Skip to main content
john doyle

In the matter of Peter Mansbridge stepping down from CBC's The National, this might seem ungracious and harsh, but it's about bloody time.

Mansbridge has spent 28 years as anchor and chief correspondent for CBC Television's flagship newscast and that's a very, very long time for anyone to be in a position of on-air authority in the TV business, a business that has changed so much. The traditional anchor position, which Mansbridge embodies in every scintilla in his on-air persona, is outdated and, essentially, redundant.

We have, in fact, shown too much deference to Mansbridge and his ilk for too long. There was a time when the national TV news anchor was a vital role in the culture. When TV was young, and there were fewer channels and the only competition was radio and print, coverage of major breaking-news events demanded an authority figure to calm the nation. Always male, always urbane, always a dad-like figure. That such anchor types are still presented to us is insulting.

The essence of the traditional anchor position now reeks of pomposity. And that pomposity was evident in Mansbridge's announcement of his departure. The assumption that it's a historic announcement. The long, long going-away period – almost a year – and Mansbridge attaching himself to CBC-TV's coverage of Canada Day on the country's 150th birthday. The latter is, obviously, an attempted act of attaching himself to the country's history.

Pomposity is part of TV stardom. CBC, in particular, is its own bubble of self-regard and remoteness. Its stars often lose perspective, become immune from self-questioning inside that bubble. Only the CBC would give its main news anchor close to a year to say goodbye and the manner of Mansbridge's leaving bespeaks an allegiance to him which, at this point, is puzzling.

A year ago, when CBC presented its new schedule to the press, things opened with Shad, then the new guy on q, and Mansbridge tutoring him on how to say "CBC." This suggested CBC considered Shad and Mansbridge to be its biggest stars. Where's Shad now? Right. The broadcast media tends to work like that, but not for Mansbridge.

Yet, what Mansbridge has presided over is a decline. The National no longer has anything like the impact and audience it once had. The splintered landscape of news and media has diminished it. And yet instead of reinventing itself in any meaningful way, the program has declined into a disastrously inane newscast, often an exercise in breathtaking superciliousness.

The At Issue panel and other discussions reek of smugness and that tone has usually been set by Mansbridge as host. He has never been a good interviewer, to be frank. He is expert at filling time, not at orchestrating the drama or substance of the illuminating interview. As we saw during interviews he conducted during last year's federal election, he has tended to be obsequious to power and overly critical of those who oppose power.

Mansbridge's main skill and value to CBC has been his ability to keep talking during live TV coverage, whether it's a solemn occasion such as Remembrance Day or the chaos of the shooting on Parliament Hill in October of 2014. It takes skill to keep talking when there's not much happening. It takes skill to keep calm and establish calmness when chaos is unfolding. Mansbridge, at times, was adept at that. He was praised for his on-air work during the Parliament Hill shooting and, yet, interestingly, most of the praise was for not mimicking the hysteria that such incidents can incite on U.S. all-news cable.

It's odd to be praised for restraint, for not being overwrought, given that being restrained, calm and offering reliable information is assumed to be job one. It's what Mansbridge has been paid handsomely to do. One of his recent appearances to talk and talk during a live event did, however, suggest that his heart might not be in it. His blather during the opening ceremonies at the Rio Olympics was bizarre. He seemed fixated on blurting out news events, usually bad-news events, associated with the countries entering the arena. Viewers noticed and took to Twitter to complain that Mansbridge was on a downer binge.

The timing of Mansbridge's long goodbye is interesting. The narrative of the last two years at CBC hasn't been sunny or illustrious – Mansbridge's and Rex Murphy's paid speaking engagements, the Ghomeshi scandal, the Amanda Lang debacle and the strange and sudden departure of Evan Solomon. That's a lot of strangeness and should have been cause for a thorough clean-out. Mansbridge's departure from The National – that's all he says he doing, not leaving CBC – isn't part of that. The lengthy goodbye lap ending on a historic day next year is an illustration of the strange bubble of self-promotion and self-regard that envelops CBC.

I'll say this about Mansbridge, though – he never complained about being called "Pastor Mansbridge" in my column. I called him Pastor for years because he had the demeanour of an unctuous but imperious priest delivering sermons while delivering the news on The National. The Pastor's day is over, or will be, eventually, next year. It should actually have happened years ago for Mansbridge and his ilk.

Interact with The Globe