Debate over C-55 is about your choices and your voices

The ComputerWorld Canada editorial staff works hard to include Canadian voices and experiences in the stories you read. We believe that’s vital, and so do you: in our last readership survey 90 per cent of respondents said it is important that stories contain Canadian content.

But the existence of that content, here and in other publications, is being threatened by American trade interests. The Canadian and U.S. governments are currently embroiled in a dispute over split-run magazines – Canadian versions of American publications which have had their advertisements stripped out and replaced by Canadian ads.

These magazines would be developed, written and printed in the States, and then shipped up here. Because there’s almost no incremental costs – for Canadian editorial content, for example — U.S. publishers can drastically lower their ad rates and still make huge profits. That type of unfair competition would push most, if not all, Canadian magazine publishers into bankruptcy, and end the ability of this country’s magazine industry to tell our own stories.

Essentially, it would amount to Time and not Maclean’s, Vanity Fair and not Saturday Night, Martha Stewart Living and not Canadian Living.

The issue has been misrepresented and misunderstood, so here’s a quick backgrounder.

The World Trade Organization ruled against Canada’s previous split-run legislation, finding that we were contravening GATT regulations, the agreement on goods. Canada complied with that finding by removing the measures.

The WTO, it is important to note, emphasized in its ruling that, while the specific measure was problematic, Canada’s right to pursue cultural policies was not an issue in the case. In light of that statement, the feds introduced Bill C-55.

The new legislation prohibits foreign publishers from supplying advertising services directed at the Canadian market to Canadian advertisers. This is not a new policy; for 30 years foreign publications have not been permitted to target Canadians through ads. Bill C-55 simply maintains that policy.

But what C-55 does not do is restrict the import of foreign magazines. Currently, U.S. magazines account for 50 per cent of total sales in Canada and over 80 per cent of all magazines sold at news-stands. That will still be true when C-55 passes.

So this is not a debate about the government limiting consumer choice. If you want to read Newsweek it will still be there. However, without C-55, your choice will diminish with every Canadian publication that goes under.

The Americans, unwilling to let us decide our own cultural destiny, have threatened trade retaliation if C-55 passes. Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Richard Fisher has threatened the export market for our steel, textiles, wool apparel and plastics.

That’s an underhanded tactic, but one should almost expect it of big-business America. However, we shouldn’t expect that Canadians will cower whenever the U.S. growls. Currently cowering is the National Post.

Recent editorials in the Post have clearly sided with the U.S., calling into question which nation the paper’s name references. The National Post argues that trade retaliation would be too costly for Canada and therefore Bill C-55 should be scrapped.

There’s no question that a trade war could be very painful, but the alternative is to simply roll over and let the Americans dictate our cultural policy.

For American big business, the issue is squeezing a few more dollars out of Canada. For us, this is about culture and identity.

There’s no question which issue is more important.