MONTREAL – Former CRTC chair and Astral Media president André Bureau succumbed to cancer on Friday, April 12. He was 83.
A lawyer and communications business executive, Bureau was the illustration of a generation of smart, ambitious and well-connected young French-Canadian men that emerged after the “Révolution Tranquille”.
Born in 1935, in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, he studied Law at Université Laval in Québec City and was called to the Quebec Bar in 1959. He also received a doctorate in comparative law at the Sorbonne, in France, in 1960.
In private practice from 1960, he practiced in his home town, where Le Nouvelliste (the local daily) was a client. Le Nouvelliste was bought by Power Corporation and later Bureau went on to join Power’s La Presse in 1968, as vice-president – human resources.
La Presse was embroiled, in the 60s and 70s, in a few acrimonious strikes with its typesetters, one of which saw the paper cease publication from June to December 1964. That was when Pierre Péladeau (Pierre Karl’s father), the owner of neighbourhood dailies in Montreal, launched the “Journal de Montreal” overnight in the absence of La Presse.
Bureau later returned to practising law from 1973 to 1976 at Bureau, Champagne, Parisien where the main client was Telemedia, an emerging communications company owned by Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien. Another of his major client was Bechtel, an American engineering firm heavily involved in the James Bay project.
In 1976, he was appointed executive vice-president at Télémédia Communications, then an emerging radio and television company, and became president from 1980 to 1981 and president of Telemedia Ventures from 1981 to 1982. Telemedia Ventures was one of the principal shareholders of Canadian Satellite Communications (Cancom), which became Shaw Broadcast Services. Bureau was its president and CEO in 1982 to 1983 before he was hired as chairman of the CRTC
He served as CRTC chair from 1983 to 1989. According to the legend, Bureau was called to 24 Sussex Drive, in Ottawa, the residence of then Prime Minister, Pierre Eliot Trudeau who said: “Francis Fox wants you as the chair of the CRTC and I agree with him.”
Still according to the legend, the next day, at the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Annual meeting, Minister of Communications Fox walked in for his keynote speech with André Bureau in tow and introduced them to the new chair of the CRTC.
Appointed for seven years (as was the case in those days), Bureau being both a relatively young private sector businessman and a lawyer was a good choice to lead such an organization. Governments often overlook the importance of private sector managerial experience when it searches for candidates to lead such agencies.
At the CRTC, Bureau oversaw the issuance of 22,000 decisions, and helped guide the transition of a rather closed system to one of formidable expansion. The Communications universe was in transition and, in Canada, Bureau was in the middle of it all. A good mix of the pragmatic and the visionary, he ran a tight ship and discipline was paramount. The beginning of speciality channels, the growth of FM radio as a mainstream media and the power of cable television are examples of where he was not a passive observer but an active player.
As Peter Grant, counsel and past chair of law firm McCarthy’s Technology, Communications and Intellectual Property Group says: “Having observed all 13 of the CRTC chairs since 1968, I can say that André Bureau was one of the best. He combined good leadership skills with an excellent sense of the communications industry. His actions to update and replace all the broadcasting regulations in 1986-7 were particularly noteworthy. He will be missed.”
Hank Intven, now teaches at the University of Victoria after a distinguished career in telecommunications and law offered the following: “I had the privilege of working as executive director of telecommunications for the first part of his tenure as chair of the CRTC. He was one of the best natural leaders I’ve seen. He was collaborative and collegial, and a visionary who had the management and political skills to achieve his visions.
“André’s main focus during his tenure as chair was in the broadcasting area rather than telecommunications. When he first arrived at the Commission, he used to chide me in his friendly way about my involvement in the CRTC’s first pay TV decision (which was released before he arrived). While he shared the vision of creating strong Canadian alternatives to the influx of U.S. pay TV networks, he believed the Commission had introduced too much competition into the market too fast, and in too unregulated a manner. He chided me knowingly, as several of the Pay TV companies the Commission had licensed failed,” added Intven.
