Canada’s arts community is often a hotbed of nationalism. Artists from the Group of Seven to film-maker Gordon Pinsent (John and the Missus) have labored to capture the national soul, and international stars such as Anne Murray perversely but patriotically make their home on the colder side of the border. The cultural community’s immediate response to the U.S.-Canada free trade agreement is one of suspicion. Last Monday Communications Minister Flora MacDonald told the Commons that she had won almost complete protection for culture. But some analysts criticized a clause in the agreement that allows either country to retaliate without threatening the deal if cultural protectionism causes it economic injury. And retaliation by huge U.S. culture industries would be far more devastating than similar moves by Canada.
The agreement—still to be fleshed out—exempts such specific legislation as Bill C-58, which gives tax breaks to those who advertise in domestic periodicals and on domestic TV and radio. But William Roberts, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, spoke for many when he said that he was waiting “to see the fine print.”
And already some of the initial agreement’s clauses raise controversy. One of the controversial clauses will increase the postal rates paid by larger Canadian periodicals— Maclean ’s currently pays a base rate of 5.1 cents per issue for postage—to that of U.S. magazines with editions print-
ed in Canada, such as Time, which pay 6.6 cents. There may also be hikes in the cost of mailing books. Still, said Edmonton publisher Mel Hurtig, “if I had a list of 500 problems with the deal, publishing would rank 500th.”
The loudest complaints came from the recording industry. At present both U.S. branch plants and Canadian companies manufacture discs behind a 13-per-cent tariff wall that is to be dismantled over the next 10 years. Local artists and spokesmen for Canadian independent labels—which are often distributed by the U.S. branch plants—say that those U.S. companies may then find it cheaper to import records and so will lose interest in their Canadian operations. That, in turn, will limit consumers’ choice. Edmonton’s Stony Plain Records handles many less commercial but critically acclaimed acts —both Canadian and American. But owner Holger Petersen says that if it loses its distributor, RCA Records, the company could fold.
Across the arts, critics foresee that free trade will strengthen multinational and large domestic firms—and create hard times for creative independents. Eight months ago U.S. trade representative Clayton Yeutter said: “I’m prepared to have America’s culture on the table. I hope Canada is too.” Fears persist that, in effect, that has come to pass.
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