February 3rd, after short labor dispute, heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar closed the Electro-Motive plant it operated in London, Ontario, throwing 700 people out of work.
There was justifiable outrage across the country with many in the media laying blame for the job losses at the feet of the Federal government, a government that was branded as insensitive and uncaring.
Listening to some of that you’d think our current rulers were the most heartless, nasty people imaginable. And perhaps they are.
Or maybe it’s something else…
Many years earlier – 1988 to be exact – and almost to the month, a similar decision by an American parent company delivered a similar blow to the Canadian Television industry.
I was working as head writer (the term of the time) on the CBS series “Adderly”. We’d just completed our second 22 episode season and, given our increased ratings and low production costs, were quite confident of being handed a third.
Along with our sister Canadian series, “Night Heat” and “Diamonds”, we’d carved out a profitable late night niche on the Tiffany network. “Crime Time after Prime Time” was delivering a large audience eager to watch something other than talk shows.
But CBS had a better idea.
Their audience research had concluded that “Wheel of Fortune” spinner Pat Sajak had the makings of a crackerjack talk show host. So Pat was handed our time slots and we were history.
The three Canadian shows dropped employed about 200 people full time. “Night Heat” was granted a brief reprieve to shoot enough episodes to reach a more lucrative syndication level. But the cancellations were a body blow to the local industry.
Yet, nobody blamed the government.
No one in the media took anyone to task for not fighting for Canadian artists.
There was nary a mention of the loss to the economy or what might become of we, the most affected.
And after a full blown wake in which we both literally and figuratively laid our lead character to rest, we stopped crying about what had happened as well.
Life isn’t fair. Shit happens. Nobody owes you a living. Especially in the Show Business.
I’m sorry if that seems cold or cruel. But the reality is those 200 jobs didn’t "disappear”. They went somewhere else to be sure. Because Pat Sajak and CBS still needed writers and directors and a crew to fill the hours we had vacated.
And the same thing has happened at Caterpillar, who last Friday announced that it was creating 1400 new jobs in Athens, Georgia.
At the press conference announcing these jobs, (repatriated from Japan) a company official thanked President Barack Obama for creating a business climate where companies could finally bring jobs back to America.
He even promised that more were to come and most assume the Electro-Motive jobs will soon materialize in Muncie, Indiana.
So, who’s the real villain here? A corporate cozy Canadian Prime Minister or a Union friendly American leader who needs to get job numbers up in an election year –- even if those jobs go to non-union “right to work” states like Georgia and Indiana?
Individual companies and individual governments do what they think is best for them all the time.
But news outlets like CBC didn’t mention that Caterpillar announcement or President Obama’s apparent part in it. Instead it struck a different tone – or rather the same one that’s become tiresomely familiar over the past year.
There are two phrases you hear daily on our public broadcaster when discussions turn to the Harper government. “Well, they have the numbers…” or the more despondent “They have a majority so they can do what they like…”.
The odd thing is, despite many recent years when another political party had majority governments, I don’t remember hearing that sentiment expressed.
But now it’s there all the time, as if something has gone horribly wrong with the country. That reached a peak last week with a similar burst of outrage from the son of a former Prime Minister.
His remarks sparked the following response from Andrew Coyne, editor of the National Post…
“…as if the Conservatives believed they had not only the power to pass legislation, but the right; as if this were the sort of thing any democratically elected government might do. Imagine.”
Yet CBC gives the continuous impression that events like Electro-Motive or the housing crisis in Attawapiskat would not have happened if we were governed by those of a different political stripe.
Like maybe – Brazil….
This is a photograph of the Chief of the Kayapo tribe, breaking down as he’s told that Brazil’s socialist President Dilma Rousseff intends to go ahead with a hydro-electric dam that will flood his people’s ancestral home, forcing more than 40,000 of the country’s aboriginal population to be resettled elsewhere.
You’d think an environmentally concerned broadcaster like CBC might have covered this story. But they haven’t.
There’s a similar irony in their concern for the loss of Canadian jobs when they regularly schedule programming like “The Tudors”, “Camelot” and “Coronation Street” that don’t employ many or any Canadians.
For me and a many other veteran Canadian artists, there’s a particular sting in the fact that five hours a week on CBC are unavailable to Canadian media workers because that time is reserved for the same guy who once killed our jobs –- Pat Sajak, back on “Wheel of Fortune” because his talk show was a disastrous failure.
But what’s most interesting about all this is that our national broadcaster, while claiming it is there to serve ALL Canadians has opted for a philosophy that Clay Johnson, author of “The Information Diet”, describes as “Pizza is better than Broccoli”.
That means that their job has become providing affirmation of what their core audience already believes. Not the news. Not reality. Not perspective. They simply make sure the people defeated in the last federal election still think they’re “right”.
And who among us really wants to be informed when we can simply be told that we’re right. That we’ve always been right. And those who don’t share our vision are horribly misguided and stupid and wrong.
It’s smart marketing. But is it really what we should get from a public broadcaster?