le 24 octobre 1998
Canadian Regressive Taxation Control
MUSINGS BY MADDOCKS
SUNSET OVER ST. TITE
by Ralph Maddocks
A notice the other day announced that the Canadian Radio-television
and Telecommunications Commission is about to hold hearings on other
forms of media. The CRTC, not content with trying to make us listen or
watch stuff that doesn't interest us, is now going to start poking its
regulatory nose into things like the internet. Another example, if needed,
of the government and its cultural nationalist minions in the CRTC knowing
what is best for us. Along with Industry Canada they tried to stop people
watching US owned Direct To Home satellite broadcasts. Fortunately for
the long suffering taxpayers a wise judge in Saskatchewan ruled that it
was not illegal for those 300 000 or so Canadians to receive
DTH signals from the US, and presumably not from anywhere else either.
The CRTC, like all bureaucracies, has to continue to justify its existence
and so it is endlessly searching for new fields to regulate and it does
this without the slightest whimper of protest from any of the political
parties and very little from any other group. The fact that its policies
are a form of regressive taxation and affect the less fortunate among us
doesn't seem to be of much interest to our caring Liberal party. In fact
our Liberal Party has been the progenitor and chief supporter of this heavy
handed attempt to restrict Canadian listening and viewing habits.
A term which is employed in this field is Canadian Content, more commonly
known as CanCon, and as its name suggests has to do with the content of
the programmes which we watch on TV or to which we listen on the radio.
You might think, listening to the cultural nationalists, that all this
CanCon stuff has to do with showing films or programmes with Canadian cultural
themes. It doesn't.
If a Canadian citizen, or a group of them, made a television programme
about such a fascinating topic as, say, the underlying causes of Yoritomo's
declaration of war against his Taira adversaries in 12th. century Japan,
it would be considered to meet the conditions of CanCon. On the other hand,
if a Japanese company, or even a group of former Canadians living in Japan,
were to make a film, or a series, about the lives of Canadian Prime Ministers
it would not qualify as CanCon. So, you might ask, what is CanCon all about?
Well, it has little or nothing to do with content. It is about the citizenship
of the people, or some of them, who make TV programmes or create certain
musical selections broadcast on radio. Suppose that a programme is created,
written and distributed by Canadian citizens but is produced by, say, a
US philanthropic group. Then again it does not qualify because the producer
is not a Canadian. In the realm of music, similar qualifications must be
met. In essence, Canadian citizens must be involved in any two of the following
aspects of the work; writing, performing, recording or producing the work.
Leaving aside the question of the definition of Canadian culture, what
counts is jobs, not content. This explains why Canadian singers with obviously
contrived southern drawls can sing about the Mississippi and still have
their song qualifying as CanCon. The objective of every Canadian singer
is to penetrate the US market which is where the real money is, and they
won't do that if they write and sing songs about the sunset over St. Tite
or Red Deer.
Canadian Restrictive Thematic Content
The stated objective of the CanCon regulations is to « strengthen
Canadian identity and enhance cultural sovereignty ».
It is quite unlikely that there will be much agreement about which values
and attitudes represent a true « Canadian identity
». Some have suggested that there may be many such identities.
In 1997, when asked if he was embarrassed by the fact that these objectives
had not been accomplished, a representative of the CRTC said simply «
Even if everyone could agree on a method, and if somehow we could define
and measure this « Canadian identity »
index accurately, it would presumably be extremely difficult to measure
the effects of an increase in content in terms of this index.
Defenders of CanCon say that its purpose and effect « is,
and always has been, to increase the range (of choice) for everyone and
to ensure that Canadian choices are prominent ». However,
since you cannot go out and buy a television programme signal as you might
buy a chocolate bar or a pizza, the argument is hardly compelling. If you
are fascinated by say, movies about the Touareg in the Sahara, the fact
that you can rarely find one and must perforce watch a Canadian soap instead
gets you counted as a watcher of Canadian content. You can only buy the
packages that your cable company or DTH provider offers.
If you like science programmes, they are likely to be packaged with intellectually
stimulating children's cartoons or Rock Music marathons. If you want exclusively
French or English programming, then at least in Quebec, you have to buy
stuff you don't care for in both languages. The policy also guarantees
that all local over-the-air stations have a place in the basic package
of cable supplied services. This way, you may get shows to which you object
on religious grounds e.g. Toronto's Christian based Crossroads Television
System. At the same time they may bump your favourite station into that
part of the cable package which requires you to pay extra to watch it.
After all, they know what is best for you.
This blatant example of the nanny state has been with us since television
broadcasting began in the early fifties and has been refined and made more
complicated over the years until it has reached the state where now it
effectively infringes upon our rights to free speech. You can decide who
to marry, how many children to have, what profession to follow, who to
elect to govern you and even to stay or leave the country. You can open
a bookstore and no representative of the heavy mob will shut it down because
you deal exclusively in non-Canadian books. Don't repeat that though, someone
at the Heritage Department may be listening.
As I mentioned earlier, the CRTC is now about to hold hearings about the
internet. Whether, as has been suggested, the motive is really to find
a way to tax it or whether they are simply looking for a way to get the
world's internet providers to meet some kind of CanCon standard, I don't
know. Once there is sufficient bandwidth to allow real-time audio-visual
images to be put on the internet, thus offering us non-Canadian content
exclusively, then short of banning the internet completely they will be
obliged to admit that the population knows exactly what it wants. I'll
bet they will not want the cultural nationalists at the CRTC anymore.