Peterborough -- I'm spending the day on a yellow school bus, embedded with the troops, you might say, reporting on the reporters. For instance, veteran CBC telejournalist Brian Stewart from The National, jovial and unassuming, sits about three rows up.
Then there's Hannah Gartner, riding shotgun at the front, and beside her Jacquie Perrin of Newsworld. Barbara Budd, Mark Kelley and The World This Weekend's Lorna Jackson are also along on the mission. Their goal? To bring their voices to the people the old-fashioned way in person.
Not that they have much choice. They can't get at their microphones, courtesy of the lockout. And so there's a strange longing in their eyes and in those of the crack teams of producers, writers, food reviewers and Gzowski Interns who fill the bus with excited chatter as we barrel along to Peterborough (pronounced Perturb-Urrah), where they intend to hit the streets with pamphlets and petitions.
They want you to let your MP know that you're mad as hell and you're not gonna not take it any more. They want their CBC. Back.
It would be easy to think the heavy hitters on this bus are being self-serving, but in truth it's not their full-time employment that the dispute threatens. They just don't think a high quotient of contractees is good for quality.
Here, in the interest of full disclosure, I must out myself I had a couple of contracts just this year, not for very long. Not season-by season, like some. Not even month-by-month like Sarah at Metro Morning, but minute-by-minute. Yes, I wrote and performed two topical songs for CBC newsworld. Four hundred bucks per song that was my little piece of the CBC's ever-shrinking $937 million annual budget (down 48 mil from 1990).
Not enough, but it's such fun I'd almost do it for nothing. So I can understand why people are taking the lockout so personally. Broadcasting's addictive. It's hot. And - hello? - people listen to you. At least when you're not locked out.
"This is a very dangerous path the CBC has gone down, and we could lose everything on it," Stewart tells me at our first stop, a park opposite Peterborough's town hall. Increased use of casual labour has been billed by CBC brass as a necessary cost-cutting initiative, but Stewart sees it as an "ease-of-management issue."
"We're all concerned about the CBC becoming a disposable workforce where full-time workers represent less and less [of the staff], and corporate memory is lost," he says. "It's part of the fluffization of society. You're looking over your shoulder every minute wondering whether you'll be working next year or the year after that.
"This is going back to the way things were in the early 1960s or the 50s," says Stewart. "In the newspapers I hired on, like the Thomson chain, if you talked about security or benefits of any kind, people would laugh in your face. I don't really want to revisit those times, and I wouldn't wish them on the younger generation coming up."
The denizens of Perturborough are not looking all that perturbed, though. If they can't stomach the CBC's current diet of reruns and scabbed BBC, there's always CHEX or CFTO. It's high summer on the Trent, and a dreamy cottage fragrance drifts all up and down main street, dulling one's sense of outrage.
Not so for Hannah Gartner. "I'm angry, confused and just bewildered. These are the best minds in public broadcasting, yet we're walking around in circles, closed down. I keep thinking there must be a greater issue. Is it to change the nature of public broadcasting? If it is, engage those people who are going to pay for it the public. Don't just unilaterally say, "This is it we're gonna bottom-line it. '"
Lorna Jackson, whom I speak to at our next stop, Cobourg, laments that unions have fallen off the radar. "Yet we owe them a great deal: maternity leave, benefits, all sorts of great stuff has been won for us."
The long-haired Lennonesque proprietor of Cobourg's Abbey Road Records isn't exactly brimming with gratitude.
He furtively signs a postcard proffered by one of our proselytizers but declines to put up a poster in his shop. It's too left-wing, he objects.
I was never much of a CBC fan myself. At least not till the war in Iraq and the advent of Faux news in the States. Now I'm worried. A strike has the air of populism and choice about it, but a lockout is downright dangerous. And the longer it goes on, the more revenues and listeners drift to the private broadcasters, the more dangerous it becomes.
When I get home, there are only two very brief items of news on the eviscerated CBC-TV, one of them, to my disgust, a catch-up on the movements of a recently released killer of schoolgirls exactly the kind of lurid tabloid crap I used to be able to rely on the CBC to tread discreetly over. Rupert Murdoch would love this.