Canadian cultural protectionism

Cultural protectionism in Canada has, since the mid-20th century, taken the form of conscious, interventionist attempts on the part of various Canadian governments to promote Canadian cultural production and limit the effect of foreign culture on the domestic audience. Sharing a large border and a common language with the United States, Canada faces a difficult position in regard to North American culture, be it direct attempts at the Canadian market or the cultural re-uptake of US-based North American culture in the globalized media arena. While Canada tries to maintain its cultural differences from the US and Mexico, it also must balance this with responsibility in trade arrangements such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)[1] and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Studies and recommendations

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said he felt that: "Living next to you [The United States] is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly or temperate the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt."

One of the first such responses to perceived American cultural invasion in the later half of the 20th century was through the National Film Act of 1950. Authorized by Queen Elizabeth II it increased the authority of the government's National Film Board to finance and promote Canadian culture.

The Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, also known as the Massey Commission, advocated the creation of a government sponsored organization that would exclusively finance Canadian artists. This organization, the Canada Council for the Arts, is responsible for the distribution of large sums of money to individuals or groups that promote the what it defines as Canadian culture. The Council had a greater impact than its parent, and continues to support emerging Canadian cultural talent that it approves of.[2]

The Commission also works to foster a general sense that Canada risks being swamped by an invasion of foreign culture. This led to an increased fear that Canada might very well lose a distinct, national culture.

Broadcasting standards

In 1955, with this fear in mind, the government appointed Robert Fowler to chair a Royal Commission that is known as the Fowler Commission. The Fowler Commission reported that the majority of Canadian stations, including the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, used not Canadian material, but American. It was the Commission's belief that a quota system should be enacted to protect Canadian content on the airwaves.

This recommendation, passed in 1956, shaped Canadian media significantly. It affirmed the CBC as Canada's official broadcasting station and, more importantly, it initiated the quota system. In its inception, the quota system said that 45% of all content broadcast on the airwaves must be Canadian in origin. While this number has fluctuated over the years, it has generally required that approximately half of all programming on Canadian airwaves be Canadian in origin. However, Canadian content includes not only arts and drama, but news and sports, and most private broadcast networks skew towards the latter rather than the former, to allow for large quantities of foreign dramas. To the dismay of many Canadians, this leaves more "culturally" oriented Canadian programming off the major-network airwaves.

This reformation of the Canadian airwaves, according to some, did not have the desired impact on Canadians. T. B. Symons, shortly after the Fowler report's installation in Canadian law, released a report entitled "To Know Ourselves". The report looked at Canadian high-school history books and found that while the Winnipeg General Strike went without mention, the books contained two chapters on Abraham Lincoln. The report also looked at Canadian children's general knowledge of their government and most could not identify the Canadian head of state (Queen Elizabeth II) and the basis for Canada's law and founding (the British North America Act 1867).

This cultural protectionism by the Canadian government has raised the hackles of certain companies, specifically Reader's Digest and Time magazines. In 1998, American magazines like Sports Illustrated and Time Magazine successfully pressured the Canadian government under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and threatened a NAFTA lawsuit to stop the outlaw of "split run" magazines; in other words, to allow "Canadian editions" of American magazines, rather than mandating the creation of uniquely Canadian magazines.[3][4][5]

See also


  1. Farah, Paolo Davide; Gattinara, Giacomo (2010). Dordi, Claudio, ed. WTO Law in the Canadian Legal Order. The Absence of Direct Effect of WTO in the EC and in Other Countries. Turin: The Interuniversity Centre on the Law of International Economic Organizations. pp. 323–330. ISBN 978-88-348-9623-5. SSRN 2337687Freely accessible.
  2. Paul Litt, "The Massey Commission, Americanization, and Canadian Cultural Nationalism," Queen's Quarterly (1991) 98#2 pp 375-387.
  3. Time Magazine’s Threatened Lawsuit Under NAFTA Blackmail, says Council of Canadians. Council of Canadians. November 18, 1998.
  4. New Advertising Services Measure to Promote Canadian Culture (includes timeline of events). Heritage Canada. July 29, 1998.
  5. WTO Rules Against Canada's Magazine Policy. Maclean's. January 27, 1997.
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