Broken Pencil and Canadian sponsorship

According to the mastheads, Broken Pencil started without any government sponsorship, but gradually accepted more as time went on. The Ontario Arts Council (OAC) started subsidizing the magazine with #7 in the summer of 1998 (though curiously this language is missing from #s 10 and 11— and maybe #9, though I can’t locate that issue). In #15, they begin to acknowledge both the OAC and Canada Council for the Arts. In #16 (2001) they add “BP acknowledges the financial support of the Government of Canada, through the publications assistance program (PAP), toward our mailing costs.” In #19 (2002) they add “…and the Canada Magazine Fund of the Department of Canadian Heritage toward our mailing and project costs. Canada agreement number 1377914.” Then in #47 (spring 2010) they replace PAP (presumably because it dissolved) with the Canada Periodical Fund (CPF). The language seems to have stayed constant since.

Language from the masthead of #67
Language from the masthead of BP #67

In chapter 10 of Canadian Content Edwardson continues to explicate the affect of globalization on Canada’s culture industry, arguing that the government — through its various sponsoring agencies like those mentioned above — cultivated a cultural economy that defined success through employment and sales. As he notes, this is embodied through programs like Tomorrow Starts Today. Introduced in 2001 by the Department of Canadian Heritage, the now-defunct TST provided $560 million to help, as the government put it, “brand Canada around the world” (261). Describing culture in quantitative terms, Edwardson argues throughout this chapter, is typical of Canadianization in the time of globalization, where the export of culture is put at a premium. This, in turn, affected the content of magazines, music, film, and television, as cultural producers were pandering to multinational investors or international distributors who would be leery of circulating content saturated with Canadian identifiers.

Although Broken Pencil hardly pandered to the Canadian government, two symptoms of globalization — emerging network technologies and free-trade policies — did begin to affect them, sometimes simultaneously. For example, in the mid-90s American magazines like Sports Illustrated began to use satellite transmission to bypass the technical stipulations in the 1964 Paperback and Periodical Distributors Act, a law that “limit[ed] tax deductions for advertisements in magazines to those that fulfilled domestic criteria” (273). Essentially because this legislation kept American and other foreign magazines from entering the Canadian market (the exceptions being Time and Readers Digest), Canadian content was protected from foreign influence. Once the Canadian government caught these magazines circumventing via satellite, they passed Bill C-103, which Broken Pencil addressed in the inaugural “Pencil Sharpener” editorial section of #3 (1996):

“Canada has a new law that levies an 80-percent excise tax on the advertising revenue of Canadian editions of foreign magazines. These odious examples of corporate waste previously published so-called Canadian editions of American magazines with all Canadian advertising and little in the way of Canadian content.  Bill C-103 protects Canada from such evils, and clears the way for Canadian corporations to keep control over their own mediocre stable of all Canadian sports, fashion and lifestyle magazines.” (10)

The US subsequently argued that Bill C-103 violated the terms of NAFTA, leading to a showdown at the WTO. Perhaps anticipating the outcome, the editors at Broken Pencil rendered the legal basis for the showdown with dependable sarcasm: “Naturally, the US is appealing this decision through that upstanding free trade agreement NAFTA.”

The WTO, as predicted, ruled in favor of the US and this, as Edwardson puts it, led to “a startling wake-up call as to how the pursuit of foreign markets had led to a surrendering of control over cultural policy and the ability to ensure domestic discourse on Canadian terms” (274).

The editors at Broken Pencil were explicitly critical of this outcome in issue #5 (1997). While they interpreted the ruling as an example of how “economic bureaucracies view the independent culture of small countries” as expendable, they also criticized the Canadian government for deciding to “fight a trade battle over Canadian magazines as if they were hot-dog companies” (10-11). Yet the consequences of this ruling didn’t concern the editors per se; they simply saw it as another example of corporate media control. A secondary effect from the WTO was more damaging: subsidized mailing rates for Canadian material was deemed equally hostile to foreign market interests and thus, the government had to restructure its Publications Assistance Program (PAP) so that magazines would get the subsidy up front, which cost taxpayers more (Edwardson 274). As Broken Pencil argued, when it came to print at least, the cultural pulse of Canada wasn’t found in “twenty mainstream magazines … that everybody reads but seem to have little to say,” but within the hundreds of independent nonprofit little magazines “with fewer readers but a lot to say about what is going on in various local and cultural spheres” (11). Whether or not they made this exact case to the government is unclear, but they started acknowledging funding from the PAP a few years later.

Still, rather than focus on supporting smaller spheres, Canada more generally was following the US’s example and actively creating foreign markets for its culture industry. These programs, like Tomorrow Starts Today in 2001 and PromArt or Trade Routes in 2010, turned artists and writers into “ambassadors, sharing Canadian voices and values with the world,” as one Department of Canadian Heritage fact sheet put it (276). The problem with this dubious subject position, Edwardson explains, is that it conflates “industry with identity in the face of cultural insecurity, instability, and blatant contradictions that arise in a system which relies upon domestic profiteers and multinational corporations to develop Canadian content” (278-79).

Edwardson ends his history in the early aughts, arguing that if there’s any hope for the future of Canadianization, “federal bureaucrats need to come to terms with the fact that economic strength and industry growth do not equate with opportunities for national discourse and expression” (283). And yet in the midst of a severe recession in 2006, the Liberal Party’s 70-year reign ended with the election of Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper. Tretheway’s piece in Broken Pencil #46 (2010), mentioned in my last post, explains how the Tories seized the opportunity of the recession to defund programs typically dedicated to smaller, independent “fringe” artists and publishers. Using a process called “strategic review,” bureaucrats defunded sectors of programs under the guise of a routine budgeting process, removing the threat of any real political accountability. Through this process, programs like the Canadian Musical Diversity (CMD) fund — which supported the production of recordings of artists who made unconventional and underrepresented music — was axed in favor of supporting “digital marketing and international touring,” echoing Edwardson’s concerns that globalized Canadianization conflates the visibility of the culture industry with an essential cultural or national identity. As the executive director of the British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers, Rhona MacInnes, notes in the article, “They don’t have to come out and say it, but there is an emphasis placed by the Canadian Periodical Fund on what sells” (16; emphasis mine). Hence, starting in 2009 — less than a year before this article was published — the CPF revealed that magazines under a circulation of 5,000 would not longer be eligible for subsidies. It just so happens that Broken Pencil’s circulation is now 5,000; though I’m not sure when it started publishing this many copies, it’s clear based on the masthead that they had been printing that many since at least 2010.

Logos of current BP sponsors
Logos of current BP sponsors

The important takeaway here is that although Broken Pencil has accepted government sponsorship for its cultural work since as early as 1998, it has served as a voice for a sector of the public arts that gets grossly underrepresented in Canadian culture. And yet, MacInnes’s statement, published in Broken Pencil, begs the question: how did BP manage to convince the Canadian government to help fund it?  It will also be interesting to see to what extent these issues flare up over time and how the introduction of other media affects BP’s arguments about funding and access.