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CBC president will not apologize for its reporting on Israel-Hamas conflict, observers say the broadcaster lacks accountability

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Last week, CBC’s president and CEO Catherine Tait appeared before the federal heritage committee and clashed with Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman over the public broadcaster’s coverage of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. 

Some political and industry voices say that Tait’s behaviour at the committee was arrogant, and the CBC’s coverage of the Hamas terrorist attack and the ensuing war reflects a lack of public accountability on the part of the broadcaster.

One flashpoint was CBC’s coverage of an explosion that occurred at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, which Hamas-run government agencies in Gaza stated killed 471 people. Hamas blamed an Israeli airstrike for the explosion, while Israel rejected these claims and instead blamed the incident on a misfired rocket launched from Gaza by Hamas. CBC ran a story on the day of the explosion from the Associated Press with the headline “Palestinians say hundreds killed in Israeli airstrike on hospital; Israel blames Islamic Jihad.” 

Other outlets like the New York Times and the BBC also laid the blame on Israeli airstrikes during their initial reporting on the explosion. Examination of later evidence, including the size of the crater made by the explosion, revealed that a Hamas rocket launched from inside Gaza had most likely failed to launch properly before landing at the hospital. 

The New York Times released an editor’s note that acknowledged that it had relied too heavily on information provided by Hamas and noted the newspaper would be more careful with facts coming out of Gaza. The BBC also admitted it made mistakes when reporting on the hospital blast. CBC has neither retracted the article or the headline nor issued an apology.

At the committee hearing, Lantsman questioned Tait why the CBC has not retracted or altered its story and whether an apology would be issued by the CBC similar to other outlets.

“I will not apologize, because the journalism is among the finest in the world; our journalists operate in an independent fashion, independent of management, independent of the board of directors, and independent of government and political interference,” said Tait. 

In an exclusive interview with The Hub, Lantsman says that Tait’s answer surprised her and that Tait’s refusal to apologize demonstrates that she has little respect for CBC’s own journalistic principles. 

“When you make a mistake, you should own up to it. We saw none of that at committee,” says Lantsman. “Catherine Tait’s responses were stunningly arrogant and tone-deaf.” 

Tait emphasized during the committee hearing that the story in question was originally published by the AP and was not the CBC’s original reporting. 

“She basically ignored the question about Hamas being officially labelled a terrorist organization by Canada and other countries,“ says Brad Zubyk, founder of the upcoming political podcast Canada Unfiltered. “She basically shrugged off the accusations of misreporting on the hospital and blamed AP, which itself has been under some attack for unbalanced reporting, and she simply refused to apologize.” 

Zubyk says that the CBC’s failure to own up to the mistaken reporting like other outlets risks undermining its credibility.

When questioned by Lanstman on why the CBC will not refer to Hamas as “terrorists”, Tait referred to a blog post by the CBC’s editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon, which states that while the CBC will label some terrorist attacks as such, it refrains from labelling specific groups as such. 

“CBC News does not itself designate specific groups as terrorists or specific acts as terrorism, regardless of the region or the events, because these words are so loaded with meaning, politics, and emotion that they can end up being impediments to our journalism,” wrote Fenlon. 

Mark Goldberg, a telecommunications consultant in Toronto, says the CBC lacks an accountability body, which impacts their reporting. 

“One of the biggest issues with the CBC is that they don’t answer to a truly independent review body for their journalistic standards,” says Goldberg. “The CRTC reviews the CBC very rarely. Every five years or so there’s a license hearing.” 

Lantsman says that by perpetuating flawed or disproven anti-Israel narratives, the CBC has put communities at risk. She says that combined with other perceived biases within the CBC, including a bias against the Conservative Party, that the CBC should be defunded. 

“A news organization that refuses to take accountability for flawed reporting and contributes to dangerous antisemitism deserves zero dollars of taxpayer funding,” says Lantsman. “I will never apologize for holding [to account] an organization who receives $1.4 billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies where viewership is down year over year and their trust scores have followed that steady decline.” 

Since the war began, Jewish-owned businesses have been targeted by anti-Israel protesters, while the community itself has been subjected to threats both online and in real life around the world. Last week, a Jewish school in Ottawa was closed following a bomb threat.

Dueling plans for juicing housing supply show the contrast between Poilievre and Trudeau

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With the next federal election no more than two years away, housing has emerged as one of the top issues for Canadian voters and the Liberals and Conservatives are now competing to persuade voters that they are best placed to solve the unaffordability crisis. 

