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.
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.”
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.