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Mark Rendell

A broader look at CKLB’s complex funding situation

Delayed payments, increased paperwork, cuts to federal funding also affecting other Aboriginal stations

The faux-log cabin overlooking the Latham Island Causeway has been largely empty since CKLB stopped its Aboriginal language and news broadcasts at the end of July. Music still broadcasts on 101.9 FM – but gone, for now, are the daily programs in six Aboriginal languages. Of the 13 employees running the station before July, only three remain.

Last week, CBC reported the station has received $463,000 since shutting down at the end of July.

EDGEYK.com’s confirmed the Department of Canadian Heritage gave the Native Communications Society, which runs CKLB, $464,407 in 2014  – but the story appears to be more nuanced than initially presented.

According to a spokesperson from the federal department, the funding was linked to “actual expenditures from April 1, 2014 to September 30, 2014,” as well as “an advance for the period of October 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014 to cover the activities and deliverables to be rendered for that period.”

It’s unclear whether the “deliverables to be rendered” since the shutdown have indeed been rendered.

However, the Canadian Heritage spokesperson indicated there is a further $186,546 available in 2014/2015, “following the completion of the activities and deliverables listed in the contribution agreement.”

This seems to suggest the activities required for the $464,407 have been accounted for.

Deneze Nakehk’o, CKLB’s Director of Radio, did not respond to a question about whether the money had been spent according to the contribution agreement. He was, however, adamant it’s not being squirreled away.

Since the shutdown, he said, CKLB has been using its funds mostly to pay for expenses incurred because of delayed funding in the past.

“We’re playing catch up and paying a lot of the bills,” he said. “When we didn’t receive the payments in time we had to go to the banks and now we’re paying back loans and bank fees.”

There’s also the cost of upkeep. The CKLB building was not designed for a radio station and has required significant renovations and maintenance.

Then there’s the roughly $8,000 worth of equipment in each of the 33 communities CKLB broadcasts to, each requiring a significant investment to maintain.

As Nakehk’o put it, “we’re operating in the 1990s when it comes to equipment.”

The Canadian Heritage spokesperson said the department maintains the right to recover funding to the NCS if “it has been determined that work has not been done.” But they did not indicate the department would be seeking this.

Drop in funding

Of the many factors that led to the shut down, Nakehk’o said a drop in federal funding is key.

The station is funded largely by the Canadian Heritage’s Northern Aboriginal Broadcasting Program, intended to “support the production of culturally-relevant Aboriginal programming” and “contribute to the protection and enhancement of Aboriginal languages and cultures.”

Attracting advertising has been a challenge. Businesses tend not to see an Aboriginal language broadcaster as a good place to put their money, said Nakehk’o.

Taxpayer dollars – federal and territorial – keep CKLB on the air. In 2012, around $1.1 million of the station’s $1.7 million in revenue came from government sources, according to the most recent available financial statements.

Yet federal funding has been diminishing. In 2011, the NCS got $811,055 from Canadian Heritage. In 2012, it was $788,125. The 2013 statement has not yet been filed, and Nakehk’o declined to release the numbers. However by 2014, the total amount the NCS was eligible to receive was $650,953 – $464,407 already paid and a further $186,546 the department is withholding.

The decrease comes as wages and infrastructure costs have increased, said Nakehk’o.

Some funding items have been totally cut. The station’s maintenance budget disappeared in 2012/2013, said Nakehko. Canadian Heritage justified this, he said, because the station received maintenance funding the previous year.

“They took out the maintenance line item. Then it was like they held a gun to our head, and said ‘this is it, if you don’t want it, you’re not getting anything.’ So we signed it.”

When they used money earmarked for other expenses to cover the inevitable maintenance costs, they received a “slap on the wrist” from the department.

More Bureaucracy

Along with the drop, Nakehk’o says funding has become more irregular.

In the past, the station received money four times a year at regular intervals. Then in 2012/2013, the station had to wait until January for funds applied for the previous April, he said.

This past year, the funding did not start arriving until September – after the shutdown. That’s despite the fact NCS’s application was sent in in December and Canadian Heritage has a stated goal of issuing “official written notification of the funding decision within the 30 weeks following the deadline for application.”

A Canadian Heritage spokesperson said any delays in funding were due to “the lateness of certain reports.”

Nahkehk’o said the society has followed the same procedure for 30 years. “We know what we’re doing,” he said.

There has also been an increase in the amount of paperwork required by the department, he said, which was confirmed by the Canadian Heritage spokesperson.

“Since 2012, the department has required additional documentation … quotes for equipment purchases, past invoices (e.g. audit fees, utility bills, broadcaster liability insurance) copies of lease agreements, etc.”

Nakehk’o said “there’s a lot of tedious work in order to fill the requirements and we don’t know if anyone is even reading it,” adding he’s often asked to submit paperwork that had been submitted months earlier. “We wish we knew what we needed to do in order to appease the requirements from the feds.”

Not just CKLB

Nakehk’o’s experience is echoed by Deborah Brisebois, the Executive Director of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation in Iqaluit.

“The requirements to apply for funds are much more stringent and the reporting requirements are more onerous,” she said, adding Canadian Heritage changes the Northern Aboriginal Broadcasting program requirements almost every year.

“It’s becoming more difficult to predict how you’re going to operate next year when things are constantly changing,” she said. “And what’s really been difficult is timing.”

Each November or December she submits a proposal to Canadian Heritage for funding for the following year, which starts in April.

“For the most part we don’t hear until August what the funding will be or whether we’ll even get it, yet we’ve been operating since April on a wing and a prayer.”

She says things have been getting worse over the past several years. It takes longer for Canadian Heritage to respond to proposals and the number of eligible expenses has been decreasing. The department no longer considers board expenses or help with mortgage payments eligible expenditures. They’ve even cut the line item for snow clearing.

“It’s insane, we’re operating in the Artic,” she said.

Shifting federal priorities

Nahkehk’o attributes the change over the past several years to a high turnover at Canadian Heritage combined with a lack of understanding of what it takes to operate an independent radio station in the North.

Behind this, he suspects the department’s priorities have shifted under the Harper government, which seems less inclined to support cultural programming in general and Aboriginal programming in particular.

“Since the inception of this nation-state we call Canada, the country has been working steadily erode and erase the languages of the land,” said Nakehk’o. “When we talk about paperwork and how much and when payment is, it takes the focus off what’s really important, the eradication of Indigenous languages.”