They agree on the problem: local zoning policies have strangled Canada’s housing supply. They also agree on the basic solution: the federal government should use its spending power to prod municipalities into action.

But the details of the two plans reflect the political and ideological contrast of two leaders who couldn’t be more different.

The Conservative Party’s plan, which is set out in Pierre Poilievre’s private member’s bill, Bill C-356 (Building Homes Not Bureaucracy Act), would mandate the country’s largest cities to increase their housing supply by 15 percent annually in order to receive their full federal allocation of infrastructure funding. The “formula” would apply consistently across identified municipalities. The details on how they meet the annual target would be left to them.

The Liberal Party’s approach uses the government’s Housing Accelerator Fund, which was announced in the 2022 budget, to work with municipalities to boost their housing supply on a case-by-case basis according to the program’s application process. The government has recently approved a series of applications that come with specific plans to boost housing supply in municipalities such as Calgary, Hamilton, and Kelowna.

The two housing plans rely on what Leo Spalteholz, a housing analyst based in Saanich, BC, describes as “the power of the purse” or what Alex Beheshti, a consultant with the Altus Group, describes as “indirect fiscal federalism measures.”

That is because the federal government has, by and large, no role in local zoning policy. Ottawa is therefore left using the “federal spending power” as a “carrot” or “stick” to encourage local land-use reform in the name of boosting the housing supply.

Yet notwithstanding this basic similarity, the Liberal and Conservative approaches involve trade-offs that are based on their own philosophical perspectives. The Conservative plan for a single, national formula-based target grants greater autonomy to municipalities on how they increase housing supply but fails to account for unique particularities across cities. The Trudeau government’s application-based approach is more tailored to individual cities but involves greater federal intrusion into the specifics of local policymaking which is consistent with Ottawa’s use of the federal spending power in other areas such as childcare.

Beheshti says that this distinction ultimately comes down to the relative role of carrots and sticks.

“The Liberals are proposing to provide net new funding to municipalities that achieve a higher growth rate than they otherwise would have without the funding,” he says. “When it comes to their approaches to municipalities, both programs are in essence a ‘carrot-stick’, but the Liberal program is more carrot than stick, and the Conservative plan is a lot more stick than carrot.”

Hub contributor and policy analyst Steve Lafleur says the Liberals have followed the Conservatives in playing hardball with municipalities on housing, but their methods have differed. 

“The interesting thing is that in many respects, the Liberals have now gone further than the Conservatives have promised to go,” says Lafleur. “They’re not just saying ‘Hey, here’s the target,’ they’re saying ‘here are things you can do to meet these targets that will permanently alter your zoning’.” 

Spalteholz says punishing municipalities for not meeting the 15 percent threshold, as proposed by the Conservatives, can be difficult in cities like Calgary where construction is a boom-and-bust industry. 

“Do we really believe that the federal government is going to punish Calgary because they had a bit of a bust and their housing starts went down?” asks Spalteholz. “That’s not realistic, it has to be a bit more complex than that. On the other hand, I think a lot of municipalities use that as an excuse.” 

Lafleur says there is value in a more hands-off approach where municipalities are presented with a 15 percent target, allowing for local governments to figure out how to get there without being too prescriptive. He says the more prescriptive approach by the Liberals may help municipalities to actually make tough choices on housing.

“The thing about being more prescriptive is that it gives the municipalities cover,” says Lafleur. “I’m just not sure, if we have just a numeric target, that municipalities are really going to go through and make all the hard decisions.”

The Liberals slumped badly in the polls over the summer, which many credit to being perceived as weak on housing during the affordability crisis. Since running to become Conservative leader in 2022, Poilievre has called for stronger measures to increase the housing supply. 

“The YIMBY-type messaging is something that the Conservatives really led on, and I think that the Liberals were caught fairly flat-footed on that,” says Spalteholz. 

Liberal Minister of Housing Sean Fraser has dismissed the Conservative plans for housing as resembling something “pulled off Google,” but Beheshti believes the Liberals have learned from Poilievre’s messaging on affordability and building new homes. 

“I think the credit that Poilievre gets in this regard is effectively holding the government’s feet to the fire in terms of their own feet dragging in getting these policies off their platform’s pages and into legislative enactment,” says Beheshti.