Only in Canada would we offer a platform to a bully from another nation to tell us how to run our country and our economy and our life. Only in Toronto would compliant hosts sit dutifully and listen to a foreigner lecture them about why their tentative ideas on their independence are incorrect. Only Canadians would sit silent, rather them pelt him with buns and boo him from the stage. We are so polite. So chicken.
Jack Valenti is a short, white-haired bully, one of the most powerful lobbyists in the United States, representing one of the richest lobbies in the United States, that being Hollywood’s film industry. He is a fixture in Washington, welcome at the right White House parties, playing tennis with the right people, ever-ready to leap upon the subservient cousin called Canada.
The problem is that subservient Canada would like to gain just a teensy bit of control over the film industry in this country that the United States—being the United States and Canada being Canada—controls. (It is mean and picky to object, of course, the United States having controlled our oil industry and tire industry and auto industry and Mulroney industry for so long—but we try.)
Jack Valenti is frightened. He is frightened because little Canada is making motions of actually allowing some domestic control of film distribution. Hollywood, being Hollywood, feels Hollywood should be allowed to treat the rest of the world as Hollywood. Valenti has allowed that if little Canada is to be allowed what Canada wants to do, it would be “the thin edge of the wedge.” Those sleeping Europeans might awaken and then, who knows, Asia. There goes the neighborhood. There goes monopoly control, and you know what that means?
Jack Valenti’s salary and tennis club membership.
At issue is the nervous Ottawa attempt over years to suggest some Canadian control over the film distribution industry in this country and—a shocking proposal!—to increase the showing of Canadian movies in Canadian the-
atres. Since we have spent our lives watching Hollywood portrayals by Nelson Eddy in the Rockies, the cliché of our time, this indeed is a remarkable suggested innovation.
Marcel Masse, the current Valenti enemy, being the communications minister and cultural czar of all of Canada, has in process, somewhere through the Hampton Court Commons maze, legislation that would give domestic distributors a decent shot at bidding on films for showing in Canada. American distributors, being of good cheer, have always regarded it a hoot that they can dominate what is shown in Canadian flick parlors.
Hollywood distributors don’t put a nickel into Canadian productions and they take about $1 billion a year out of this country. Valenti, as chairman of Motion Picture Export Association of America, is paid to ensure that lovely ratio.
That’s okay, but why does the Empire Club of Toronto not throw buns at him while, in his
mellifluous Texas drawl, he piles on the bullying bafflegab? The Empire Club, one of the last refuges of what is left of the Toronto Establishment, is not a club at all but a speaking platform, the emanations from which are collected under red-leather covers at the end of the year, somewhat like the received speeches of Rudyard Kipling.
The Empire Club, being pristine and virginal, does not pay its speakers fees for their Olympian thoughts, and I have once received, at year-end, a leather-bound volume. I do not think, however, this excuses the appearance of Jack Valenti, who doesn’t need the money, being the highest-paid hit man in the famed elysian fields of Washington flackdom.
There are definitive reasons for Valenti’s nervousness. The European Community, which supposedly is to become one chummy bunch in 1992 with the knocking down of borders and passports, has, despite the white-haired bully’s frenetic lobbying, ruled that its TV stations beam at least a majority of European broadcasting.
There is the faint possibility—despite the Yankmania of this current government in Coma City— that something tentative can be laid down, if Ottawa has the courage. The bully Valenti killed off, with great vigor, the previous domestic film policy proposed by Flora MacDonald, the lady who could never hold great sway around the Mulroney cabinet table. The Tories allowed it to die on the agenda while they called an election. Flora died before the voters.
There now have been eight successive Ottawa o communications minis? ters—twitchy and never t backed up by the Prime ^ Minister’s Office—who have tried to strike a deal with the Hollywood studios that would result in plowing something back into Canadian film production. Canada, in its struggling film industry, has resembled East Germany to Moscow. The analogy is the same.
Jack Valenti, being a great free-enterpriser, of course would resent the comparison, would be appalled by it. He would be expected to do so. Nations that dominate and bully lesser nations are always astonished when it is pointed out what they are in fact doing.
The United States has dominated so long the cultural outfall of Canada, through films and magazines and other detritus, that it has no idea of its dominance. Canadians, because they are so used to the dominance, never think to object. And our timid, timid government does not have the guts to stand up to the obvious.
Which is why no one at the Empire Club had the wit to lob a bun at a bully who was insulting our integrity.
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