Canada/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.1 Main features of the current cultural policy model

Although there is shared jurisdiction for culture among the levels of government in Canada - federal, provincial (including municipal), and territorial and aboriginal (where negotiated) - the federal government of Canada alone is responsible for national cultural policies that affect the entire country. While federal jurisdiction in culture is not enshrined specifically in the Constitution, court cases borrowing from the inter-provincial and international aspects of telecommunications have supported the notion of a pan-Canadian role and national cultural responsibilities for the federal government. These federal policies do not detract from the concurrent elaboration and implementation of provincial, territorial and, by extension, municipal cultural policies and programmes within their respective boundaries. Canada's system of cultural governance permits a form of de facto and concurrent involvement in culture and citizenship among its respective levels of government.

There are ten provinces in Canada and three territories as well as many cities and towns which, constitutionally speaking, fall under the aegis of the provincial and territorial governments. While some of the larger provinces, especially Quebec, implement support programmes in most areas of cultural development, provincial and territorial spending in culture is consistently highest for museums. The primordial role of language in society and the recognition of French as the sole official language of the Quebec government are important reasons for the strong and active level of support provided across the cultural sector by successive Quebec governments. The government of Quebec has also pursued active involvement and cooperation with la Francophonie and UNESCO. Quebec's extensive involvement in culture is also evident in its support of international touring of performing arts - the only province with a sustained strategy for supporting international touring abroad although some other provinces support it from time to time. Municipal spending is most extensive in libraries but also significant in other areas such as promoting the shooting of feature films and television programmes and the support of performing and visual arts organisations and festivals in large urban centres, such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and other locations throughout Canada.

Canada's federal cultural policy model does not consist of one single overarching statement of cultural policy, but rather includes a broad collection of policy statements, infrastructures, legislation, programmes, services and other tools in specific cultural domains. The national cultural policy model adopted by successive federal governments in Canada has been one of "cultural affirmation" through sustained intervention, arm's length relations within the public sector, inter-governmental co-operation and consultations and mixed public-private sector partnerships. Some decentralisation of federal cultural policies and programmes is effected through regional and local offices. Cultural creativity and expression are supported by national subsidies to artists, community organisations and festivals. The economic viability of the cultural industries is enhanced through federal support programmes, tax benefits and domestic regulation. The preservation of, access to and engagement in heritage are ensured by such institutions as museums, archives and libraries that are largely public sector responsibilities at each level of government.

A great deal of creative thinking went into the establishment of the Department of Communications (DOC) in 1969. Apart from its direct responsibilities in broadcasting policy and spectrum allocation, the DOC was instrumental in tracking the emerging social and economic issues and growing technological capacity of the national telecommunications and broadcasting systems in Canada. In 1969, the Telecommission Advisory Group conducted broad studies of these related matters and was thus the precursor of convergence before its time. In 1970, DOC played a leading role in the proactive federal Task Force on Privacy. During the 1980s, cultural industry, arts and heritage responsibilities were transferred from the Secretary of State to DOC, thereby making cultural policy more comprehensive in scope.

In 1993, Canada's evolving cultural governance structure was further advanced through the establishment of the Department of Canadian Heritage with the enactment of enabling legislation through the Department of Canadian Heritage Act, which received Royal assent in 1995. The Act (1995) sets out the role and responsibilities in Canadian identity and values, cultural development, and heritage. In 2003, responsibility for Parks Canada and historic sites, which had been part of the newly created mandate of the Department of Canadian Heritage since 1993, was transferred from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to the Minister of the Environment.  

The decision to set up a single federal department in 1993 with both cultural and citizenship / identity responsibilities marked an innovative departure in cultural policy in Canada by affirming the complex social, economic and political impact of culture and the federal government's commitment to intervene in support of an overall framework of cultural affirmation. To date, Canada's cultural policies and regulations have demonstrated a flexible vision and capacity to build and protect cultural sovereignty faced with the ever present influence of the United States while simultaneously striving to promote openness in global interactions and ensuring that the unique cultural diversity of Canada is reflected in its domestic cultural infrastructure, content and labour force.


Chapter published: 27-04-2009


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