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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication
***** RABOY ************** EJC/REC Vol. 1, No. 2, 1991 ***


Marc Raboy
Laval University

        Abstract.  Looking at the evolution of Canadian
     broadcasting from its inception in the 1920s up to
     the recent Meech Lake debates can tell us a good
     deal about the nature of our constitutional and
     national dilemma.  During the conscription crisis
     of WW2, for example, public broadcasting became
     identified in Quebec as an oppressive agent of
     centralized federalism.
        By 1957, the Conservative government sought to
     build up the commercial side of Canadian
     broadcasting, and paid little attention to its
     role in the complexities of the evolving
     national dilemma.  Early in its mandate the
     Pearson government of 1963 identified cultural
     policy in general and broadcasting in particular
     as strategic weapons in its struggle against the
     rising and increasingly radical nationalist move-
     ment in Quebec.  This was particularly the
     strategy of the Trudeau governments through the
     early 1980s.  With the election of the Mulroney
     government in 1984, competition over control of
     cultural development changed to collaboration in
     the name of economic development.  The federal
     initiatives respecting broadcasting coincided
     with its general thrust towards reduced public
     spending and expanding the role of the private
     sector in the Canadian economy.  By 1985, the
     Conservatives had introduced a major shift in
     Ottawa's official attitude that there was but one
     policy for Canadian broadcasting, and not two.
     This was evidenced in the Caplan-Sauvageau task
     force of 1985, which said that the French and
     English language services within the CBC should be
     recognized as serving "distinct societies."
        This was reiterated by then-communication
     ministers Flora MacDonald, and Marcel Masse, and
     reflected in their communication Bills, C-136 and
     C-40, which formed the new 1990 Broadcasting Act.
     Lofty pronouncements on the sociocultural
     importance of broadcasting notwithstanding, the
     Conservative government's lack of support for
     public broadcasting demonstrates its view of
     broadcasting as just another business.  Hence,
     media systems, institutions, services and policies
     evolve according to the political and economic
     agendas of the surrounding society and its elites.
     And, Canadian broadcasting has reflected the lack
     of consensus about the fundamental nature of
     Canadian nationhood.

     GRANDS ESPOIRS.  Une analyse de l'evolution
     systeme de radiodiffusion au Canada entre 1920
     et la crise recente du Lac Meech nous renseigne
     sur la nature du probleme national et
     constitutionnel du Canada.  Lors du deuxieme
     conflit mondial, pendant la crise de la
     conscription, la radiodiffusion est apparue au
     Quebec comme un agent oppresseur du federalisme
     centralisateur.  En 1957, lorsque le gouvernement
     conservateur a favorise le developpement de la
     radio(tele)diffusion commerciale, il ne s'est pas
     preoccupe du role de la radiodiffusion dans
     l'evelution du probleme canadien.  Venu au pouvoir
     en 1963, le gouvernement Pearson a rapidement
     identifie la politique culturelle et,
     particulierement, la radiodiffusion comme des
     armes strategiques dans son combat contre la
     montee du mouvement nationaliste radical au
     Quebec.  Ceci fut au centre de la strategie du
     gouvernement Trudeau dans les annees 1980.  Avec
     l'election du gouvernement Mulroney en 1984, la
     lutte pour le controle du champ culturel est
     remplacee par la collaboration au nom du
     developpement economique.  La politique federale
     sur la radiodiffusion s'inscrit dans une tendance
     generale visant la reduction des depenses de
     l'Etat et la croissance du role du secteur prive.
     Vers 1985, les Conservateurs cessent de defendre
     l'idee d'un politique unifie de radiodiffusion.
     Cette vision se retrouve dans le rapport
     Caplan-Sauvageau qui dit que les services en
     anglais et en francais de Radio-Canada doivent
     etre vus comme au service de "societes dis-
     tinctes".  Cette vision a aussi donne lieu aux
     projets de loi C-136 et C-40 qui constituent la
     nouvelle Loi de la radiodiffusion de 1990.  Malgre
     quelques enonces vagues sur l'importance
     socioculturelle de la radiodiffusion, le peu de
     support que le gouvernement conservateur donne a
     la radiodiffusion publique illustre son point de
     vue a l'effet qu'il s'agit la d'une industrie
     comme les autres.  Ainsi, la radiodiffusion a
     evolue au gre des agendas politiques et
     economiques de la societe et de ses dirigeants.
     De plus, la radiodiffusion a ete le reflet du
     manque de consensus sur la nature fondamentale
     de la nation canadienne.


     As social institutions subject to the tensions and
pressures  that characterize a given society at any
point in time, mass   communication systems provide a
good indication of how a society  sees itself and where
it perceives that it is headed. This has   been par-
ticularly true in the case of Canadian broadcasting,
whose  evolution over the past sixty years has closely
paralleled  the  continuing debate over Canadian nation-
hood. [1]
     Various combinations of political and economic
factors have  come into play in the federal govern-
ment's attempts to develop a  policy on broadcasting
since the late 1920s, but the national   question has
never been far from the heart of the matter. In this
respect, the following characteristics are important to
bear in mind:

     1) despite often vigorous claims from the
     provinces,   especially Quebec, broadcasting
     has been staked out and maintained  as an
     area of exclusive federal jurisdiction;
     2) despite the centralist, unitary nature of
     the   system's governing policy framework,
     broadcasting services have   developed along
     parallel lines in English and in French;
     3) despite the system's formal autonomy,
     Ottawa has   tended to view broadcasting as
     an extension of the state - particularly in
     ascribing to the Canadian Broadcasting  Cor-
     poration  a role in the promotion of national

    As this combination of contradictions might lead one to
believe, broadcasting in Canada has been seen not only as a
means of communication, but as an object of struggle, a
contested terrain.
    Looking at the evolution of Canadian broadcasting from
its inception in the 1920s up to the recent Meech Lake
debates can thus tell us a good deal about the nature of our
constitutional and national dilemma.


