Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Conservative Patronage Appointment #147

I kid. I've actually lost track at this point.

Tories appoint former candidate to CRTC

OTTAWA - The Conservative government has appointed a former party candidate to the CRTC - the country's broadcast regulator - raising fresh cries of patronage and hypocrisy.

Marc Patrone was a declared candidate for the Conservatives in Nova Scotia when the federal Liberal government appeared set to fall in May 2005. But he returned to his job as a legislative journalist in the province before the government finally collapsed at the end of the year.

Heritage Minister Josee Verner announced his appointment as a full-time member of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Tuesday in a news release.

She did not mention Patrone's ties to the Conservative party.

Verner said Patrone's experience "will greatly benefit the CRTC."

If by "benefit" you mean "hasten the wholesale deregulation of Canadian television and radio", then yeah. I especially like the end of the article:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised before the last election to combat patronage by creating a new appointments commission that would screen federal job candidates.

He abandoned the promise when opposition parties rejected his first choice to lead the commission - Calgary oil-industry executive and Conservative party fundraiser Gwyn Morgan.

But I digress.

How apropos that this appointment comes so soon after the CRTC hearings on the Canadian Television Fund. My homeboy Denis McGrath has been following the proceedings closely on Dead Things On Sticks. He posted a particularly eloquent defence of Canadian television and culture last week, and even for a guy who makes his living putting words together, it's an astonishing piece of work.

Go. Read.

My very favourite part is this:

Other countries used to have an insatiable appetite for American shows, too. But somewhere over the last few years, from Germany to Italy to France and beyond, the populace has gotten a taste for their own cop shows, lawyer shows, medical shows. Nowhere was there a discussion or an argument as to whether it was cultural or commercial. There was a recognition that it was all culture, and that it was worthy of support. Most of these countries, to varying degrees, have the same challenges Canada faces – it’s a difficult playing field to compete against the American product. Because it’s difficult, it’s generally recognized – even as a point of national pride – that it’s to be supported. It’s good for the culture, which means good for the country.

... But here in English Canada, culture comes smacking up against industrial policy.

And make no mistake, there’ s an industrial element to this, too.

When one country sells a product into another country at a cut rate, it’s called “dumping.”

If I have more cuttlefish than I can possibly eat in my nation, and I sell you my excess cuttlefish at a really cheap price, it’s good for me because I’m getting rid of it.

Of course, often, that means the cuttlefish industry in that country never gets going. That’s why tariffs are put in place.

What we’re in the middle of here is the side effect of an ongoing skirmish that concerns the industrial dumping of U.S. shows on Canadian channels. The system in this country is set up to allow for that. Simultaneous substitution practically demands it. The networks profit handsomely from it. They argue and lobby to keep their commitment to indigenous production low, as low as possible, to preserve it.

Now, if you happen to be a true believer in Friedmanite laissez-faire economics, then extending that kind of thinking to culture is not a big stretch. It's all just 'product' after all, so why not subject it to the same 'invisible hand' of market forces, just like oil, or beer, or health care services?

If, however, you believe that television is as much a part of a nation's cultural identity as, say, painting, literature, or even film, then just maybe the free market's apparent overwhelming preference for Law & Order / C.S.I. clones and game show / talent contest variants might not be exactly what you're looking for in terms of 'culture'.

I don't know the man, but I suspect Mr. Patrone will disagree.


  1. I'm not in favour of the CRTC, although with deregulation we won't see very many Canadian actors, television shows, and our talent will head south. If that's what we want, then let's deregulate the CRTC. At the same time, the last thing I want is another Canadian multicultural station, so it's really a mixed bag.

    As for patronage... well, it's safe to say that this election promise is safe from being kept. But I guess that's true for any political party.

  2. "the last thing I want is another Canadian multicultural station"

    Why? You find two out of 70-odd channels to be excessive? Because these stations don't exist because of the CRTC - they exist because there is an enormous demand for multi-cultural, multi-language programming, especially in the GTA.

    How well that demand translates into profit for the cable-cos I have no idea, but I'd really rather not have my viewing choices determined by what will make the most money for Rogers or Cogeco.

    But hey, if you'd prefer to have those channels devoted to amazing car chases, Law & Order reruns and U.S. entertainment news instead, then by all means let's allow Mr. Shaw and his ilk to have free reign.

  3. How well that demand translates into profit for the cable-cos I have no idea, but I'd really rather not have my viewing choices determined by what will make the most money for Rogers or Cogeco.

    Too late! lol. To be honest, I don't really watch the idiot box except during Round 1 of the NHL playoffs and when they have CBC Newsworld or TVO segments on Afghanistan.

  4. Well, then, you are officially absolved from expressing any opinion about the CRTC or Canadian television :)