CBC/Radio-Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia



The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)/Radio-Canada is one of the world's major public broadcasting organizations. It operates national radio (AM and FM) and television networks in English and French; provides regional and local radio and television programming in both official languages; broadcasts locally produced programs in English and Indigenous languages for people living in the far North; runs a multilingual shortwave service for listeners overseas; and provides closed captioning for the deaf.
Canadian Broadcasting Centre, Interior 1
The centre comprises a 1.72 million square foot, 10-storey building, with rooftop television studios, and two basement levels (courtesy CBC).
Canadian Broadcasting Centre, Exterior
The dramatic centre was the result of 16 years of planning and design. It is one of Canada's most innovative buildings (courtesy CBC).

It is funded primarily by federal statutory grants (currently nearly 60 per cent of its budget), but also derives revenues from commercial sponsorship, advertising, and the sale of programs to other countries. While ultimately responsible to Parliament for its overall conduct, it is independent of government control in its day-to-day operations. From its creation in the midst of the Great Depression to the present day, it has sought to provide Canadians with a broad range of high-quality indigenous information and entertainment programming, even as its critics continue to lobby the government to abolish its funding of the Crown Corporation and level the playing field for all broadcasters.

Founding of the CBC/Radio-Canada

The creation of the CBC/Radio-Canada as a crown corporation on 2 November 1936 followed two earlier experiments with public broadcast ownership in Canada. During the 1920s the Canadian National Railways (CNR) developed a radio network with stations in Ottawa, Montréal, Toronto, Moncton and Vancouver. Its schedule included concerts, comic opera, school broadcasts and historical drama, though by the end of 1929 it was still providing only three hours of programming a week nationally.

Together with the example of the British Broadcasting Corporation, however, the CNR radio stations helped to make the merits of public ownership more apparent to the Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting appointed by Mackenzie King on 6 December 1928, under the chairmanship of Sir John Aird. The privately owned Canadian stations were not only beginning to fall into American hands but also seemed incapable at the time of providing an adequate Canadian alternative to the programming that was flooding across the border from the United States.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Rt. Honourable Louis St-Laurent with officials of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Montreal, 1951 - (L-R): Mr. Donald Manson, Dr. Augustin Frigon, St-Laurent, Mr. Davidson Danton (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-122240).

The moving force within the Aird Commission was Charles Bowman, editor of the Ottawa Citizen, who was convinced that public ownership of broadcasting was necessary to protect Canada against American cultural penetration. After receiving submissions from across the country and visiting other broadcasting systems, the Aird Commission submitted its report on 11 September 1929, less than two months before the stock market crashed. It recommended the creation of a national broadcasting company with the status and duties of a public utility and a source of public funds to develop a service capable of "fostering a national spirit and interpreting national citizenship." Specifically, it called for the elimination of the private stations, albeit with compensation.

Because of the economic crisis, consideration of the Aird Report was delayed, and this enabled some of the more powerful private stations and their principal lobbying agency, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, to launch a campaign against it. But the report’s basic principles were defended by the Canadian Radio League (CRL), an informal voluntary organization set up in Ottawa by Alan Plaunt and Graham Spry in the fall of 1930. They prepared pamphlets stating the case for public ownership; recruited other voluntary organizations as well as representatives from business, banking, trade unions, the farming community and educational institutions; and sent a formal delegation to meet the minister of marine and fisheries, who held the responsibility for licensing radio operations at the time.

Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC)

The newly elected Conservative government of R.B. Bennett responded to the appeals of the CRL by passing the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act (1932). It established a publicly owned Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) with a mandate to provide programs and extend coverage to all settled parts of the country.

The CRBC took over the radio facilities owned and initially set up by Canadian National Railways and began to broadcast in English and French under the guidance of commissioners Thomas Maher, Hector Charlesworth and Lieutenant Colonel W. Arthur Steel. The private stations, whose fate was left in the commission's hands, helped the CRBC to get some of its programs aired nationally, but did not cooperate fully. Nonetheless, the CRBC allowed them to continue and even expand and in the end most of them outlived the commission itself.

