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Remembering André Bureau (1935-2019)

Remembering André Bureau (1935-2019)

Written by
Robert W. Brisebois
on
October 8th, 2019

André Bureau was a towering figure in Canadian media and broadcasting. Robert W. Brisebois remembers his friend, who passed away in April.

Remembering André Bureau (1935-2019)

André Bureau (1935-2019) – Photo: courtesy of Yves-André Bureau.

This is the profile of a man who defined the nature of the television and broadcasting industries in Canada for many years. André Bureau, who died in April, was a lawyer and a broadcaster, as well as a media executive and chair of the CRTC. He was inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, the National Order of Quebec and the Order of Canada. And without André Bureau, specialty channels might never have seen the light of day.

In the 1950s, while studying law, Bureau hosted a variety show in Québec City, through which he promoted new artists from “la belle province.” Later on, in his hometown of Trois-Rivières, he continued to support artistic activities while practising law. He founded a “Ciné-Club” that was highly popular at the time, and participated in the establishment of the Trois-Rivières cultural centre, which spotlighted musicians, painters and other local artists.

André Bureau was executive vice-president of La Presse from 1968 to 1972

André Bureau was executive vice-president of La Presse from 1968 to 1972

Bureau made the leap to print media when he began working as a legal advisor for Le Nouvelliste in Trois-Rivières. When the newspaper was bought by Power Corporation, which owned several other papers at the time, Bureau was named executive vice-president of La Presse, where he demonstrated outstanding leadership from 1968 to 1972.

Next, he moved on to Telemedia, a Canadian broadcasting company, serving as vice-president and president. He also helped launch the first French-language FM radio station in Québec City.

That’s just a sample of his remarkable achievements. Thanks to his dynamic personality, his clarity of mind, his ideas and his remarkable organizational skills, Bureau breathed new life and determination into everything he did.

Thanks to his dynamic personality, his clarity of mind, his ideas and his remarkable organizational skills, Bureau breathed new life and determination into everything he did.

One day in 1983, federal Minister of Communications Francis Fox called Bureau to tell him that Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau wished to meet with him. He had no idea what to expect. At the time, he was still president of Telemedia, and he had never been attracted to politics. Some of his friends and former colleagues from Laval University had chosen a career in politics, including Jean Chrétien, who was serving in the Trudeau government. But he hesitated, telling me: “If he wants me to run in the next election, even with the promise of making me a minister, I will have to decline.”

On Parliament Hill in Ottawa, inside the iconic building housing the Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council Office, André Bureau was about to reach a new milestone in his brilliant career.

Old classmates reunite. From left to right: Pierre Garceau, Jean Chrétien and André Bureau. – Photo: courtesy of Yves-André Bureau

Old classmates reunite. From left to right: Pierre Garceau, Jean Chrétien and André Bureau. – Photo: courtesy of Yves-André Bureau

The Prime Minister welcomed him with all the respect owed to a young man who had already made a significant mark in the media world. After a brief introduction, Trudeau asked Bureau if he would be willing to become president of the CRTC. Bureau hadn’t applied for the position; the PM’s offer was based solely on his strengths. His answer was not long in coming. Before the end of the day, he was appointed by order-in-council of the ministry.

From 1983 to 1989, Bureau led the CRTC through a period marked by expansion and change. It was a time that shaped the television landscape of today. During his mandate, the first specialty channels were introduced in 1984; of these, five were from Canada, and 17 from the United States.

Bureau was aware that this would raise concerns among Canadian broadcasters and cable companies. The key issue was deciding if American companies should enter our environment with unauthorized services, or if Canada would develop its own services. Bureau was guided by a deep faith in Canada’s ability to fill its specialty channels with its own productions.

Bureau was guided by a deep faith in Canada’s ability to fill its specialty channels with its own productions.

His main focus was to configure specialty services in a way that would ensure their sustainability in the Canadian environment. To do so, he pushed for adequate legislation, suitable funding and effective marketing strategies.

Bureau’s achievements as head of the CRTC go further. Every decision made by the organization when renewing a licence came with research and development requirements. He was deeply interested in the quality of the content featured in the specialty channels’ programming. This concern was also seen when a licence changed hands. The buyer had to meet funding requirements for the research and improvement of its content. If these requirements were not met, the transaction could be refused.

The rise of Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications marked the dawn of a new era. Bureau was determined to make sure all Canadians had access to a world-class communication system, one that improved their quality of life and fostered innovation.
Requests for specialty services poured in from all over, and Bureau would evaluate the relevance of each request, with a forward-looking vision. This led to the addition of new players such as TV5 Québec Canada, a channel whose programming reflected the international French-speaking community; and VISION TV, a multi-faith, multicultural entertainment channel.

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In 1989, Bureau left the CRTC, and the following year he became president of the media division at Astral Communications, where he continued to leverage his experience and skills in specialty services. At that time, Astral had very few French and English-language channels. However, with the support of president Harold Greenberg, Bureau made Astral one of the top telecommunications companies in the country. By the time he left Astral a few years later, the company boasted dozens of radio and television channels, including the Central médiatique, comprising the Movie Network and Super Écran.

In 2013, when Bell Canada Enterprises acquired Astral Communications, Bureau went back to practising law at Heenan Blaikie, the firm where Trudeau and Chrétien had previously worked.

In 2002, André Bureau was awarded the Grand Prix de l’Académie at the Prix Gémeaux gala (the French-language equivalent of the Gemini Awards). – Photo: courtesy of Mireille Houde

In 2002, André Bureau was awarded the Grand Prix de l’Académie at the Prix Gémeaux gala (the French-language equivalent of the Gemini Awards). – Photo: courtesy of Mireille Houde

Nobody really remembers the day he retired, because he continued to be actively involved with several charities, and honoured for his contributions to Canadian society. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1992. In France, he was named a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres for promoting French culture. Not surprisingly, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, and in 2012, he was appointed an officer of the Ordre national du Québec.

Bureau also served on the boards of several organizations, including insurance company The Guarantee and TerreStar–a company that operated an integrated satellite and terrestrial telecommunications system–as well as the Maison Saint-Gabriel in Montreal and the Jewish General Hospital Foundation.

André Bureau’s legacy can be seen today in the Canadian broadcasting system, but many will remember him as a likeable and engaging person. I was his colleague at both La Presse and the CRTC. Over 50 years, our friendship brought many wonderful memories. My days were enriched by his tremendous generosity and loyalty. I will remember him as a man with a caring heart, whose elegance and sophistication were reflected in all of his actions.

The Mur des bâtisseurs (Wall of Builders) of this year’s edition of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television’s Party des 1000 de l’Industrie honoured André Bureau. – Photo Vivien Gaumand

The Mur des bâtisseurs (Wall of Builders) of this year’s edition of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television’s Party des 1000 de l’Industrie honoured André Bureau. – Photo Vivien Gaumand

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