The federal government’s proposed measures to assist Canada’s largely beleaguered media industry has attracted a good deal of criticism. A promise in the run-up to a general election next year of $595 million over five years to the media was bound to incite considerable suspicion about the disposition of the government to dispense such money to such needful, financially vulnerable, and politically influential people on an impartial basis. The terms of the program, as outlined, are quite defensible and whether it is a good thing or not will, like most assistance programs, depend on its administration and the integrity and intelligence of the people who dispense the funds.
There has always been a natural problem in Canada with the competitive quality of the English-Canadian media because of the contiguity of an English-speaking society in the United States that is entirely accessible to Canada and which has practically unlimited reserves of talent and money. Carving a niche for Canada in that environment has always been a challenge, and when artificially assisted, has often led to the subsidization of gratuitously anti-American media and entertainment, or more often, simply mediocre content that could not survive independently.
Many sectors of the Canadian media have been afflicted by deficiency of talent, aggravated, as in other spheres, by migration of talent to the United States, but Canada has steadily advanced in its capabilities and even in its cultural self-confidence. When television first became a general medium in most homes, Canadian programming consisted largely of hockey and football games and reruns of American sitcoms and other programs. When the country became the most wire-cabled in the world because of the addiction of Canadians to American entertainment, simulcasting was resorted to, in which American programming was cable-cast but in what amounted to outright piracy, the commercial gaps and even the visible advertising on the programs, such as those on the boards of National Hockey League arenas in the United States, had Canadian advertising sold and inserted over them. The late Ted Rogers, cable pioneer and a great citizen (and dear personal friend), po-facedly professed that this was “cultural sovereignty.” There were other possible descriptions for it.