MAI a threat to Canadian culture

The Arts Beat

By Elynn Wareham

Is the head of Canadian culture under the blade of a guillotine? It could be, as 29 of the world’s richest countries meet behind closed doors in France to discuss the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.

If the agreement is signed next spring, the erosion of Canadian culture could result from an attempt to promote global investment. To please investors in countries like the United States, that are opposed in principle to excessive government subsidies, Canada may have to soften some of its traditionally strong cultural protections in order to preserve regulations and subsidies in other policy areas.

Maude Barlow, of the Council of Canadians, is one of those who argues that the MAI will indeed threaten Canada’s culture. At present, there is nothing in the agreement to protect Canadian cultural subsidies, although the federal government has promised to take such actions before signing.

However, Canada already has a reputation for not standing up to foreign interests. When the Americans attacked tax policies protecting Canadian magazines from foreign competition, the multilateral World Trade Organization ruled in favor of the Americans. As a result, Canadian magazine publishers could lose up to $800 million in ad revenues to American publications.

Film tax credits, copyright legislation and Canadian content rules in broadcasting are all expected to be among the next WTO battles.

Heritage Minister Shelia Copps says she’s fighting to preserve and promote Canada’s culture, but the MAI deal could potentially invalidate almost every measure Canada has taken in that regard. The previous decisions made by the WTO may have foreshadowed the tough battles ahead if the MAI deal goes through.

The Americans are going so far as to push for a multilateral agreement in which any subsidies Canada offers its own cultural enterprises would in turn have to be offered to their American competitors.
The MAI could prove more devastating than the Free Trade Agreement if no cultural exemptions are made.

During a time when funding cuts continue to weaken our cultural institutions, the potential power of such an agreement leaves Canada’s culture in a very vulnerable state.

By implementing a more global focus on the treatment of all countries, the MAI will limit the right of national governments to act on behalf of their citizens. Our nation must make its demands clear in the planning process, because as history proves, once the deal is signed it will be too late.