The Woods Gordon Report, Accountability, and the Postwar Reconstruction of the National Film Board of Canada

By Wagman, Ira | Journal of Canadian Studies, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Woods Gordon Report, Accountability, and the Postwar Reconstruction of the National Film Board of Canada


Wagman, Ira, Journal of Canadian Studies


Historical accounts of the postwar National Film Board (NFB) typically begin with the purges of NFB staff against the backdrop of the Red Scare. This article revisits this period by situating the Film Board within a context of postwar economic reconstruction. It focusses on an administrative review of the NFB by the consulting firm Woods Gordon. This article suggests that the report was part of a broader effort to redefine cultural agencies in economic terms. It also represented the emerging influence of accounting discourses in producers of "accountability" within government affairs. In conjunction with a new National Film Act, the Woods Gordon report was part of a series of measures that placed the NFB on the sidelines of two major developments: the distribution of movies to television and shifts in federal film policy priorities towards feature films and the development of the cultural industries.

Les récits historiques de l'Office national du film (ONF) d'après-guerre commencent généralement par le nettoyage du personnel de l'ONF avec la "Peur rouge" comme toile de fond. Cet essai jette un nouveau regard sur cette période en replaçant l'Office du film dans un contexte de restauration économique d'après-guerre. Il est axé sur une revue administrative de L'ONF effectuée pai la société de conseil Woods Gordon. Cet article suggère que le rapport faisait partie d'un plus grand effort visant à redéfinir les agences culturelles en termes économiques. Il représentait aussi l'influence émergente des discours de comptabilité chez les producteurs de « reddition de comptes" au sein des affaires gouvernementales. Conjointement avec une nouvelle Loi sur le film, le rapport de Woods Gordon faisait partie d'une série de mesures qui ont placé l'ONF à l'écart de deux événements importants : la distribution de films pour la télévision et le changement des priorités du gouvernement fédéral en matière de politique du film vers le long métrage ainsi que le développement des « industries culturelles ».

In the years following the second World War, the image of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) underwent a dramatic transformation. Once considered an essential agency in the war effort, the NFB became the subject of intense scrutiny during peacetime. Some politicians expressed concern that communist sympathizers had infiltrated the Film Board on the heels of former cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko's revelation to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) of a possible link between the institution and Soviet espionage (Kristmanson 2003, 49-85; Whitaker and Marcuse 1994, 227-58). Opposition members of Parliament (MPs) contended that the Film Board's administrative operations were rife with inefficiency. The premier of Quebec, Maurice Duplessis, ordered his censor board to review NFB films on suspicions that they contained leftist and federalist content; he later barred the distribution of NFB films in the province altogether. Representatives from the country's nascent private film production community, frustrated over the NFB's market dominance, joined the chorus of complaints (Dorland 1998, 58-84). Even members of the ruling Liberal government were unsure about the role the Film Board should play in Canada's reconstruction efforts.

On 19 November 1949, the disparate voices of concern coming from Ottawa reached a broader audience with the publication of a front page article in the Financial Post. The newspaper reported that the Department of National Defence had hired private companies to produce films because of security concerns at the NFB. The article also disclosed that the RCMP had been secretly watching the activities of NFB employees for over a year (Financial Post 1949). Under pressure from Opposition members, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent confirmed that the RCMP had screened NFB employees and announced that the government had enlisted the management consulting firm of J.D. Woods and Gordon (Woods Gordon) to review the board's business practices (Financial Post 1949).

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