Governments and Music | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Governments and Music

Government has played an increasingly significant role in shaping Canada's musical life through legislation, regulation, and consultation, and through direct or arm's-length financial and organizational assistance.

Government has played an increasingly significant role in shaping Canada's musical life through legislation, regulation, and consultation, and through direct or arm's-length financial and organizational assistance. Until the middle of the 20th century direct government support of music, so common in European countries, was almost unknown in Canada. Apart from the maintenance of military bands and the marginal support of music as part of museum projects or public celebrations, there were few public subventions to orchestras, opera companies, or music schools, and certainly there was no official policy toward the fostering of the art. Initiatives essentially were considered as matters of individual inclination, and funding as matters of ticket sales, lesson fees, and with some luck, support by private wealth. However, in the early to mid-20th century the growing interdependence or interlocking of musical activities with education, copyright administration, export and import of merchandise, employment, broadcast communication, and tourism directed government attention to musical matters. Government attention also stemmed from the growing popularity of such expensive forms of music as orchestra performance and opera, from the realization that performance and recording were becoming sizable industries, and from the need to protect this industry from being overrun by foreign ownership or control. And last but not least, government involvement was due to international obligations, such as Canada's participation in UNESCO (1946).

Whether considering patronage, education, composition and publishing, recording, importing and exporting of music-related commodities, or radio and television broadcasting, Canadian music and musicians have relied on, and been influenced directly or indirectly by, government policies for most of the period after World War I. Indeed after the middle of the 20th century few aspects of music in Canada have developed independently from public policies or subsidies. It became evident that patronage in the Canadian context meant primarily public subsidy, without which professional training, composition, performance and publishing lacked institutional and economic viability. Government administration and funding were crucial to the formation of professional musical institutions, standards, and practices, and have had a major impact on present structures of public and commerical broadcasting, sound recording, and international trade in the music industries.

The government of Quebec was the first to support music directly, eg, through the Prix d'Europe set up in 1911 and through the establishment of the provincial Conservatoire de musique du Québec in 1942. Because of the perceived fragile condition of Canadian national identity, radio broadcasting has been conceived by the federal government as an appropriate responsibility since the Aird Commission was appointed to review radio broadcasting in 1928. Initially, most public subsidy was provided indirectly through radio performances and commissions. Beginning with the 1932 Radio Broadcasting Act and the formation of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (see Broadcasting), public agencies and policies were formed to protect and manage music and music broadcasting more directly in the wake of massive commercial importing of foreign programs and performers. The CRBC and its successor in 1936, the CBC, were conceived initially as patron, producer, promoter, and regulator of all types of Canadian music, coexisting with small local stations run by commercial broadcasters. Direct subsidies to artists and performing arts institutions began later; as music became more professional, the Canada Council, in conjunction with provincial arts councils and increased university employment, mainly displaced the CBC as public sponsor of musical works, performances, and performers.

Federal government

Federal government involvement in culture was undertaken by agencies maintaining an 'arm's length' relationship with government, like the CBC, Canada Council, NFB, NAC, and heritage and cultural institutions such as the NA of C, the National Library of Canada, the national museums (see Canadian Museum of Civilization), placed together under the Secretary of State in 1963. (A temporary agency, the federal government's Centennial Commission which prepared for the 1967 celebrations had a performing arts division.) After 1980 an increasing proportion of funding and cultural regulation has been administered more directly by the Minister and Dept of Communications, who, in taking over management of cultural industries, were made responsible for 'developing national cultural policies, and developing, managing and delivering a range of support programs to benefit Canada's artistic, heritage, film, publishing and sound-recording communities'. With the growing economic and political emphasis on cultural industries, the Dept of Communication's budget (now over two-thirds of the federal cultural budget) and influence have expanded substantially in proportion to that of the Canada Council and other arms' length agencies.

Notwithstanding lack of clear longterm policies and continuing intergovernmental tensions between Ottawa and Quebec, 20th-century governments have influenced Canada's musical life in a number of areas, which are summarized below.


