A country and its culture are distinguished from another by the stories it tells — about itself and its place in the world.
In Canada, we're lucky to have rich source of storytellers across this country. We can be proud of this, but pride is simply not enough when you live next door to the largest producer of cultural goods in the world.
Canadians consume American culture every day. For the most part, that's a good thing. The problem is when we get too much, and it overwhelms our ability to tell our own stories.
With their massive home market of some 327 million potential viewers, American media companies are able to dump their products in our market at prices well below production costs here, and without investing in Canadian infrastructure, including journalism.
It's for this reason that federal and provincial governments have, for years, helped to sponsor Canadian cultural content through funding, minimum content requirements and regulatory measures such as through the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. The market alone cannot ensure an even playing field.
Because of the vital role they play in defining our national character, cultural industries were exempted from the original North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.) With that deal now being renegotiated, it's imperative the exemption stay in place, to allow us to support and promote our cultural industries, free of U.S. interference and influence.
We can't afford to simply assume that culture will continue to be exempted in a renewed NAFTA. After all, U.S. chief negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, has been quoted as saying that "the cultural exemption is very often just cultural protectionism."
We need to be able to tell our stories from communities across Canada
An open letter from leading Canadian writers and authors as the NAFTA talks were restarting last year warned that without the cultural exemption, Canada's ability to continue producing the art and story that define our culture would be threatened.
"Our recent international successes, particularly in the areas of music and literature, are due to Canadian content rules that allow our performers and musicians to be heard on Canadian radio stations and to give subsidies to our authors and publishers," the letter states.
Without the cultural exemption being part of NAFTA in 1994, Canada's media landscape would be much diminished, or controlled by American conglomerates. By having the right under NAFTA to support our cultural industries, we are able to provide the fertile ground at home for the industry to thrive.
Despite the uncertainly of what new technologies might be coming, there are strong measures Canada can take now, which I'm pushing for as I return to Washington for the ongoing NAFTA talks this week.
First and foremost, no NAFTA deal can get in the way of supporting local news, sports and entertainment. We need to be able to tell our stories from communities across Canada, large and small, and that means standing up for local news.
Nationally, we need to support the CBC and Radio Canada. They play a vital role in keeping us informed about other parts of the country, and giving a Canadian perspective on news from around the world. More than that, the CBC helps stitch together our ever-evolving sense of what it is to be part of this country.
Because our private broadcasters also play an important role in telling Canadian stories, NAFTA must not contain anything that would leave them exposed to being purchased by American media conglomerates.
We need to have a level playing field between Canadian broadcasters and media streaming broadcasters such as Amazon, Netflix and Disney. Canada is still debating how to best achieve this, with ideas including fees charged to the broadcasters of regulatory measures such as content rules, but we cannot allow any trade deal to restrict what governments can do to protect Canadian interests.
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Similarly, the alarming growth of offshore pirate broadcasters, who peddle in media they haven't paid for, demands action to ensure the creators of that content are properly supported. NAFTA can't impede on this support.
Culture doesn't always grab the headlines at trade talks the way auto or agriculture does, but it's a big industry employing thousands of Canadians, at newspapers, broadcasters and on TV and movie sets.
The Canadian negotiating team remains committed to defending Canada's right to promote our identity though a homegrown culture industry. This is good to see.
As these trade talks reach their conclusion, we must all support that stand.
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