The CRBC suffered from underfunding, an uncertain mandate, inappropriate administrative arrangements and a series of tactless political broadcasts. But as a result of further lobbying by the CRL, the Liberal government of King was persuaded to replace it with a stronger public agency rather than abandon broadcasting to the private sector.

Canadian Broadcasting Act (1936) and Early Growth

A new Canadian Broadcasting Act in 1936 created the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)/Radio-Canada as a crown corporation, with a better organizational structure, more assured funding through the use of a licence fee on receiving sets (initially set at $2.50), and decreased vulnerability to political pressure. The corporation assumed the assets, liabilities and principal functions of the CRBC, including responsibility for regulating the private stations and providing indigenous programs for all Canadians.

From 1936 to 1958, the CBC/Radio-Canada was headed by a board of governors, initially composed of nine unsalaried members representing the various regions of Canada. The board was responsible for the formulation of general policy and for regulating the private stations. Its first chairman was Leonard W. Brockington, a noted lawyer from Winnipeg. In 1939 he was succeeded by René Morin. In 1944, the Broadcasting Act was amended to provide for the appointment of a full-time salaried chairman for a term of three years. On 14 November 1945 A. Davidson Dunton, who had previously served as general manager of the Wartime Information Board, was appointed to the position and served as chairman until 1 July 1958.

Davidson Dunton, public servant and educator
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 board was also responsible for appointing a general manager and an assistant general manager to oversee the day-to-day operations of the corporation. The first general manager was Gladstone Murray, a Canadian-born director of public relations for the BBC.

The CBC/Radio-Canada began operations with eight stations of its own and 16 privately owned affiliates. A technical survey authorized by the board of governors revealed that this network provided assured coverage for only half of Canada's 11 million inhabitants and mainly for those in urban communities. It also confirmed that residents in major cities suffered from constant interference from high-powered American stations. In order to remedy this situation, in 1937 50-kW transmitters were built in Montréal and Toronto, increasing coverage to about 76 per cent of the population.

The same year, the CBC/Radio-Canada helped to organize a North American conference in Havana at which Canada was allocated six clear channels for stations with 50 kW or more, eight clear channels for stations from 0.25 to 50 kW, and shared use of 41 regional and six local channels. To reach outlying areas, the broadcaster added 50-kW transmitters in Saskatchewan and the Maritimes in 1939 and began building low-power relay transmitters in BC, Northern Ontario and parts of New Brunswick. After the war, additional 50-kW stations were built in Manitoba and Alberta and the power of CJBC, its flagship station in Toronto, was increased to the same wattage.

Early Programming

The development of indigenous programming proceeded more slowly than the extension of coverage. Considerable use was made initially of entertainment, serious music and talk programs produced in the United States and the UK.

Following a program survey to determine the extent and location of Canadian talent, the broadcaster gradually created its own distinctive service, including variety programs such as The Happy Gang; regional farm broadcasts and Harry Boyle's National Farm Radio Forum (for what was still a predominantly rural nation); women's interests programs such as Femina, as well as daily morning talks by a network of women commentators; sports broadcasts, including NHL hockey on Saturday nights with Foster Hewitt; children's programs such as Just Mary with Mary Grannan; and extensive coverage of events such as the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937 and the royal tour of Canada in 1939. A separate French-language network was established and program production was decentralized into five regions: BC, the Prairies provinces, Ontario, Québec and the Maritimes.

