Just as I was prepping a blog post which, in a sense, was taking a slightly optimistic view of Canadian movies & TV, suggesting some — few — advances are being made…I came upon an article suggesting there is renewed efforts by U.S. lobbyists to pressure Canada to scrap Can-Con rules.
And given Canada currently has a Conservative government, and Conservatives traditionally tend to be anti-Arts & Entertainment and pro-America…one can be pessimistic about the outcome.
Can-Con (Canadian Content) rules are the things that ask broadcasters and the like to put aside some time for Canadian-made programs: TV shows on TV, songs on radio, etc. As it stands, Can-Con only accounts for a minority of the broadcasting hours — most of the programs on TV and the songs on the radio in Canada are of American (or other non-Canadian) origin, at least on the private networks and stations.
And now these lobbyists want to make sure it’s all American.
Oh, come on: surely that won’t happen? you say.
Um, yeah — it probably would. Most broadcasters rarely live up to their Can Con obligations as it is…or at least find ways to fudge it. Global, for example, passes off Entertainment Tonight Canada as “Canadian” content, even though much of its coverage is just the same American-centric stories and celebrities covered by its mother show, Entertainment Tonight. As it stands right now: I’m not sure Global is showing any fiction Canadian series in primetime. It’s entire primetime schedule, 7 days a week is devoted to American programs (it has Canadian series on the roster — Rookie Blue, Bomb Girls — but with such short seasons, that weeks, months, will go by without any Canadian drama airing on Global). And that’s with Can-Con regulations.
It’s not hard to imagine the Global (and other radio and TV) executives popping the champagne and sending out the pink slips en masse if Can-Con rules were scraped, happy to devote themselves solely to the far cheaper enterprise of simply buying broadcast rights to pre-made American series (rather than developing, producing and marketing their own).
In music, there has long been the claim that Canadian popular music largely exists today thanks to Can-Con. That by forcing radio stations to devote (a minority) of their airtime to playing Canadian music, it provided a nurturing environment for acts that would later go one to be world famous — that even Bryan Adams or Celine Dion or Nickleback owe some of their success to Can-Con.
Those same pundits would point to the irony that when people denounce Can-Con rules they often point to Canadian music — arguing that Canadian music is successful and internationally popular and so Canadian artists don’t need protection. But, as I say, the pro Can-Con camp would say that’s precisely what proves the value of Can-Con, and disproves the argument that it encourages mediocrity.
Can-Con is like a baby’s incubator — it keeps the kid safe until he’s strong enough to stand on his own. An incubator doesn’t breed inferior children…it just recognizes children are vulnerable to the predations of the world.
But the biggest proof that Can-Can is of value, and that removing it would devastate the Canadian entertainment industry…is the fact that these American lobbyists want it removed.
As I say: American entertainment already accounts for the majority of TV and music in Canada (and movies…but Can-Con has never applied to theatres — and significantly, there are almost no Canadian movies in the theatres). It’s not like the American companies are hard done by — they already have the biggest piece of the pie in Canada. So why would they lobby so vigorously for the removal of Can-Con if they weren’t assuming its removal would benefit American interests even more?
Now obviously, there are those in Canada who would say: so what? They would be perfectly happy to have Canadian entertainment removed from the airwaves (and Canadian news and information, since Can-Con also applies to that as well). They would say: I don’t enjoy any Canadian TV shows or Canadian music (or read Canadian magazines, etc.) so I’m happy to see them go. Fair enough. Although usually they’ll grudgingly admit it’s not quite that black & white, and that there are a few Canadian programs and bands they like. But still…fair enough. Even though we could well imagine the economic crash if we mothballed the entertainment industry. But still:
Just as long as we all understand that’s what we’re talking about.
Anyone who claims that the removal of Can-Con rules would actually be good for Canadian entertainment, forcing it to be “stronger”, or “better”, is lying — either to you, or to themselves. And we know this because the American lobbyists wouldn’t be trying to get Can-Con rules scraped if they thought it would make Canadian entertainment stronger or more competitive, would they?
It’s perhaps ironic that I read about this around the time the CBC was airing a cheeky documentary called The War of 1812: Been There, Won That, looking at the war where America tried to conquer Canada. (I talk about the war more here).
Looks as though the war isn’t over — it’s just being fought now, not with musket balls, but with lobbyists.