Why CanCon Hurts Canadian Culture [part 1]

Canadian Music

Maple Leaf

Canadian Content regulations haven’t turned out so well for Canadian Culture. In the music industry, Canadian Content – called “Cancon” – is indicated on a recording by way of the MAPL symbol which appears on the record album dust jacket or CD tray card to indicate the percentage of Canadian Content per recording.

Elements of any recording are broken into four segments:
M is for the composer of the Music
A is for the Artist
P is for the Performance recorded in Canada, or performed and broadcast live in Canada
L is for the composer of the Lyrics.

performing live in the Ontario Place Forum

MAPL symbol, black M and L on white field, White A and P on black field

If I am a Pirate King was recorded by the Canadian acapella group The Nylons in Canada, it could only claim 50% Canadian Content.

25% for the Nylons themselves as Canadian principal Artists, 25% for Performance– recording it in our home and native land. But non-Canadians Gilbert and Sullivan wrote the Lyrics & Music.

Four segments of the circle in black, all white letters

Michael Kaeshammer on stage seated at piano When Michael Kaeshammer records his own compositions in Canada, the recording would be considered 100% Canadian Content. Yet there is no MAPL designation at all on the Michael Kaeshammer Lovelight CD I bought last year at a jazz festival. Why wouldn’t an internationally renowned Canadian performer want a MAPL designation?

The MAPL designation signalling 100% Canadian Content could in fact devalue the product.

So What’s the problem?

The very existence of Canadian Content regulations indicates a lack of confidence that Canadian Content can compete in Canada on the basis of merit alone.

CanCon quotas assume that not only would Canadian DJs choose not to play Canadian music, but Canadians consumers wouldn’t willingly listen to it either.

CanCon rules tell the world that Canadian content is so bad that the only way anything Canadian made can get Canadian radio air play or TV exposure is if it is government mandated.

That message is simply not true.

As many great Canadian acts show, Canadian Music is quite capable of competing globally. Both at home and abroad, Canadian artists have created a great deal of wonderful music over the years.

the blue Twitter bird logoCurrently a 15 year old Canadian boy named Justin Bieber is continuously “Top Trending” on Twitter. (For the uninitiated that means there are so many people “tweeting” about him that his name is on the Twitter front page banner.

Twitter text logohas millions of users worldwide. This is an indicator of extreme fame and a fanatical fan following. In the few minutes since I began typing the Justin Bieber portion of the article, the Twitter Justin Bieber page has racked up more than six thousand Tweets. Since Bieber’s fan base is young girls, and I’m writing this on a Friday morning, there is a very good chance that a many of these tweets are being generated in classrooms.

Justin Bieber's Web Page
Justin Bieber’s Web Page

Granted some of the Tweet traffic consists of people hoping to catch the Justin Bieber wave to get their tweets ReTweeted, and some of it is trashing the young R&B performer. There are whole web pages devoted to dissing the entertainer — now that’s fame. Weirdly enough a good bit of anger is directed at him because all these very young girls swooning over him… Unlike geriatric rock stars young girls have swooned over for years, Justin Bieber is an appropriate age. OMG, he’s not 15 he’s really an old man of 16! But you know what they say– “no publicity is bad publicity”. And the Twitter trend proves it: even those dissing Justin Bieber are adding to the tweets that are keeping him on the top of the heap.

Ye gods! Even Google has a Latest Results for Justin Bieber live feed.

YouTube Superstar

Mural portrays Elizabeth ISo really: who is Justin Bieber? He’s a performer from Stratford Ontario (a small Ontario town, formerly most famous for being the home of the world famous Stratford Shakespeare Festival),

Legend (and Wikipedia) has it that Bieber’s Mom began posting his home made music videos on You Tube to share with family members in 2007. (As an internet savvy mom myself, I’m willing to bet she knew exactly what she was doing.)

Three years later Justin Bieber is a superstar.

