Killing CanCon rules a very bad idea?


Something as important as Canadians seeing and hearing themselves should not be left to chance.

Neil Young was part of a flourishing of the Canadian music industry in the 1970s that very likely would not have happened without CanCon rules, writes Mark Bulgutch. (KEVORK DJANSEZIAN / GETTY IMAGES)


By Mark Bulgutch


Tues. May 31, 2016

Canadian content. Those are dirty words to some people. They don’t like the idea of anyone telling them what they should watch or listen to in their free time. Let the market sort things out, they say. Good programs will live, no matter where they’re produced. Bad programs will die.

Now our federal government is planning to review Canada’s communications policy, with Canadian content rules under the microscope.

And the chorus singing, “Drop Canadian Content Rules” is already deafening.

The present rules may need some freshening up, but killing all Canadian content regulations is a very bad idea.

Have a look at the top-rated TV programs in Canada. Results for the week ending on May 15 show that the top 16 were American. There wasn’t a Canadian drama in the top 30.

That’s why Canadians know their Miranda rights, even though we don’t have any. It’s why we love Navy Seals instead of members of Joint Task Force 2. It’s why we know that FBI agents are trained in Quantico, Virginia, but you’ll get a blank stare if you ask a neighbour where the RCMP does its training.

And that’s happening even with Canadian content rules.

It’s not alarmist to ask if there would be any television produced in Canada (besides news and sports), without content rules. The market says it’s usually cheaper to buy a foreign program.

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  1. Very nearsighted replies here. You assume broadcasters will even make their own programming if not regulated/required to.

    I don’t pretend to know the TV game, but if the cost of simply buying foreign shows with good ratings is less than the cost (and risk) that comes with producing their own content, then you could kiss that homegrown industry goodbye.

    On the radio side. Cancon is a good thing. Sure it could be a little lower, or stations that play emerging artists could be preferably rewarded, but gone all together? That’s a mistake. Think of all the “left of centre” bands that have benefitted by Cancon.

    The entire country is the midst of an early mourning for the Tragically Hip. Now look at the music climate back when they debuted in 1989. Do you honestly think programmers would have added them as much as they did when the music landscape was hair rock? Do you think their video would have been on MuchMusic in between Bon Jovi, GnR, Janet Jackson, and Madonna? Not a chance. Those guys earned their spot wholeheartedly but certainly not without the help of Cancon.

  2. Well said, Christian.

    Sad to say, but radio CanCon was necessary because our nation’s private sector station programmers generally shunned Canadian artists because it was easier to scan the latest issues of Billboard or Cashbox and slot in the heat-seeking hits from abroad. Late in the day, when rumours of a CRTC mandate percolated, a national group of music directors regularly teleconferenced to select a Canadian single as a Maple Leaf pick. Too little, too late.

    Further to Christian’s example of the Tragically Hip: they also succeeded because of savvy management. As Pierre Juneau’s CanCon rules set in, an entire recording industry infrastructure rose as well. Managers, studios, producers, engineers, publicists, graphic artists all came to the fore to support the burgeoning musical talent.

    A confident country wouldn’t have needed such regulation. At the time, however, there was arguably a Canadian inferiority complex, especially in the private broadcast sector. One could argue there was even disdain for domestic acts which led the likes of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Steppenwolf to do the only logical thing–head to the USA.

  3. I totally disagree. Artists such as Anne Murray, remember ‘Songbird’ which was released south of the border far before CanCon came on the scene… I remember listening to the Guess Who on American radio in 1965. They of course went on to become, Guess Who?
    What about Paul Anka, who hit the American radio charts back in the 50’s? Wasn’t it the Platters from Canada who hit the U.S. charts in the late 50’s?
    Steppinwolf who hit the U.S. charts in 1967…. they didn’t need CanCon to make it, Why??? Because they were and are Great! This isn’t rocket science…..

  4. It sounds like people who love music here want to get rid of ConCan and the Canadian artists who would like to make it here want to keep them. I am so sick of bad music, and at least half of the Canadian music being played makes me and my howl howl every evening. No rules on who they play or when they play them I say, just keep the seven words off the air, you know what I am talking about. Dont want kids to hear them, they will hear plenty of them when they grow up.

  5. Radio and television frequencies are a scarce resource owned by Canadian citizens. Private broadcasters are allowed to use them to make profits but in exchange the public is supposed to get something in return. This could be local news or programming that reflects Canada. In the past couple of decades a handful of large companies have bought and sold the “licenses” and slowly cut back on the service they provide to the Canadian public. Newsrooms have been gutted and staff cut. Profits have soared. The public that own the airwaves is getting screwed. If the broadcasters want to get rid of their obligations to the public they should be leasing the frequencies and paying Canadians a percentage of their profits. Pay Canadians 50% of the profits generated from using the licenses and they can program them however they choose.

  6. I too agree with Christian….some of our most beloved bands might not have been on the musical landscape if it weren’t for Can Con….plus how could you argue with giving Canadian bands a better shot at achieving success???

  7. Canadian record labels are factories that mostly churn out crap, They know radio is required to play 35% (or more in some cases) and you can’t play Bryan Adams every ten minutes, therefore radio will play the crap. Minimum effort from the labels, maximum profit. If Canadian artists were forced to compete with Adele, Taylor Swift and the Foo Fighters for airtime, the quality would go up and Canadians would then seek out that music on iTunes, rather than changing the station when it comes on


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