Happy Gang members. (L to R) unidentified man, Kay Stokes, Blain Mathe, Bert Pearl, undated. \r\n Image: CBC Library and Archives Still Photo Collection. \r\n

With the outbreak of war, the CBC/Radio-Canada created an Overseas Service to relay reports of war correspondents such as Matthew Halton and Marcel Ouimet. On 1 January 1941, the broadcaster ended its reliance on news bulletins prepared by the Canadian Press by inaugurating its own News Service under chief editor Dan McArthur. Through the objective treatment of news on its national newscast, which was read by Charles Jennings (father of long-time ABC news anchor Peter Jennings) and later by Lorne Greene (the famous "Voice of Doom"), the CBC News Service quickly established a reputation for impartiality and integrity.

Matthew Halton, reporting for CBC during WWII.
Image: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-204812.\r\n

During the war, the CBC also established Radio-Collège in Québec and began its school music broadcasts (1942). In 1944, the broadcaster's English-language network was divided into the Dominion network (composed of one CBC station and 34 affiliates) and the Trans-Canada network (six CBC stations and 28 affiliates). At the end of the war, the CBC/Radio-Canada joined forces with the government to establish a multilingual international service (1945), which later became Radio-Canada International. Programs were transmitted from studios on Crescent Street in Montréal to Sackville, NB, by land lines and then sent overseas by wireless.

Public affairs programming did not initially receive much emphasis on CBC Radio. Shortly before his departure as chairman, Brockington took steps to change this situation by formulating a "White Paper" on political and controversial broadcasting. Adopted by the board of governors in July 1939, it stated that the CBC/Radio-Canada would seek to present a variety of opinions on controversial issues and would refrain from selling network time for the propagation of personal views.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, however, the CBC/Radio-Canada found itself under government pressure to curtail the discussion of public affairs on the air. Proposals by the CBC Talks Department for a series of forums on war-related issues were rejected by general manager Murray in favour of BBC rebroadcasts and one-man pep talks intended to inspire the war effort. Murray eventually approved a discussion program called Citizens All, but demanded personal approval of speakers and subjects.It was not until Murray was replaced by J.S. Thomson in August 1942 that the efforts of the Talks Department to promote serious discussion on matters of public concern began to bear fruit. By the end of Thomson's one-year term, the department had demonstrated the democratic role that public affairs broadcasting could fulfill through the introduction of programs such as Weekend Review, National Labour Forum, CBC Discussion Club and the popular Of Things to Come — An Inquiry into the Post-War World. Chaired by author Morley Callaghan, the latter program evolved into the popular Citizens’ Forum, which made use of listening groups and lasted into the television era.

Canadian Drama

The further expansion of public affairs programming after the war was accompanied by programs on the arts, such as Critically Speaking, and a significant increase in the production of Canadian drama. In 1940, the CBC had introduced Canadian Theatre of the Air, and in 1944 Andrew Allan's greatly admired Stage series made its debut.

Radio Drama
The Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, precursor of the CBC, began broadcasting from Montréal in English and French. Depicted is a radio drama from the 1930s (courtesy NAC).
Happy Gang members. (L to R) unidentified man, Kay Stokes, Blain Mathe, Bert Pearl, undated. \r\n Image: CBC Library and Archives Still Photo Collection. \r\n
CBC Radio Foley artists, ca. 1940's. Image: CBC Library and Archives Still Photo Collection. \r\n

But the heyday of Canadian radio drama came during the early post-war period. A repertory company of young Canadian actors was formed and a major program was launched to train young Canadian writers. During the 1947–48 season, there were 320 radio drama productions in English, 97 per cent of which were by Canadian writers. In addition to Allan, producers such as Esse Ljungh, Rupert Caplan and Fletcher Markle led the way in North America in serious drama programming.

By this time, however, the days of radio drama were already numbered as Canadians began mounting pressure for the introduction of television, which had become available in the United States after the war. Initially, both the CBC/Radio-Canada and the federal government chose to proceed with caution in dealing with the costly new medium. Dr. Augustin Frigon, who had served on the Aird Commission and was head of the French network before replacing Thomson as general manager in 1943, advised the 1946 parliamentary Radio Committee that "it would be a mistake to encourage the introduction of television in Canada without sufficient financial support and, therefore, taking the risk that unsatisfactory programs would, at the start, give a poor impression of this new means of communication."