    Although broadcasting in Canada actually began in 1919,
the basic framework of the Canadian broadcasting system was
laid out by the Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting
(chaired by Sir John Aird) that reported in 1929 [2].
Remarkably, the central issues in Canadian broadcasting
today are essentially the same as they were at that time.
    The Aird commission recommended wholesale nationaliza-
tion of the then largely commercial radio system, and
creation of a national publicly-owned monopoly to operate
all broadcasting in Canada on a basis of public service for
the information, enlightenment and entertainment of the
Canadian people.  Even before its report was tabled,
however, the Quebec government of Louis-Alexandre Taschereau
passed legislation authorizing Quebec to erect and operate
its own radio station, as well as produce programs for
broadcast by existing commercial stations.
    Before acting on the recommendations, Ottawa asked the
Supreme Court to determine whether jurisdiction over
broadcasting lay with the Dominion or the provinces, and
in 1931 the Court ruled in Ottawa's favour.  An appeal to
the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London took
another year to resolve, and so it was only in 1932 that
Ottawa had a clear signal to legislate.
    The Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act of 1932 created a
national public broadcaster, the Canadian Radio Broad-
casting Commission, which had the additional
responsibilities of regulating the activities of the
private ate broadcasters.  (This double mandate would be
transferred to the CRBC's successor, the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation, by the legislative reform of
     Aird had proposed that content over broadcasting
be overseen  by assistant commissioners in each of the
provinces, but this   interesting recommendation was
not retained by the legislator.  The  CRBC, meanwhile,
set out to create a national radio service  in  English
and in French: a single service, using both languages
alternately in such a way that both English and French
audiences  heard the same programme. Or, to put it
another way, the CRBC  took  the approach that there
was only one radio audience in  Canada,  made up of
members of two different language groups.
     In its submission to the Royal Commission on Bi-
lingualism  and  Biculturalism some thirty years later,
the CBC reflected on  this  aspect of its pre-history:

     [This] alternative was tried in the mid-
     thirties as being the  simpler in practice and
     more feasible in view of the limited human,
     technical and financial resources then avail-
     able. Obviously, such  an alternative was
     only workable as long as the program needs of
     both groups could be met by a single network.
     With the passage of  time and the development
     of broadcasting techniques and resources,
     the demands of each group for a more complete
     service continued to  grow, presenting the
     Corporation with a situation which could only
     be met adequately by duplicate networks,
     English and French. These  the Corporation
     proceeded to establish and the pattern then
     adopted  has prevailed to the present...Need-
     less to say, the transition was not as simple
     and orderly  as the foregoing would suggest..."[3]

     Indeed, it was not. The most important factor in
compelling  the CRBC to move away from a single service
using two languages  to  "parallel services" in each
language as early as 1934 was the  absolute, militant
refusal of anglophone communities in the   Maritimes,
Ontario and western Canada to accept the presence of
French on the air. This has been documented in the
memoirs of Canadian radio pioneers such as E.A. Corbett,
Hector  Charlesworth,  and Austin Weir, according to
whom French  programming on national  radio sparked
"a queer mixture of  prejudice, bigotry and fear".  [4]
     By 1941, separation of the two services was com-
plete - although the original CBC news service, created
to meet the   demands of covering the Second World War,
operated bilingually.   Paradoxically, yet to be ex-
pected, the institution of separate   services was
welcomed by French-Canadian nationalists, who had
feared becoming the marginalized minority within a
single,   nominally bilingual service. The French net-
work achieved a degree  of administrative autonomy
because of "the need for national  unity  raised by the
war", but no sooner was it in place than it  became
the focus of a national crisis. [5]
     In January 1942 the government announced it would
hold a plebiscite on conscription. In the ensuing
campaign, the Quebec-based Ligue pour la defense du
Canada, a broad front of political  and social leaders
opposed to conscription, sought to use the public
airwaves in order to urge their fellow citizens to vote
"No". The CBC, by order of the government, denied the
"No" voice  access to its stations. The opponents of
conscription were able  to  promote their cause by
purchasing paid advertising on  commercial  stations,
however, resulting in another paradox: the iden-
tification of "public" broadcasting as an oppressive
agent of  centralized federalism, and of French-Canadian
entrepreneurial capital as a progressive force.


    Citing the educational nature of broadcasting, as "a
powerful medium of publicity and intellectual and moral
training", the government of Quebec under Maurice
Duplessis claimed that Quebec had the constitutional
tional authority to create a provincial broadcasting
service, and passed legislation setting up Radio--Quebec
in 1945 [7].  Duplessis's legislation was never put into
effect, after C.D.  Howe announced in the House of Commons
that, "since broadcasting is the sole responsibility of
the Dominion government, broadcasting licences shall not
be issued to other governments or corporations owned by
other governments." [8]
    Meanwhile, outside Quebec the "parallel services" of
public broadcasting were developing unequally.  While the
CBC's English-language radio service extended from coast
to coast by 1938, the same could not be said for French-
language service in the 1950s.  The Royal Commission on
National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences
(the Massey Commission) reported in 1951 that French-
speaking communities outside Quebec were still poorly
served by the CBC: "It has been pointed out to us
repeatedly in different parts of Canada that the French-
speaking Canadian listener does not receive a broadcasting
service equal to that intended for his English-speaking
neighbour" [9].  Six years later, the Royal Commission on
Broadcasting (the Fowler Commission) found that many parts
of Canada were still unserved in French, and suggested
that this was more than a question of available resources:
"It remains a moot question, however, whether Canada has
yet reached the stage of complete national maturity where
the introduction of French on the airwaves of Ontario...
would not be regarded by a substantial majority as an
intolerable intrusion rather than the cultural complement
that in truth it would be." [10]
     The Conservative government elected in 1957 sought
to build  up the commercial side of Canadian broadcast-
ing, and paid little  attention to its role in the
complexities of the evolving  national  dilemma. This
was most apparent in its response to the  historic
Radio-Canada producers' strike of 1958-59, which saw,
among other  things, the rise to political prominence
of Rene  Levesque. Gerard  Pelletier has pointed out
that much of the  problem was  attributable to the fact
that the French network  executives in  Montreal lacked
the authority to negotiate on behalf of the corporation,
while the head office in Ottawa did not bother to take
it seriously. The strike paralysed French-language tele-
vision for 68 days (there was only one available Canadian
channel in each language at the time), and became a symbol
of the historic inequality of French and English Canada. [11]


