Conservatives didn’t create the CBC, damn it

But they just might destroy it

Print Friendly

9780773539082One of Canada’s enduring myths is that the Conservatives created the CBC.

Historian P.B. Waite asserts it in his 2012 book, In Search of R.B. Bennett, a biography of the Depression-era Conservative prime minister who definitely did not create the CBC.

John Boyko, another Bennett biographer, made the same claim in 2010, while more recently, retiring Tory Senator Hugh Segal spouted it too.

CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition host Michael Enright informed his listeners last month that: “…the CBC was created by a Conservative government to act as a countervail to the overwhelming flood of American programming streaming into Canada.”

The myth got yet another airing yesterday with Halifax newspaper columnist Dan Leger’s recommendation that “the CBC should take the initiative by reminding Canadians about the valuable contributions it has made since its founding, by Conservatives, in the 1930s.”

Bennett’s boondogle

What R.B. Bennett’s government did create in 1932 was a public broadcaster that, at times, served as a propaganda arm of the Conservative Party. As the late Knowlton Nash points out in his book The Microphone Wars, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission was soon seen to be acting more like a government department than an independent agency. Nash also writes that the CRBC had no board of directors to insulate it from its political masters. Moreover, he notes that even though the CRBC was woefully underfunded, the Conservative cabinet tried unsuccessfully to cut its budget in half while Bennett was out of the country.

The Canadian Radio League, led by Graham Spry and Alan Plaunt, soon turned against the Commission it had helped create. The opposition Liberals hated it too, especially after the CRBC broadcast a series of six, 15-minute political dramas during the 1935 election campaign that ridiculed Mackenzie King and his Liberals. Listeners were not told in the early broadcasts that the “Mr. Sage” series was sponsored by the Conservatives.

After the Liberals won the election, they disbanded the CRBC and, at Alan Plaunt’s urging, established an independent crown corporation modelled on the BBC. Thus, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, born in 1936, was not a Conservative creation.

And, if Prime Minister Harper gets his way and manages to kill the CBC, he will not be destroying his own party’s handiwork, but that of the Liberals he loathes. I suspect Harper knows it, too.

About Bruce Wark

Bruce Wark is a freelance journalist and retired journalism professor who lives in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. He taught the history and ethics of journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia for 15 years. Before that, he worked for 19 years at CBC Radio news serving as a producer in charge of such network programs as World at Six, World Report and The House. He also produced Media File, a national program that looked critically at the performance of the news media. Along the way, Wark also worked as CBC Radio's legislative reporter in Ontario and as its National Reporter in Canada's Maritime provinces.
This entry was posted in All media, CBC, Chronicle Herald, National Post and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.