While Frigon refused to be "stampeded into premature action," board chairman Davidson Dunton did discuss with the Canadian Association of Broadcasters the idea of having the staff of the CBC/Radio-Canada and private broadcasters undertake television training at the broadcaster's facilities in Montréal and Toronto.

The Advent of Television

The major impetus to action from within the CBC/Radio-Canada came from the Report on Television (1947), for which the corporation's assistant chief engineer, J. Alphonse Ouimet, was largely responsible. Ouimet, who had built and attempted to market his own television system in Montréal in the early 1930s, was appointed co-ordinator of television and later replaced Frigon as general manager. Arguably the single most important figure in the history of Canadian broadcasting, Ouimet deserves much of the credit for the rapid introduction and expansion of television in Canada once the government finally decided to go ahead with television and allocated funds from an excise tax on television sets for its development.

At the time of its introduction on CBFT Montréal on 6 September 1952, and two nights later on CBLT Toronto, television was available only to 26 per cent of the population. But by 1954 this had increased to 60 per cent and Canada ranked second in the world in live television program production. CBC/Radio-Canada stations had been established in Ottawa, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Halifax and private affiliates were already starting to make their appearance in other cities. By 1957, the English and French networks were each broadcasting up to 10 hours a day, and their coverage had been extended to 85 per cent of the population through a combination of CBC/Radio-Canada-owned and -operated stations and privately owned affiliates.

The advent of television created major problems for the corporation's radio service. Its audience share plummeted as creative talent and capital funds were siphoned off by the new medium, and both commercial revenues and the supply of American entertainment programs were greatly reduced. Forced to compete against local information and American pop music formats on the private stations, the radio service became increasingly demoralized and out of touch with Canadian listeners.

During the 1960s a few steps were taken to reclaim audience loyalty: some new current affairs programs were introduced and Canadian-produced drama and serious music was increased. But it was not until the outset of the 1970s that the broadcaster's radio service underwent the revolution that made it the pride of the corporation.

In 1970, following the submission of an exhaustive radio study that year, the radio service made a fundamental shift in its priorities. Substantial program resources were reallocated from the evenings (when television is the main attraction) to the morning and afternoon periods. Local information programs were developed, block program formats were devised, and national news and current affairs were strengthened through the introduction of programs such as This Country in the Morning and As It Happens. At the same time, the potential of FM radio was finally pursued in earnest after two decades of experimentation. In 1975, a stereo FM network was inaugurated and the use of commercials on both AM and FM was eliminated.

Eventually, as both AM and FM coverage were extended through the Accelerated Coverage Plan that began in 1974, two networks emerged offering distinctive program services. The AM network concentrated on news, information, light entertainment and local community affairs, while the FM network focused on serious music, drama, documentaries and the arts and culture.

CBC/Radio-Canada's television service adapted less successfully to its own particular problems in this period. During the 1950s, a new generation of producers responded to the challenge of developing programs for the medium with energy, enthusiasm, and great creativity. Men such as Ross McLean, Norman Campbell, Bob Allen, Jean-Paul Fugere, Sydney Newman and Mario Prizek created an impressive array of information and entertainment programs, including Tabloid, G.E. Showcase, La Famille Plouffe, Front Page Challenge, Festival, Don Messer's Jubilee (see Don Messer), Les Idées en Marche and Cross Canada Hit Parade.

Plouffe Family
Lemelin's Plouffe family gently satirizes and celebrates a blend of American and Catholic influences in local popular culture (courtesy Library and Archives Canada).
Don Messer and the Islanders
Don Messer, Marg Osborne, Charlie Chamberlain and the Islanders perform at radio Station CFCY, 1948 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-108419).

