January 5, 2023
On June 6, 1994 the CRTC decided not to renew the licence of an American specialty channel, Country Music Television.
Following its policy of fostering Canadian channels and Canadian programming, the Commission awarded the licence for the only country music video service on cable TV to the Calgary-based start-up New Country Network.
Within a year, the Commission’s decision was reputed to have brought Canada to the brink of a half-billion-dollar cultural trade war with the United States.
In 2023 as trade consequences are predicted or threatened if Parliament passes Bills C-18 and C-11, it’s worth retelling the story of Country Music Television.
In the mid-1990s the licences of Canadian and American specialty channels on cable TV approached expiry and renewal. That triggered the CRTC’s well-known policy for licensing no more than one station, Canadian-owned, in each programming genre.
Not yet the 500-channel universe in 1994, the CRTC’s array of licensed specialty television services totalled 20 Canadian and 12 American channels. The US channels included A&E, CNN, CNBC, The Learning Channel, Black Entertainment Television, The Nashville Network, and Country Music Television.
The Commission’s policy was to encourage Canadian-owned channels offering both Canadian and foreign content, regardless of the availability of American programmers who dwarfed Canadian competitors but offered little or no Canadian content.
American programmers who jumped into the Canadian specialty TV market in the 1980s by grace of a CRTC licence knew they were renters, not owners.
One of them was the music video channel Country Music Television (CMT), a joint venture of US giant Westinghouse and Gaylord Entertainment. Gaylord also owned the ‘country lifestyle’ station, The Nashville Network (TNN).
CMT was big in the US market with 24 million subscribers. Its Canadian foothold was two million subscribers and a $1.2 million annual profit. The Nashville Network was more firmly established in Canada with four million subscribers (no Canadian programmer applied to displace TNN).
It was not complicated for a music video channel to launch with content licensed from major US record labels: the challenge was to produce the Canadian content sufficient to meet the CRTC’s expectation of at least thirty per cent Canadian artists. When the CRTC notified Westinghouse in 1993 that it was contemplating displacing CMT with a Canadian programmer, CMT was at one per cent Canadian content.
Five Canadian applicants queued up for CMT’s slot. Based on subscriber price and Canadian content commitments, the licence went to the “New Country Network” (NCN). The start-up was co-owned 60/40 by MacLean Hunter (about to be purchased by Rogers) and Rawlco Inc., the Saskatchewan radio broadcaster. Provided CMT was pushed out of the market, NCN was projected to reach six million Canadian households.
On June 6, 1994 as expected the Commission ruled against renewing CMT’s licence in three sentences:
The applicant [New Country Network] requested that the Commission delete Country Music Television (CMT), a U.S. service in a competitive format, from the Commission’s lists of eligible satellite services. [It] is the Commission’s policy that, where a Canadian service is licensed in a format competitive to that of an authorized non-Canadian satellite service, the authority for the cable carriage of the non-Canadian service could be terminated. Accordingly…the Commission has authorized cable licensees to continue to distribute CMT only until such time as The Country Network’s service first becomes available for distribution to affiliates.
Westinghouse didn’t take it well. Despite being informed when obtaining the licence in 1984 of CRTC policy on Canadian content, it characterized the loss of its publicly granted licence as confiscation of private property.
Inflaming matters, the CRTC had denied Westinghouse standing at the licence hearing because it found the pre-hearing written submissions to be adequate. Its lawyers called that a denial of natural justice and marched off to the Federal Court of Appeal. The court issued a denial on December 20, 1994 and leave to appeal was refused by the Supreme Court a month later.
On January 1, 1995 NCN launched on Canadian cable and CMT was removed.
Jean Chrétien’s Liberals had swept to power with a majority government on October 25, 1993.
That was the federal election in which Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government —lead by his successor as Prime Minister, Kim Campbell— crashed from a majority of 156 seats in Parliament to only two. Aside from bringing the Liberals back to power, the chief benefactors of the Tory implosion were the ascending Bloc Québécois and the Reform Party.
Eleven months later on September 12, 1994 the separatist Parti Québécois lead by Jacques Parizeau came to power in Québec on a promise to hold a referendum on sovereignty association. The very real prospect of a national divorce hung over the country for the next twelve months until on October 30, 1995 the breakup of Canada failed by a ‘Non’ vote of 50.58%. During those thirteen months, invoking cultural nationalism was at a premium in Parliamentary and public debate.