Justin Bieber is of course a prime example of my point: Canadians are talented, and given a level playing field can certainly make it in the world of arts & entertainment. The Internet is levelling that playing field, by making it possible for artists to find their audiences. And although I am making the case for talented Canadian artists, the Internet provides the same opportunity to artists in every country around the world, because the Internet breaks down distribution barriers. And as any artist knows, the lively arts do not exist in a vacuum.

Granted, I’m decades older than Justin Bieber‘s target audience, but I will admit that although I have seen the name I had no idea who he was until I saw someone mention he was a Canadian musician on Twitter today. I only mention this because THAT is what the Internet can do.

DRM artificially imposes regionality on DVDs

British pressed DVDs are unplayable on a Canadian DVD player, as Canadian pressed DVDs are unplayable in the UK. Consumers accepted this at first, since the NTSC and PAL video tape formats were incompatable most of us assumed that was just the way it was. The reality is that regional encoding, the DRM that restricts where you may play the DVD you have bought is a DRM additive. Your DVDs would play on every DVD player were it not for the DRM. (My guess is that the reason consumers have so much trouble burning DVDs that will play on DVD players is due to DRM as well. I had to buy two different commercial software packages before I was able to burn my home movies to DVD.)

The Internet allows music or movies released online to be seen and heard everywhere. This is the ultimate distribution network, which will be good not just for our artists, but all the artists who make use of the distribution methods available here.


Locking down the Internet with bad laws like the UK Digital Economy Bill, the American DMCA and bad treaties like CETA and A.C.T.A. is intended to stop this Internet distribution revolution in its tracks. This is why the big media corporations are pushing for these laws: so that they resume total control of the international distribution. For the past fifty years or so they have been the “gatekeepers” who decided what artists could have the opportunity to find an audience. They held this power because they controlled the major distribution for the entire world, not because they had any particular ability to discover or promote talented acts. Citizens are beginning to fight back through initiatives like The Wellington Declaration because a free Internet is incalculably valuable to us all.

World Famous Canadian Musicians

The following is just a very small sampling of the many Canadians who have shared their music and our culture around the world.

Unfortunately many of these websites are flash dependent which will make them inaccessible to a lot of people. I was particularly impressed with Paul Anka’s site, which offers flash or non-flash versions. If you’re interested in finding out more about these artists, all are featured in Wikipedia and included on the Wikipedia: List of Canadian musicians which doesn’t scratch the surface of great Canadian artists.

The problem with Cancon is that it creates a self fulfilling prophecy.

When radio or TV stations are forced to adhere to a quota system, they will follow it because they must, but the moment the quota is filled, the door slams shut. They certainly are not going to exceed the Canadian content quota.


Under the Commercial Radio Policy, 35 per cent of all music aired each week on all AM and FM stations must be Canadian. In addition, 35 per cent of music broadcast between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday must consist of Canadian content.

Canadian Content Rules (Cancon), Media Awareness Network

The easiest way for any broadcaster to manage filling this quota is to ghettoize Canadian music identified as MAPL. Segregating your 35% Cancon in a separate area makes it easier to ensure that you will meet the quota. Once this onerous task is done, you can now play what you WANT to play. Since broadcasters are forced to play Cancon, it is unlikely they will ever exceed the quota.

That’s why so many of today’s independent Canadian Artists are deliberately NOT identifying their music as MAPL.

Do the math. 100% Canadian content allows Canadian musicians a shot at 35% of the Canadian dial. Is it any wonder that more and more Canadian musicians are not stamping their work with the stigmatizing “MAPL” label?

Without the Canadian content MAPL designation, suddenly 65% of the dial is open for your music.

Canadian Independents are making use of the Internet to distribute their music internationally. When you’re making your tracks available for download, MAPL isn’t an issue. And if you’re selling CDs internationally MAPL may well be a handicap.

maple leaf leaning left[I’ve been working hard on my novel which is part of why this article has taken so long. The other part is that it has been growing… since the draft was pushing 4,000 words– long even for me– I decided to break it down into manageable segments.

