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Posted on 20th Mar, 2015 in Presentations

Two weeks ago the CRTC announced its plan for reforming cable television in Canada. The idea at the core of it, and an idea that has long seemed inevitable, is the transition to a pick-and-pay system for cable subscription. The sales pitch rests upon the promise of a $25 'skinny basic' offering that will include the major Canadian and American networks as well as local offerings. What is excluded are many of the supplementary offerings that are often bundled into the basic packages, such as news channels and some speciality networks. While this decision ostensibly emerges from the "Let's Talk TV" meetings that have been took place last year, the transition to the pick-and-pay system is decision that has been championed by the current government in particular in line with their occasional consumer-oriented interventions in communication policy.

The Toronto Star ran this article which discussed the way in which the new system would benefit multilingual offerings. As I was in Montreal last week presenting the findings from my SSHRC project on the history of multicultural and multilingual media, I thought that this particular angle on the recent decision throws interesting light of the material that I was talking about.

The material that I'm looking at involves documenting the network of media distribution channels that took shape prior to the arrival of dedicated multilingual television in Canada. Part of this research is documenting the connections across communities and across media that developed during these years. While avoiding nostalgia for a period that was far from ideal with regard to the way in which cultural difference was recognized in Canadian society, the difference between the two periods is worth drawing attention to because it shows how much multiculturalism has changed.

While this is the theme of a book-length manuscript that I'm currently working on, the latest reconfiguration of rules regarding third-language television in Canada is the culmination of a trend towards the move away from multiculturalism as a project of common culture. The 1970s, due to kinds of media technologies as well as the spatial configuration of cultural consumption, was a period which involved a kind of enforced conviviality that developed within many Canadian cities. The suburbanization, but also the fragmentation of media and culture, that defines the present forms of multiculturalism in this country has involved a move away from some of these forms of cultural and spatial overlap. The recent decision regarding third-language and international broadcasters is a clear expression of this tendency. Of course, there's a danger in over-idealizing the past. Many of the best parts of multiculturalism were accidental, resulting from Canada's position within a multiplicity of migrant and diasporic networks rather than intentional planning on the part of Canadian government or the Canadian people.

Yet, it should give pause to think about the parameters and institutions of multiculturalism in Canada today. Specifically, the recent develops bring to light some important aspects of the ability of the Conservative Party of Canada to position itself as the party of modern multiculturalism. The effects that the recent decision regarding cable television are entirely in line with the way in which collective and individual identity are understood within what could be called 'blue' multiculturalism. The 1970s and 1980s are defined by the uneasy mixture of liberal and communitarian philosophies that defined the multicultural project during the Trudeau years. The 1990s to the present day has pushed these tendencies to the side, emphasizing a philosophy of cultural identity that maps more easily onto arguments for individual autonomy and consumer choice that dominates so much of Canadian public policy today.

The transition, from 'red' to 'blue' multiculturalism, is a theme that I hope to explore more in the coming months, particularly with regard to how it relates to the reorganization of media in Canada. This is just a quick note that reviews some of the ongoing research I've been doing and how it might relate to some of the trends in Canadian political life today.


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