It was also a time for a surge in trade squabbles between Canada and the US, despite the fresh ink on the US-Canada-Mexico NAFTA that came into effect January 1, 1994. But as if to prove the negotiator’s aphorism that nobody ever stays bought, during the early months of 1995 trade complaints continued on both sides of the border. Canadian access to the US sugar market and the perennial issue of Canada’s agricultural supply management were sore points at the time.
Of course there was no prospect of the Liberal government ignoring cultural issues with the nationalist minded Bloc Québécois nipping at their heels in the House of Commons and a sovereignty referendum pending.
For starters, the Chrétien cabinet decided to override the CRTC’s deregulation of satellite distribution that green lit American satellite companies to distribute Canadian television channels. The Liberals’ decision to shut out the Americans and restrict Canadian broadcasting signals to Canadian-owned satellite companies would be announced June 14, 1995, in the middle of the CMT dispute.
The cultural pot was already well stirred. In early 1993 Time Warner had launched a ‘split-run’ Canadian edition of its popular Sports Illustrated magazine. It was a call to arms for the Canadian magazine industry and both the Conservative and Liberal governments paid close attention.
The backstory to the dispute was that in 1965 the federal government slapped an import ban on printed copies of American magazines that solicited Canadian advertising to prevent trade dumping across the border. Like all American cultural products, US magazines recouped their costs in their domestic market and sought to scoop up the Canadian market as a profit windfall of up to 80% of their cover price. That was accomplished by split-runs undercutting Canadian magazine publishers on prices charged to Canadian advertisers, hence the import ban to combat trade dumping.
But when digital technology allowed Time Warner to circumvent the ban by electronically transmitting pages across the border for printing in Toronto, the prospect of US magazines crushing the Canadian magazine industry became highly plausible.
On December 23, 1994 the federal government responded to Time Warner by announcing a profit-neutralizing 80% excise tax on American owned magazines published in Canada, to take effect in twelve months’ time.
The tax arguably discriminated against American goods under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); ‘arguably’ because there was a dispute about whether Sports Illustrated’s American content was a ‘like product’ to content in Canadian magazines.
Eighteen months later in March 1996 Mickey Kantor, the US Trade Representative in Washington, would file a GATT complaint to the World Trade Organization which ultimately ruled against Canada in 1997.
The rumours of the 1995 trade war began with a pop gun blast from Westinghouse.
Days after CMT was expelled from Canadians cable TV on January 1, 1995, Westinghouse announced it was kicking Canadian country artists off CMT’s American channel. The amusing exception to the ban was that it did not apply to Canadians artists signed to the US record labels with whom CMT had binding contracts (and allowed the US Recording Industry Association to support CMT’s complaint).
More seriously, CMT spokespersons served notice they were enlisting US Trade Representative Kantor in their cause.
On December 23, 1994 Westinghouse had filed a trade petition with the Kantor’s office under section 301 of the US Trade Act, co-signed by other US channels operating in Canada, the Recording Industry Association, the National Cable TV Association, and Time Warner. The petition alleged violations of NAFTA chapters on national treatment, fair and equitable treatment, performance requirements, and improper expropriation.
Kantor’s job was to take the steps prescribed under section 301. On February 6th he wrote to Canada’s International Trade Minister Roy MacLaren. As it happened, MacLaren was a self-proclaimed “ardent free-trader” who later wrote in his memoirs that Canada’s cultural trade exemption was “not worth much.”
Kantor’s letter explained to MacLaren that the USTR was calling for public comment to be submitted in the next 30 days with a final decision on trade retaliation by June 21st. Importantly, Kantor asked MacLaren to review the CRTC policy that had expelled CMT from Canadian cable.
Kantor wrote a second letter to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking for assistance in applying trade sanctions against Canadian businesses operating in the US telecommunications and broadcasting industries.
Kantor’s FCC letter was almost certainly leaked. Media reports on both sides of the border over the next four months invariably cited a “hit list” that included blocking the deal between Canada’s Teleglobe and the US Optel Communications Group on submarine fibre cable; the linking of Telesat’s new Anik satellite to the US network; and CHUM’s Much Music TV broadcasts on the US DirecTV cable network. Reputedly the full hit list was worth $500 million (USD) —-one report put it at $750 million USD—- but no costing ever emerged.
Then Kantor went public, announcing that he was soliciting public comment from American companies on “the most appropriate response to Canada’s actions” and to assess what Canadian television assets the US might subject to retaliation.
“We consider the action taken against CMT to be a very serious matter,” he said. “The CRTC’s action amounts to the confiscation of CMT’s business efforts over the past ten years to serve the Canadian market.”
