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Chapter Three: The cultural diplomacy of Canada


There are a number of characteristics of the cultural diplomacy of the federal government of Canada, and of the province of Québec, which are particularly pertinent to the three aspects ofcultural diplomacy on which this thesis places particular focus.
First, of all states, the federation of Canada has been arguably the most focused on the threat posed to its cultural sovereignty, and Québec, of all states which are constituent parts of a federation, has been similarly intensely focused on this issue. The federal government of Canada’s national cultural policy, since the end of World War Two, has sought to preserve a space for Canadian culture within the context of Canada’s support for free trade. Hence Canada has aimed to ensure that Canadians have had access to the ‘best the world has to offer’ – the best cultural performances and products from other countries – whilst simultaneously devoting substantial energy, thought, and money to establishing and protecting a distinctive Canadian culture in the face of foreign cultural challenges, particularly those of American mass culture. Federal government support for Canadian culture has included a wide range of tools and initiatives, and these are explored below.294 And whilst the threat to Canada’s national cultural sovereignty has been from abroad, the threat to Québec’s cultural sovereignty has been perceived by that state as emanating from the federation itself Second, since the 1960s, Québec’s international engagement has resembled that of an independent state. Since 1985, Québec has operated its own ‘paradiplomatic service,’ complete with its ‘own minister, a corps of officials specialising in international affairs, and a network of foreign representatives. By the end of the twenty first century, the province had become the world’s foremost proponent of sub-national government activity in the international sphere.
Third, both the federal government of Canada and Québec have placed importance on presenting an up-to-date image of themselves abroad. Hence two states, one ostensibly the part of another, have promoted abroad constructions of their respective national images. This seemingly runs counter to what might be regarded as a basic tenet of diplomacy, the right of the government of a federation to speak internationally for that federation, and all its constituent parts. Diplomacy assumes that there should be only one diplomatic ‘voice’, one entity charged to undertake diplomacy on its behalf. The same might be assumed to apply to cultural diplomacy, particularly given the practice’s role in showing abroad a constructed image of a state.
Fourth, both the federal government of Canada and the province of Québec have pursued their cultural diplomacy in order to achieve domestic objectives. The federal government’s cultural diplomacy has sought to reinforce its right to speak on behalf of Canada abroad, and the cultural diplomacy of Québec has been concerned with asserting the province’s rights within the federation, and at one time, supporting the secessionist movement. Finally, both states have undertaken cultural diplomacy associated with the negotiation and promulgation of cultural agreements, including a joint push on a new international convention.
In the following pages I examine the national cultural policy and foreign policy contexts within which Canada’s federal cultural diplomacy takes place. I then examine the federal government’s cultural diplomacy as undertaken by its foreign service, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT),295 and by the Department of Canadian Heritage (henceforth known as Canadian Heritage). Following this, I set out the diplomacy, and cultural diplomacy, of Québec, the province at the centre of the national debate on Canadian cultural nationalism (and Canadian sovereignty) in the post-war years.
In 1997, Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy said that developing the international dimensions of Canadian culture was important not just in projecting an image of Canada in other countries, but also for the benefits to Canadian culture when our artists and performers gain a world stage. Given the relatively small audience base in Canada, Canadian artists must have access to the international marketplace to survive and flourish. Since we are increasingly obliged to share our domestic cultural markets with imports, we need to ensure access for Canadian cultural exports to foreign markets. This is, after all, an important part of our economy: there are now more Canadians employed in the cultural sector than in agriculture, for example, or in transport or construction.296
Axworthy’s comment on the increasing ‘obligation’ to share Canada’s domestic cultural markets with imports alludes to Canada’s cultural policy. The term ‘obligation’ implies an absence of choice in fulfilling a duty. Canada could choose not to share its domestic cultural market withimports, but this would run counter to Canada’s strong support for free trade, and to its cultural policy. This policy asserts the importance of allowing Canadians to access foreign cultural products whilst also ensuring the protection of Canadian cultural sovereignty, assumed in this context to mean the power of a sovereign government effectively to regulate the operation of its cultural industries.297 Successive Canadian governments, over decades, have steadfastly supported the domestic production of Canadian stories. This is because of foreign cultural domination of the cultural sector of the United States throughout Canada, and of France in Québec. As early as 1951, the report of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (known as the Massey Commission, after its chairman, Vincent Massey) recommended building up Canada’s cultural defences, that is the protection of Canada’s unique cultural forms against the stifling effect of ‘a vast and disproportionate amount of material coming from a single alien source.’298 The report was credited with legitimising state support for culture, and it gave rise to a number of cultural institutions, most noticeably the Canada Council.
