TORONTO - What’s old is new again. But Rogers and the CRTC are still the roadblock to integration in Canada, defying public policy and preventing others from doing what they will not.
Forty years ago (September 3, 1979), a TV broadcaster, CFMT TV – now OMNI – launched operations. It was a brainchild of the founder of the original Corriere Canadese. He put together a team of investors to develop something novel for the day: ethnocultural, multilingual television programming.
Visionaries, some called them. What we know as Rogers Media Inc. was not among them. It was pursuing its own strategy to gain a national TV license to compete with the CBC and CTV. The founders of CFMT were responding to a “need” identified by the Laurendeau- Dunton Commission, otherwise referred to as the Bi and Bi commission – established by Prime Minister Lester Pearson, in 1963, to “inquire into and report upon the existing state of bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada … taking into account the contribution made by the other ethnic groups to the cultural enrichment of Canada and the measures that should be taken to safeguard that contribution".
The Bi and Bi Commission reported its findings and recommendations over a four-year period. By the time it was all done, one Pierre Trudeau was PM.
The population of Canada in the first two decades of the Post-war period had grown from 13.733 million, in 1950, to 21.374 million, in 1970 – a 56% increase.
Trudeau was facing challenges domestically from a “cultural revolution” - an emerging nationalism among Francophones in his home province. It was coupled with domestic terrorism, xenophobia and what today we call “populism”.
In response, to stem the tide of discontent, he embarked on a systematic reduction of immigration – at the time, primarily from Europe. To balance that off, he declared Canada would remain a bilingual nation, but it would pursue a policy of multiculturalism. Trudeau declared in the House of Commons that the Government of Canada would recognize and respect its society including its diversity in languages. But how?
Fast forward to 1978 when again Trudeau was trying to stare down the forces of change. Support for the CFMT TV initiative made sense from a policy perspective, the bulk of that 56% increase came as a result of the waves of post-war immigrants (they contributed as well to the baby boom).
The broadcaster could prove to be a useful tool in the integration process, even if the vast majority were Caucasian. The CRTC and Trudeau government granted them a license. It went further, after a successful re-election bid in 1980. In the Constitution Act, 1982, Trudeau ensured that many of the Commission’s recommendations were permanently included in the Constitution of Canada, as sections 16 through 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including several language provisions.
Through section 27, it also formally recognized Multiculturalism. Later, in 1988, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act was then enacted by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
Where were the CRTC and Rogers through this public policy development? Almost immediately upon acquiring control of CFMT in 1982, with the consent of the CRTC, Rogers began a process of decreasing Canadian programming. It opted for a plug in and play model, buying inexpensive foreign-made soap operas (sometimes “dubbed”), American cartoon sitcoms, re-runs in any language or, more recently, amateur videos locally produced and paid for starving artists.
In 2015, it made a complete mockery of its conditions of license and Canadian public policy by abruptly cancelling its multilingual newscasts. Those public policy objectives were not part of their economic model. Granted, it owned the rights to the license for the duration of its term, but that license belongs to the citizens of Canada. Yet Rogers still had the audacity to request a renewal of license in 2017.
Canada’s population, meanwhile, has increased from 24.5, million in 1980, to 37.4 million today – another 53% increase, almost all the net growth attributable to immigration.
While Rogers, abetted and enabled by the CRTC, “fattens” its bottom line, that Allophone community of 7 million plus still has no national news and current affairs daily programming to reflect its contribution to the Canadian fabric.
A second Trudeau, Justin, has an opportunity to complete his father’s work. What is best for Rogers is not necessarily what is best for Canada.
Four legal Petitions to Cabinet are urging Prime Minister Trudeau review and vary the CRTC decision.