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What kind of culture do you want?

Interview of Mel Hurtig

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"I have a different view of culture than most Canadians. To me it is more than writing, art, music, the ballet, and films. To me, it means: Can you unionize a Wal-Mart store? Can you order paper for your factory without first getting permission from Chicago headquarters? All this relates to our culture," says Mel Hurtig, who, in 1985, published The Canadian Encyclopedia, the largest and most ambitious project in the history of Canadian publishing.

"The huge extent of foreign control in Canada is unique and it has huge cultural impact throughout our society," says the devoted nationalist. "No other country is in our position. As two of many examples, nine of out 10 of our top advertising agencies are foreign-owned and controlled, and 90 per cent of the space on Canadian newsstands is devoted to foreign publications."

He believes the solution lies with a government that has people who understand how important culture is and will not allow the country to descend to colonial status in the world."

Mel Hurtig  

Hurtig is a founding member of the Committee for an Independent Canada and the founder of The Council of Canadians. He is also an Officer of the Order of Canada and has honorary degrees from six Canadian universities.

"We have a remarkable situation in Canada. We live next door to an enormous, powerful, wealthy country that is an aggressive exporter of culture. It considers cultural export as an important industry," he explains. As a result, he adds, "it is what we often see in Canada. We're swamped by American product: DVDs, music, books, magazines, and television programs."

The author of The Vanishing Country: Is It Too Late to Save Canada laments that often we Canadians do not have an opportunity to access our own culture and cites the movies. "It's an absurd situation. Our own movies have trouble getting properly distributed in Canada. We also import more book titles than any other country, and the trade in magazines is one-way - we import them," he says.

Hurtig claims there is "huge empirical data" proving that we Canadians love our own culture, and yet many fine authors struggle to be published in this country. "To make sure that if the country is to survive we need to properly fund our cultural industry through either grants or special tax incentives," he says.

When asked how Canadians can influence the government, he answers without hesitation: "The solution is to teach people how to properly become involved in democracy. About 80 per cent of Canadians have never belonged to any political party, and historically only 1 per cent donate to a political party. These are ridiculous figures! We have to change!"

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