[Novel permitting, I hope to publish Why CanCon Hurts Canadian Culture [part 2] Canadian Film & Television next week.]

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Canada, we have a Prorogue: Part 3 of 3

PART 3 of 3

NOTE: I’ve broken the original gigantic “Canada, we have a Prorogue” article into 3 more manageable segments with no additions,
EXCEPT I’ve added postal mail addresses after email addresses at the bottom of this one.
So if you read the long version, you will have already read this.

Alternating Parties

In the Post-Trudeau world, the two “alternating ruling parties’” candidates began to merge into an indistinguishable gray mass.   Possibly in atonement for the long years of Trudeau rule, the Canadian Liberal party started getting more like the Conservative Party.   And of course, the “Conservative” Party was actually calling themselves the “Progressive Conservative” Party so they wouldn’t sound so anti-progress… The ideologies between these two parties especially became so fluid that the Liberals and Conservatives SOP is to steal platforms from one another, or even from the weaker parties, like the NDP or the Greens.   Because in reality, the big parties aren’t really about ideology anymore.   The big Canadian political parties have one one overwhelming motive.   Their goal isn’t to govern.   It is to be re-elected.

And of course the easiest way to be elected is to have massive amounts of money so you can do a lot of advertising.   This strategy has helped to continue the tradition of alternating between Liberal and Conservative governments ruling the country.   It doesn’t matter to big business which of these parties is in charge, because both the the Liberal and Conservative parties represent corporate Canada.   Both parties are probably funded about equally by the large corporations doing business here.   It is far easier to raise election campaign funds from big fish corporations than it is from small fish citizens.   So of course both these parties have the largest advertising budget.

Conservative Party Logo and Liberal Party Logo

Always Elected but Never in Charge

My only union membership was my former membership in the former ACTRA Writer’s Guild (now the Writers Guild of Canada).   Although I think trade unions used to do a great deal of good, over time they have given the public more than enough reasons for disillusionment.   Many people assume that the NDP exists solely to represent unions.   I suspect they would garner more support if they made it clear that they didn’t.   From what I have seen the NDP is the only party that appears to represent Canadian citizens rather than corporations.   Of course, that may well change if they actually end up in power.   I’ve been reading a certain amount of Jack Layton bashing lately, and I’m not quite sure why, unless it is that many people are nervous when the NDP actually has some meaningful input.   For myself I’ve been happy to see that the NDP has recently been championing net neutrality issues.   Overall though, some NDP governments have done very well indeed while others have not.   I suspect it depends on the individuals involved.   As far as I can see, the NDP has done a lot of good for people, usually during minority governments.

2008 photo of Kiefer Sutherland
Tommy Douglas' grandson Kiefer

Of course, a lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction to words like “socialist”, and that’s another reason the NDP has trouble getting votes.   Socialism is like communism, right?

For myself as a citizen I certainly enjoy socialist initiatives like universal health care.   Canada enjoys universal health care thanks to Tommy Douglas, former Saskatchewan Premier, who went federal when his Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) merged with the Canadian Labour Congress forming the New Democratic Party (NDP).   (Of course Douglas’ other great claim to fame is being Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather.)

No wonder the Conservative and Liberal parties have done a lousy job maintaining universal health care.   It was after all forced on them, so in a way I’m surprised that it still exists at all, even in its current weakened state.   Left to their own devices, Canadian medicare would never have happened at all, and the alternating parties know they can’t actively dismantle our healthcare system, but they can let it decay…   Certainly these two pro-business political parties must be under extreme pressure from the business world to privatize health care, particularly now that the United States is threatening to follow the Canadian health care lead.

Bloc Party Logo and NDP Party Logo

Almost all new Canadian political parties begin as a single issue parties.   People come together to address a single specific political aim.

The Bloc Québécois started with the intent to foster the separation of the Province of Quebec from the rest of Canada.   Interestingly enough, a lot of anglophone Canadians are suggesting a coalition government might work with the Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe at the head.

