some of our assets to generate some revenues," Lacroix told reporters following a luncheon speech before the Empire Club of Canada.
"What we have to do is find ways in order to generate some dollars for CBC/Radio Canada to be able to minimize the impact that the current crisis is actually imposing on our services."
A CBC spokesman said such a plan could mean anything from unloading Radio 3 to putting a website up for sale.
Lacroix refused to delve into specifics, noting the drastic step was just one option as the corporation struggles with a financial crisis expected to plunge the CBC into the red next year.
In his speech, Lacroix said he has requested a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ask for greater financial flexibility that would permit the Crown corporation to sell some assets. He's also seeking immediate access to the next fiscal year's funding for the CBC.
Lacroix stressed that he's not asking for any cash beyond the $1 billion in public funds the CBC already gets annually.
"We are not begging for more money," he told the assembled crowd. "We are simply trying to manage ourselves out of this mess, and to do that we have asked government to help us with some financial flexibility."
So far, the federal Tories have appeared cool to the requests.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the broadcaster already receives significant public funds.
Lacroix said Thursday that without financial help, CBC's TV programming would likely take new shape. For one thing, he'd consider increasing the number of American shows on the channel.
"It costs 10 times more to make one hour of high-quality Canadian programming like 'The Border' than it does to buy 'Wheel of Fortune,"' he said.
The public broadcaster came under heavy fire from some critics for buying rights to "Wheel" and "Jeopardy" last year, but Lacroix said the game shows draw substantial viewers to the Canadian prime-time shows that follow.
Still, he has projected that advertising revenue will be down by as much as $65 million this fiscal year. However, he says the books will be balanced by drawing from reserves.
The CBC would also consider reducing geographic coverage by shrinking or consolidating local stations, he said.
Lise Lareau, president of the Canadian Media Guild, said the economy has left Lacroix with little wiggle room and called for more federal funds to avoid cuts to programs and staff.
"I really hate to see the nation's public broadcaster . . . being affected by partisan politics at a time where Canada needs both solid information and information from communities across the country and jobs in communities across the country," said Lareau.
Lacroix said the CBC was still hoping the federal government would offer some financial leeway, noting he was set to meet with Heritage Minister James Moore next week.