Waiting for Godot’s contract

Lorne Elliott's negotiations with CBC proceed at the speed of erosion

Lorne Elliott

Lorne Elliott

Lorne Elliott

The CBC has clearly gone to hell since I left. I myself have a written commitment, a contract, negotiated by a lawyer and agreed to by the CBC, which has been stalled for TEN YEARS, and that makes me wonder, with these sorts of lightning reflexes how they manage to even get the news of the day on the air. I expect at any time to turn on the radio and hear: “Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent met today with young Queen Elizabeth …”

Anyhow, last week,  a rather pleasant sounding lady phoned me and said they weren’t going to honour this contract, like that.

Excuse me? What? I mean to say, not honouring written commitments, that’s against the law, for Godsakes. How bad must they think my work is? “We will go to jail rather than have Lorne’s material on the air!”?

Not to complain, of course. I have received more rewards for my work than I probably deserve, but I do wonder what other Canadians will have to do to maintain access to an institution which we are legally obliged to pay taxes toward, and so in the interest of disseminating information that they are not likely to, here’s the saga in all it’s pettiness.

Jan. 18 of this year I wrote an email to the brand new Senior Director Of Talk Radio and gave her my introductory spiel:  “My name is Lorne Elliott, and I used to host and write all my material for a show called “Madly Off in All Directions” which I am told held the highest ratings for its time slot ever at the CBC. When  this time slot was changed (without informing me) to act as a lead-in to Jian Ghomeshi’s latest project, I told management at the time that although they had the right of course to program the network as they saw fit, I would be unable to continue with the show if I was not informed beforehand next time they moved it. I still think that this would not have impinged on their power at all, and only increased transparency. Anyhow, they didn’t want to grant me that courtesy, so I stopped the show.

I still have an unfulfilled contract with the CBC for a special, and I was trying to negotiate that into a small series with your predecessor before he was sent away on indeterminate leave. You’re in his seat now (Congratulations on your promotion, incidentally) so I was wondering if you and I could re-commence this negotiation. Yours truly, etc.”

A week later and no reply, so, Jan. 26 I wrote again: “Are you there?” Still nothing, and the weeks rolled on. I had a play to mount, a novel to write, a one-man show to tour, and so I was gainfully employed, but I also continued to wait hopefully through the winter of 2015, the longest in anybody’s memory. It was like the CBC was in charge of Spring.

Sugaring-off was a month late and still no reply, and after all the spigots were taken out of the trees I thought it was perhaps time to chat with our Member of Parliament and see whether he could elicit a reply from our publicly owned broadcaster. So we met and I guess he told somebody and something shook loose, because on June 2, I wrote again to remind her that I had not yet died of old age, and June 16 she wrote back!

“Good morning Lorne … certainly happy to continue that conversation. I’ve cc’d our new-ish head of programs …hopefully you will land on something together that works for the schedule. (One thought … a holiday program would be ideal) … let’s begin the conversation asap. …budget situation not as healthy … need to conclude our arrangement this fiscal …Yours etc.”

Things were looking up, because on the same day The Director of New Programs wrote as well. I swear this happened. It was all happening now at almost breakneck speed, and I thought if I didn’t slow it all down, I might end up being put in charge of the entire network by afternoon, so I waited two days to email back. “OK”, not meaning to sound grudging, but yes, perhaps wanting to give the impression that I was incredibly busy. Not that I WASN’T. There was a hickory that had fallen in our woods which I had been meaning to saw into firewood for about a year now, and which I really should go and look at for a while, the better to strategize about. Also there was a roof to go on the sugar shack,  and that demanded some serious looking-at as well. But by June 27 communications had lapsed again, so I wrote again saying I’d like to meet sometime, that I’d come to Toronto, even, and the next day she wrote back saying she was happy to meet, and would the week of July 6 work for me. I said fine, I’d pay for my flight down, but maybe we can get this all sorted out once and for all. The same day, however, she wrote another email: “Also happy to chat on the phone if flying to Toronto isn’t convenient for you Lorne.”

Hmmmm … And as it turns out, this should indeed have made me suspicious. But at that time I thought she might have a point. And so June 30 I asked “When’s best for you for a phone call? and she gave me a time.

I have no idea what happened between that and the phone call, but on the phone she said, first, that she couldn’t do an hour-long meeting because she had another meeting to attend, and then she told me that the CBC wouldn’t honour my contract.

I asked her if she could put what she said into an email, she said she would, I told her I was appalled and she said she had to go. I hung up and waited for her email that would confirm what she had said on the phone. Then I waited some more … and then we went to PEI. Swam, watched a lot of theatre, and picked chanterelles. Still waited … And I’m still waiting.

Renowned comic Lorne Elliott plays the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook Thursday, Oct. 29, at 7:30 p.m. Be there or be square.