Gilles Duceppe has generated a great deal of respect in English Canada.   Which begs the question: if Canada had a Bloc Prime Minister, would Quebec still want to separate?

No Seats…. YET

The Green Party of Canada began with the single plank of environmental care.   When they first set up shop all their other policies seemed cloned from the conservative agenda.   Over the years they have in fact been quietly crafting their own platform so they are no longer simply conservatives with an environmental bent.   Like Duceppe in the Bloc, the Green Party leader Elizabeth May has been building a very good reputation.

If Canada had proportional representation, the Green Party would have at least several seats in parliament.   Instead, they have none at all, since the “first past the post” system we are currently stuck with favors the two biggest parties, the Liberals and Conservatives.   Is it any wonder they aren’t embracing electoral reform?   That is the last thing they want.

Green Party Logo and Pirate Party Logo

Another party I’ve had my eye on is the fledgling Pirate Party of Canada.   Probably the youngest political party in Canada, not just in terms of length of existence but in the age of its membership.   Like the European Pirate Party they no doubt hope to emulate, their stated intent is to “to reform Canadian copyright laws, reform the patent system, and protect every Canadian’s right to privacy”   These are big issues among the world’s youth who rightfully resent the fact that they are being criminalized for personal use of copyright material.

To illustrate the legitimate uses of internet file sharing as a way for artists to promote and distribute their work the Pirate Party established the Canadian Pirate Tracker.   Unfortunately they’ve not done much since that I’ve seen.   I’m not quite sure if it’s because they are being hampered by the undoubtedly mind-numbing red tape required in setting up a Canadian political party or if it is just because they haven’t yet sorted themselves out as a group, but I would have expected them to have made a submission to the Canadian Copyright Consultation, as copyright law reform is the main plank in their platform.   I’m surprised they haven’t recruited or at least solicited advice and strategy direction from copyright experts like Russell McOrmond, Howard Knopf, Michael Geist and Cory Doctorow.   Or maybe they think these copyright heavyweights are too old to be trusted.  

Still, times like this when serious voter frustration is rampant are the ideal time to get the word out and build a base following.   It’s certainly have been a good time to get visible.   Yet I haven’t heard a peep from the Pirate Party through the entire prorogue debacle. If the Pirate Party doesn’t DO something soon they’ll just fall through the cracks. Which would be too bad.

Voter Apathy

Canadians have become increasingly frustrated with our politicians.   Many Canadians proclaim that they don’t vote, almost as if it was a badge of honor.   And in fact far too many Canadians don’t bother.   I certainly don’t blame them, because I’ve felt the frustration myself.

It irritates me that after every election there is invariably at least one newspaper editorial chastising those who haven’t gone out to vote.   Because even though I think that voting is necessary, I can well understand why so many Canadian people don’t vote.

It sounds like no one is listening.

For many years it seemed to me that there wasn’t even anyone to vote for if I voted “against”.   But as more and more citizens refrain from voting, the worse it gets.   A spoiled vote doesn’t count.   Apparently a Declined votes count at Provincial levels, but since nobody knows what it means it may as well not count.

There doesn’t seem to be anything we can do.   But it is clear that we can’t just leave it to them.

What Canadians really need is electoral reform

There was a time when I had hopes for a political party.

political party campaign button
The National Party of Canada

In 1993 bookseller, nationalist and creator of the Canadian Encyclopedia, the incredible Mel Hurtig launched the National Party of Canada in 1993.   The National Party ran candidates ran in every riding cross Canada that year with a platform in opposition to the Progressive Conservative party initiatives including the Canada/U.S. free trade agreement, privatization, the GST and other initiatives.

To me, the National Party sounded like exactly what Canada needed.   Instead of electing any National Party candidates, however, Canadians simply gave the “alternate” Liberal Party a resounding 177 of 295 House of Commons seats.

