There wasn't enough Canada on Canadian TV in 1988

Wayne and Shuster was definitely a Canadian show, but Parliament thought there was otherwise too much American programming on the airwaves.

Proposed new Broadcast Act in 1988 pledged more money for Canadian content

New Broadcast Act aims to support Canadian TV

34 years ago
Duration 3:02
The Mulroney government updates Parliament's Broadcast Act to get more Canadian shows on the air in 1988.

Wayne and Shuster was definitely a Canadian show, but Parliament thought there was otherwise too much American programming on the airwaves. 

That was the gist of a new bill that aimed to update the country's Broadcasting Act in June of 1988.

"The government wants Canadian television to look more Canadian," said Wendy Mesley, reporting for CBC's The National.

"With a lot more Canadian programming, and a lot fewer American game shows and soap operas."

Flora MacDonald, Minister of Communications in the Mulroney government, said the goal of the new Broadcast Act was "more and better Canadian programming." (The National/CBC Archives)

To that end, Communications minister Flora MacDonald said the bill would help broadcasters with extra money for "more and better Canadian programming."

"The government will provide more than $250 million over the next four years to help meet that goal," she said. 

Of that, CBC would get an extra $20 million a year on top of its Parliamentary appropriation, and an extra $15 million annually was for Radio-Canada. 

That money would mean CBC could have a 95 per cent Canadian prime time schedule.

Aiming for 'Canadianization' 

Mount Royal was a Canadian prime-time drama that aired on private network CTV for a single season in 1988. (The National/CBC Archives)

It wasn't enough, said the co-author of a government report on broadcasting.

"Ninety-five per cent is enough Canadianization, but you're not going to get that for an extra $20 million," said Gerald Caplan.

"Canadianization" was a term, dating back to the 1970s, for the purposeful boosting of Canadian content on CBC-TV.

At the time, acquired American shows like Newhart and Golden Girls made up part of CBC's prime-time schedule. 

Canada's private networks would be offered an incentive to boost their Canadian rosters too — and a penalty if they didn't. 

"Crumbs to the CBC, carrots to the private sector," was how the NDP's Lynn McDonald described the bill, and her Liberal colleague Sheila Finestone agreed.

"Fifty per cent profit is being seen in the private broadcasters," she said. "I'm not sure that they needed a carrot or a stick."

The bill would also shorten the arm's-length relationship between the broadcast regulator and the federal cabinet, and that was unpopular too.

Ian Morrison, of the lobby group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, was concerned about political interference in what made it to air. (The National/CBC Archives)

"We don't want a system where politicians are influencing what we do and do not get to see on the air," said Ian Morrison, spokesperson for the lobby group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

The bill was still before Parliament when it was dissolved for the 1988 election, and it took until 1991 before a new Broadcasting Act was passed.

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