In case anyone missed the point, Kantor also referenced two other trade combustibles, the split-run excise tax and a simmering copyright dispute over a potential Canadian artists’ levy on blank CDs.
Mickey Kantor was a larger-than-life figure.
The 57-year-old Nashville lawyer was the ultimate Democrat insider and Clinton confidante who had quarterbacked the 1992 Presidential election campaign. Kantor’s flinty demeanor was such that the Japanese Trade Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto once described him as “scarier than my wife when I come home drunk.”
As Trade Representative for the world’s biggest economy, Kantor’s desk was piled high with files from around the globe. With NAFTA in the rear view mirror, and the worst of the split-run magazine dispute three years away, the Canada file might have been one of Kantor’s least demanding as revealed by a time line of his three years in the Trade job (already a member of cabinet, he was promoted to Secretary of Commerce in April 1996).
In a lengthy 2002 interview for an oral history project, Kantor recalled the ‘obnoxious’ protectionism of the French government in GATT negotiations (which ended in defeat for the American position on cultural products) and, to quote Kantor’s irritated description, “the issue of media and what they called the cultural exemption.”
Any recollections of Country Music Television did not make the cut.
If Kantor was going to play fair, his response to CMT’s petition should have been filed as a NAFTA complaint. That agreement came into effect on January 1, 1994 and renewed Canada’s ‘cultural exemption’ from trade liberalization signed off in our bilateral 1988 Free Trade Agreement with the US.
The cultural exemption meant that Canada did not violate trade rules if discriminating in favour of Canadian interests over American companies within carefully defined ‘cultural industries.’ The caveat was that the US could retaliate with countervailing trade measures ‘of equivalent commercial value’ either on its own cultural turf or in other trade sectors.
According to Canada’s leading communications lawyer Peter Grant, the Americans would have had difficulty making out a prima facie NAFTA complaint against pro-Canadian broadcasting laws, without Canada even having to invoke the cultural exemption. In 2005 Grant wrote:
‘Carefully analyzed, the [cultural exemption] clause permits US retaliation only for measures that otherwise would be inconsistent with the 1988 [Free Trade] agreement. Since Canada made no national commitment in the audiovisual services sector in the 1988 FTA, it is therefore free to introduce new measures affecting such services, including broadcasting, without triggering a right of retaliation.’
Whether or not Kantor disputed that analysis, he was not about to wait around for a trade arbitrator to sort it out. Under the notorious section 301 of US Trade Act 1974, Congress delegated its authority to the USTR to launch unilateral trade sanctions without filing or even alleging a NAFTA complaint. Section 301 has been described by one international trade expert as “a stick used to bludgeon the weak.”
In response to unilateral sanctions, Canada had the right to file its own NAFTA complaint and seek dispute resolution. But the crucial point was that NAFTA dispute resolution did not govern the equivalency of trade retaliation, reasonable or not (although this was remedied in Article 32.6 of the 2019 CUSMA trade deal).
These were the rules of engagement when Kantor began to ratchet up the pressure by setting June 21st as the presumptive deadline for announcing unilateral sanctions.
With Kantor engaged on its behalf, Westinghouse spokesperson Maury Lane played his hyperbolic role by telling a Canadian reporter in early February that “the CMT issue is worth perhaps $100 million…But this move by Kantor could cost the (the Canadian entertainment industry) multi-billions of dollars.”
Later, Westinghouse revised the $100 million loss figure downwards to $63 million (all figures USD), a fifty-fold multiple of CMT’s annual Canadian $1.2 million cash flow.
With the American industry baying for blood, Trade Minister MacLaren was eager to cool things down. Responding to Kantor’s February 6th announcement, MacLaren’s spokesperson Bruno Picard denied any trade violation but stated the two countries were far from retaliatory measures.
“There will be a lot of consultation and discussion before any such stage would be reached,” said Picard.
The next day the CMT controversy was raised by the Opposition in the House of Commons when MP Jan Brown button-holed Heritage Minister Michel Dupuy during Question Period. What followed was an exchange that will sound familiar to observers of the 2022 debate over Bill C-11:
Jan Brown (Calgary Southeast – Reform): Yesterday the United States government announced it was considering further retaliatory measures against the Canadian broadcast industry, placing our trading relationship with that country in jeopardy. The minister is moving down the dangerous path of cultural protectionism.
Does the Minister of Canadian Heritage not realize he is harming Canadian culture and Canadian artists by sanctioning the CRTC decision?