    By the time the Liberals returned to power in 1963,
the situation had changed.  In fact, early in its mandate
the Pearson government publicly identified cultural policy
in general and broadcasting in particular as strategic
weapons in its struggle against the rising and increas-
ingly radical nationalist movement in Quebec.  In the
House of Commons on November 13, 1964, secretary of state
Maurice Lamontagne announced the government's intention to
rationalize and centralize the activities of all federal
cultural agencies under the jurisdiction of his office,
and to create a cabinet committee on cultural affairs.
Under the new policy, the national broadcasting service,
the CBC, would play a central role:

     "The CBC is one of Canada's most vital and
     essential  institutions at this crucial mo-
     ment of our history. The CBC must  become a
     living and daily testimony of the Canadian
     identity, a  faithful reflection of our two
     main cultures and a powerful element  of
     understanding, moderation and unity in our
     country. If it  performs these national tasks
     with efficiency, its occasional  mistakes
     will be easily forgotten; if it fails in that
     mission, its  other achievements will not
     compensate for that failure." [12]

    This was the clearest enunciation of the CBC's
mission, in the government's eyes, since the war.  It
became clearer still during the next few years.  At
parliamentary committee hearings in 1966, Liberal
backbenchers from Quebec and Radio-Canada middle
management executives sparred over their respective
views of the CBC's role vis-a-vis the emerging question
of "separatism".  When a new broadcasting act was intro-
duced in October 1967, it contained a clause that read as
follows: "The national broadcasting service [CBC]
should... contribute to the development of national unity
and provide for a continuing expression of Canadian
identity." [13]
    In the House, secretary of state Judy LaMarsh said the
national unity clause was "perhaps the most important
feature of the CBC's mandate in the new bill" [14].  This
was the first time that Parliament had tried to spell out
the goals and purposes of the CBC, she told the parlimen-
tary committee: "[The CBC] is the instrument which
Parliament has chosen with respect to broadcasting.
Parliament is now, in this bill, saying to the instrument
that this is one of its purposes, and as long as that
purpose is there, to help weld the country together,
Parliament is prepared to raise taxes from the people to
keep it going...  I do not think there is very much more
time for public broadcasting to prove itself, to prove to
Canadians it is worth while spending the money on." [15]
    After some vigorous debate, the broadcasting act
passed, with the controversial clause intact.  The NDP's
R.W.  Prittie expressed the fear of a witchhunt.  Gerard
Pelletier admitted he had doubts about it "lead[ing] some
people to believe that it is not a matter of promotion but
of propaganda" [16].  And an important observation on the
implications of the clause came from Conservative MP David
MacDonald: "When we begin to move into areas such as ...
national unity, we are in effect moving away from the
concept of public broadcasting toward the idea of state
broadcasting whereby the broadcasting system of the
country becomes an extension of the state." [17]
    Radio-Canada's interpretation of its mandate to
promote national unity led to bizarre incidents such as
keeping its cameras trained on the parade at the 1968
SaintJean-Baptiste Day celebrations in Montreal, while
police and demonstrators fought a bloody battle on the
sidelines.  During the October Crisis of 1970, the federal
cabinet closely oversaw what was and was not broadcast by
Radio-Canada, and a few months later a string of
management "supervisors" appeared in the corporation's
news-rooms, with no apparent function other than political
surveillance [18].  The former head of Radio-Canada news
and public affairs, Marc Thibault, remembers one official
whose job was to monitor all news programs and count the
number of times the word quebecois was used. [19]
    The situation culminated with Prime Minister Trudeau's
instruction to the federal regulatory agency, the Canadian
Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, to
inquire into CBC news coverage in the wake of the election
of the Parti Quebecois in Quebec in November 1976:

     "Doubts have been expressed as to whether the
     English and  French television networks of
     [the CBC] generally, and in particular their
     public affairs, information and news pro-
     gramming are  fulfilling the mandate of the
     Corporation..." [20].

    The CRTC dutifully investigated and reported, in July
1977, that the CBC had indeed failed "to contribute to the
development of national unity" - but not in the sense
anticipated by the prime minister.  The problem was not a
bias in favour of separatist politics, it said, but
deficient representation of Canada's "two solitudes" to
one another.  In English and in French, the CBC did not
pay adequate attention to the regions of Canada; it was
too centralized and aloof, too influenced by commercial
pressures, too bureaucratic.  "In the modern world,"
reported the CRTC, "political and economic developments
tend to centralize; cultural developments, on the other
hand, tend to be regional, arising in much more sharply
delimited areas." [21]
     The 1977 CRTC inquiry appears to have been a turn-
ing point  in  the Liberal government's view of the
role of media in Canada's constitutional struggle. By
year's end it had created a new agency, the Canadian
Unity Information Office, and strategy for containment
of the pressures of national fragmentation thereafter
flowed through there. Political expectations of the CBC
diminished, and in the important run-up to the Quebec
referendum   of 1980, the corporation was left to estab-
lish and carry out an   internal policy of news coverage
according to rigorous journalistic standards and the
principle of "the public's right  to  be informed" [22].
Ultimately, the referendum campaign was covered  by CBC
as a straight news event, while the government  sought
to  mobilize its constituency directly, particularly
through advertising. [23]
     The role of the CBC aside, political struggles
surrounding the national question continued to mark the
evolution of Canadian  broadcasting in the 1960s and
     From 1968 on, renewed demands from Quebec for
constitutional powers in broadcasting highlighted the
constitutional debates of  the day and marked the evo-
lution of communications in Canada. In  its brief to the
constitutional conference convened by Lester   Pearson
in February 1968, Quebec claimed the right to play the
role of a national state in matters pertaining to language
and culture, including broadcasting. As instruments
of education and  culture, radio and television rightfully
belong under provincial  jurisdiction, the Quebec brief
argued. The court ruling of 1932  was "unacceptable";
federal agencies like the CBC should be made  to reflect
the "bicultural reality" of Canada; jurisdiction over
broadcasting should not be the exclusive domain of the
federal government. [24]
    In the coming months, debate focused on the question
of "educational broadcasting".  The new broadcasting act
stated that "facilities should be provided within the
Canadian broadcasting system for educational broadcasting"
[25].  As we saw earlier, federal policy explicitly
excluded provincial governments or their agencies from
holding broadcasting licences.  Yet, education was clearly
under provincial jurisdiction.  Who then would have
control over educational broadcasting?  Returning to
Quebec from the constitutional conference, Johnson
declared that his government ment had decided to apply
Duplessis' 1945 law establishing Radio-Quebec [26].  The
move was enough to upset Ottawa's design.  By the end of
1969, Ottawa and the provinces had settled on a definition
of educational broadcasting under which, in the 1970s,
provincial public broadcasting agencies would begin
operating in four provinces.
    The growing complexity of communications in the late
1960s prompted Ottawa to create a Department of
Communications in April 1969.  Determined to match Ottawa
move for move, Quebec created its own Ministre des
communications six months later.  In the early 1970s,
negotiating a strong role for Quebec in communications
policy became one of the hallmarks of Robert Bourassa's
program for achieving "cultural sovereignty".  In a series
of policy statements authored by Communications Minister
Jean-Paul L'Allier, Quebec proposed "to promote and
maintain a quebecois system of communications" [27], and
to become "master craftsman of communications policy on
its territory". [28]
    The cornerstone of Quebec's policy was to be the Regie
des services publics, the regulatory authority for
utilities falling under the province's jurisdiction.
L'Allier saw the Regie becoming a Quebec equivalent to the
CRTC, extending its activities to areas such as cable
television - which, Quebec argued, were not covered by the
Privy Council decision of 1932.  In 1973, the Regie began
to subject the 160 cable companies then operating in
Quebec, to its own regulation as well as that of the CRTC,
and within a year the inevitable occurred: in applications
to serve a community near Rimouski, the Regie and the CRTC
awarded licences to two different applicants.  It took
until November 1977 for the Supreme Court to decide the
Dionne-d'Auteuil case in favour of the CRTC, ruling that
Ottawa had exclusive jurisdiction over cable [29].  Oddly
enough, the Court split neatly along national lines, the
three judges from Quebec dissenting from the majority
opinion.  As constitutional scholar Gil Remillard put it:
"On the strictly legal level, both options were defensi-
ble.  The decision was based on the judges' different
conceptions of Canadian federalism." [30]
    Under the Parti Quebecois government, Quebec did not
directly engage with Ottawa over communications policy.
The PQ carried over the policy thrust of the Bourassa
government but basically abdicated to its lack of power
over communications under the existing system.  In the
view of communications minister Louis O'Neill, political
sovereignty was the only solution to Quebec's
communications problems [31].  Paradoxically, the PQ was
thus a lot less aggressive than its predecessors in
seeking concrete gains from Ottawa in this area.  It
concentrated instead on developing the programs and
policies begun by Union Nationale and Liberal governments:
Radio-Quebec, now a full-fledged broadcaster, and the
particular Quebec form of participatory communication
known as "community" media.