Nonetheless, the remarkable programming performance of the national broadcaster during the 1950s did not eliminate the desire of Canadians for access to American entertainment programs. In addition to producing Canadian programs, the CBC/Radio-Canada was also expected to relay popular American programs to Canadian viewers, especially in areas where American signals could not be picked up with the aid of rooftop antennas.

Eventually, with the introduction of cable television and satellites, the need for the corporation to rebroadcast American programs was eliminated. By that time, however, the CBC/Radio-Canada's television service had developed a strong dependency on American programs. This process began in the late 1950s as the era of live television broadcasting gave way to the production of expensive, pre-filmed comedy and drama series that could be shown repeatedly. The broadcaster was soon caught in a vicious cycle as it needed to carry popular American programs in order to acquire the advertising revenues necessary to produce comparable domestic programming. Moreover, with the licensing of the CTV network in 1961, the CBC/Radio-Canada found that it also had to use American programs to generate audiences for its own programs through the so-called "inheritance factor."

During the 1960s, the corporation developed new television dramas such as Wojeck and Quentin Durgens, M.P. by Ronald Weyman; exciting information programs such as This Hour Has Seven Days, Man Alive and The Nature of Things; and long-standing children's favourites such as Mr. Dressup, The Friendly Giant and Chez Hélène.

Coombs, Ernie
Much-loved children's entertainer Ernie Coombs retired from television 14 February 1996 (courtesy CBC Still Photo Collection).

Still, the CBC/Radio-Canada’s continued reliance on a relatively high proportion of American programs made it increasingly vulnerable to accusations that it was not fulfilling its mandate under the Broadcasting Act. Between the 1967–68 and 1973–74 fiscal years, therefore, the broadcaster responded to growing public criticism by increasing its Canadian content on television from about 52 per cent to about 68 per cent. A host of new Canadian programs were added to its schedules, including Marketplace, The Beachcombers, Performance and The Fifth Estate.

During the same period, an attempt was made to improve the balance between network and regional programming and increase efficiency by consolidating the English network, French network and regional broadcasting systems into two administrative divisions: the English Services Division with headquarters in Toronto and the French Services Division with headquarters in Montréal.

Further consolidation since then has facilitated additional steps towards the Canadianization of the television schedule. Between 1983–84 and 1985–86, for example, Canadian content was increased from 74 per cent to 77 per cent on the English television network of the CBC and from 69 per cent to 79 per cent on Radio-Canada's French television network. However, crippling reductions in the corporation's budget in the mid-1980s by the Mulroney government postponed indefinitely the dream of eliminating both foreign programs and advertising on CBC/Radio-Canada's television services.

Television Programming

Internationally recognized personalities have long been featured on CBC/Radio-Canada's television services. Actor Jim Carrey's first movie, Introducing…Janet (1983), was made for CBC TV, Alex Trebek hosted CBC TV’s Music Hop (1963–64) and Reach for the Top (1966–73) before going on to become the host of Jeopardy! in the United States, and actor Michael J. Fox began his television acting career on the CBC TV programs The Magic Lie (1977) and Leo and Me (1978). The long-running documentary series The Nature of Things, hosted by world-renowned environmental scientist David Suzuki, is one of the most critically acclaimed programs in Canadian television history.

Over the years, the sports division of CBC TV established itself as one of the major producers of sports broadcasts in the country, particularly through its flagship Saturday night program Hockey Night in Canada (1952–). As Canada's Olympic broadcaster, the corporation brought international events to the country's TV and radio sets, although not without controversy, as various groups criticized the use of public funds to bid for one of the world's most popular sports properties.

