Founding of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Founding of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)

The following article is an editorial written by The Canadian Encyclopedia staff. Editorials are not usually updated.

Besides hockey and the maple leaf, there is little as symbolically Canadian as the CBC - the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It grew out of a developing nation's need to express its identity and find its voice. The country had emerged from World War I with a degree of autonomy and sense of independence. It was a country ready to speak up for itself. The audio for that voice, and later the video, were added by the CBC.

Davidson Dunton oversaw much of the development of the CBC and was co-chair of the influential B&B Commission (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-157772).

The voice of Canada has comprised many voices over the years. Foster Hewitt was the voice of hockey. The Happy Gang delivered light entertainment and a respite from the seriousness of the war news from overseas, much of it reported by Lorne Greene, whose deep baritone and frequent coverage of bad news earned him the name the "voice of doom." "Our pet Juliette" delighted Canadians with her clear, sweet voice and later her perky smile and bubbly personality cheered CBC television viewers. Today CBC provides the voice of Canada in English, French and eight aboriginal languages.

In the early days of Canadian radio, the first national radio network was established by Canadian National Railways. It provided a variety of music, drama and school broadcasts, though by 1929 it still offered only three hours of programming per week. It was not a particularly stimulating network, but it did show the government the merits of a public broadcasting network. Private stations were being consumed by American companies, the airwaves were flooded with American programming and the private stations seemed unable to counter American content with Canadian material.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King established a Royal Commission to study the benefits of public ownership. The report was submitted on September 11, 1929, just 48 days before the stock market crash. It recommended creating a publicly owned broadcasting corporation capable of "fostering a national spirit and interpreting national citizenship." It specifically recommended abolishing privately owned stations.

The report was set aside because of the economic crisis, giving private stations time to organize their protest. While the Canadian Association of Broadcasters opposed public ownership, the Canadian Radio League supported it and campaigned with pamphlets and a plea to the government. R.B. Bennett, the new Conservative prime minister, responded by passing the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act on May 26, 1932 to establish the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission. Its mandate was to provide radio programs - Canadian programs - to the settled parts of Canada.

The CRBC assumed the CNR's facilities and began broadcasting in English and French. It was underfunded and operated under an uncertain mandate and unsuitable administration. It suffered from a sponsorship scandal, of a sort, between September 24 and October 5, 1935, with the "Uncle Sage" radio series.

Robert Lucas, as Uncle Sage, told the public what outright scoundrels the Liberals really were. The accusations stung, coming in the wake of the Beauharnois energy scandal, in which the Liberals were accused of accepting substantial contributions in exchange for permission to divert the St. Lawrence River to generate hydroelectricity. No connection could be proven between the donations and King's reinstated Liberal government, but one senator was forced to resign and another was dismissed.

The alarmed Liberals demanded that the sponsor of the Sage series be identified in each broadcast. He was - as R.L. Wright, an employee of the Conservative ad agency.

King was persuaded by CRL lobbying to replace the CRBC with a stronger public agency. On June 23, 1936, a new Canadian Broadcasting Act created the CBC with better organization and funding and less vulnerability to political pressure. It was established as a Crown Corporation on November 2, 1936.

It is often with surprise that Canadians living or travelling abroad realize how much they miss CBC broadcasting. An Ipsos-Reid poll released on May 14, 2004 reported that Canadians feel the CBC is doing a good job protecting Canadian culture and identity and 85% of voters would support political parties that fostered domestic ownership of broadcasting. Clearly, Canadians find their voice in CBC.

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