     Both in Ottawa and Quebec, communication policy
took on a  new  - yet strangely similar - shape after
the referendum of 1980.
     In Ottawa, as we saw earlier, the view of the CBC
as the   centrepiece of Canadian cultural policy had
begun to shift as of  the late 1970s. With the referen-
dum out of the way, the entire   cultural sphere took
on a distinctly economic vocation. In July   1980, the
arts and culture branch of the department of the
secretary of state and ministerial responsibility for
culture were  transferred to the industry-oriented DOC.
Communications minister  Francis Fox told the par-
liamentary committee that the diffusion  of  culture
would henceforth depend increasingly on its industrial
base and the DOC would be concentrating on the growth
of  "cultural  industries". [32]
    The new orientation was underwritten by the Federal
Cultural Policy Review Committee (Applebaum-Hebert) that
reported in 1982, and spelled out in detail in a series of
policy statements signed by Fox in 1983-84 [33].  Since
then, federal policy has been marked notably by a gradual
withdrawal of fiscal responsibility for public service
broadcasting (CBC budget cuts), privatization of tele-
vision production (through the Telefilm fund) and the
introduction of a wide range of new commercial cable-
delivered television signals (pay-tv and non-discretionary
subscriber-funded specialty services).  In generic terms,
the 1980s marked a shift from the political to the
economic, and the eclipse of the traditional sociocultural
objectives of broadcasting in Canada.
     The new approach in Quebec was strangely similar,
as in the  post-referendum context, Quebec appeared to
lose interest in the  sociocultural possibilities of
communications altogether, and placed its emphasis on
industrial development. Ottawa and Quebec  thus found
themselves on the same wavelength, as the PQ discourse
on communications became increasingly economistic, and
its policy  industrially-oriented during its second
mandate. Quebec communications minister Jean-Francois
Bertrand signalled the new situation in June 1981: PQ
communications policy would be based  on  economic
development, and not on making jurisdictional demands
from Ottawa [34]. Indeed, Quebec under the PQ seemed
determined  to  outpace Ottawa in shifting the accent
in communications from the cultural and political to
the industrial and economic spheres. [35]
    So the Quebec referendum not only changed the
underlying basis for both Ottawa's and Quebec's strategy
in communications, and shifted the emphasis from the
political and sociocultural to the economic and the
industrial; it also changed the nature of jurisdictional
conflict between Quebec and Ottawa - competition over
control of cultural development could change to
collaboration in the name of economic development [36].
But such collaboration was not possible while the liberals
were in office in Ottawa, given the rigidity of their
historic claim to exclusive jurisdiction over communica-
tions.  It had to await the election of the Conservatives
in 1984.
     The most generous thing one can say about the new
 Conservative government's broadcasting policy is that
it had  none.  In general, the government's early in-
itiatives with  respect to  broadcasting coincided with
its general thrust towards  reduced  public spending
and expanding the role of the private  sector in  the
Canadian economy [37]. But broadcasting and  communica-
tions  generally quickly emerged as one of the sectors
on  the cutting  edge of the government's plan for
"national  reconciliation" after  the institutionalized
antagonism of the  Trudeau years.
     Brian Mulroney's choice of Marcel Masse to be his
Minister  of  Communications was an astute one in this
regard. Masse was not   only a loyal Tory, but a reput-
ed Quebec nationalist who had been   involved with the
Union Nationale government of the late 1960s in   its
battle for more provincial power through agencies such
as   Radio-Quebec. He was the ideal minister for thaw-
ing relations  with  Quebec while applying broad govern-
ment policy to  communications.
     Tendering the olive branch to Quebec, was not only
an effective manoeuvre in terms of the government's
thrust toward national reconciliation, it was also an
early move to deflect criticism from its attitude
towards national public broadcasting.  In an interview
with Le Devoir in December 1984, Masse said:

     "The Conservative Party applies its theories
     in every sector,  in communications as else-
     where... the state is an important tool in
     economic affairs as in cultural affairs, but
     we are not about to  have a culture of the
     state... we are going to have a culture of
     Canadians. We have insisted, to the exclusion
     of everything else,  that the defence of
     Canadian culture was the CBC's responsibility.
     We have insisted on this until everyone else
     wound up believing they had no responsibility.
     Perhaps it is time to redress the balance.
     Canadian culture belongs to the Canadian people,
     and it is  up to them, through all their insti-
     tutions, to see that it flourishes." [38]

     In the same interview, Masse added that he saw
provincial broadcasters as positive instruments for
regional cultural development, not as usurpers of
federal authority (the standard Liberal view).
     Elsewhere, while his government administered crip-
pling surgery to the CBC budget, Masse was fond of
reminding audiences of the previous government's at-
titude towards public  broadcasting:  "We're not the
ones who threatened to put the key in the door of  the
CBC because we didn't like its news coverage,"  he told
a  meeting of Quebec journalists in Montreal. [39]
On February 1, 1985, Masse and Quebec communications
minister  Jean-Francois Bertrand signed an agreement on
communications  enterprises development under which
they jointly  provided $40  million in seed-money to
stimulate research and job  creation by  Quebec-based
communications firms. The industrial  thrust of the
accord was self-evident, aiming at technical innova-
tion and support for the production, development and
marketing of communications goods and services, espe-
cially in  export markets.[40]
     It was the first ever communications agreement
between  Ottawa  and Quebec since they created their
respective  communications  ministries a few months
apart in 1969. Masse and  Bertrand also  announced the
setting up of a permanent joint  committee, chaired  by
their two deputy ministers, to pursue  further areas of
collaboration. This committee has functioned  success-
fully ever  since, making communications one field
where  Ottawa and Quebec  actually function d'egal a
egal. [41]
     The committee's first effort produced an important
report on  "The Future of French-Language Television",
made public in May   1985 [42]. The report's central
recommendation was crucial to the developing federal
policy with respect to broadcasting, as well as strange-
ly premonitory. It proposed "that the special nature
of  the  French-language television system be recog-
nized within the   Canadian broadcasting system, and
that government policies and   regulations be adapted
accordingly" [43]. Such a proposal would   recognize,
for the first time, the historic reality of parallel
development of Canadian broadcasting since the 1930s.
It would   also mark a major shift in Ottawa's official
attitude that there   is but one policy for Canadian
broadcasting, not two.
     Specifically, the report proposed the following
areas as   requiring distinct policy approaches:

     -Radio-Canada should be allowed to evolve
     separately  (pouvoir  connatre une volution
     distincte) from the CBC;
     -the roles to be played by public and private
     networks in  the  evolution of the French-
     language system should not be assumed  to  be
     the same as in the English;
     -a policy on French-language cable tv should
     be developed to   protect emerging French-
     language specialty services against the
     massive influx of services in English and to
     foster their   introduction by ensuring more
     favourable financing arrangements;
     -private television stations should increase
     their  investment  in French programming;
     -public television networks should make greater
     use of independent production houses and
     government funding agencies should increase
     their support for program creation outside
     the system;
     -public and private television networks should
     work together to maximize audience penetration
     and combat audience erosion by English-language
     -the status of Quebec community television
     organizations should be clarified, funding
     sources increased and experience used to
     promote development outside Quebec;
     -delivery of French signals to underserved
     areas should be promoted.

     In addition, the report proposed general ongoing
consultation  between Ottawa and Quebec. A "harmoniz-
ation"  agreement for the  development of French-lan-
guage television was  signed soon  thereafter [44]. Since
then, areas of federal-provincial  collaboration have
included working groups on cable  television,  child-
ren's advertising, and computer software [45],  and the
idea  of tailoring policy to meet the distinct needs of
different  markets has been reflected notably in CRTC
decisions  [46] and the  policies of the Telefilm fund.
     Quebec public opinion welcomed the new distribu-
tion of resources in communications, which was seen as
a move away from   the traditional approach of massive,
and exclusive, federal involvement in cultural affairs
[48]. This, it was recalled, had  begun as a kind of
benevolent state intervention in the 1950s in  the wake
of the Massey report, only to be transformed into a
strategic weapon for the promotion of national unity
under the   Pearson, and particularly the Trudeau gov-
     The Mulroney government's first term in office was
marked by  a series of formal initiatives with respect
to broadcasting policy: a comprehensive review by a
Task Force on Broadcasting Policy [49], lengthy hear-
ings and a report by the parliamentary   Standing Com-
mittee on Communications and Culture [50], a minister-
rial policy statement [51], and, finally, a new broad-
casting act. [52]
     The first stage of this process took the form of a
 ministerial task force headed by Gerald Caplan and
Florian   Sauvageau. Its terms of reference, announced
in April 1985, were   to propose "an industrial and
cultural strategy to govern the   future evolution of
the Canadian broadcasting system through the  remainder
of this century...", taking into account "...the need
for fiscal restraint, increased reliance on private
sector initiatives and federal-provincial co-opera-
     The Caplan-Sauvageau task force welcomed the pro-
posals of  the  federal-provincial committee on French-
language television  [53],  and reiterated many of its
key proposals. It proposed "that  the  distinctive
character of Quebec broadcasting be recognized  both in
itself and as the nucleus of French-language broadcast-
ing throughout Canada" [54]. French and English lan-
guage services within the CBC should be recognized as
serving "distinct   societies", and be allowed to take
"different approaches to   meeting the objectives as-
signed to public broadcasting" [55]. The   CBC's French
network budgets should be reviewed "to establish
hourly production costs that reflect the role assigned
to the   French network in the new television environ-
ment" [56]. As for  the  CBC's national unity mandate,
the task force found it   "inappropriate for any broad-
caster, public or private... It   suggests constrained
attachment to a political order rather than   free
expression in the pursuit of a national culture broadly
defined" [57]. The task force proposed to replace it
with "a more   socially oriented provision, for exam-
ple, that the service   contribute to the development
of national consciousness." [58]
     The parliamentary committee that  studied the
Caplan-Sauvageau recommendations in 1986-88 made two
pertinent proposals of its own. One concerned making
the law reflect the CRTC  practice  of "tak[ing] into
consideration the distinctive  characters of  French
and English broadcasting when implementing broadcasting
policy" [59]. The other extended an important task
force proposal,  specifying that the budget for CBC
production  costs be established  "so that the quality
of the Canadian  programs of the English and  French
networks would be comparable."  [60]
     The government's position was formalized in the
policy   statement Canadian Voices Canadian Choices,
signed by Flora   MacDonald and made public a few days
after the report of the   parliamentary committee in
June 1988. Here it was recognized that:

