- Canadian Ideas
- About the consultation
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The question could be “What do you not love about Canadian Culture?”I have read the Consultation Paper and cannot help being transfixed by an underlying paradox that verges on the hypocritical. Yes, I love Canadian culture and for almost sixty years as a freelance filmwriter/playwright/author I have attempted to both display it and enhance it. It is tempting to philosophize about where we should go in the brave new digital world, but digital or non-digital it may be more helpful if I tell one small anecdote about one small book.Several years ago I wrote a creative non-fiction book about our parliamentary sculptor, Eleanor Milne, a talented woman who for thirty years had toiled in the Centre Block of Parliament Hill, mostly at night, alongside her crew of carvers. They carved an interpretation of the history of Canada into the stones of the House of Commons foyer, and of the Constitution into the stones of the House itself. Along with a local glassmaster and his team she created the glorious stained glass windows that now illuminate the House.The research required hours of interviews with the creators involved and was greatly assisted by the Document Curator of the House of Commons, as well as by two Speakers of the House who granted me and a professional photographer full access to the locations. All of this before I had a publisher. All of this without financing. All of this as a freelance Canadian writer determined to tell an important Canadian story.With a completed manuscript and pictures I approached mainline publishers, to no avail. One told me that there was “no national hook”, implying, of course, that the sculptor had been toiling at her art rather than being lionized by TV interviewers. Eventually, in co-operation with an independent publisher (Penumbra Press) the book materialized. The book, The Carving of Canada (a tale of parliamentary Gothic), was launched in the very foyer of the House under the sponsorship of the leader of the NDP, Alexa McDonough, and of my own MP of the time, Peter Adams (Lib). There was no resulting press coverage of any kind. Hello, Canadian culture!Subsequently the publisher has been unable to afford much publicity or to comply with the cut-throat requirements of the big online booksellers. With no publicity, independent bookstores are not interested. The only real online access is via the Penumbra Press web, at prices made unacceptable by the online giants. And, here now, is half the aforementioned paradox: the one bookstore in Canada where The Carving of Canada would sell like hotcakes is in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill and that store won’t stock the book because it has not also been published in French. Hello, again.The second half of the paradox is similar: with 2017 being our sesquicentennial and the last year for some time that the Centre Block will even be open to the public, the one publication that simultaneously pays homage to specific Canadian artists and describes a significant portion of the building’s artwork in relation to the nation’s history is barred from being sold on the Hill. And again.In this portion of the consultation exercise if you have carefully read between the lines you may have some insight into the frustrations of being a Canadian creator, whether digital or non-digital. You may also have acquired more insight into how essential it is that independent publishers – digital or otherwise – survive.