So yes, Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative party was crushed, but in reality it didn’t really make much difference to Canadians, because we did what we always seem to do: we put the Liberal alternate party back in power.   And funny, it took a little time, but turns out that the Progressive Conservatives had to reinvent themselves but they are STILL the other “alternate party”.   Canadians are forgiving, or maybe just forgetful.

NO NON Prorogue
The Point

And of course that is what Prime Minister Stephen Harper is counting on.   He thinks that the worst consequence he’ll have to face is the resumption of business as usual.   But in the interim he’ll have had a nice vacation at the Olympics and maybe even a bit of a tan.

Canada has been deeply wounded by this recession.   The fact that our Prime Minister would be so self serving as to flush a year of his own government’s work in order to avoid responsibility for his actions is not sitting well with Canadians.   A government led by someone who can’t comprehend what it is like to be an ordinary Canadian has not helped.   Doesn’t Prime Minister Stephen Harper know who paid for this work, not to mention all those government salaries?   Canadians have been struggling to put food on the table for our families and he thinks wasting our money is acceptable?

I don’t have any magic answers.   I do have some ideas.   At the very least, Canada needs electoral reform.   Since I’m running long (even for me), I’ll reserve my thoughts on reformation for my next blog post.

What Can Canadians Do?

All across Canada there are non-partisan “Say No to Prorogue” rallies being organized for January 23rd. Check the
No Prorogue!
website to find out what is happening in your area. The sight of our warm bodies huddled out in the cold will no doubt do the most to tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper just how angry Canadians really are. Dress warm and get out there. Bring flags if you’ve got them!

[Many thanks to Colin Carmichael for providing Canadians of every political persuasion this excellent outlet.]

And as always you can start by sending Email to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.   Did you know you can send him snail mail without a stamp?   I’m actually surprised that that one is still on the books but it is true, Canada Post will carry all Canadian mail to our elected representatives gratis.
Prime Minister/Premier Ministre Stephen Harper <pm@pm.gc.ca>

The Right Hon. Stephen Joseph Harper, P.C., B.A., M.A.
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

…oh wait, what am I thinking! I guess he isn’t likely to be there!
Best send it to his Constituency address:

The Right Hon. Stephen Joseph Harper, P.C., B.A., M.A.
1600 90th Avenue Southwest, suite A-203
Calgary, Alberta
T2V 5A8

They actually give more weight to snail mail than email.   Maybe because it’s more work: we have to physically go out and mail a snail mail letter.

As always, send a copy to your own Member of Parliament.

Find your MP with this lovely link that will also help you find out who your MP is if you don’t know.
Find your Member of Parliament

Globe and Mail: Prorogation only a blip on ‘Richter scale of upset,’ Clement says

Seems Canadians need to tell Tony Clement what we really think.   Maybe if enough of us do, he will finally hear us.   The Honourable Tony Clement, P.C., B.A., LL.B., Minister of Industry

The Hon. Tony Clement, P.C., B.A., LL.B.
44A King William Street
Huntsville, Ontario
P1H 1G3

The Hon. Tony Clement, P.C., B.A., LL.B.
126 Kimberley Avenue, Unit 1
Bracebridge, Ontario
P1L 1Z9

The Hon. Tony Clement, P.C., B.A., LL.B.
17 James Street
Parry Sound, Ontario
P2A 1T4

Take a peek at the Non-Partisan Fair Vote Canada site to get some information about the idea of electoral reform.  

ThunderBay "Say No to ProRogue" poster - Parliament buildings with

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Canada, we have a Prorogue: Part 1 of 3

PART 1 of 3

NOTE: I’ve broken the original gigantic “Canada, we have a Prorogue” article into 3 more manageable segments with no additions.
So if you read the long version, you will have already read this.

Canadian Flag flies in a rural setting
A flag flies in rural Canada

It takes a lot to anger Canadians, but when riled, that anger can move mountains.

The last time the Canadians got really angry at our government:

“The oldest party in Canada was reduced from a 151-seat majority to two seats in the worst defeat ever suffered for a governing party at the federal level.”

