Credits: QMI AGENCY
Radio Canada International's shortwave service was, quite literally, Canada's voice to the world for nearly 70 years - through wars, through triumphs and disasters, through it all. It has been part of our history. And, now, it's gone.
The shortwave service started in 1942. Prime Minister Mackenzie King said it would help to keep our soldiers connected with what was going on back home. For our armed forces members in uniform - then and now - RCI became an easy way to stay in touch with Canada and Canadians.
Similarly, the service became a means by which we could subtly promote democracy, and the Canadian way of life, in far-flung corners of the world. In places like China, Russia and North Korea - where the Internet can be censored, but shortwave can't be - RCI was heard by many. In post-Communist Eastern Europe, shortwave radio receivers are still the way in which many receive news from the outside world.
I know this from experience. When I was an election observer in Bosnia in 1996, billeted with a Serbian family, I was glued to my tiny shortwave radio at night. I'd listen to the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the news from back home, and I was always pretty grateful that RCI existed.
Our allies - the U.S., Britain, Germany, France and Australia - have all expanded their national shortwave service.
In Canada, meanwhile, we've killed it.
The Harper regime, which has taken a chainsaw to the CBC in recent months, is ultimately to blame for this short-sighted decision. They will say that government needs to tighten its belt, and they're mostly right about that.
But getting rid of RCI's shortwave service is pennywise and pound foolish. In all, keeping RCI on-air would have cost about 35 cents a year, per Canadian. In comparative terms, it's as much as it cost taxpayers to rent a couple of panda bears from China for zoos in Toronto and Calgary. Or, it's a fifth of the cost of building gazebos in Tony Clement's riding and fake lakes for the G8/G20 summit.
Meanwhile, KPMG did a study on RCI, and found it was the most efficient - that is, cost-effective - broadcaster of its type in the world.
Why should you care? Does it matter? It matters. Billion-dollar fighter jets and super jails, before a pittance for a radio station that promoted democracy and decency around the world? The idiots who came up with this outrageous decision should all be fired.
Perhaps you didn't notice the death of RCI because you have access to lots of media here in Canada, or because you don't ever need to tune in to shortwave radio. But to people around the world - to our men and women in uniform - the death of RCI won't go unnoticed.
In small but undeniable ways, the Conservatives are chipping away at the very notion of what Canada was, and what it is. Killing off RCI was thoughtless, it was ideological, and it was done without any appreciation of our history or our shared culture. In a very real way, the Harper Cons are denuding us of the things that make us uniquely Canadian.
To ourselves, and to the world.