Michel Dupuy (Minister of Canadian Heritage): Mr. Speaker, the decision taken by the CRTC is precisely designed to protect Canadian artists and the Canadian cultural industry.
CMT, which is owned by The Nashville Network, was informed by the CRTC when it scheduled in Canada that if there was another channel opened by Canadians it would have to move out. There is no surprise there. The CRTC has taken its decision with full regard to the trade obligations entered into by Canada.
Brown: Mr. Speaker, that is a completely unacceptable answer in this day when technology is being over-ridden by outdated regulations which do not serve our Canadian artists. This is cultural exploitation at its extreme.
My supplementary question is for the same minister. Why is he putting up roadblocks for our very fine Canadian artists? Our cultural industries are among the best in the world. We need liberalization in order to compete more effectively instead of trying to restrict our artists from developing in the international economy.
Dupuy: Mr. Speaker, far from putting up roadblocks, we are opening an information and cultural highway for them with great success.
Two days later on February 9th Westinghouse’s Lane played his next card, this time with less hyperbole and more guile.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Lane revealed that following his radio debate with NCN’s Shaun Purdue they had discussed the possibility of a joint venture between CMT and NCN in Canada.
Lane said that CMT expected to be granted a minority ownership position in NCN for free: ‘don’t count on me paying for ground I’ve already paid for.’
Purdue had a suitably nationalist response: “The US probably controls 90 percent of the entertainment market in Canada. Our country is a tenth the size of the US. All Canadians are saying is, ‘For heaven’s sake give us a piece of our own backyard.’”
On February 20 MP Brown was on her feet again in Question Period, predicting a confrontation between the Prime Minister and US President at their upcoming meeting in Ottawa. She asked Trade Minister MacLaren about the potential for US trade retaliation, outside of the cultural sector, a threat the Americans had not made:
Brown: Mr. Speaker, despite those fine words the government is moving toward a policy of protectionism in the cultural industry. Cultural industries will be at the top of the American President’s agenda when he visits this week.
By closing our borders, the government has started a potential trade war with the United States. What form this retaliation will take will be announced by Mickey Kantor on March 6 [Ed. note: this was the deadline for public comment, not USTR action].
When the government meets with Mr. Clinton, will it announce what areas of Canadian trade it is willing to sacrifice to keep up this charade of cultural preservation?
MacLaren: Mr. Speaker, we are unwilling to sacrifice any area of Canadian trade. The member raises a question that will indeed be touched upon in my meetings with Mr. Kantor.
On that occasion we shall continue to assure him, as we have done in the past, that the Canadian measures to promote Canadian culture are entirely consistent with our international trade obligations.(Emphasis Added)
The confrontation didn’t materialize.
Far from it, the televised Joint Press Conference at the conclusion of the leaders’ meeting on February 23-24 was a love-in, despite the fact that there were active trades file in culture, sugar, and agricultural supply management. According to news reports, the good vibe was deliberate.
Clinton and Chrétien both heralded their signature of the Open Skies Aviation Agreement and extolled the merits of global trade. Neither leader mentioned cultural flashpoints, nor were they asked questions on the topic. Chrétien praised “a great meeting” and said the parties were “working on problems and finding solutions.”
Of course the solution Kantor wanted on the culture file was a change in CRTC policy to protect the licences of other US stations operating in Canada. The Canadian government had the power under section 7(1) of the Broadcasting Act to give policy directions to the CRTC but section 7(2) prohibited those powers being applied directly to licensing decisions.
As if by divine providence, two years later the CRTC changed its policy and then shortly afterwards granted licence renewals to US channels TNN, CNN, CNBC, A&E, The Weather Channel, BET and a number of local superstations.
A news report from the Financial Post on March 21st appeared to reveal a gap between the two cabinet Ministers, MacLaren and Dupuy.
MacLaren had reassured Kantor in writing on March 7th that there were no pending licence renewals for American stations for the next twelve months and, more significantly, the Heritage Department was reviewing its entire TV policy over the next several months and the Canadian government “expects these reviews to cover the regulation of foreign specialty broadcast services.”
Confronted with the Trade Minister’s remarks about the activities of Canadian Heritage and the CRTC, Dupuy wisely replied “we have no intention to direct the CRTC on the question.”
As to whether his own Department was reviewing the issue, Dupuy was evasive but a Heritage official told the Post that foreign specialty channels “could” be reviewed by the Department or even the CRTC as part of its ongoing review of media Convergence.
The wind shifted sometime in March.