     "The problems and challenges for English--
     language broadcasting  and French-language
     broadcasting are not the same... [and that]
     these differences between the English and
     French broadcasting  environments necessarily
     require different policy approaches for
     each." [61]

     The legislation tabled at the same time (Bill
C-136)  featured  a half-dozen clauses referring to the
linguistic duality  of the  system. The key clause,
article 3.1.b., specified that  "English  and French
language broadcasting, while sharing common  aspects,
operate under different conditions and may have  dif-
ferent requirements" [62]. The CBC's mandate was changed
to read that "the programming provided by the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation  should... contribute to shared
national consciousness and identity" [63]. (An amendment
introduced at third reading added  that it should "strive
to be of equivalent quality in English and in French" as
well. [64])
     Bill C-136 died in the Senate on September 30,
1988, as   Parliament was dissolved for the national
elections [65]. It was  reintroduced virtually intact,
however, as Bill C-40 in October  1989 [66]. This bill
had an even more bizarre itinerary, especially insofar
as the aspects that interest us here are concerned.
     In retrospect, one of the interesting aspects of
the policy  evolution between 1985-88 was just how
little controversy was provoked by issues with constit-
utional implications [67]. In  spite  of an unprece-
dented outpouring of public discussion and production
of official policy documents [68], there was almost no
contradictory debate surrounding the questions we have
been discussing here. The opposition political parties
were especially  silent [69] - particularly in view of
how vocal they had been on these questions in the past,
and would soon be again.
     The situation changed suddenly when Bill C-40 went
to legislative committee in January 1990. The minister
was now once  again Marcel Masse. He reiterated the
general thrust of the legislation as it had been ex-
pressed in Flora MacDonald's policy  statement of June

     "The new proposed legislation recognizes the
     distinct  character of francophone audiences.
     It is clear that English and  French-language
     broadcasting differ in their operations and
     in  their needs..." [70]

     Masse then explained the rewording of the CBC's
national unity mandate, in terms borrowed from Caplan-

     "I have removed from the CBC its obligation
     to promote  Canadian unity because it is,
     first, maintaining this political  value
     artificially, and second, it was a constraint
     on freedom of  expression. This obligation
     also opens the door to an intolerable  inter-
     ference. In removing it, we will rather place
     greater emphasis  on the capacity of Canadians
     to recognize each other through their values."

     The issue was picked up by the NDP's Ian Waddell:

     Waddell: " are now 'Meeching' [the
     CBC]; you are now  applying the doctrine of
     the Meech Lake agreement to this."

Waddell asked Masse to explain what he meant by the
CBC's  old  mandate "maintaining this political value

     Masse: "A public broadcaster must reflect
     society, its  sociological aspects as well as
     its cultural aspects. It is not a  propaganda
     instrument. To become the promoter of one
     aspect of our  reality might easily produce
     consequences that would limit freedom  of
     expression. You may be too young to remember
     the time when  Liberal governments, before
     our time, asked the CBC to report on  the
     number of separatists who worked at or did
     not work at  promoting Canadian unity. We
     lived through those times. They  certainly
     were not the most conducive to freedom of
     expression in  our country."
     Waddell: "The intolerable interference with
     the CBC was when  the [Liberal] government of
     the day issued directions that it did  not
     want separatists in the CBC. That is what you
     mean by  intolerable. Is that why you are
     Masse: "Do you support the government in
     issuing a directive  to Radio-Canada in a
     sense like that?"
     Waddell: "Yes, yes, yes".
     Masse: "Do you support that?"
     Waddell: "I believe in Canada. I believe in
     national unity."
     Masse: "Do you believe in it to the degree
     that you want to  muzzle la liberte d'expres-
     sion in this country?"
     Waddell: "Je ne suis pas separatiste, mon-
     sieur le ministre.  Etes-vous separatiste?"

     The reader will understand if I abandon the narra-
tive at  this  point, although the discussion continued
through several  more  exchanges of a similar nature.
     In subsequent hearing meetings, Liberal and NDP
committee members sought to draw out the views of prom-
inent parties with respect to the national unity man-
date - although not a single   intervenor raised the
question on his or her own steam.
     Under questioning from Liberal member John Harvard
on February 15, broadcasting historian and former CBC
producer Frank  W. Peers, appearing for the Friends of
Canadian Broadcasting, stated:

     "I tend to think the wording in the existing
     act, whereby the  CBC is asked in effect to
     promote national unity, can be a source  of
     difficulty for a public broadcaster which is
     expected to reflect  opinions from all ele-
     ments of the population." [73]

     The head of the CRTC, Keith Spicer, responding to
a question from Waddell, stated on February 22:    "I
would agree with the government on this one. I think
the  words 'national unity' had a historic value at the
time... I think  this new wording is probably more
appropriate to the times we live  in." [74]
     The CBC's designated chairman Patrick Watson,
responding to Liberal member Sheila Finestone, stated
on March 12:

     "...I felt at the time of the passage of the
     previous law in  1968 that the introduction
     of the requirement to promote national  unity
     was inappropriate and verged on requiring of
     the CBC that it  become an instrument of
     propaganda... there is a widely held  feeling
     [within the CBC] that the real obligation of
     this  corporation, of this institution, is to
     reflect realities". [75]

     So, as in 1968, there was no apparent sign of a
public interest (or indeed, of public interest) in the
CBC's national unity mandate. It was strictly an affair
of politicians [76].  When  Bill C-40 returned to the
House for third reading, the  government  voted down
two opposition amendments on the question,  one by
Sheila Finestone proposing a return to the status quo
ante   ("...contribute to the development of national
unity and provide   for a continuing expression of
Canadian identity"), and a hybrid   proposal by Ian
Waddell ("...contribute to national unity, shared
national consciousness and identity"). [77]
     The new Broadcasting Act was finally adopted on
December 5,  1990 - just as the CBC president was an-
nouncing draconian cuts in  staff and services that
would eliminate public broadcasting at  the  local
level. [78] The combination of cynicism and irony
evident in  this coincidence stood as a reminder that
its  ministers' lofty  pronouncements on the sociocul-
tural importance  of broadcasting  notwithstanding, the
Conservative government's  lack of support for  public
broadcasting demonstrated its view of  broadcasting as
just  another business.