Education falls under provincial jurisdiction, unlike broadcasting policy and regulation, music industry and import/export management, and most arts funding, which are administered by the federal government. Music education in public schools originated in Upper Canada (Ontario) in the 1840s, though private colleges already included music training; most music education was provided by musicians from overseas in the employment of the church. Quebec was the first government to provide financial support to professional music education; its Académie de musique (1868) administered examinations, standards and repertoire. Similar teaching and examining bodies were formed in other provinces 1886-97. Teacher training originated in the early 1900s, and provincial supervision of music education only after World War I. After World War I most conservatories came under the directorship of universities, and thus within the jurisdiction of public funding, curriculum, and supervision of standards. Subsequently universities have become a primary institutional base for professional composition and performance. These moves toward professionalization were accompanied by the consolidation of provincial goverment control of public school music education, examinations, and teacher training. Though the 1951 Massey Report sought to link cultural and educational goals, music education has mainly not been coordinated or linked with broadcasting or arts policies, both of which fall under federal jurisdiction. One exception: a 1969 agreement between the federal government and the Council of Ministers of Education established educational television in a number of provinces.


The CBC (created by the 1936 Broadcasting Act to replace the CRBC) was the first and initially only federal agency mandated to sponsor music by Canadians, mainly by commissioning individual works and performances rather than through full-time support of individuals or groups. The CBC board of governors also regulated private broadcasters until 1958, when the newly elected Diefenbaker government passed a Broadcasting Act creating a Board of Broadcast Governors, re-named Canadian Radio-television Commission (CRTC) by the 1968 Broadcasting Act, to regulate both private and public sectors. By creating a separate regulatory body, the 1968 act ended the 'single system' of Canadian broadcasting, and created a new mandate for the CBC as a 'public service' responsible for nurturing Canadian unity, identity, and culture. Private stations were regulated in terms of ownership (80 per cent Canadian) but not program content, and were able to expand enormously as part of a national broadcasting 'system' free from minimum levels of sponsorship for program production. Regulation of private broadcasters was the subject of the 1957 Royal Commission on Broadcasting (Fowler Commission) and the 1965 (Fowler) Report on Broadcasting, both of which called for minimum standards of public-service programming and Canadian content in the private sector.

In response, CRTC imposed Canadian-content quotas for AM radio in 1971: 30 per cent of recorded music broadcast had to be 'Canadian content'. To fulfill this requirement two of the composer, lyricist, performer, and recording studio had to be Canadian. In CRTC's 1975 FM radio policy, 'Cancon' quotas were also established for FM radio, set differentially by format (eg, 7 per cent classical, 30 per cent country, 20 per cent Top 40). To ensure musical diversity within each community, the policy required FM broadcasters to specify a format in applying for licences, choosing from specific popular (music/general or music/traditional) and special interest categories. Each format (eg, hard rock, country, adult contemporary, easy listening) implied specific levels of required Canadian content for recorded music, which by the 1980s, constituted over 70 per cent of FM radio airtime.

In general, the effects of Cancon quotas in radio have been more beneficial for individual recording artists than for patterns of ownership in the Canadian recording industry, which remains dominated by a combination of large multinationals and small Canadian independent companies (see Music industries). Because AM radio has declined in audiences and revenues, the CRTC's 1990 review of FM policy proposed equalization of FM quotas with AM quotas (30 per cent Canadian content, except for French-language broadcasters) and combined all popular music formats into one category (group 1: pop, rock, and dance) for licencing purposes.

Other aspects of music programming subject to regulation and outlined in each commercial FM station's 'promise of performance' include the proportion of selections played that are defined by the licenced format; the number of times a hit can be repeated during a week; the proportion of selections broadcast that are current hits; the number and diversity of licences granted to specific formats in each listening area. French-language stations are exempt from all hit restrictions. In Quebec, Radio-Québec is supported by and reports to the Quebec Minister of Communications.


Cultural industries were moved from Secretary of State to the Dept of Communications in 1980; the latter established a Sound Recording Development Program (SRDP) in 1985. SRDP assists sound recording directly by offering grants for demo tapes, studio recording, business development and promotion, and international touring. This fund is administered by FACTOR, a non-profit agency established (and in 1991 still partially funded) by commerical broadcasters to help stations meet Cancon quotas by competitive funding of Canadian recording appropriate to commercial formats.

Another policy intended to protect the Canadian recording industry was the charing of tariffs on imported records and tapes, in 1991 being phased out as a consequence of the 1989 Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. Tariffs on imported records were intended to assist record and tape manufacture within the country; however tariffs on imported pre-recorded master tapes commonly used in the manufacture of records were applied only to the value of the blank tape, which ecouraged massive importing of pre-recorded master tapes in place of recording music in Canada for the manufacture of records. With the decline of vinyl and the lifting of such tariffs, some small record companies have flourished from the sale of Canadian recordings.

