He began by recalling the visit from the fledgling nationalist Australian publishers' organization, in the late 1970s, to the offices of the Association of Canadian Publishers. "The Australian delegration wanted to know how the Canadian- owned publishers had managed to attrract government funding to Canadian-owned publishing companies for their rapidly growing post-colonial Canadian-authored publishing programs, and to limit that funding only to publishers that were at least 75% Canadian owned." In their own case, Australia opted for the "national treatment" model. The "national treatment" model meant that any Australian-based book publisher, regardless of ownership, was eligible for government subsidy. As a result, except for its "handful of stars published by foreign owned multinationals," Australian literature has become "not a vital and vibrant element in the evolution of a post-colonial Australian culture and identity, but an academic oddity outside of the increasingly globalized mainstream of Australian life." Their new or untried literary authors, if unable to find a multinational publisher, can only turn to the University of Queensland Press. "Welcome to down, under."
According to Siegler, "national treatment" is what our government plans for us. He fears we will soon experience the same consequences:
At least at the level of appearance and public statement, Canada, to date, like France, has been a world leader in the fight against the automatic tendency of these multinational business (investment) concerns to undermine national culture, identity and sovereignty. That's why we don't yet have "national treatment" and do have, instead, the CRTC, a national broadcasting organization, ownership rules, subsidies and tax laws that benefit Canadian-owned cultural industries, and a cultural industries exemption in our two trade agreements, the FTA and the NAFTA... [but] notwithstanding the ongoing international announcements to the contrary, Canada is moving behind closed doors... toward the national treatment model of cultural industries...That is why, according to Siegler, in 1995 Paul Martin reclassified book publishing — labelling it an industrial activity, rather than a cultural one, so that its federal funding could be hit by the promise to cut "government funding of Canadian industry" by 60%.
Protectionist measures (the cultural industries exemptions in the FTA and NAFTA agreements) remain a "major irritant" in our trading relations with the U.S.A. Siegler says we have three years to come up with a made-in-Canada solution. But why should we care if there are Canadian ownership rules in the book trade? Newspaper editorials claim they are out-dated and unnecessary. Our stars, like Atwood and Berton, who got their start with small Canadian-owned presses, are now doing just fine by the multinational publishers. Just think, says Siegler, of Australia and what happened when market forces became the sole arbiter of what went to press. In the Globe and Mail ("The Aussie Writing Team," 16 September 2000), writer Sandra Martin observes that Australian literature is even less visible on university course lists than CanLit was in the 1950s and early 60s. If we want to continue to have a literature of our own, authors, publishers, booksellers, wholesalers and distributors, institutions, teachers, and policy makers must address the future of Canadian letters quickly. For Siegler the trend is clear and the time is short: address the future of Canadian letters now or never.
Submitted by Cynthia Zimmerman in Toronto
Bulletin ARTC/ACTR Newsletter 24.2