In the same way, the Commission must reflect the general spirit of the Act – how? For example:
(d) facilitates the provision of broadcasting to Canadians;
(e) facilitates the provision of Canadian programs to Canadians;
When comes the time to rewrite a Broadcasting Act for Canada, the following corollary must also be reinstated:
Objects and Powers of the Commission in Relation to Broadcasting…
10 (1) (b) prescribing what constitutes a Canadian program for the purposes of this Act;
A regrettable parenthesis
Let’s introduce a parenthesis to make sure we remember that the CRTC missed a historical opportunity on May 17, 1999, in its Public Notice CRTC 1999-84 which says: “By not regulating, we hope to support the growth of new media services in Canada.”
Without a doubt, mission accomplished! For the last twenty years, this laxity has allowed the web superpowers to occupy more and more space in the Canadian ecosystem without being accountable to anyone at all.
Twenty years later, it must be said, the CRTC is opening its eyes. In a document published in January of 2019, it recommended:
To ensure a vibrant domestic market and be equitable to all players, it will be essential to develop better regulatory approaches that engage all audio and video services and for each to participate in the most appropriate ways in creating and promoting content by and for Canadians. Accordingly, if legislative change is to take place, it should clearly and explicitly make any video or audio services offered in Canada and/or drawing revenue from Canadians subject to the legislation and incorporate them into the broadcasting system. This should apply to traditional and new services, whether Canadian or non-Canadian1. (author’s emphasis)
End of the twenty-year parenthesis…
The current Act provides instructions with regard to the Free Trade Agreement:
Directions re Free Trade Agreement
27 (1) The Governor in Council may, either on the recommendation of the Minister made at the request of the Commission or on the Governor in Council’s own motion, issue directions of general application respecting the manner in which the Commission shall apply or interpret paragraph 3 of Article 2006 of the Agreement.
These instructions must change in the future Act to take into account the Canada-US-Mexico Free Trade Agreement. It is, however, relevant here to underline a word of caution from Véronique Guèvremont, law professor and UNESCO Chair on the Diversity of Cultural Expression at Laval University. At the CEMAD conference in Montreal, she indicated that it is likely that the idea of cultural exemption so dear to Quebec might be contested by US authorities. We know that the US cultural industries are hostile to all forms of cultural protectionism, notably that of francophones in Canada. In fact, the industry is of the opinion that there is no need for the digital economy to be at all concerned with cultural exemptions. Véronique Guèvremont warned against the conflict resolution mechanisms put in place by the new Agreement.
Our cultural sovereignty
It is highly appropriate to mention that this idea of cultural exemption is akin to the expression ‘cultural sovereignty’. In Quebec, political journalists will remember that this expression was launched by Robert Bourassa’s provincial Liberal government in 1973.
It was also used by Clifford Lincoln, the federal Liberal who chaired the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. His committee published a report called Our Cultural Sovereignty in 2003.
The Lincoln report was unable to garner the support of all its members, since the Canadian Alliance was not onside. The report was nevertheless received very positively by the Minister of Canadian Heritage of the time, Liza Frulla.
In its second response to the report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, Reinforcing our Cultural Sovereignty, the government stated that Canada’s cultural sovereignty remained a relevant value even in the digital era.
The big principles that remain valid: CBC/Radio-Canada
The mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada remains at the heart of the 1991 Act. In this regard, it is important to note that the mandate was changed in the 1991 Act at the insistence of Minister Marcel Masse. He wanted to change the wording of the 1968 Act, which instructed the public broadcaster to promote national unity. The 1991 definition was changed to “reflect Canada and its regions”. In my book Ici était Radio-Canada /Losing our voice: Radio-Canada under siege, Richard Stursberg, who was Assistant Deputy-Minister of Communications in 1991, confirmed that the minister had wanted to remove what he saw as an invitation to the public broadcaster to veer into propaganda. (Ici était Radio-Canada, Éditions Boréal, p.109. 2014).
The current Act defines CBC/Radio-Canada’s mission as follows:
(l) the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;
(m) the programming provided by the Corporation should
(i) be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,
(ii) reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,
(iii) actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,
(iv) be in English and in French, reflecting the different needs and circumstances of each official language community, including the particular needs and circumstances of English and French linguistic minorities,
(v) strive to be of equivalent quality in English and in French,
(vi) contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,
(vii) be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and
(viii) reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada.
These strategic orientations remain relevant.
CBC/Radio-Canada, with or without advertising?
In June of 2014, I had the opportunity to conduct a long interview with former minister Marcel Masse about CBC/Radio-Canada. Without a doubt, he believed sincerely in the importance of a public broadcasting radio and television service.
In the course of this interview, I discovered that he had wanted to remove all advertising from public television.
“It was the mandate that had to be changed…we had to give it a clear and precise mandate: remove advertising…”
In his view, the dependence on advertising revenues contaminated television programming at CBC/Radio-Canada and therefore, did not allow it to distinguish itself from private networks.
I believe he was right, and that this issue is still topical.
However, this must be done not in the context of budget cuts but as part of a transition to a new business model for the public broadcaster.