On March 23, 1995 Kantor spoke for an hour to the National Press Council in Washington D.C., giving an update on the major trade issues of the day with GATT, China, Mexico and Japan. The Clinton administration was on the defensive over trade, thanks to the controversy over the NAFTA deal with low-wage Mexico and an as yet unsuccessful effort to pry open the Japanese market in auto parts.
Perhaps because of those other challenges, Kantor reserved special praise for the US relationship with Canada, its largest export market.
[90-second video clip from C-Span]
In such an extensive trade relationship, he said, there are going to be “annoyances” that are managed effectively, citing beer and timber disputes.
“And,” he added cryptically, “we are going to be able to resolve I think the cultural, the so called cultural issues successfully. We are deeply grateful to our Canadian counterparts for that.”
The issue ran on silent mode until just before the June 21st sanctions deadline.
On the morning of the 21st, the Globe and Mail reported that MacLaren and Kantor had discussed the CMT matter again on June 16th in Halifax at the G7 meeting.
In the same news report, the Globe cited “several sources” that Kantor regarded the $500 million figure as “overkill” and “not calibrated” to the loss suffered by CMT. The sources also said that retaliation would be restricted to Canadian cultural products and would not spill over into other sectors.
MacLaren was sending out signals too. In the same Globe report, the Minister’s spokesperson said “we can change the [CRTC] policy but we can’t go back and change a [licence] ruling.” This was the first reliable indication that the Canadian government was going to bend to the American position on future licence renewals.
Later that day New Country Network announced CMT as its minority partner holding a 20 per cent stake in NCN, the maximum foreign ownership permitted under CRTC rules. NCN would be rebranded as Country Music TV.
Westinghouse publicly withdrew its section 301 petition requesting sanctions.
Both Kantor and MacLaren expressed pleasure at the resolution.
Rawlco’s CEO Gordon Rawlinson was conciliatory, conceding publicly that Country Music TV was better branding than New Country Network. Any acrimony with Westinghouse was in the past: “they were just expressing how they felt,” he said. “They will be good partners.”
As for Kantor, he had one more thing to say: “This [CRTC] policy continues by its very existence to threaten the security of other US services currently authorized for distribution in Canada.” Yet he was not announcing sanctions which suggested that he had confidence the CRTC would change its rule about American stations.
Soon more details emerged in the Press and the post-mortem judgment began.
CMT’s equity share came out of Rogers’ ownership stake. Westinghouse was permitted to expand its position from 20 to 33 per cent if the anticipated increase to CRTC foreign ownership limits came to pass, which it did a year later.
No purchase price was announced and it was widely believed Westinghouse paid nothing. The more intriguing commercial arrangements for programming rights and profit distribution were not made public.
CMT President David Hall celebrated the agreement too: “This partnership will create a powerful country music channel.” The subscriber numbers confirmed that observation. Although CMT had been reduced to a minority licensee, it had tripled its viewership from 1.9 to 6 million Canadian households.
Keith Kelly, the National Director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts archly commented in the Globe and Mail “I have a very clear picture of Neville Chamberlain waving a piece of paper and saying ‘we have peace in our time.’”
Greg Quill, the Toronto Star entertainment columnist, called the deal “a capitulation.”
And that was without knowing about the forthcoming change in CRTC licensing policy.
Two days later on June 23, 1995 the Vice Chair of Rogers Phil Lind defended the deal with some significant commentary on Canadian broadcasting:
David Stewart-Patterson (CTV): Yeah. Now, you mentioned levering on the name in terms of the existing name that’s out there in the marketplace, but also the American name. I mean, does it turn Canada’s Country Music Channel into just another American branch plant?
Lind: No, of course not. The channel works very much like it works right now. It has the same management and the same kinds of programming, and everything works the same. But we gain a lot of their experience as well. The other thing we do of course is we assist Canadian country-music artists throughout the world in their quest to be known throughout the world because CMT in the US and CMT internationally has a huge following. And if we can assist Canadian country artists across the world, that’s terrific too.
CTV: Yeah, but I mean, as Rogers, you’re obviously in the middle of this whole convergence process too as technology allows phone companies and cable companies and satellites and so on to compete. Does all that technology really undermine the ability of a government to keep a culture, a country isolated?
Lind: Yes, it does. It means that you have to recognize the realities of what’s going on outside of Canada. But it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your basic principles.
CTV: Yeah, I mean, what are the basic principles that you think we can enforce these days?
Lind: You create strong Canadian entities but, at the same time, you try and make affiliations with international partners. That’s, I think, the essence of where it’s all going.
