Robert Sirman - What would Massey see today? The Massey Commission and its Legacy

Canada Council for the Arts,
10 June 2014, Canada

For the full text of Mr Sirman's speech, please visit the link below.

With apologies to those already familiar with the background, some essential facts about the Massey Commission. The Commission’s official name was The Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences. It was established by Order in Council in April 1949 under the Liberal Government of Louis St. Laurent. There were five commissioners: Vincent Massey, Chair, a former diplomat and Chancellor of the University of Toronto; Arthur Surveyor, a Civil Engineer and businessman based in Montreal; Norman A. M. MacKenzie, President of the University of British Columbia; the Most Reverend Georges-Henri Lévesque, founder and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Laval University; and Hilda Neatby, a History Professor at the University of Saskatchewan. So, four men, one woman. Vancouver, Saskatoon, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. Four anglophones, one francophone.

What is most striking today is the extraordinary breadth of the Commission’s original mandate. As stated in the opening paragraph of the Report, the Commission’s mandate covered “the entire field of letters, the arts and sciences within the jurisdiction of the federal state.” The Order in Council lists the following:

(a) “the principles upon which the policy of Canada should be based in the fields of radio and television broadcasting;

(b) “such agencies and activities of the government of Canada as the National Film Board, the National Gallery, the National Museum, the National War Museum, the Public Archives and the care and custody of public records, the Library of Parliament; methods by which research is aided including grants for scholarships through various Federal Government agencies; the eventual character and scope of the National Library; the scope or activities of these agencies, the manner in which they should be conducted, financed and controlled, and other matters relevant thereto;

(c) “methods by which the relations of Canada with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and other organizations operating in the field should be conducted;

(d) “relations of the government of Canada and any of its agencies with various national voluntary bodies operating in the field with which this inquiry will be concerned.”

As if that were not enough, the Prime Minister wrote to the Commission a year later to add:

(a) “Methods for the purpose of making available to the people of foreign countries adequate information concerning Canada.

(b) “Measures for the preservation of historical monuments.” (Letter from Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent, April 25, 1950)

The scope of the enquiry was unprecedented in Canada, and has never been repeated. Given the expansion of all fields of activity cited in the original mandate, it is unthinkable that such a broad mandate could be assigned to a five-member Royal Commission today.

In the two years following their appointment, the Commissioners hosted 114 public hearings in 16 cities in all 10 provinces. They received over 1,200 witnesses and 462 briefs. They commissioned studies on specific topics, established four advisory committees, met 224 times, and logged over 10,000 miles. When they finally reported in May 1951, the 517-page Report contained 146 recommendations, and was accompanied by 55 volumes of supporting documentation.

For the full text of Mr Sirman's speech, please visit the link below.