The Podcast: “They’re feckless,” Richard Stursberg says of our Liberal government, which must instead act now to defend Cancon

THERE’S NOT MUCH TIME left to save our cultural institutions and corporations in Canada, says Richard Stursberg.

If our federal government doesn’t act soon, what it means to be Canadian will be subsumed by the sheer volume of American culture washing over us online while our “feckless” Canadian government stands idly by. “We’re going to be completely dominated by American content,” he says.

The former assistant deputy minister of culture and broadcasting and former CBC, Shaw, and Telefilm executive, recently released a brand new book, called The Tangled Garden. A Canadian Cultural Manifesto for the Digital Age, which is a soup to nuts re-envisioning of Canadian content and the Canadian media industry which is cracking under the enormous pressure being applied by the FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) companies.

Those foreign interlopers need to start playing by the same rules (at least start with having them pay the same level of tax, he implores) as Canadian broadcasters (because those FAANGs are broadcasters, he says), which will boost government revenues. Then, if they are made to spend 30% of their revenue earned in Canada on Canadian content, as the likes of CTV, Global and Citytv must, we will continue to see Canadian stories produced by Canadians. In fact, we will see more made and more jobs because of it.

The book is part history lesson, pointing to how cultural policy was carefully developed to advantage our own creators and broadcasters and the like, but mostly instructional, asking why, just because signals now arrive over the internet, we can’t act to defend our culture? Other countries are doing it, but where are our strong political leaders?

Tangled Garden lays out all of the dollars and cents and Stursberg says the changes he proposes will see more Cancon and more government revenue while drawing no more dollars from the pockets of Canadians than they are already paying.

The status quo, says Stursberg, can’t last much longer. “It seems mad to advantage outsiders over Canadian companies in Canada,” he said in our podcast with Bill Roberts. “If you’re going to be like Netflix, a broadcaster in Canada, you have to play by the same rules as Canadian broadcasters.”

So why hasn’t our Liberal federal government acted on what is clearly a crisis? “They’re feckless,” he says. “They really have no grip whatsoever on what’s going on let alone any clear sense of how to deal with it.”