Notable original CBC TV programs throughout the years have included the children’s programs Maggie Muggins (1955–62), The Friendly Giant (1958–85), Chez Hélène (1959–73), Mr. Dressup (1967–96) (see Ernest Coombs) and Under the Umbrella Tree (1986–93); youth programming such as The Kids of Degrassi Street (1979–84), Degrassi Junior High (1987–89), Degrassi High (1989–91), The Rez (1996–98) and Edgemont (2001–05); the music/variety programs Country Hoedown (1956–65), Don Messer’s Jubilee (1959–69) (see Don Messer), Singalong Jubilee (1961–74), The Tommy Hunter Show (1965–92) (see Tommy Hunter), The Irish Rovers (1971–78) (see Irish Rovers), Good Rockin’ Tonite (1983–93), Video Hits (1984–93) and Rita and Friends (1994–97) (see Rita MacNeil); the sketch comedies The Wayne and Shuster Show (see Wayne and Shuster), Royal Canadian Air Farce (1993–2012), SCTV (1976–84), CODCO (1987–92), The Kids in the Hall (1988–94), This Hour Has 22 Minutes (1992–) and The Rick Mercer Report (2004–) (see Rick Mercer); the situation comedies King of Kensington (1975–80), Hangin’ In (1981–87), The Red Green Show (1991–2006) (see Steve Smith), The Newsroom (1996–97; 2003–05) (see Ken Finkleman), Made in Canada (1998–2003), Twitch City (1998–2000) and Little Mosque on the Prairie (2007–12); and game shows such as Front Page Challenge (1957–95), Reach for the Top (1961–85), This Is the Law (1971–76), and Smart Ask! (2001–04).

Mercer, Rick
Satirist Rick Mercer's witty approach to Canadian politics has made him a prominent political and social commentator (photo courtesy Rick Mercer Report).

Programming has also included such newsmagazine series as Take Thirty (1962–84), This Hour has Seven Days (1964–66), Midday (1985–2000), Adrienne Clarkson Presents (1988–99) (see Adrienne Clarkson) and Undercurrents (1994–2001); the current affairs programs Marketplace (1972–), The Watson Report (1975–81) (see Patrick Watson), The Fifth Estate (1975–), The Journal (1982–92), Venture (1985–2007) and Street Cents (1989–2006); such Canadiana programming as Images of Canada (1972–76), On the Road Again (1987–2007), Life and Times (1996–2007) and Canada: A People’s History (2000–01); such family programs as The Beachcombers (1972–90), Danger Bay (1985–90), Spirit Bay (1984–86), Road to Avonlea (1990–96), North of 60 (1992–97), Wind At My Back (1996–2001) and Heartland (2007–); the drama programs Quentin Durgens, M.P. (1965–69), Wojek (1966–68), Lance et Compte/He Shoots, He Scores (1986–89), Street Legal (1987–94), Da Vinci’s Inquest (1998–2005), This is Wonderland (2004–06), Intelligence (2006–07), The Tudors (2007–10) and Being Erica (2009–11); the miniseries Anne of Green Gables (1985) and Les Plouffe (1980); and the reality TV shows The Greatest Canadian (2004), Dragons’ Den (2006–) and Battle of the Blades (2009–).

Contemporary Programming

CBC/Radio-Canada’s contemporary programming lineup produces content that is rebroadcast around the world, as well as on the 82 radio stations and 27 television stations that the broadcaster operated across Canada as of 2011. Canadian content makes up over 80 per cent of prime-time schedules on both TV and radio, with the radio service airing 99 per cent Canadian content over the full course of its broadcast day.

stroumboulopoulos, george
canadian radio and television personality george stroumboulopoulos is best known as the host of cbc's The Hour (photo by Dustin Rabin).

One of the most popular programs on CBC/Radio-Canada is the arts and culture program Q, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi. Q is broadcast to audiences around the world, and is widely distributed in the United States by Public Radio International. The show, created in 2007, has become the most popular to ever air in its morning time slot on CBC Radio and has the largest audience of any current affairs program in Canada.

Other programs of note include the news and current events coverage on As It Happens, the pop culture stories told by Definitely Not the Opera, the long-running weekend program The Sunday Edition, the comedy skits of Wiretap and The Debaters, the nation-wide call-in show Cross County Checkup, the internationally acclaimed storytelling of Stuart McLean on The Vinyl Café, and the current affairs program The Current, hosted by award-winning journalist Anna Maria Tremonti.

mclean, stuart
journalist stuart mclean, producer of the award-winning radio program The Vinyl Café (photo by Ben Flock).