An analysis of the Country Music TV story begs questions about a vision of the Canadian broadcasting industry in its relationship with the juggernaut of the US export industry. Was it a story of capitulation on Canadian cultural sovereignty or a pragmatic recognition of, to use Phil Lind’s words, “the essence of where it’s all going?”
The more troubling question arises from the American threats of trade retaliation and the response of Canadian politicians.
On the US side, the dispute with a Canadian regulator over TV licences was probably a mid-level trade issue at best and not worth blowing up an otherwise positive cross-border relationship.
However the USTR cannot ignore powerful domestic stakeholders. That results in aggressive USTR trade practices thanks to the section 301 cudgel and the defects in enforcement of the NAFTA cultural exemption.
Nevertheless, Kantor seems to have chosen a modestly sized cudgel by limiting the trade retaliation to the cultural sector and, as far as anyone can tell, monetizing the hit list at far less than the “overkill” $500 million.
The more surprising behaviour was demonstrated by Canadian politicians who took credit for defending culture during trade negotiations in 1988 and 1994 and then flinched at the prospect of enforcing those hard-won rights to cultural sovereignty.
We know nothing about any cabinet debate between the free-trader MacLaren and Heritage Minister Dupuy. As for the Prime Minister’s inscrutable role, Chrétien’s shifting perspective on free-trade and the NAFTA agreement is a matter of public record.
As for Canadian opposition critics, they did what they do now: amplify the American threat and propose capitulation.
There are several epilogues to the story of Country Music Television.
The first is that the Westinghouse-NCN deal almost fell apart several months later before final signatures. We don’t know the details but Westinghouse claimed in January 1996 that “there remain some pretty large differences.” CMT accused the Canadians of bad faith and demanded “our reinstatement [by the CRTC] in the form of CMT Canada.”
Kantor set a new February 6th deadline for trade sanctions. That deadline was extended to March 7th when the parties signed off “hours before” Kantor was to announce sanctions.
Kantor took the occasion to reiterate the American narrative of “unjust expropriation” of commercial assets and remind the Canadian government that his eye remained firmly fixed upon the upcoming licence renewals for American channels.
The second epilogue was that most of the players in the CMT saga soon went their separate ways.
Perhaps reflecting their exhaustion with trade politics, both Rawlco and Rogers sold their interests in the new NCN/CMT to the Calgary-based Shaw Communications.
Gordon Rawlinson commented “we just felt it was time to get more focussed on radio,” Rawlco’s core business.
In early 1997 Westinghouse bought out Gaylord Entertainment’s interests in CMT and the Nashville Network and folded it into its CBS division where it eventually wound up in Viacom as a Paramount property.
Mickey Kantor became US Secretary of Commerce in April 1996.
Trade Minister Roy MacLaren left cabinet in January 1996 to assume the position of High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
Heritage Minister Michel Dupuy was shuffled out of cabinet the same month and did not stand for re-election in 1997.
In 1997 the CRTC ruled that American channels would get their licence renewals provided the cable provider maintained a proportionality between Canadian and foreign programmers. This represented the Commission’s third liberalization of its rule on foreign programmers competing with Canadian channels since its strict 1984 policy of licence termination; its 1987 policy of discretionary termination; and its 1993 policy of ‘case by case’ consideration.
Sheila Copps became Minister of Canadian Heritage and inherited the split-run magazine file.
When the WTO struck down the Canadian excise tax in 1997, Copps responded with a workaround through changes to the Income Tax Act in Bill C-55. The USTR retaliated with section 301 steel tariffs hitting Copps’ hometown of Hamilton, Ontario.
But that is another MediaPolicy.ca story for another day.
A Postscript on sources:
Finding primary sources online for the “pre-Internet” era of 1995 is a challenge. Regrettably the 1996 Convergence Report issued by Heritage Canada is not available online and it may verify that Canadian reassurances were offered to Mickey Kantor about a change in licensing policy.
There are some good secondary sources on the story of CMT but you will need either a library or credit card.
Garry Neil, Canadian Culture in A Globalized World (2019)
Peter Grant, Blockbusters and Trade Wars (2005)
Andrew Carlson, The Country Music Television Dispute (1997)
Keith Acheson and Christopher Maule, Much Ado About Culture (1999)
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5 thoughts on “The half-billion dollar trade war that wasn’t. The story of Country Music Television.”
Fascinating combo of “blow by blow” and larger political context. The Americans can indeed be scary. I am always impressed when we somewhat stand up to them.
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