TORONTO - Seven million and growing. That’s the number of new Canadians who function in a language other than English or French – 22.3% of the population according to the last census and reported by StatsCan in August of 2017.
Given annual immigration figures, that number (and the relative percentage) has grown by 500,000 since then. These are people with different cultural, linguistic, social, ideological religious and historical heritages.
They are in a new, “strange” land, in all the meanings of the word, expected to instantly absorb all nuances of “good citizenship and civic responsibility”. StatsCan says 7 million such people “living in our backyard” close their doors, physically and symbolically, to any view of life we think is important.
They pay their taxes. What more can we ask?
How, then, do we build a sense of “common experience” in a Canadian context, “common goals”, respect for the dignity of others, a “national purpose”, the rule of law, and democratic principles we claim define us?
The CRTC (Canadian Radio and Television Commission), an arm of government established to regulate the airwaves and to set communications policy for Canada, among other goals, thought it had the answer in 2017.
It issued a call for proposals to establish a TV station that would provide news and current affairs programming from a Canadian perspective in multiple languages for as many of the 7 million as possible. The goal was to inform this emerging citizenry of how their experience fit into a larger Canadian context in which they were now co-proprietors. Oh, and by the way, they could entertain themselves with other relevant ethnic programming, preferably generated and produced by Independent Canadian Production companies.
It seems an intelligent and fair approach, despite its limitations. Twenty million English speaking Canadians rely on three national networks (CBC, CTV, Global), a host of regional, local stations and five American networks and their local affiliates (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX).
Six and a half million francophone Canadians Have access to the CBC (French language version), TVA, TV5 and their local and regional affiliates.
Seven and a half million “multilingual, multicultural” Canadians have none. Unless one counts the amateurishly produced local programs, or subscriber paid foreign news and programming.
The CBC, meanwhile, enjoys billion-dollar annual subsidies from taxpayers. The others have been given virtual geographic monopolies to carry, by cable or satellite, whatever programmers or viewers are willing to pay.
Theirs is an economic interest; nothing to do with “Canadian values” or the national interest. Still, they are capitalizing a public asset for corporate gain.
In fact, it takes all the efforts of an aggressive CRTC and/or a gov- ernment with backbone to mitigate the voracious appetite of some of multi-billion dollar corporations like Rogers and Bell as they suck up every nickel available in over the air communications – and with government regulations and subsidies to back them up.
Compare them to the 650 plus members of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada which, until last year, received barely a penny in taxpayer support for their journalistic work in providing news and public affairs programming from a Canadian perspective.
So, to which respondent do you think the CRTC decided to accord the TV station intended to address this imbalance? You would be right if you guessed that the winner was Rogers, the very company that, in 2015, unceremoniously killed the programming the CRTC identified as a need - the one that prompted the Call for proposals in the first place.
The Cabinet has been petitioned formally and legally to right that wrong. Commitment is a two-way street. Allophones (the 7 million non-Anglo, non-Francophone Canadians) deserve better from policy makers/ government and regulatory agencies accountable for implementing those policies.
Let’s see if they know how to do what is right. More to follow.