My series on Bill C-11’s foundational faults has covered jurisdictional over-reach, the implications of treating all audio-visual content as a “program” subject to CRTC regulation, as well as the flaws and harms of the discoverability provisions. While the faults thus far focus on provisions contained in the bill, this post examines a critical aspect of broadcast and cultural policy that the government has failed to address. The bill purports to support “Canadian stories” but the current system often means that certified Cancon has little to do with Canada and fails to meet those objectives. Case in point: the certification of Gotta Love Trump, a film primarily comprised of pro-Trump clips that include Trump’s photographer, a former Apprentice contestant, Roger Stone, Candace Owens, and a cast of others with scarcely anything resembling Canadian content.
The Canadian film and television sector has enjoyed record success in recent years, with massive new spending often driven by foreign streaming services (the claims that companies such as Netflix don’t contribute in Canada has long been a myth). This is particularly true in Quebec, where recent data shows record spending. Given the enormous economic success, the suggestion that Bill C-11 solves an economic problem simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Instead, proponents argue that the bill is needed for cultural reasons by supporting the creation of certified Canadian content rather than what is known as “foreign location and service production” (FLSP), where the production occurs in Canada but is not certified as Cancon. However, the not-so-secret reality of the Canadian system is that foreign location and service production and Canadian content are frequently indistinguishable. Qualifying as Canadian requires having a Canadian producer along with meeting a point system that rewards granting roles such as the director, screenwriter, lead actors, and music composer to Canadians (the qualifications for CAVCO CPTC certification are here).
This is a poor proxy for “telling our stories”. I pointed to this issue in 2020 with the Cancon quiz, which highlighted the disconnect between productions Canadians might think are Canadian and those that are not. Recently, I found a more remarkable example of why Cancon rules require an overhaul in order for cultural policy to meet its objective of supporting “Canadian stories.” Gotta Love Trump is a 2020 documentary with practically no connection to Canada, yet the film is listed as a CAVCO certified Canadian production. It is sold on sites such as PatriotFortyFive.com, with a promo blurb about how “so many people have come to love the 45th President of the United States.”
As the name would suggest, Gotta Love Trump is 90 minutes of pro-Trump clips and interviews, warning of the dangers of immigration from Mexico and the support for former President Donald Trump. The primary interview subjects are Joy Villa, a Youtuber and outspoken Trump supporter, Gene Ho, Trump’s former photographer, and Tana Goertz, a former The Apprentice contestant. The film also includes extended clips from Trump world luminaries such as Roger Stone and Candace Owens. As far as I can tell, there is one Canadian interviewed, Ashish Manral, an immigration consultant in B.C., who never reveals he’s actually in Canada.
So how does Gotta Love Trump, produced by Love Trump Productions, tell a Canadian story or qualify as Cancon? There are a few minutes of footage that show B.C. and the narrator is an Australian named Scott Allan, who previously operated out of Australia but has some Canadian connection. His IMBD page does not list the Trump documentary. The film credits list several other Canadians, but having watched the documentary I didn’t see them. For example, the cast purportedly includes Dean Aylesworth and Frederique Roussel, but perhaps I blinked and missed their appearance. Similarly, the credits also say there were interviews with Neema Manral, a B.C. Green Party candidate, and Hallie Latimer, a Vancouver cashier, but I did not see them on film either.
This documentary simply has nothing to do with Canada or a Canadian story. Yet it is purportedly this kind of content that Bill C-11 seeks to support with mandated payments from Internet services around the world. Gotta Love Trump stands in stark contrast to productions such as Amazon’s All of Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs, a five part series that followed the Leafs for months during the 2020-21 season. The film is narrated by Will Arnett (a Canadian) and used Canadian crews. However, it does not qualify as Canadian content, nor does Jusqu’au Declin (a Quebec film produced by Netflix) or Turning Red (Disney+). The problem lies with an outdated certification system that privileges some professions over others and makes it difficult to distinguish between Cancon and FLSP.
Gotta Love Trump is really just the tip of the iceberg. Programs such as The Handmaid’s Tale may be based on a Margaret Atwood novel, but using one of Canada’s best known novelists as the source doesn’t count in the Canadian points system. Meanwhile, “co-productions”, in which treaty agreements deem predominantly foreign productions as Cancon (enabling the Norwegian language film Hevn to qualify as Canadian) almost completely sever the link between certification and Canadian stories.
If Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez is serious about supporting Canadian stories, the starting point should not be to layer the flawed Bill C-11 onto a cultural policy framework that does not achieve those objectives. Rather, the government should first craft a policy approach that supports Canadian stories – not stories about Donald Trump that bear little if any connection to Canada – and then discuss potential policy measures to help fund that framework.