CBC/Radio-Canada operates ICI Musique as well as CBC Music, a free digital music service from which users can stream music online and access content from both CBC Radio 2 and Radio 3. The service aims to showcase Canadian talent alongside other international music and is a promoter of Canadian singers and songwriters. The first CBC Music Festival was held in 2013.

In addition to television and radio programming, CBC News is an important news organization, operating hourly radio news updates, TV news programs and an online news website. The broadcaster operates 14 foreign bureaus that contribute to its coverage of world events. The 24-hour television news network, CBC News Network (originally launched in 1989 as CBC Newsworld), is owned and operated by the CBC and is funded primarily by subscriber fees and other commercial revenue. Ratings show that it ranks above all other similar news channels in Canada. The National, CBC’s flagship nightly national television newscast is hosted by Peter Mansbridge. CBC TV’s news channels are required by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to be carried in every home in Canada with cable or satellite television.

Peter Mansbridge

Local programming is included in schedules across the country, including regional news on TV, radio, and online. CBC News online covers local, national, and international events, in addition to coverage of sports, science, and the arts. Much of the coverage is accompanied by television clips or podcast options. CBC Aboriginal reports online news updates from across Canada that are pertinent to First Nations affairs.

The Loss of Regulatory Functions

Despite evidence of popular successes in recent decades, the strength of the CBC/Radio-Canada’s cultural presence has continued to weaken since the 1980s. It is arguable that some of the problems confronting the corporation have been compounded by the fact that it no longer performs the regulatory role assigned to it by the 1936 Broadcasting Act. Initially, it received a reprieve from the efforts by private broadcasters to eliminate its regulatory function when the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (1949–51) chaired by Vincent Massey was not persuaded by the long-standing argument of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters that the CBC/Radio-Canada should not be "at one and the same time competitor, regulator, prosecutor, jury and judge."

However, the views of the private broadcasters received a more sympathetic hearing at the Royal Commission on Broadcasting chaired by Robert Fowler in 1955–56. Its recommendation for a separate regulatory agency was given substance with the passage of a new Broadcasting Act by the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker in 1958. The task of regulating the broadcasting system was taken away from the CBC/Radio-Canada and given to a separate Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG).

At the same time, the broadcaster's board of governors was replaced by a 15-person board of directors and the principal responsibility for running the corporation was placed on the shoulders of a president appointed by the federal government. The BBG was subsequently replaced by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 1968, but the principle of a separate regulatory authority remained intact.

The removal of regulatory functions from the mandate of the CBC/Radio-Canada was likely inevitable and enabled the corporation to concentrate on its primary task of providing Canadians with high-quality radio and television programming. But it also reduced the ability of those who have occupied the presidency of the corporation — J. Alphonse Ouimet (1958–67), George Davidson (1968–72), Laurent Picard (1972–75), A.W. (Al) Johnson (1975–82), Pierre Juneau (1982–89), W.T. Armstrong (January–October 1989), Gerard Veilleux (1989–94), Anthony S. Manera (1994–95), Perrin Beatty (1995–99), Robert Rabinovitch (1999–2007), and Hubert Lacroix (2008–) — to influence the broadcasting environment in which the corporation must operate.

Having to obey market principles, the CBC/Radio-Canada was unable to prevent the introduction of rival networks devoted to foreign programming; it could do nothing to ensure that funds for Canadian programming were generated by the rapid expansion of cable systems carrying foreign signals; and it could only stand by helplessly as scarce programming resources were siphoned off by pay television for the benefit of more affluent broadcasters. Nor could it secure for itself second channels in English and French so as to increase its audience share, though CBC/Radio-Canada all-news channels were approved and launched as English Canada's Newsworld in 1989 and French Canada's RDI in 1995.

