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Tune out the CRTC

Historians will not only remember 2014 as the year the lid closed over the coffin at the CBC, they will say the same about the national broadcast regulatory agency, the CRTC.

Historians will not only remember 2014 as the year the lid closed over the coffin at the CBC, they will say the same about the national broadcast regulatory agency, the CRTC.

For the CBC, it was losing the lucrative broadcast rights to Hockey Night In Canada to Rogers early this year. The nails in the coffin lid will come over the next several years as that loss in revenue has to be made up in programming and staffing reductions. The only lifeline for the CBC is either a Liberal or NDP win in the federal election next year, because the Conservatives plan to continue to bleed the CBC to death, one budget cut at a time.

Rather than a gradual death like the CBCs, the demise of the CRTC is happening at the speed of bits and bytes moving across fibre optic lines. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has been the great protector of all that is good and Canadian on the airwaves since before the days of Foster Hewitt and Lorne Greene. Broadcasters were forced to devote a certain amount of time each day to Canadian content under the watchful eye of the CRTC. That led to some beautiful and uniquely Canadian creations, like the Beachcombers, Corner Gas, the Guess Who and the Tragically Hip. It also led to assaults on the senses, such as The Rene Simard Show, The Littlest Hobo, Vanilla Ice and Celine Dion.

For decades, the CRTC spread the myth that without it, Canadian artists in the music and television industry wouldn't be able to find work without its protection from the American cultural juggernaut. Even as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, David Foster, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, the aforementioned Green and Dion, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain, Donald Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, David Cronenberg, Norman Jewison - and the list could go on - all found work, then fame and fortune in the entertainment business south of the 49th parallel.

During hearings earlier this month, CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais got all fired up and made news during a heated exchange with Netflix executives who, firmly but politely in the Canadian way with numerous apologies, refused to provide information on the number of Canadian subscribers it has.

Furthermore, Netflix had the gall to tell Blais that it cares about Canadian content so much that it will produce a new season of Trailer Park Boys.

That was Netflix's way of dumping some of Julian's legendary rum and coke all over the CRTC, which in an instant was identified as the irrelevant dinosaur it is. Unless the CRTC plans to screen material from YouTube, iTunes, satellite radio, streaming online radio and on-demand movies and TV shows, not to mention all of the illegal online sources for the same material, for adequate amounts of Canadian content, it has no business dictating to Netflix.

But it's not Netflix or even the Internet that killed the CRTC. The first word in the CRTC acronym is Canadian and it was millions of Canadians making millions of choices for entertaining programming, without regard to the CRTC or its noble nation-building mission, that thrust the knife. As soon as technology gave Canadians the means to make their own choices, they took away the CRTC"s mandate and picked the content they wanted, regardless of its country of origin.

Ironically, both the CRTC and Netflix find themselves opposing the will of Canadian consumers. The American feed of Netflix has far more content than the Canadian version (the big TV and movie outfits want way more money for international distribution rights), so many Canadian subscribers happily go online to get a DNS code to trick Netflix into delivering the full U.S. menu. In other words, Canadian consumers have made it quite clear they oppose anyone wanting to restrict their entertainment options.

Heading into a federal election next year, candidates that argue that the CRTC knows better than individual Canadians what they should watch and listen to in their spare time are candidates with a political death wish.

The CRTC has few friends, except for rabid anti-Americans disguised as fervent Canadian patriots. Now major industry players are telling the CRTC to go pound sand at public hearings.

Their channel is about to go off the air. What's probably worse for Blais and those passionate few who believe in the CRTC's mandate is that no one will notice.

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