About The House
CBC Radio One
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Saturdays at 9:00 a.m. and Midnight (ET), Sundays at 8:00 a.m. ET
ABOUT THE HOST
Chris Hall is the CBC's National Affairs Editor, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen, before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998.
HISTORY OF THE HOUSE
October 22, 1977 turned out to be a great day to start a new federal political affairs program called The House.
Radio and television broadcasting were just introduced to the House of Commons, and the CBC created four new shows to bring Parliament to the nation. One of them was The House.
"It's almost impossible to remember what political reporting was like before the media were allowed to broadcast the House of Commons," muses Marguerite McDonald, the show's first host. "No one in the radio and TV audiences had ever seen or heard anything that took place inside the Chamber. Our whole view of national politics was shaped by what politicians said in "scrums" and press conferences after they walked out of the House."
Originally, the producers of The House planned to simply broadcast taped House of Commons proceedings.
"In other words, BORING," jokes McDonald. "It took the genius of our senior editor, Bruce Wark, backed by our manager, Tom Earle, to see the possibilities. Yes, we would broadcast taped excerpts from the House of Commons. But we would add interviews and background information to provide context and, as it turned out, generate a great deal of interest from our audience and from the MPs themselves."
Susan Helwig was there at the beginning. She was a producer at The House from 1977 to 1987. She recounts how right from the get-go staff were urged to make sure The House was "not a mouthpiece for politicians. The program ran a distinctive mix of interviews, political proceedings and original reporting, which like its Saturday morning timeslot, it continues to this day.
According to McDonald, MPs learned quickly that sound and fury made for exciting tape. "Day after day, Solicitor-General, Francis Fox endured wave after wave of questions, jeers and catcalls. Based on his performance, many of us thought Fox would eventually become Prime Minister. This was, of course, before he signed another man's name on an abortion document and his political prospects crashed."
This was hardly the only tale of misconduct to make it on air. "We may believe that the House is raucous now, but things nearly got out of hand during the RCMP scandal of the day, when it was revealed that the RCMP had stolen dynamite and burned down a barn in Quebec to throw blame on the FLQ," recalls McDonald.
The House has interviewed Prime Ministers, covered moments of infamy and interpreted election campaigns, Quebec referenda, and events like Meech Lake and the repatriation of the Constitution.
Sometimes reporters got it wrong. "I remember interviewing Jean Chretien, then Minister of Finance. As he reminded me of all the posts he had held in cabinet over the years, I thought, 'My goodness! This man thinks he's going to become Prime Minister!' And I went on to think, 'Not in our lifetime!' Which goes to show how much more Chretien knew than I did," says McDonald.
Many respected CBC journalists have hosted The House. Marguerite McDonald hosted the show for its inaugural years. Since then, the regular hosts have been:
The first episode - October 22, 1977
The first episode of The House dealt with the impact of television on the House of Commons and spoke to MPs on the issue.
"Before the arrival of electronic media, MP's used to pound their desks in response to debates in the Commons. That sound appears in the first recordings if you search them out. The thumping from the desks proved to be too noisy and did not go over well on either radio or television. So MP's gradually shifted to applauding instead of banging their desks.
They also learned to dress for television. Gone were the plaid jackets and the loud ties that some MP's would have normally worn as good attire. Instead, they turned into indistinguishable penguins all wearing dark suits with blue or white shirts. The arrival of electronic media made the House of Commons a less colourful place. It also led to other changes in behaviour as MP's learned to perform for the cameras, using hand gestures and trying other stunts to make an impact."
- Susan Helwig, producer 1977-1987