     The distant and recent history I have just out-
lined is of   interest to communications and constitu-
tional scholars alike. For  communications scholars, it
shows how media systems,  institutions,  services and
policies evolve according to the  political and economic
agendas of the surrounding society and its elites. For
constitutional scholars it shows the strategic importance
of the  media system and pertaining policy issues to the
evolving constitutional context.
     Aside from what it tells us about media, this
history is  rich  in illustration about governments'
conception of media - and  of  the link between their
constitutional agendas and their  overall  agendas.
     Most of the time, Canadian politicians have tended
to see broadcasting as an instrument of nationbuilding,
and have thus   been quick to blame broadcasting for
failing to contribute to   national unity. The blame is
misplaced and the expectation unreasonable.
     As a forum of public discussion, a mirror of so-
cial life, a system in which problems of jurisdiction,
allocation of resources, and other areas of conflict
are played out, Canadian broadcasting  has reflected
the lack of consensus about the fundamental nature of
Canadian nationhood.
     In this sense, it is a microcosm of Canadian soci-
ety, and of the quintessential Canadian dilemma of how
to accommodate divergent sociocultural demands within a
"national" framework  when  the question of "nation-
hood" remains unresolved.


*  An earlier version of this paper, as well as those
by John Meisel and David Taras in this issue, original-
ly was presented to the "After Meech Lake" conference,
organized by the College of Law and the Department of
Political Studies, University of Saskatchewan, Sas-
katoon, November 1-3 1990. The conference proceedings
have been published and are available.

1. The reader desiring more historical detail is refer-
red to Marc Raboy, Missed Opportunities: The Story of
Canada's Broadcasting  Policy, Montreal and Kingston:
McGill-Queen's University Press,  1990, from which some
of the material in this paper is drawn.

2. Canada, Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting,
Report, Ottawa:  King's Printer, 1929.

3. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Submission to the
Royal  Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism,
Ottawa: CBC, 1964, p.  5.

4. E. Austin Weir, The Struggle for National Broadcast-
ing in  Canada, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1965,
p. 151.

5. See, e.g., Gerard Lamarche, "Radio-Canada et sa
mission  francaise", Canadian Communications 1, 1
(summer 1960): 6-15.

6. See Andre Laurendeau, La Crise de la conscription,
Montreal:  Editions du Jour, 1962 (summarized in Raboy,
Missed Opportunities,  op. cit.).

7. Quebec, Statutes, Loi autorisant la creation d'un
service de  radiodiffusion provinciale, SQ 1945, c. 56.

8. Canada, House of Commons, Debates (1946), p. 1167.

9. Canada, Royal Commission on National Development in
the Arts,  Letters and Sciences, Report, Ottawa: King's
Printer, 1951, p. 297.

10. Canada, Royal Commission on Broadcasting, Report,
Ottawa:  Queen's Printer, 1957, p. 242.

11. See Gerard Pelletier, Les annes d'impatience (1950-
-1960),  Montreal: Stank, 1983 (summarized in Raboy,
Missed Opportunities,  op. cit.).

12. Canada, House of Commons, Debates (1964-65), p.

13. Canada, Statutes, Broadcasting Act, SC 1967-68, c.
25, article  3.g.iv.

14. Canada, House of Commons, Debates (1967-68), p.

15. Canada, House of Commons, Standing Committee on
Broadcasting,  Films and Assistance to the Arts, Minu-
tes (1967-68), pp. 13, 54.

16. Canada, House of Commons, Debates (1967-68), p.

17. Canada, House of Commons, Debates (1967-68), p.

18. See Raboy, Missed Opportunities, op. cit., pp.

19. This was related by Marc Thibault in comments at
the National  Archives of Canada conference, "Beyond
the Printed Word", Ottawa,  October 1988.

20. Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications
Commission,  Committee of Inquiry into the National
Broadcasting Service, Report, Ottawa: CRTC, 1977, pv.

21. Op. cit., p. 9.

22. See, e.g., Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The
CBC - A  Perspective, Ottawa: CBC, 1979, pp. 377-424.

23. See A.W. Johnson, "The Re-Canadianization of Broad-
casting",  Policy Options 4, 2 (March 1983): 6-12; and
Frank Stark, "Persuasion, Propaganda, and Public Policy",
paper to the fourth  annual conference of the
Canadian Communication Association,  Vancouver, June
1983, typescript.

24. Quebec, "Ce que veut le Quebec", brief submitted by
Daniel  Johnson to the Constitutional Conference, first
meeting, Ottawa,  5-7 February 1968.

25. Canada, Statutes, Broadcasting Act, SC 1967-68, c.
25, article  s.2.i.

26. Quebec, Legislative Assembly, Journal des debats
(1968), p. 3.

27. Quebec, Ministre des communications du Quebec, Pour
une  politique quebcoise des communications, Quebec:
MCQ, 1971.

28. Quebec, Ministre des communications du Quebec, Le
Quebec,  matre d'oeuvre de la politique des communica-
tions sur son  territoire, Quebec: MCQ, 1973.

29. Canada, Supreme Court, Supreme Court Reports (1978),
vol. 2,  pp. 191-210.

30. Gil Remillard, Le federalisme canadien: Elements
constitutionnels de formation et d'evolution, Montreal:
Quebec-  Amerique, 1980, p. 349.

31. Quebec, National Assembly, Journal des debats
(1977), p. B-  2095.

32. Canada, House of Commons, Standing Committee on
Communications  and Culture, Minutes (1980-83), p. 2/9.

33. Canada, Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee,
Report,  Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada,
1982; Canada,  Department of Communications, Towards
a New National Broadcasting  Policy, Ottawa: Minister
of Supply and Services Canada, 1983;  Building for
the Future: Towards a Distinctive CBC, Ottawa:  Minister
of Supply and Services Canada, 1983; The National
Film and  Video Policy, Ottawa: Minister of Supply and
Services Canada, 1984.

