Rare are those public servants singled out for praise through awards of excellence or merit. Rarer still is the individual recognized through an award named in his or her honour. Pierre Juneau, whose name and work inspired the title of Canada’s music industry Junos, was a public servant of such distinction.

Among the obituaries in memory of Juneau, at his passing in February at the age of 92, were notable ones in American publications, such as the New York Times and Variety, the showbiz must-read source. Surprisingly, there was no tone of rancour or animosity in these articles: Juneau’s impacts were observed as a statement of fact, linked to respect for a Canadian music industry that now contributes to the global exchange of song and performance.

In Canada, the assessment of the Juneau legacy was also overwhelmingly positive. Both Englishand French-language media stressed his accomplishments and his national pride. It was one of those occasions when similar assessments and prominence were shared by both sets of media across the linguistic divides of the country.

Juneau’s powerful contributions to public policy and cultural administration from the 1960s to 1980s are still widely admired. What exactly did he do? What factors contributed to his exceptional record of success? How did he reflect the mood of his times and are there political conditions today in which a new Pierre Juneau could have a comparable impact on Canadian decision-making?

His career spanned roughly 60 years of public life. He is most remembered for leading the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) decision requiring that licensed broadcasters carry specified amounts of Canadian content in music and other programming, including Canadian content in prime-time television. The hallmark ‘Cancon’ decision has coloured the country’s broadcasting structure ever since.

But from the perspective of his entire life, the CRTC’s Cancon rules came at the midpoint in Juneau’s career. There were many other important activities that informed his work and his impact on the country.

His service to the public, in the broadest sense, began with two years of volunteer activity with the Jeunesse Étudiants ChrĂ©tienne (JEC), following his college studies in Montreal. The JEC was a vibrant social and cultural Catholic movement that drew together young students during Quebec’s postwar years. Many eventually became leading Quebec nationalists in the Quiet Revolution or Canadian nationalists in the federal government. Pierre Juneau chose to become one of the pan-Canadian enthusiasts.

In 1949, after three years of study in Paris, a 27-year-old Juneau began a stellar career in the National Film Board, then Canada’s premier cultural agency. He held many positions, gaining on-the-ground training in cinema, distribution systems, French-language use (and non-use) in public organizations, and government corporate management. He also was the co-founder of the Montreal International Film Festival in 1959.

In 1966 he became the vice-chairman of the CRTC’s predecessor, the Board of Broadcast Governors. He worked directly with members of the Fowler Commission on Broadcasting, set up to advise how to fix the failures in Canada’s licensing and ownership rules. As the New York Times observed: “It was an era when radio airplay largely determined record sales, and Canadian bands and musicians found themselves largely shut out.”

As a player in public policy, Pierre Juneau’s achievements were profound. How can we explain his success? Three sets of factors — personal, social and political — overlapped throughout his career, giving him ideas and unique opportunities that he chose to seize and shape.

Following adoption of a new broadcasting act in 1968, creating the new CRTC with policy directions to Canadianize the system, Juneau was appointed the CRTC’s first chairman. He held this position for a full seven-year term and set in place the rules to repatriate licences from foreign ownership and control, and Canadian content quotas in radio music (30 percent) and television broadcasting (60 percent). It began a cultural revolution.

This was no public policy cakewalk. Hearings, angry at times, were held on licences and on content quotas. Private broadcast executives said it would not be possible to meet these goals and, in reply, Juneau expressed some of the pithiest statements of cultural enthusiasm, notably how “the prophets of doom, the messengers of mediocrity, will be overwhelmed by the new generation of competent, creative, confident artisans…and their capacity for inspired leadership.” But he also made important trade-offs with the industry, none more important than the “simulcast” rule, which allowed Canadian broadcasters to substitute Canadian commercials on US programs in order to increase their revenues, profits, and their future investments in Canadian programming.

Juneau’s career took some difficult and controversial turns. In 1975, after leaving the CRTC, he was appointed minister of communications and ran in a by-election in Montreal. He became a target for critics of the Trudeau government’s anti-inflation policies and was defeated. But he did not leave the public stage.

In 1976, he was appointed as a federal deputy minister, responsible for bringing together all federal cultural programs, broadcasting and telecommunications policy in one department. It was a brilliant creation, anticipating by nearly 15 years the global media strategies known as convergence. Juneau focused his attention on the content side, encouraging the expansion of public support to produce more Canadian content (notably for the new world of pay-per-view television).

“We need Canadian programs and films to enable our citizens to understand one another, to develop a national and community consciousness
[and] should be treated not just as consumers, but also as active and intelligent citizens with spiritual and aesthetic needs

In 1984, he accepted another controversial appointment — this time as the president and chairman of the CBC. In a sense, this was the pinnacle of his career. He believed vehemently that the public broadcaster’s first role was to enable dialogue between Canadians, reflecting regions to each other. He hoped to eliminate ads entirely from the CBC because he felt that advertising forced broadcasters to “deliver eyeballs” for purely commercial purposes.

Juneau’s time at the CBC was difficult. The new Mulroney government, not surprisingly, viewed him as a partisan Liberal. Juneau argued that he was wholly independent, neutral on matters of content and the head of an arm’s-length cultural agency. This sparked major public debate, with prominent interventions on all sides. Ultimately, the Conservative government desisted. While the government made significant financial cuts to the CBC (and to other programs, as well), Juneau pursued greater Canadian content across the public network. He also drove the creation of two 24-hour news channels, resulting in Newsworld and RDI, which received policy approval from the Mulroney government.

