`Cultural Nationalism' It's Rising Again in Canada; They Want Protection from Us

Article excerpt

Canada is carpet-bombed daily by American culture and entertainment. Occasionally, Canadians bridle under the onslaught.

This periodic expression of defiance known as "cultural nationalism" is stirring again:

- A new Canadian country music channel persuaded regulators earlier this year to remove from cable television an American-owned competitor with 10 years of operation in Canada. Last month the jilted Americans asked the Canadian Federal Appeals Court to reverse the decision.

- Canadian magazine publishers, alarmed by a special Canadian-focus edition of Sports Illustrated, are pressing for a high tax on such U.S. encroachments, which they call "dumping" of underpriced American cultural products.

- The government provoked a months-long uproar in the House of Commons last spring when it allowed the sale of a Canadian textbook publisher to American media giant Viacom. In the aftermath, the government is scrambling to protect other domestic book publishers from the same fate.

- A new parliamentary report charting Canada's foreign policy urges a much bigger diplomatic emphasis on promoting and disseminating Canadian culture abroad. The aim is to sharpen an image obscured by that of the United States.

These developments are taking place in the first year of a new Liberal Party government. Canadian liberals have long been associated with the defense of Canada's cultural sovereignty.

"Let us get one thing clear," said Michel Dupuy, the heritage minister, in the House of Commons last month. "After a very long period under the former government during which culture suffered from marginalization . . . we must bring back culture to the forefront of society's concerns, for it is essential to our identity, to our pride, to our unity and to our independence in international society."

Canada has one-tenth the population of the United States. More than 95 percent of Canadian movie time is devoted to foreign - overwhelmingly American -movies. Only 17 percent of books and magazines sold in Canada are Canadian. Drama and entertainment on English-language television is almost entirely American-made.

To cultural nationalists, such figures represent a threat to Canada's already tenuous identity and "a structural deformation" in need of immediate correction.

That is the term used by John Ralston Saul, a prominent Canadian writer who argued before the parliamentary committee studying foreign policy that it would be "naive to imagine that we can truly export our culture to the natural level of its quality unless we change the structure of the internal market. …