What would happen if Canada didn’t protect its culture?

Catherine Keachie,Christopher Mau
The Next City
June 21, 1997

The Next City asked Catherine Keachie, president of the Canadian Magazine Publishers’ Association, and Christopher Maule, professor of economics and international affairs, to comment

Catherine Keachie

We’d be overrun with American “entertainment.” In fact, you may think that we already are. But for those who want to read Canadian magazines and books, who want to see Canadian movies and television, and who want to hear Canadian music — it’s out there. Without sensible policies that reflect the value we place on the expression of Canadian views and perspectives, though, that access to Canadian alternatives would disappear.

That giant sucking noise to the south? Ross Perot might recognize it — it’s the sound of Canadian jobs being sucked into the United States. Cheaply available American entertainment would wash over Canadian cultural industries like a flood-crested river, washing jobs downstream to the U.S. Writers and editors, directors and actors, musicians and producers — as well as the thousands of support staff and workers in related industries — would have no choice but to get out of the industry or follow the jobs south.

Get used to “huh” instead of “eh.” Those Canadian companies that manage to survive would do so by becoming repackagers of cheap American content. You could say that they’d become the cultural equivalent of a ventriloquist’s dummy: The mouth might move, but the words that came out wouldn’t be our own.

Ottawa? Isn’t that a suburb of Chicago? With Canadian voices effectively silenced, you could also say goodbye to an informed Canadian citizenry. Sure, the occasional reference to Canada might pop up on American television — the odd mention of Canadian football on the Simpsons, say, or jokes about Thunder Bay on David Letterman’s show — but intelligent analysis and exploration of Canadian themes, issues, and perspectives would be a distant memory without Canadian control over our cultural industries.

No culture, no country. Straightforward enough, I think. Because a country that loses its voice — especially a country that loses its voice by failing to defend its right to speak — ultimately loses its way.

Christopher Maule

Our cultural industries would be liberated. Content providers, instead of being shoehorned into a small linguistically divided domestic market, would have the incentive to capitalize on foreign markets. Their enhanced profitability would be a magnet for Canadian creativity and jobs. Moreover, creators in countries with small markets have more to gain by penetrating larger markets than do creators in large countries who penetrate smaller markets.

Our film and television producers already thrive abroad. Annual reports for 1995 show foreign revenues represent about half of the total take of Alliance, Atlantis, and Cinar, and three-quarters of Nelvana’s. Foreign markets are also important for MuchMusic, Trio, Newsworld, and Cineplex Odeon. Arguing for open access to foreign markets and for a restricted domestic market is a losing strategy that invites retaliation that harms both cultural and other industries.

Magazines would thrive too. Publishers like Harrowsmith Country Life, no longer forced to close their split-runs, would become more profitable and vibrant. Without protectionist postal rates, Canadians would read lower priced foreign magazines. The New Yorker, among others, has always published Canadian stories by renowned Canadians like Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro.

What’s wrong with more Canadian role models? Look at Céline Dion, Alanis Morissette, Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Michael Ondaatje, Norman Jewison, Atom Egoyan, Garth Drabinsky, and Harlequin Books. They excelled internationally by being world class, not by being subsidized. With more open markets, our Canadian successes would do even better and be less compelled to leave Canada.

Government wouldn’t tell us what we could see. Studies show that content rules don’t help English language drama, and Canadians already prefer Canadian news, current affairs, and sports. If the government decided that certain markets, like children’s programming, were underserved, the CBC could best provide such material.

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