MONTREAL — Canada’s TV networks have just lost a fund that helped them finance small-market TV stations.

Federal broadcast regulator the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission announced Wednesday that it will phase out the local programming improvement fund by Aug. 31, 2014.

The fund was set up in 2008 to help stations in smaller markets pay for local programming in tough economic times and to defray the cost of switching to digital broadcasting.

In 2010, 78 stations received a total of $100 million and in 2011 80 stations received $106 million in funding.

The CRTC said the advertising sector has improved and, with the digital transition complete, it believes the stations will be able to maintain local programming without the fund.

“The fund was created to ensure television stations had the resources to meet Canadians’ needs for local programming,” said CRTC vice-chairman Leonard Katz. “We are satisfied with the support it has provided during a difficult economic period.”

But the announcement immediately drew fire.

CBC CEO Hubert Lacroix blasted the CRTC, saying the pubcaster is “astonished” by the decision.

“Local television is a priority under the Broadcasting Act yet this decision suggest that it is not important to the Commission,” said Lacroix. “This decision is sure to reverse many of the local programming improvements that the fund achieved.”

CBC drew more than $40 million annually from the fund and it will not be able to replace this money given that it is reeling from a $115 million reduction in its Parliamentary appropriation, noted Lacroix.