Thou shalt have no other gods before thy government-or it’ll fix you good

Allan Fotheringham April 4 1977

Thou shalt have no other gods before thy government-or it’ll fix you good

Allan Fotheringham April 4 1977

Thou shalt have no other gods before thy government-or it’ll fix you good

Allan Fotheringham

There is something so typically Liberal about the party thrashing wildly around its own skirts, trying to swat what it thinks is a bothersome gnat. The gnat, this time, is the CBC. The Liberal Party ethos, it should be explained, is that they and they alone have the keys to the salvation of Canada. In the fervor of the litany, “government” becomes confused with “party” and “Liberalism” with “country.” As Dalton Camp once explained, membership in the Liberal Party for an ambitious young man wanting to go to the top is better than joining a country club.

In this confusion that has permeated the party mind like hoar frost, the Liberal Party becomes equated with “way of life.” Those who disagree, naturally, are suspected of sedition, treason and unclean thoughts. Liberals are genuinely outraged at anyone who disagrees with the lofty hopes and aspirations of the NGP (Natural Governing Party). Ergo: investigate the infidel, the CBC.

Aside from revealing once again the nasty authoritarian streak that lies just beneath the surface in this government, the licensed search for bogeymen hiding under the microphone in Radio-Canada has been useful in sorting out the mettle of certain Liberal brass. Some of the assailants could have been predicted: the overheated Jean Marchand, André (I Have a List) Ouellet, who has demonstrated before his gift for excessive phrasing. Mitchell Sharp was no surprise: a basic civil servant mind that has always been against freedom of information. John Munro has old dredging scores to settle with the CBC. Most disappointing of all, though, was new Secretary of State John Roberts—long on the back burner for many of us as potential PM material far down the road. Instead of making his name immediately by going to bat for the people under his jurisdiction, the new culture czar rather nervously lined up with the Liberal Party line.

Equally apparent, during the charges of separatist bias in the CBC, was what we long suspected: it was a serious error to appoint career civil servant AÍ Johnson as head of the CBC. When the guns sounded,he fledto his natural habitat, reverted to his original skin. His loyalties were more to his government than to his staff. What Johnson was doing, submitting in person to the bullying of the Liberal caucus, is a mystery that still remains. Since when did the president of the CBC have to become the target of one party’s caucus?

At the base of the Liberal clumsiness is a classic misunderstanding of journalism.

There are certainly plenty of those of separatist persuasion in the French network— as there are at La Presse where some reporters broke out champagne on November 15. But you don’t see separatist propaganda coming out of Roger Lemelin’s La Presse. Some two dozen reporters at the Montreal Gazette, hardly a francophone among them, took an ad in their own paper several nights before the election because they felt publisher Ross Munro’s frontpage editorial had been unfair to the Parti Québécois. But the Gazette's news coverage is certainly not pro-PQ.

To assume that those sed uced by the al

lure of separatism are able to slip a curve past their editors is the same as assuming that the general crop of young reporters in most Canadian dailies, who are mostly socialist, are able to get their message past their capitalistic bosses. They’re paid to report, not preach. If there’s a bias in RadioCanada’s news coverage—one way or the other—that’s simply journalistic incompetence. And that’s a job for AÍ Johnson, not the government.

One wonders whether the Liberals, at heart, really understand the Crown corporations they rule. It is one of the phenomena of Canada that it was the Tories who invented public broadcasting in this country under the CBC. It was the Tories who established the CNR, the Tories who established the Bank of Canada and the

Canadian Wheat Board. The Tories fought for public ownership of power in Ontario, took over the telephones in Manitoba. took over (in the guise of W.A.C. Bennett) the railways, the BC Electric and the ferries in BC.

The most neglected important book written in this country is A Nation Unaware: The Canadian Economic Culture, by Herschel Hardin. The book, published three years ago, argues that “Canada is a public enterprise country, always has been, and probably always will be. Americans have a genius for private enterprise—Canadians have a genius for public enterprise.” Hardin points out that General Motors and Coca-Cola and other great private corporations symbolize the American way of life. In Canada it is the CNR and the CBC. The great public enterprises in transportation, communication and hydro development symbolize the creative Canadian spirit.

It’s true, and now the Liberals are moving in on the CBC because it is not working hard enough to promote what is essentially the Liberal Party platform on federalism. (AÍ Johnson’s CBC has also put on the shelf a completed drama on the Syncrude project and its sale to U.S.-controlled oil giants by Ottawa and the Alberta government—because the CBC brass is afraid of how Premier Lougheed, depicted by an actor, comes out in the drama.)

In 1961, in analyzing “the decline and fall of Canadian broadcasting,” Graham Spry wrote: “The CBC has been maligned, misrepresented, savaged, nagged, and subjected to meanness and indignities by hostile and sometimes greedy business competitors and ill-informed politicians” until public broadcasting was surrounded and “hemmed into a subordinate place” exactly contrary to legislation and parliament’s intentions. The Liberals today, in justifying their witch-hunt, quote the CBC mandate “to promote national unity.” In fact what they are doing is exactly contrary to the Broadcasting Act of 1932 that established the network and its independence. What has set the CBC (and BBC) apart in international reputation has been independence. Now, instead of the commercial interference that rules U.S. broadcasting, we are to have political interference.

Behind the CBC probe is not so much an Ottawa fear that there are CBC employees who don’t agree with federalism. It is a fear that they don’t agree with the Liberals’ patented, copyright view of federalism, which is to be viewed as holy writ. There is still a whiff of C.D. Howe to this government.