When his CBC term ended in 1989, Juneau slowed down somewhat. But in 1994 he was asked by the Chrétien government to review the mandates of the CBC, the NFB and Telefilm. He and his co-authors (Peter Herrndorf and Catherine Murray) were expected to propose the merger of the NFB with another cultural agency. No such conclusion emerged. The committee argued that each agency must refine its focus, find internal efficiencies, seek more public funding and produce content for the new world of digital media. In many respects, this is what they have been doing.

Juneau operated by paying close, meticulous attention to goals, giving dogged support to public interest broadcasting. He stood out among the leaders in Canada’s cultural industries for not using his knowledge to pursue personal wealth, never joining the boards of private broadcasters or filmmakers.

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As a player in public policy, Pierre Juneau’s achievements were profound. How can we explain his success? Three sets of factors — personal, social and political — overlapped throughout his career, giving him ideas and unique opportunities that he chose to seize and shape.

In his personal life, Juneau’s youthful work in the Jeunesse Étudiante ChrĂ©tienne put him into contact with like-minded students and religious scholars. The philosophical vision of the JEC milieu inspired his wider outlook on life. Social Catholicism was a youthful movement that stressed the importance of every individual as a morally independent contributor to society. In return, the social community had obligations for the well-being of its citizens.

Activism was a hallmark of this movement. Open communication between individuals and communities was an essential feature of the JEC philosophy. Many JEC militants came to believe that free communication would be best achieved within a united Canada where the forces of ethnonationalism would be less present. These themes still resonated in Juneau’s last major piece of public policy advice, the Mandate Review Committee Report of 1995:

We need Canadian programs and films to enable our citizens to understand one another, to develop a national and community consciousness…[They] should be treated not just as consumers, but also as active and argued that each agency must refine its focus, find internal efficiencies, seek more public funding and produce content for the new world of digital media. In many respects, this is what they have been doing.

Related to Pierre Juneau’s personal vision was his professional expertise. Returning from Paris in 1949, he began a 15-year career at the NFB that gave him intensive exposure to all aspects of film development, public programming and marketing, and as the agency’s corporate Secretary he became a hands-on executive. By the time he hit his stride in the tumultuous 1960s he was already a seasoned cultural leader and a motivated social idealist — a powerful combination.

Pierre Juneau’s social network came to the fore as Quebec’s duelling nationalisms began their bitter contest. When Pierre Trudeau, Jean Marchand and GĂ©rard Pelletier came to Ottawa in 1965, the “three wise men,” as they were dubbed, believed they could link Quebec’s renaissance to a comparable movement across the country. Juneau was uniquely positioned. Pelletier had been his mentor from JEC days. Trudeau was a fellow member of the editorial board of the vital CitĂ© Libre political review. Other friends included Marc Lalonde and Jeanne SauvĂ©. They turned to him as an experienced policy leader, committed to strengthening cultural identity.

The political mood suited Juneau’s emerging vision. The Second World War had ended a mere 20 years earlier. Canada’s million-plus military veterans were in their prime, as were so many Canadians who had worked in the war effort. Their sense of national identity and international idealism had already infused public life: John Diefenbaker’s emotion-laden election campaigns and Lester Pearson’s innovations in social policy drew upon a spirit of solidarity born during the Great Depression and the war against fascism.

But how did this affect cultural policy? One story Juneau recounted captured his sense of the importance of Cancon. He talked about John Hughes, a CRTC member from Nova Scotia and an RCAF veteran who told a public audience that when he returned from Europe he “went to see all the films on the war because I had been so much impressed (…) You know, during all the time that I saw all those foreign films, I never saw a Canadian soldier.” In brief, without Canadian cultural content, the value and contributions of Canada’s World War sacrifices would become invisible and forgotten.

Juneau drew on these emotions, underlined by the 1967 Centennial Year celebrations and the brilliance of Montreal’s Expo 67. The activist atmosphere was reinforced by anti-Vietnam War emotions, Quebec nationalist sentiment and the emergence of bilingualism and multiculturalism as Canadian policy goals — what a heady mixture to garner support for cultural policy measures.

And so, with his roots in a Catholic philosophy of social solidarity and moral independence, his personal ties to political leaders and the widespread spirit of Canadian optimism, Pierre Juneau forged ahead as a public administrator. He began with the CRTC’s new rules on broadcasting ownership and content, putting into place the proposals of the Fowler Commission and other ideas. He handled compromises with private broadcasters, who had Don Jamieson as their key supporter in cabinet. He became the face of our recurrent national dream: enabling Canadian communities to communicate across a continent.

Pierre Juneau’s public policy goals were not always victorious. His greatest defeat was the failure to put funding for the national public broadcaster on a sound, independent footing.

Canada would not have a British model of BBC licence fees, nor any version of a per capita contribution. Canada’s public broadcaster would remain under pressure and suspicion from both Liberal and Conservative governments.

Could a policy leader and administrator emerge in the future with Juneau’s authority and success — whether in the cultural field or in other public policy sectors? The answer cannot be definitive, but we can be certain of some things.

There will be future policy advisers with privileged access to power, whether from the University of Alberta, Queen’s, Laval or the myriad policy institutes and blogs that compete for attention. There will also be powerful administrators of great competence, capable of making complicated policies operational. There will also be eloquent policy gurus, able to engage effectively with the 24/7 media cycle.

But will we see again one public policy leader who combines all of these characteristics, and who also has long-term backing from political ministers? Not likely.

Photo: Shutterstock

Victor Rabinovitch
Victor Rabinovitch is a fellow and adjunct professor in the Queen’s School of Policy Studies and was president of the Canadian Museum of Civilization from 2000 to 2011.

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