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Member Keith Ross Leckie's op-ed on Bill C-11 published in Toronto Star

Keith Ross Leckie

WGC member Keith Ross Leckie’s op-ed on Bill C-11 titled "Is Canada disappearing in a tidal wave of American programming?" was published in the Toronto Star on February 10, 2023. You can read it below in its entirety.

In Toronto, pundits and politicians brag about our vibrant film and television industry with film shoots around every corner. But they are all American productions with American scripts set in American towns, using American directors and lead cast and telling American stories. 

The US producers – Disney, Netflix, Amazon – are taking full advantage of our generous tax credits, our low dollar and our excellent film crews to shoot in Canada. Why wouldn’t they? COVID-19, with its expensive protocols, has shut down almost all Canadian production over the last three years. 

Bill C-11, which has passed its third reading in the Senate, will continue this bleak future by establishing a two-tiered system where Canadian networks will be required to do a small amount of Canadian production, but the big wealthy US streamers, will not. 

Even Britain’s film and television [industry] has substantial quotas and funding to ensure American programming won’t dominate them. They tax the US product and invest the funds into their own. Britain’s film and television industry tells their stories, supports their culture and history and values, and defines them. We do not. Canada is currently a branch plant of America.

I am a scriptwriter and novelist. I wrote the Avro Arrow mini-series starring Dan Ackroyd many years ago, The Halifax Explosion, the David Milgaard Story, Where the Spirit Lives (residential schools), Emmy Award winning Lost In The Barrens, The Russell Williams Story and a dozen other distinctly Canadian film and television projects. 

I’ve had a good run in the years when Canadian stories were celebrated, loved and supported, but that has all slipped away in the last 20 years as more than ever America dominates us on social media, film, television and publishing. Canadian radio stations use more and more cheap American programming, podcasts, surveys, studies and statistics. 

Because of the weak funding to our film and television in the last 20 years, Canadian producers need to sell their shows to the US to get them financed. Over the years I have pitched two dozen Canadian projects to NBC, CBS and Disney and they all ask the same thing; can the story be set in the United States? “Could we put that story (set in Manitoba or Nova Scotia or Ontario) in the USA? How about Seattle or upstate New York? Our audiences just don’t get Canada. They would be confused.” 

And a lot of Canadian producers do that. Even the wonderful Canadian series Schitt’s Creek that won seven Emmys, never mentions Canada once. Letterkenny is the same. They don’t want to turn off American audiences who think Canada is a bunch of weird socialists. The US will never voluntarily help tell our stories. 

Is Canada disappearing? Inflammatory terms Canadians would never use such as “patriot”, “treason” or “traitor” have crept into our media. The Trucker’s Convoy was so alarming because American extremists and conspiracy theorists were infiltrating and indoctrinating normally intelligent Canadian citizens with their lies, bizarre ideas and confrontational methods.  

Never has there been a time more important than now for Canada to define and know herself. Our American cousins at this time in history are a polarized, angry country dominated by racism, sexism, bigotry, ultra-right Christians, huge class disparity and the ready acceptance of alternative truths.

Canadians have always been a very different people than Americans. We made that choice in the War of 1812 and many times since. We are the North American alternative to the Republic. We are progressive, liberal, global and diplomatic. And polite. The Americans make war. Peacekeeping was our idea. 

Our government needs to encourage more Canadian content on our screens, in our theatres, on our radios and in the books we read or we will disappear. In the middle of the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill supported increased funding for the arts. When challenged by the opposition he said, “If not for our culture, for what are we fighting?” 

Bill C -11 could be a very good bill supporting our industry. But there must be amendments that would eliminate the two-tiered system. Members of the Senate, why so timid? Is it because the US lobbyists have been working overtime to insure free access to us?

Please force the huge US streamers to fund Canadian content on an equal footing with our own networks, like they do in most other countries in the world. That’s the cost of them doing business here. Content that will reflect, define and validate Canada. Canadian writers stand ready. Don’t leave us unemployed.  

(Copyright Keith Ross Leckie 2023)

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