Other government aid to recording is provided by the CBC, and by the Canada Council, whose Music Division has established a fund for recording new works.

Arts funding

The Canada Council was created by an Act of Parliament in 1957 (a belated response to the recommendations of the Massey Commission) in response to extensive lobbying by artists' organizations and widespread concern about the preservation of national identity and cultural sovereignty. Its mandate was 'to foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts'. The council's budget for 1989-90 was $102 million; it supports orchestras, publishing houses, dance and opera companies, and individual artists. Legally the council is autonomous in all decisions regarding the allocations of funds, especially those to individals; it is however constrained in a number of areas, eg, the obligation to sustain major national organizations, and the need to comply with internal balancing of departments, programs, and regions as established by policy and budgetary measures. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada was split off from the Canada Council and began operations in 1978, supporting research and scholarship in fields including musicology and ethnomusicology, eg, subsidizing the preparation of such projects as EMC and CMH. Issues facing adminstrators of arts funding in 1991, besides budget cuts, included taxation and unemployment policies for artists, following the tabling of status of the artist legislation in December 1990; the further decentralization of arts funding contemplated by government; and multiculturalism.

Provincial governments

Arts councils have been created in all the provinces and territories, beginning with Saskatchewan in 1948. See also Alberta Culture, British Columbia Cultural Services Branch, Manitoba Arts Council, Ministère des Affaires culturelles du Québec, New Brunswick Arts Branch, Newfoundland Division of Cultural Affairs, Northwest Territories Department of Culture and Communications, Nova Scotia Department of Tourism and Culture, Ontario Arts Council, Prince Edward Island Council of the Arts, Saskatchewan Arts Board, and Yukon Arts Council.

Municipal governments. Most municipal governments encourage the arts, often through semi-independent arts councils. Their functions may include coordinating the calendar of local arts events, lobbying for improved facilities, awarding of grants, stimulating tourism, renovating historical theatres, honouring distinguished artists, and identifying educational needs. Among the largest councils are the Community Arts Council of Vancouver, at the time of its foundation in 1946 the first of its kind in North America, the Conseil des arts de la Communauté urbaine de Montréal, founded in 1957, and the Toronto Arts Council.


Multiculturalism as an expression of government policy is rooted in the Bilingualism Act of 1971, which asserts that 'Canada is a single nation with two official languages and many cultures,' and grants recognition of minority ethnic rights. A 1988 Act (Bill C-93) created a new multiculturalism policy, and called for the creation of a ministry (Multiculturalism and Citizenship) responsible for the preservation and ehancement of multiculturalism in Canada. This proposed Ministry is to take over cultural support presently administered by Dept of Communications and the Canada Council, and administer relevant policy for the CRTC and other agencies.

In 1991 under the Secretary of State, Multiculturalism Canada funds projects such as the Canadian Heritage Festival, the Canadian Folk Arts Council, and an annual folk arts production seminar, Focus. Multiculturalism plays a controversial role in the funding and definition of cultural activity. By assigning support for ethnic and Indigenous cultural projects to agencies outside of the regular funding agencies, multiculturalism, according to its critics, maintains the marginal and 'amateur' status of traditional and ethnic cultures. However, until internal policies of other funding agencies are changed to accommodate a wider range of cultural activities, traditions, and values, multiculturalism plays an important role in the continuation of many musical activities and events.

International relations

The Dept of External Affairs is instrumental in conducting cultural exchanges with other countries. Over the years these have amounted to hundreds of tours by individual artists and ensembles. Canada was a founding member of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1946; from 1946 to 1958 Canada's relation to Unesco was mediated by the Dept of External Affairs. The Canada Council was mandated in 1957 to establish a National Commission for Unesco, which first met in 1958. The commission represents Canada in international Unesco activities and organizes conferences and studies for Canadians on linguistic and cultural diversity, communications and social sciences, heritage, education, and the status of women, among other subjects. Canada's Unesco Commission, which works in conjunction with the International Music Council, contracts research, organizes information exchanges with other countries, and provides studies and discussions on education, culture, and technology in connection with the Canada Council, the Dept of External Affairs, and international Unesco projects.

See also Applebaum-Hébert Report; Funding, patronage, and volunteerism.

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