BACKSTAGE

THE COMING SHOWDOWN AT THE CBC

Who’ll fill the power vacuum Bushnell left?

BLAIR FRASER January 2 1960
BACKSTAGE

THE COMING SHOWDOWN AT THE CBC

Who’ll fill the power vacuum Bushnell left?

BLAIR FRASER January 2 1960

THE COMING SHOWDOWN AT THE CBC

BACKSTAGE

AT OTTAWA

BLAIR FRASER

Who’ll fill the power vacuum Bushnell left?

ERNEST BUSHNELL’s resignation as executive vice-president of the CBC will not resolve, and may even accentuate, the inner tensions that have racked the corporation since Chairman Davidson Dunton left it eighteen months ago. More changes in the upper ranks are a certainty, more departures a strong possibility. The question is, who will go where?

The fuss last summer over Preview Commentary, and the alleged threat that "heads would roll" unless the program were canceled, left a misleading impression. It is not true, as many people suppose, that the stress is only a contest of will between the CBC and the government, with a timid CBC management caving in from time to time under political pressure. In fact the areas of tension are many, and they overlap. There is chronic tension within the ranks of CBC's top management, between management and the producing staff, and between management and the CBC board of directors (of which

President Alphonse Ouimet is still a member but no longer chairman). At any moment the government may be caught in the cross-fire of these various belligerents, and ministers are increasingly bored and exasperated by this addition to their normal occupational hazards, but the direct tension between government and CBC is probably the least acute of the lot.

Certainly there was no ill will between Bushnell and George Nowlan, the minister who reports to parliament for the CBC. Nowlan is a steadfast friend who stood by him loyally through the storm in the broadcasting committee, and who advised him against leaving the CBC at age fiftynine to set up a business of his own. So far as Nowlan was concerned, Bushnell could have stayed with the CBC until he retired six years hence. If he did feel himself pushed out, the pressure came not from the government but from inside the CBC.

During his two-month furlough after the parliamentary committee hearings, the reins of power in CBC management were taken out of Bushnell’s hands by some of the men who became vicepresidents in the reorganization last autumn. By the time he resigned, the tug-of-war between the main factions in CBC management was by-passing Ernie Bushnell altogether.

These factions are fluid and hard to define, but one is mostly program men. The other comprises the CBC’s "organization men,” people who don’t actually produce any broadcasting material or contribute to it in any way, but who are steeped in the mystique of modern American management and w'ho can talk its peculiar language. The deadlock between these two groups has kept vacant the key post of vice-president for programs and sales.

Bushneil’s departure creates a new vacancy, and also introduces a new dimension. The CBC now has half a dozen vice-presidents for this and for

that, but Ernie Bushnell was the vicepresident, the one' who is specified in the Broadcasting Act and appointed by the Governor-in-Council. Whoever replaces Bushnell will get no mere CBC promotion but a government commission, and the weight of that appointment may well be decisive in the CBC’s internal struggle for power. So far as reporters can learn no suitable candidate for the job has yet been located, but when the man is found there will have to be some kind of a show'dowm. The government is deeply dissatisfied with the present condition of the CBC.

Cabinet ministers deny any wish to mold CBC programs, but they do w'ant a closer and more penetrating look at CBC finances and operating methods. That was why they appointed R. L. Dunsmore, retired president of Champlain Oil, to the board of directors. As chairman of the board’s finance committee, Dunsmore was to make a quiet survey and perhaps suggest a few improvements. But after the fracas of last summer, Dunsmore replaced CBC President Alphonse Ouimet as chairman of the board itself, and since then the relations between the two men have been strained.

In Halifax last autumn they had almost a public quarrel, when at a civic luncheon Chairman Dunsmore was seated in the place of honor and President Ouimet was relegated to the host’s left hand. There have been other incidents. less noticeable but equally bitter. Rumors are abroad that Dunsmore has already threatened to resign, and has with difficulty been persuaded to stay for a few more months.

This sort of thing makes the government impatient, but also rather hesitant. Obviously it would do no good to rush the appointment of a strong man as Bushnell’s successor, only to create a deadlock. Neither is there any wish for the opposite extreme, a pliable vicepresident who would simply help Ouimet to maintain the status quo. Some changes are desired.

On one of his preliminary surveys a few months ago Chairman Dunsmore said to a CBC employee: “Tell me now, what do you do?”

The man gave his title — an imposing one, but vague.

“What does that mean?” Dunsmore asked.

“I’m afraid I don’t quite know, sir,” the honest man replied. When Dunsmore left the studio an hour or two later, his parting words were: “Better find out what that title of yours means.”

Anecdotes like this are told to illustrate why the government wants some changes made. They don’t mean that the changes would have to be revolutionary, still less that vast amounts of the taxpayers’ money are being wasted on worthless jobs. But it is true that several CBC men, including some very able ones, have been unaccountably shunted into blind alleys of the corporation while others, less able, hold positions of power. To correct this situation would save little money, but it would do much for CBC morale and perhaps something for CBC programs«.4

The unsolved problem is, how to tighten up the CBC and bring a general restoration of confidence without another shattering explosion, like the one of last June. The conviction is growing here, both inside and outside the corporation, that the present situation cannot go on much longer — something will have to give. But just what will be done, and just who will be asked to do it, are matters not yet revealed,