The Uncertain Future of Quebec Culture

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The Uncertain Future of Quebec Culture


Gaetan Tremblay, a professor of communications at the University of Quebec at Montreal and deputy manager of the Group of research on cultural industries and social computerization (GRICIS), is a leading researcher for public policies in the field of communications. Tremblay is an advocate of public policy that defends against cultural imperialism by countries such as the United States . In particular, Tremblay studies the effects of the media on culture in Canada especially in a province like Quebec which is distinct from the rest of English Canada.

Tremblay's article on the Americanization of Quebec culture is slightly more than a decade old, yet most of the information he provides is still relevant today. In his article, Tremblay takes a look at the invasion of Quebec 's airwaves by American content. His title refers to a belief in his mind that the Quebecois culture will one day be integrated into that of America , which in turn will lead to Quebec throwing itself into the melting pot of American culture.

The first part of the article concerns policy, the never ending promotion of identity by the Quebecois. Tremblay calls for an all out communications policy that would protect Quebec . He goes on to contend that a policy is not only useful, but that it has becomes more necessary with each passing day. However, Tremblay has ignored the fact that Quebec culture is already protected in part by the Canadian constitution. From the beginning, the Canadian federation has provided guarantees, for the Quebec language and culture. “The Constitution Act, 1867 contained specific provisions designed to protect Quebec 's distinct culture and language” (Nicholson, 2003) Canada has always given guarantees to protect the Quebec culture, a policy would be nice but it is not an absolute must have as he portrays. Tremblay then moves on to say, that U.S Department of Commerce would like to deregulate the communications industry and how horrible this would be for Canada . He points out that once this happens the U.S will pressure Canada to do the same. Yet, he seems to forget that Canada is a sovereign nation that does not have to give in to U.S pressure. Canada sets its own policies without being influenced by others. It has and will always be this way. Quebec is already officially recognized as distinct, it is entrenched in the constitution.

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Simply put, it does not get any better than that.

In the next part of the article, Tremblay addresses the amount of American programs on Quebec television. Tremblay believes that the policies that are currently in place were only put in because of a belief that the identity of Quebec is in danger. What is there really to be afraid of? From Tremblay's own data the perceived danger is more of a myth. Nearly two thirds of all production in Quebec is Canadian in origin, it actually increased by 4% in the late eighties. (Tremblay, 1992) Upon further analysis, Tremblay points to the policies that are in place, and claims they cause the high amount of production. This leads him to further his call for more policies. However, this is simply not the case when you look at other parts of Canada that have roughly the same policy. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has a fixed quota at 60% of television content must be Canadian, for English Canada, but this does not cause a rise in the production of Canadian content. (Donaldson, 1970) Tremblay is clearly picking and choosing the facts and interpreting them in his own way. Later in the article, he even admits that if American content reached 50% on Quebec airwaves it would not constitute an all out invasion. (Tremblay, 1992)

In the next part of the article, Tremblay discusses the viewer preferences of the Quebecois. Tremblay says, “The Quebecois, like Canadians insist that they have quick and easy access to American content”. The Quebecois clearly want access to the content. When something is wanted and not forced upon, it cannot be classified as an invasion, as Tremblay has done. “Communications in Quebec is distinctive in that Quebec there is the existence of two competing media serving different culture but yet they both still reinforce the character of Quebec .”(Tremblay, 1998) Tremblay said this himself, a few years later in an article published in 1998. Even with the airing of American content the French culture is still being served. As long as the Quebecois are being served, it nullifies any invasion.

In the final part of Tremblay's article, he takes a look at how Americans like to export there television shows for syndication in other parts of the world. Tremblay claims that when Americans export there shows, they do it in a nature that undercuts new Canadian production. Broadcast rights for a show will cost only about $150 000 but if the same show was to be produced in Canada it would require millions of dollars. (Pacom, 2001) At these prices, it undercuts Canadian content significantly, since it becomes immensely cheaper to flood the airwaves with American content than it would be to produce new Canadian content. This is the only credible threat to the Canadian and Quebecois cultures. On the other hand, Quebec does produce 75% of its own content. (Tremblay, 1992) Even with the U.S undercutting, there is still a significant amount of Quebecois content on the air and content does not necessarily mean viewer ship. The undercutting of Canadian content is the most significant point that Tremblay is able to make, but as we see can see it is not as strong as Tremblay would like it to be.

True to his cause, Tremblay wrote this article in a manner that picked and chose facts that supported his point view on the topic. Upon further investigation, we have seen that most of the facts that he chose to trot out, do not stand up or they can be interpreted in other ways. Tremblay also drew a lot of false assumptions from the facts that were presented, by showing statistics that said the Quebec airwaves were flooded with American produced content but production does necessarily mean viewer ship, since 8 of the top 10 shows in Quebec are produced in Quebec . (Pacom, 2001)

At certain points, the article also loses some of its appeal to sympathizers due to Tremblay's fear mongering and exaggeration of certain points. He spreads fear in his article when he says, “For Quebec, a communications policy is not useful, it is necessary, all more so with each passing day” Quebec has already gone this long without a major policy and most of the content that is available on its airwaves is still made by Quebecois for Quebecois. Tremblay also manages to exaggerate some of the facts. Case in point, when he says, “There was but a single American program among the 20 most popular. It was a re-run of The Untouchables, which placed twentieth on the list” The Untouchables is one American program that placed twentieth, where is this invasion? One program cannot change an entire culture especially when it is not even widely viewed by the Quebecois. It is almost as if Tremblay is crying wolf.

More importantly, Tremblay never really answers the question, “Is Quebec doomed to become American?” He is more than evasive on the issue, managing to point out facts like Americans are undercutting and thereby flooding the airwaves with there content, but he never says whether this will or will not turn Quebec culture into American culture. Tremblay does not even manage to come to something in his conclusion. He just says,

“ Quebec is at a great disadvantage. It can be expected that a free trade agreement which includes cultural industries would sharpen existing imbalances instead of correcting them”

This does not really say anything about what he believes is going to happen. Tremblay himself is more than likely undecided on the future of Quebec culture.

Works Cited

Donaldson, Gordon. CBC . 6 Nov. 1970. CBC. 29 Jan. 2004 .

Nicolson, Paul. Canadian Embassy . 7 Nov. 2003. 10 Feb. 2004 .

Pacom, Diane. "Being French in North America: Quebec culture and globalization." American Review of Canadian Studies 22 Sept. 2001: 35-41.

Trembaly, Gaetan. "Communications in Quebec." 1998 Canadian Encyclopedia . 3rd ed. Toronto: Historica, 1997.

Tremblay, Gaetan. "Is Quebec Culture Doomed to Become American?" Canadian Journal of Communications 17 (1992): 1-8. 30 Jan. 2004 .


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