“At the same time, Andre believed strongly there should be more Canadian alternatives to the burgeoning number of satellite-delivered TV services. When it was his turn to license a new round of cable TV channels – to be called “Specialty” rather than “Pay TV” services, the Commission introduced these on a more managed basis, with one service per genre and strong Cable TV distribution regulations to reduce the prospects for failure. Most of the Specialty TV services the Commission licensed under his leadership prospered - including TSN, MuchMusic, YTV and Family Channel. These, and the other services licensed on a similar basis after André left the Commission, have provided important new choices for Canadian viewers and a big increase in the size of and opportunities for the Canadian media industries.
“Andre’s leadership and contributions to Canadian Broadcasting policy, regulation and business clearly made him one of the most influential players in developing the large and successful media industry Canada has today.”
“He was a man of great wisdom and great generosity. He was someone for whom sharing knowledge and success was paramount. He was a leader with great class.” – Michel Arpin
Konrad von Finckenstein, who interacted with André Bureau as Commissioner of Competition and Chairman of the CRTC said “He was a great Chairman and a wonderful person. No doubt the most successful chair ever. I admired him greatly and regarded him as a model to emulate.”
Leaving before the end of his mandate, Roy Heenan convinced André Bureau to join Heenan, Blaikie’s a Montreal law firm, where he stayed until the firm closed in 2014.
While at Heenan’s, he became involved in Astral, a chain of camera and photo development stores and a film production company by becoming chairman of the Board of Astral Media and president of Astral Broadcasting Group. Under his leadership along with the Greenberg family who owned it, the enterprise became a giant in the field of pay and speciality channels and radio.
Astral was sold to BCE in 2013 for $3.2 billion.
Michel Arpin, who was staff at the Commission in his youth, went to work at Astral and then came back at the CRTC as vice-chair broadcasting, in 2005: “I spent five years with him (2000 to 2005) and these were five wonderful years. My position at Astral was “special advisor to the chairman of the board on regulatory affairs. “I can attest that I never worked for André Bureau, but with André Bureau, and I am confident that all who worked with him would agree.
“He was a man of great wisdom and great generosity. He was someone for whom sharing knowledge and success was paramount. He was a leader with great class. We will miss him,” Michel Arpin concluded.
“André Bureau will be remembered as a giant in the industry. He had a razor sharp mind, steely determination and maintained a wide range of friends, colleagues and admirers in every quarter of the industry,” said current CRTC chair Ian Scott. “I am honoured to serve in the same role that André once fulfilled. He served in the public interest with great fortitude of character, intelligence and grace. We will miss him dearly.”
Pierre Rodrigue, who worked with Bureau at Astral and is now vice-president, Québec Affairs, at Bell Canada says, “At a time with so much change in how Canadians consume content, and especially now when reviewing broadcasting regulations, we must recognize the exceptional achievements that have created a strong production industry and a vibrant broadcasting ecosystem. André Bureau was one of the main architects of this success. He consistently acted with respect, humility and great wisdom. To many of us, he was a mentor and a friend, and his memory will continue to inspire us. He was a true gentleman and a great Canadian.”
In 1992, Bureau was made a Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France and a year later he became an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2004, he was inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. In 2012, he was made an Officer of the National Order of Quebec.
He had been on numerous boards, too, including Microcell Canada and AT&T Canada.
He is survived by his wife Thérèse, sons Jean, president and CEO of Incendo, a Montreal-based, international television production company, recently purchased by TVA; Bernard, vice-president—5G spectrum and wireless networks at Telus and Yves-André, president and founder of YAB Management, a firm involved in projects in Canada’s North.
Visitation will be at the Mount Royal Funeral Complex, 1297 Chemin de la Forêt, Outremont, on Thursday, May 2nd from 4 to 9 p.m. with a commemorative service set for Friday, May 3rd at 11 a.m.