34. See Quebec, National Assembly, Journal des debats
(1981), pp.  B-326-329.

35. See, e.g., Quebec, Ministre des communications du
Quebec,  Batir l'avenir, Quebec: Gouvernement du Quebec,
1982; and Le Quebec  et les communications: Un futur
simple?, Quebec: Gouvernement du  Quebec, 1983.

36. See Gaetan Tremblay, "La politique quebcoise en
matire de  communication (1966-1986): 'De l'affirmation
autonomiste  la  cooperation federale-provinciale",
Communication information 9, 3  (summer 1988): 57-87.

37. See Canada, Task Force on Program Review, An Intro-
duction to  the Process of Program Review, Ottawa:
Minister of Supply and  Services Canada, 1986.

38. "Marcel Masse: Radio-Canada prend trop de place
dans le budget  culturel". Le Devoir (Bernard Desco-
teaux), 20 December 1984.

39. Comments to a meeting of the Federation profession-
nelle des  journalistes du Quebec, Montreal, 10 December

40. Canada/Quebec, Canada-Quebec Subsidiary Agreement
on Communications Enterprises Development 1984-1990,
Ottawa and Quebec:  Government of Canada / Gouvernement
du Quebec, 1985. See also  Tremblay, op. cit.

41. This view was expressed to the author in these
words by a  senior official of the MCQ in June 1990, a
few days before the  collapse of the Meech Lake accord.

42. Canada/Quebec, Federal-provincial committee, The
Future of  French-Language Television. Ottawa and Quebec
bec: Government of Canada  / Gouvernement du Quebec,

43. Op. cit., p. 2. The French version read: "...que le
systeme  televisuel francophone soit reconnu comme une
entit specifique du  systeme canadien et qu'en conse-
quence des politiques distinctes lui soient appliques"
(p. 10). According to the MCQ official referred  to in
note 41, "C'etait Meech avant la lettre" - it was a
precursor  to Meech.

44. Canada/Quebec, "Canada-Quebec Memorandum of Under-
standing on the Development of the French-language
Television System", Ottawa  and Quebec: Government of
Canada / Gouvernement du Quebec, 13  February 1986.

45. Tremblay, op. cit., p. 83.

46. E.g., Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunica-
tions  Commission, More Canadian Programming Choices,
Ottawa: CRTC, 30  November, 1987.

47. However, the functioning of the Telefilm fund is
now being  contested by Quebec. See, e.g., "Les copro-
ductions avec la France  vont bien... mais en anglais",
Le Devoir (Paule des Rivieres), 22  October 1990.

48. See, e.g., Lise Bissonnette, "L'envers du decor",
Le Devoir  (editorial), 23 March 1985.

49. Canada, Task Force on Broadcasting Policy, Report,
Ottawa:  Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1986.

50. Canada, House of Commons, Standing Committee on
Communications  and Culture, A Broadcasting Policy for
Canada (Report), Ottawa:  Minister of Supply and Services
Canada, 1988.

51. Canada, Communications Canada, Canadian Voices
Canadian  Choices: A New Broadcasting Policy for Canada,
Ottawa: Minister of  Supply and Services Canada,

52. Canada, Unpassed Bills, Broadcasting Act, Bill
C-136, First  Reading, 23 June 1988.

53. Task Force on Broadcasting Policy, op. cit., p.

54. Op. cit., p. 223.

55. Op. cit., p. 217.

56. Op. cit., p. 253.

57. Op. cit., pp. 283-284.

58. Op. cit., p. 285.

59. Canada, House of Commons, Standing Committee on
Communications  and Culture (1986-88), Sixth Report,
recommendation 65 (A  Broadcasting Policy for Canada,
op. cit., p. 418.

60. A Broadcasting Policy for Canada, op. cit., recom-
mendation 34,  p. 363.

61. Canadian Voices Canadian Choices, op. cit., pp.

62. Bill C-136, op. cit., article 3.1.b.

63. Op. cit., article 3.1.n.iv.

64. Canada, Unpassed Bills, Broadcasting Act, Bill
C-136, Third  Reading, 28 September 1988, article 3.1.-

65. See Raboy, Missed Opportunities, op. cit., pp.

66. Canada, 34th Parliament, second session (1989- ),
Broadcasting  Act, Bill C-40, First Reading, 12 October

67. A rare exception came from newspaper columnist
William Johnson,  for whom Bill C-136 stood for the
"meeching" of Canada. By  reflecting "the view that
Quebec is a distinct society", he wrote,  the bill
would "break the national coherence of the CBC"
(William  Johnson, "'Meeching' of Canada takes another
step forward",  Montreal Gazette (column), 21 September

68. See Marc Raboy, "Two Steps Forward, Three Steps
Back: Canadian  Broadcasting Policy from Caplan-Sauvageau
to Bill C- 136", Canadian  Journal of Communication
14, 1 (1989): 70-75.

69. According to a research project in progress at
Laval  University, no Liberal or NDP intervention before
the task force,  the parliamentary committee, or the
legislative committee hearings  on Bill C-136 addressed
the question of the distinct society or the  CBC's
national unity mandate (personal files).

70. Canada, House of Commons, Legislative Committee on
Bill C-40,  Minutes (31 January 1990), p. 11.

71. Ibid.

72. Op. cit., pp. 17-18.

73. Op. cit., 15 February 1990, p. 29.

74. Op. cit., 22 February 1990, pp. 17-18.

75. Op. cit., 12 March 1990, p. 6.

76. See for example the debate among members at the
legislative committee's final public session in Canada,
House of Commons,  Legislative Committee on Bill
C-40, Minutes (15 March 1990), pp.  69-84.

77. Canada, 34th Parliament, second session, House of
Commons,  Order Paper and Notice Paper no. 170 (23
April 1990).

78. See for example,  "Drop in funds cited in CBC cuts",
The Globe and  Mail (Hugh Winsor), 6 December
1990; Gerald Caplan, "CBC cutbacks tear another hole in
fabric of national unity", Montreal Gazette, 8 December

Marc Raboy is Professor of Communication at Laval
University, in Quebec City.

                  Copyright 1991
Communication Institute for Online Scholarship, Inc.