King Out – Bennett In

On September 11, 1929, the Aird Commission delivered its report on the future of Canadian radio. It praised CNR Radio’s work, but advocated the establishment of a national network that would use the CNR system as its foundation. Mackenzie King accepted this recommendation over the objections of the private broadcasters. It might have been implemented but for two events. First was the Wall Street market crash, which occurred only two weeks after the delivery of the Aird Report – Government and business quickly retrenched for what was thought would be only a temporary economic reversal.

Even more decisive was the federal election of August 7, 1930. Mackenzie King’s Liberals had the disadvantage of being in power when the Great Depression hit. There had also been a minor scandal involving one of his cabinet ministers.

The Liberals were defeated by the Conservatives under R.B. Bennett, who won on a platform of ending government corruption and returning the country to prosperity by lessening government expenditure and championing free enterprise. But what Canada got was also a stalking horse for the CPR. Bennett was not just a vocal opponent of public ownership, but he was also a former CPR legal counsel. The CPR’s dislike of Thornton, the CNR and his radio department would now be funneled through this government and intensified by its own fear that Thornton’s popularity would one day lead him to run for political office under the Liberal banner.

In their attacks on Thornton, the Conservatives branded him as a dangerous mismanager of public funds and an empire builder. Radio was held up as the shining example of his wastefulness. What they failed to admit was that the CPR had matched and exceeded every expenditure undertaken by the CNR, even to the extent of pledging to belatedly duplicate CNR Radio. Thornton openly admitted that both companies had behaved “in the way habitual to all railways to compete with each other.” The result was that spending in the 1920s now looked reckless in the 1930s.