Government Funding

The CBC/Radio-Canada has often been criticized for having a top-heavy bureaucracy, but studies have shown that it compares favourably in efficiency and productivity with other public and private broadcasting organizations throughout the world. Despite the encouragement for supporters of public broadcasting in the publication of the report of the Caplan-Sauvageau Task Force on Broadcasting Policy (1986), neither the Mulroney nor the Chrétien governments showed any indication of acting on its recommendations. The corporation was the object of more studies in 1995, including its president's report (shelved) and a report by the Commons Committee on Broadcasting. None of these reviews or studies or reports seemed destined to clarify the often contradictory goals set for the corporation or to solve its persistent financial difficulties.

Cuts made during the Chrétien-Martin era are commonly cited with having resulted in 2,400 layoffs by the broadcaster. A series of budget reductions in the 1990s amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars removed from its annual budget and federal spending on the CBC/Radio-Canada decreased to $748 million in 1999. By the end of the financial year ending in 2012, the corporation received approximately $1.1 billion in government funding, in addition to $689 million in revenue from advertising and other sources. The broadcaster’s expenses totalled $1.8 billion for that year.

The CBC/Radio-Canada continues to unite and divide the country alike — a cut of 10 per cent to the its $1.1 billion in funding from Stephen Harper's Conservative government in the spring of 2012 was met with both applause and condemnation from the Canadian public. The budget outlined a $115 million cut to broadcaster's budget to be implemented over three years.

While some regard the CBC/Radio-Canada as an unnecessary use of public dollars and a distortion of the broadcast marketplace, others welcome its role as often the only source of news and other information in the remote areas of Canada, as well as a major supporter of the arts. In a 2012 debate on the importance of federal funding for a public broadcaster, arguments were made that the broadcaster is no longer relevant in a digital marketplace with a broad array of channel choices for consumers. It was suggested that the CBC/Radio-Canada audience pay directly for the service, as opposed to the taxpayer-based model. However, many argue that the broadcaster plays a crucial role as a single-payer producer of Canadian content, in addition to its importance in remote areas of Canada, and is thus a valuable use of government funds. A 2011 study commissioned by CBC Radio found that for every one dollar spent on the corporation, four dollars of economic benefit were created. As of 2011, 8,600 people were employed by the broadcaster.

A study commissioned by the CBC/Radio-Canada in 2011 found that Canada ranked 16th out of 18 western countries in terms of taxpayer contributions to fund public broadcasting. At $34 per person, Canada’s per capita level of funding was 60 per cent below the average of $87, higher only than the United States and New Zealand. In Norway, the nation found to have the highest level of funding, the equivalent of $164 per capita was allocated to funding the public broadcaster.

Despite relatively low per capita public expenditures on the CBC/Radio-Canada, much debate surrounds its federal funding, or the very existence of a public broadcaster. Accusations of wasteful spending are often cited as a reason to discontinue funding. Opponents of the CBC/Radio-Canada allege that its employees (and all those employed in the public sector) have a higher rate of absenteeism than those working in the private sector, among other allegations of superfluous allocation of funds.

A variety of organizations have been set up in recent decades to protest or support the continuing public funding of the CBC/Radio-Canada. Numerous petitions have been organized to “free” it (from alleged political interference) or to “save” it from budget cuts that many regard as ideological. On the other end of the spectrum, campaigns labelling the broadcaster a “money drain” or seeking to expose alleged misuse of funds also attract a large following.

This discourse will likely not end anytime soon; rather, it will help to fine-tune the significant role the corporation plays in Canada's social fabric. In the meantime, the CBC/Radio-Canada has stated its intention to further increase Canadian content and its reach to remote areas, while increasing digital and online platforms and adhering to budget restrictions.

See also Broadcasting, Radio and Television; Cultural Policy; Communications; Radio Drama; Television Drama; Television Programming.

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