Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

D.K. Latta Headshot

Who Is Being Served By The CTRC's New Content Rules?

Posted: Updated:
REB Images via Getty Images

I'm going to bang on some more about the recent controversy about the CRTC (the Canadian TV/Radio regulatory body) and its proposal to loosen rules regarding importing talent to work on Canadian productions.

I'm re-visiting it because folks in Canadian film/TV are angry and it's worth drawing more of the audience's attention to the matter. (For more commentary on it check out sites like TV-Eh? and TV Junkies, the twitter feed of The Writers Guild of Canada and screenwriters like Denis McGrath, and other places). I say "drawing attention" to it because as angry as the toilers in TV might be -- it almost seems to be flying under the radar of those whose beat isn't directly tied to Canadian film/TV. But it could have long term financial and cultural repercussions.

Here's the skinny: Canadian film/TV relies upon government support in terms of funds, tax breaks, air-time-quotas, etc. (if you're a producer making your production entirely with private funds, then none of this matters to you -- but that's a rare animal indeed; I'm talking Eastern Cougar rare). There's a ten point system (writers, directors, etc. each counted as one point) and 8/10 points were required to count as "Canadian."

The CRTC proposes dropping that to 6/10 (or roughly half) opening the door to key creative positions (writers and stars being the most vulnerable) increasingly being farmed out to non-Canadian talent even when accessing funds earmarked to support "Canadian" productions.

So yes, this is about protectionism. And before you mount your high horse -- some form of protectionism is a fact of life in most industries and most countries. Even yours.

And yes, this is about regulations. But before you role your eyes, ask yourself if you'd want to drive on roads with no traffic lights because you trusted everyone to drive responsibly. Canadian content rules exist because no one trusts the producers (if a producer is pushing for the new regs -- he's already signalling what he plans to do under them, isn't he?).

The argument for the CRTC's new rules is it will open the door to more talent and will make it easier to mount international co-productions.

The counter argument is that's all BS. You just have to look at past productions to see Canadians were involved in all sorts of international co-productions utilizing imported talent under the existing regs (like the critically acclaimed ratings success, The Book of Negroes, to name one).

But the history shows that the more you loosen the rules to outside talent, the more you're liable to end up with the industry being a port of last resort for creatives that were turned down by Hollywood. What's that old joke about "I wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have me as a member?"

It's such a bad idea, it seems to be making strange bedfellows.

I wrote about this last time, so now let's push forward. And I realize this is a multi-limbed beast, involving culture, profits, Nationalism vs. xenophobia (who gets counted as "Canadian"?) but I only have 1000 words so some of that we'll leave for later.

One disturbing aspect is how the CRTC apparently misspoke (or worse) about some of its justifications -- including claiming it had the support of the Canadian Media Fund when it didn't. The reason it's disturbing -- like Donald Trump pointing vaguely to a crowd of white people and saying "look at my African-American" -- is a regulatory body should have no dog in the race. Its decisions should be made without bias and based on facts -- it shouldn't be cherry picking facts (or misrepresenting them) to justify a policy. (Speaking of the CRTC possibly selecting facts to justify a conclusion -- here's a piece on a recent legal ruling).

If the CRTC believes this is a good move, they should be able to convince the rest of us of that with facts -- dontchathink?

As near as I can tell anyone in the trenches of the industry sees this as a bad -- possibly even disastrous -- move. Some are pointing out CRTC chair, Jean-Pierre Blais, was appointed under the previous Harper regime -- a regime notoriously hostile to the arts. And this further incenses the creatives because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned, in part, as a friend of Canadian arts & culture -- so why isn't he weighing in on this? I mean -- his dad, Pierre Trudeau, practically laid the foundation stones for the industry.

It's such a bad idea, it seems to be making strange bedfellows. The Globe & Mail's TV critic, John Doyle, has a problematic relationship with Canadian TV (namely, the industry seems to hate him and he is often accused of hating the industry -- though he does like Murdoch Mysteries apparently). Yet even he wrote a piece saying it was a bad idea -- while liberally trolling the industry with put downs and snide derision. (Topic for another day: personal feuds are problematic in discussions around Canadian film/TV. People should be able to vehemently disagree while still walking away amicably).

So who might be in favour of it? Well, money men and suits. People more interested in making deals in Hollywood than making Canadian productions. And I suspect Hollywood lobbyists who have long seen Canadian protectionism as a wall they wanted breached.

Here's the bigger question about the CRTC proposal: whose needs are they serving when it comes to the general population?

Surely the public can be broken up into too main camps. Those who care about Canadian film/TV and are mostly furious. And those who don't care about Canadian film/TV -- and so don't care. I just don't hear too many calls from the public saying: "Damn it -- when is the CRTC going to serve the public good by reducing the 8/10 to 6/10?"

Those who don't care include people who don't see TV as relevant to them; those who actively hate Canadian film/TV and gleefully call for it to be shut down; and libertarians who think the government should get out of the TV/film biz entirely. And I don't think any of those people will see 6/10 as a significant improvement over 8/10.

So the CRTC is pissing off a lot of people without really satisfying the desires of others, and in service of a proposal that will reduce Canadian jobs, Canadian influence in the arts and entertainment, and with no reason to think it will actually improve the quality or commercial success of Canadian productions -- not if the last 60 years is anything to judge by.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook