Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday January 16, 1999
Compromise on magazine bill
A reality check is in order before Canada and the United States allow differences over Ottawa’s plans to protect the Canadian magazine industry to mushroom into a trade war. Are both countries, especially Canada, willing to risk serious damage to key industries — including Hamilton-based steel producers — in a showdown over magazines? The potential job losses in steel, lumber and other sectors aren’t worth it.
Heritage Minister Sheila Copps may be well-intentioned in trying to help Canadian magazines to prosper against American competition. But her proposed magazine bill is a thinly-veiled and probably self-defeating attempt to artificially protect the domestic magazine industry. With its punitive provisions, it’s not surprising that the U.S. is reacting with heavy-handed threats to close some key markets in retaliation. The bill would make it illegal for Canadian advertisers to place ads in so-called split-run magazines — domestic editions of U.S. publications which contain little Canadian content. Publishers who break the law could face fines of up to $250,000.
Although Copps’ bill is too harsh, the concerns of Canada’s magazine industry are legitimate. Publishers of periodicals such as Saturday Night and Maclean’s essentially compete for advertising on an uneven playing field. American publishers can undercut Canadian competitors with lower advertising rates because their costs are already covered in the U.S. market. This is a legitimate issue of fairness, which helps explain the fact that U.S. magazines and other foreign periodicals predominate on Canadian newsstands. Nonetheless, Canadian magazines aren’t exactly an endangered species. Half of the magazines bought in Canada, through subscriptions and newsstand sales, are Canadian publications. While the U.S. ships a hefty $700-million worth of magazines into Canada each year, Canadian magazines post impressive numbers too — they generated $1-billion in revenues in 1996-97, 60 per cent of it from advertising.
The bill is Canada’s latest attempt to skirt international trading rules to protect domestic magazines. Its chances of success seem no better than previous unsuccessful initiatives. The U.S. is likely to challenge it, especially under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Like all protectionism, Copp’s bill carries the risk of a backlash. How would Ottawa like it if the U.S. imposed duties on Canadian music?
It isn’t only Americans who are concerned about the bill. Canadian advertisers understandably resent being told that they can’t advertise in U.S. periodicals. Eaton’s and Canadian Tire, for example, need exposure in American magazines to compete effectively against multinationals lik e Wal-mart. Readers, of course, have a stake too. Sports Illustrated, a key target of the bill, is popular in Canada. Should Canadians be denied a split-run edition of Sports Illustrated with more coverage of Canadian sports, or The Economist with a special Canadian section? The government partly deferred to reality by exempting Time from the bill. But it remains flawed. The government should listen to Canadian steelmakers and others who are urging compromise.
More creative, pragmatic alternatives to help Canadian magazines exist. Tax breaks could be increased for Canadian advertisers in domestic magazines. Subsidies for the industry could be increased. Perhaps special licencing fees could be applied to split-run magazines. All of these options might have drawbacks, but the problems pale in comparison to a trade war. It’s time for the government to put its legislative big stick on hold and negotiate a settlement with the Americans. (Hamilton Spectator, D4, 1/16/1999)
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“Sheilacoppsyism”: Navigating Trade Wars, Cultural Protections, and the Shifting Tides of Media
As I pen down reflections on “Sheilacoppsyism,” I can’t help but acknowledge the layers of history that have unfolded since that pivotal moment 25 years ago. Sheila Copps, the unapologetic scrapper from our shared hometown of Hamilton, emerges as a central figure in a narrative that intertwines political assertiveness, cultural protectionism, and the evolving dynamics of the media landscape.
In my less-than-subtle caricature 25 years ago, Sheila Copps, like a modern-day Eugene McCarthy, interrogates a Canadian consumer in a Senate committee hearing room. The dialogue, laden with satire, encapsulates the complexities of the split-run magazine dispute, where national interests clashed, and the line between cultural protection and economic pragmatism blurred.
In retrospect, I find myself acknowledging that perhaps I was a touch too harsh in my depiction of Copps. Her outspokenness, often a thorn in the side of political adversaries, was rooted in a genuine commitment to championing Canadian interests. Known for her scrappy demeanour, Copps embodied the resilience of our hometown, Hamilton, in the face of political storms.
The editorial cartoon becomes a self-deprecating artifact, capturing a moment when my pen wielded satire with a certain vigour. As I revisit this piece of history, I recognize the nuance in Copps’ stance – a delicate dance between protecting Canadian culture and navigating the intricacies of international trade.
The cartoon, drawn a quarter-century ago, stands as a reminder of the spirited exchanges that shape political discourse. It becomes a testament to the evolving narratives, the changing tides of media, and the individuals like Sheila Copps who, in their outspokenness, leave an indelible mark on the pages of history. As we navigate the complexities of today’s world, this reflection serves as a gentle reminder that history, much like satire, is often a product of its time, subject to the shifting sands of perception and understanding. – (Graeme MacKay January 15, 2024)