The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) occupies a cherished place in the bosom of Canadians that shares much with the relationship of Britons with the BBC. And, like the BBC, the CBC is in a permanent funding crisis, as successive waves of cuts take the public broadcaster into previously unthinkable territory. Where once the CBC's newscasters put on a brave face about doing more with less, now it's becoming clear that the CBC's governmental paymasters expect it to do a lot less with less.
It doesn't help that Canada's ruling tar-sand Tories and their leader, PM Stephen Harper, never met a public expenditure that they liked, and that their appointee for the top CBC role, Hubert Lacroix, seems to find nothing alarming about the never-ending waves of cuts to his network.
The latest round of cuts are grave and possibly deadly. The CBC will no longer produce documentaries, it will cut local newscasts, close half its offices, and make 25% of its workforce redundant by 2020. Between 1,000-1,500 jobs will be cut in the next five years alone.
Top CBC management have stated that the network will move to a "digital first" strategy in order to remain relevant to Canadians' lives. While there's nothing wrong with a digital public broadcaster, there's also no shortage of digital companies looking to serve Canadians' needs over the internet.
If the CBC is to survive the transition, it could do worse to look to the BBC's own now-shelved plans for the "Creative Archive," announced during the runup to the last Charter Renewal, only to disappear with Greg Dyke after the Hutton Inquiry.
The BBC had planned to clear the online rights to the vast quantities of material in its vaults, and change its commissioning so that any new material would also be pre-cleared. This material – a rich, publicly funded archive of the nation's collective cultural memory – would have been put online under a generous, creative commons-style licence for Britons to download, share, remix and re-contextualise decades' worth of material both beloved and forgotten. Other UK cultural institutions – libraries, museums, and galleries – had planned to join this creative archive, putting even more of the nation's heritage and treasures into the hands of the people who paid for them and to whom they belonged.
The Creative Archive project couldn't succeed at the Beeb. There was too much anxiety about coming cuts to the broadcaster and the need to make up the shortfall by figuring out how to sell BBC programming to Americans, too much tension between the BBC and the "super indies" it commissions from to insist that new programming be pre-cleared for creative re-use by the nation, too much terror about being wrongfooted by the red-tops, a deep existential terror that Rupert Murdoch would find some obscure remix and run a headline reading "BBC provides raw material for neo-Nazi hate video."
But as the 2016 BBC Charter renewal process heaves into sight, it's clear that the BBC's commercial arm has not even come close to making up the revenue that the BBC would lose under the more radical proposals for "top-slicing" the license fee or cutting it altogether (Britain's Tories also never met a public institution they didn't want to privatise or cut altogether).
The CBC, at least, has only limited delusions about the importance of commercialising its archives, especially when that comes at the expense of access to the archives for Canadians. Canada is a young nation, and the CBC has been there with Canadians for about half of the country's short life. The contents of the CBC's archives are even more central to the identity of Canadians that the BBC's is to Britons.
If the CBC is to be cut and remade as a digital-first public service entity, then a Canadian Creative Archive could be one way for it to salvage some joy from its misery. There's nothing more "digital first" than ensuring that the most common online activities – copying, sharing, and remixing – are built into the nation's digital heritage.
What's more, the CBC's situation is by no means unique. In an era of austerity, massive wealth inequality, industrial-scale tax-evasion and totalising market orthodoxy, there's hardly a public broadcaster anywhere in the world that isn't facing brutal cuts that go to the bone and beyond.
All of these broadcasters have something in common: they produced their massive archives at public expense, for the public's benefit, and have made only limited progress in giving the public online access to those treasures.
A Canadian Creative Archive wouldn't just make the CBC relevant to Canadians in a fashion that is only possible from a public-sector entity, it could also offer reciprocal archive access to broadcasters all over the world. Canada, a bilingual nation, has a wealth of Anglosphere and Francophone public broadcasting peers around the world whose programming would be of great interest to Canadians who speak the nation's two official languages. And as Canada is an incredibly diverse nation with large populations of native speakers of European, Asian, African and Arab languages, it could likewise benefit from reciprocal arrangements with allophone nations' public broadcasters.
A global network of public digital archives would benefit immensely from economies of scale, developing and maintaining tools to digitise, catalogue, search, and present material. Furthermore, it would build the case worldwide for public broadcasting – a public broadcast archive being the cost of entry for admission to the club of sharing nations.
It would afford Canada the opportunity to exercise some soft power around the world, sharing its cultural history with people hungry to learn English and French. It would grant Canadians access to millions of hours' worth of programs produced for other countries' publics. And it would, perhaps, begin to turn the tide for public broadcasting in the 21st century, helping it to realise its potential as an ocean of freely shareable and remixable material in an era of copyright wars that pit citizens' creative, cultural impulses against the commercial entertainment sector.