Wikipedia: Brian Mulroney

Funny, that was a Conservative government too.

Canadian Politics

The Canadian Encyclopedia
online article about the Canadian
House of Commons tells us that:

“The Parliamentary Calendar specifies the time of the year that the House sits.   Sessions of Parliament begin with a summons and end with prorogation.   Both are formally issued by the governor general in response to the government’s request.

Minority parliaments recently have lasted only one or two sessions.   Between 1867 and 1938 the annual sessions lasted only a few months; now they normally run a full year, with 3 long adjournments.   The main purpose of prorogation is to wipe clean the Order Paper.   All business unfinished at the end of a session – unanswered questions and all orders relating to bills and motions – die on the Order Paper.   The House controls its own adjournments, but the CROWN (which in this instance is the cabinet) controls both the length of a session and the Parliament. ”

House of Commons, The Canadian Encyclopedia

Just as every session of Parliament begins with a Summons,
every session of parliament ends with Prorogation.

Prorogation is intended to halt the law making process, and is generally employed after the all the new legislation has been passed.   Or not.   An administrative device to clear the decks before an election, prorogation sweeps away any incidental unfinished bureaucratic detritus and allows the new government coming in after the election the opportunity to govern from a fresh start as a a courtesy.   This is perfectly reasonable… why should the newly elected government be obliged to clean up the unfinished business of the old?

Prorogation can also be used for a changing of the guard without calling an election.   When Brian Mulroney chose to step down and hand the reigns of power over to Kim Campbell, he would have prorogued parliament, just as Prime Minister Jean Chrétien did when he retired in office and handed the reigns of government to his successor Paul Martin Jr.   This allows the successor to start with a clean slate, and falls under the normal intended uses of the prorogation procedure.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has now twice employed prorogation in a completely abnormal way.   Harper prorogues parliament long before the legislative business of parliament is finished.   Because prorogation discards any laws that have not yet been voted on, most of the legislation that has cost a Canadians a great deal of time and money to craft — all the legislation which has not yet been passed into law — has simply been swept away in the blink of a Prime Ministerial phone call to his tame Governor General.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has treated a great deal of the work done by the 40th Canadian Parliament by discarding the bulk of the legislation as bureaucratic detritus.

Until now, prorogation was simply a bit of political jargon that covered a routine bit of business.   Like every other ordinary Canadian, I hadn’t even heard the term prorogation before Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose this way to subvert the Canadian democratic process.

Canadian prorogations of 2008 and 2009

During the 40th Parliament of Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has prorogued Parliament twice, both times attracting significant national and international media attention.   Canadian Parliaments have always been prorogued every one to two years, but those prorogations were usually seen as procedural rather than political moves and attracted little media attention.   The 2008 prorogation was soon after the first session began and was to avoid a vote of no confidence from opposition parties, an unprecedented use of prorogation. ”


Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has now twice misused the prorogue process in order to bypass Canadian democracy.   Prorogation to evade hard questions and retain personal power has cost taxpayers far more money than an election would have, since all of the unpassed laws that this session of parliament was working on have been swept into the trash.   Heaps of money wasted. All so Harper could remain in office with the hope Canadians would forget the questions we have demanded answers to.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t much like leading a minority government.   He seems to have a great deal of difficulty playing well with others.

American President Richard M. Nixon

For myself, I am very happy that we have a minority government, probably for the very same reasons that Mr. Harper is not.

Because the Prime Minister of a minority government is accountable.   The plug can be pulled on his authority at any time.   That’s a good thing for citizens.   One of the reasons Canada needs election reform is that when we have a minority government there is currently no mechanism in our electoral system to remove a bad Prime Minister.

One thing I admire about the American electoral system is that they have legal remedies: even their president is not above the law because impeachment is a remedy open to them.   Another is the fact that a President is barred from serving more than two consecutive terms.   In itself that would prevent a lot of electoral abuse in Canada.   When we have a majority leader in Canada we’re stuck with him.

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