Two factors explain Canada’s continuing concern about foreign cultural predomination. These are its sheer scope and nature, and the desire by Canadians to develop and protect a Canadian national identity by ensuring that the main producers of that identity, artists and cultural industries, are able to do so. The statistics concerning foreign cultural products in Canada indicate the scope of predomination:
foreign firms and products account for 45 percent of book sales in Canada, 81 percent of English-language consumer magazines on Canadian newsstands and over 63 percent of magazine circulation revenue, 79 percent…of the retail sales of tapes, CDs, concerts, merchandise and sheet music, 85 percent…of the revenues from film distribution in Canada; and between 94 and 97 percent of screen time in Canadian theatres. The situation is most extreme in the film industry where the Hollywood studios have historically treated Canada as part of the U.S. market.299
As Thompson notes, ‘allowing for the appearance of new technologies, similar figures could be provided for any decade back to the 1920s.’300 The above statistics do not reflect the overwhelming position of the cultural goods of the United States as a proportion of foreign cultural goods, so much so that it would be reasonable, if not entirely accurate, to talk of the domination of United States cultural goods when referring to foreign domination of the whole of Canada (it should be noted in this context the domination of French cultural goods in Québec).
There are several reasons for the domination of the United States. At the end of the twentieth century, eighty percent of Canadians lived within 100kms of the United States’ border, so Canadian exposure to the mass media of the United States remained unmediated by distance. Seventy percent of Canadians share a language with Americans. Hence the language barriers to foreign exports from the United States to, for example, Mexico or France, have not applied to Canada. The United States, this very close neighbour whose people mostly speak the same language as Canadians, has become by far the largest producer of cultural goods and services in the world. The most frequently cited statistic in this context is that cultural exports from the United States total in value US$80 billion every year.301 The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report on world culture in 2000 noted that the eight leading Hollywood studios shared 85 percent of the world market, the three biggest audiovisual firms were United States owned and based, and nine of the ten most translated authors were English-language writers.302
Two additional factors, in addition to those of proximity, language, and the size of the cultural output of the United States, explain the extent of foreign predominance. The first is simply that Canadian consumers buy foreign cultural goods, especially those from the United States. Canada ‘has been and remains’ the most important single market for the popular culture of the United States, at prices slightly higher than those in the United States.303 In 1989, for instance, Canadians bought almost forty percent of all books and a staggering seventy eight percent of all magazines sold abroad by the United States.304
The second is the willingness of Canada to permit foreign cultural imports. The Cultural Industries Sectoral Advisory Group on International Trade,305 reporting in 1999, noted that Canada had one of the most open markets for foreign cultural goods in the world.306 No comparative evidence was provided to support this contention. The group’s report set out the principles guiding Canada’s cultural policies and programmes. These included freedom of choice – ensuring Canadians could choose from a broad range of domestic and foreign cultural goods by opening Canada’s domestic market to the world, and access, which the group noted involved the government using policy tools, such as regulation and support, to maintain a place for Canadian cultural products in the Canadian market, and to give Canadians ready access to their culture.307 The group’s report simultaneously asserted that that Canada’s market was one of the most open for foreign cultural goods in the world, whilst setting out a number of government initiatives and actions which limited these imports. No specific explanation about this contradiction was provided. It can be inferred from the report that the group believed that Canada has one of the most open markets in the world for foreign cultural goods because the statistics show overwhelming foreign predominance (therefore the market must be open), and the federal government did not directly ban imports:
In the past, the government tended to rely on subsidies to support the cultural industries and achieve the country’s cultural objectives. Over time, government support has evolved to take the form of tax and investment measures, coupled with regulatory measures in the TV, film, music and book publishing industries. Border measures (e.g., tariffs) were used in the past, but these measures are gradually being phased out.308

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