Canadian Culture: New Policies and Approaches

1280px-flag_of_the_north_american_free_trade_agreement_standard_version-svgCultural Policy Series, Part 2 of 5

Canada’s cultural policy agenda is rooted in fears of cultural imperialism as it was originally defined—a hegemonic U.S. market flooding and eroding indigenous culture through its global expansion—but current theory regarding globalization and its impact suggests that Canada needs to look beyond its southern neighbour and consider new policies and approaches to support and expand the Canadian cultural landscape.

In spite of the ongoing clash between Canada’s social responsibility view of culture and the free market approach of the U.S., Canada has benefited from its relationship with the U.S. through the export of cultural goods and services to U.S. markets. In fact, it has been suggested that protectionism is damaging to Canadian culture and the Canadian consumer when it results in economic monopolies, such as the market control assumed by the bookstore Chapters when the federal government supported the chain and prevented U.S. retailer Borders from entering the Canadian market.

Given that Canada can benefit from access to foreign markets for its cultural products, Kevin Mulcahy suggests that Canada could consider shifting its policy focus to create what he calls a form of “cultural syncretism.” In effect, rather than focusing on preventing U.S. access to Canadian markets, Canada would focus on “enlarging the public-cultural sphere through subsidies, subventions, grants, and investments…while coexisting with its neighbour’s monopoly of entertainment commodities.” This would require some adjustments to current policy to increase support for Canadian arts and culture (which is often the first to be cut by government when the economy declines) and, perhaps, to reduce restrictions placed on foreign media content.

In “Grey to black: Satellite piracy in Canada” (2008), Gregory Taylor demonstrates how Canada can, and must, update its cultural policy to respond to globalization. Taylor describes what he calls the “grey market” in satellite broadcasting, which—in contrast to the concept of cultural imperialism—results from demand for programming from less developed nations. Canada’s widespread and growing ethnic diversity means that Canadian (and U.S.) media content is no longer sufficient to satisfy the communication needs of the country’s population. Section 3.d.iii of the 1991 Broadcasting Act recognizes this need for diversity, making explicit reference to the “linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society.”

Due to the demand for ethnic broadcasting and the proliferation of satellite piracy in Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commmission (CRTC) established the Ethnic Broadcasting Policy in 1999, which outlines the criteria for radio and television broadcasting of ethnic and third-language programming. The CRTC’s commitment to improving broadcasting options is impressive as Canadian services now include four ethnic television stations and 28 radio stations, as well as five third-language specialty services and 190 ethnic pay and specialty services. In addition, the CRTC’s policies have made it easier for ethnic and third-language programming to be available in Canada. As Taylor notes, “the CRTC has responded positively by recognizing, and therefore legitimizing the demands of recent immigrants who would otherwise find themselves outside the national broadcasting system.” In this case, Canada demonstrated the required flexibility in policy to reflect the needs of an increasingly diverse population.

Serra Tinic explores a different approach to cultural protectionism in relation to Canadian television programming in “Walking a tightrope: The global cultural economy of Canadian television” (2010). With access to global markets, Canadian television producers increasingly focus on generation of revenue, which “has sometimes led to the dilution of cultural specificity due to the perceived need to universalize (often read as “Americanizing”) televisual stories for greater national distribution.” However, this dilution need not occur, or at least not to the same extent, if different strategies are adopted by the Canadian television industry.

For example, international joint ventures have contributed to growth in Canadian television programming—by the early 1990s Canada had become the second-largest exporter of audiovisual products after the U.S.—and have allowed the CBC to present critically and commercially successful programs in partnership with independent producers without sacrificing cultural specificity. Da Vinci’s Inquest, by genre an urban crime drama, was incredibly popular with Canadian and international audiences (it was sold to over 25 countries) and made “no attempt to erase the cultural markers of its domestic setting,” leaving Vancouver as the location and exploring regional issues like crime, poverty, and class struggle. Examples like this suggest that Canadian content does not necessarily translate into reduced opportunity for popular or commercial success.

See also: Cultural Protectionism in Canada (Part 1), Internet Streaming and Canadian Content (Part 3), Cultural Policy in Mexico: NAFTA and Beyond (Part 4), How AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead Reinforces U.S. Cultural Hegemony (Part 5)


Mulcahy, K. V. “Cultural imperialism and cultural sovereignty: U.S.-Canadian cultural relations.” Summer 2000. American Review of Canadian Studies, 30(2), 181–206.

Offering cultural diversity on TV and radio.” Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Taylor, Gregory. “Grey to black: Satellite piracy in Canada.” November 2008. Canadian Journal of Media Studies, 4(1), 89-108.

Tinic, S. “Walking a tightrope: The global cultural economy of Canadian television.” In B. Beaty, D. Briton, G. Filax, and R. Sullivan (Eds.). How Canadians communicate III: Contexts of Canadian popular culture, 95-115. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, 2010.



© Jennifer Bertrand, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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