Pierre Juneau changed Canada’s musical landscape

Canada produces a lot of great music and musicians. Most everyone can easily recite the top names: Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, etc. But really, that barely scratches a long list of serious talent. (Heck, even the lists don’t cover it all!)

Here comes your basic chicken and egg question: was the talent always there, always that good and bound to get noticed? Or did forced exposure expand that natural breadth and depth? I expect it’s some of both. And that’s where Pierre Juneau comes in. Juneau died this past Tuesday in Montreal at age 89.

Ian Austen, who does excellent Canadian coverage for the New York Times, explains how Juneau played a part in expanding the Canadian music scene in this article that is part obituary, part tutorial.

The MAPL logo indicates "Canadian Content"

A little over 40 years ago, Juneau helped create something of a minor revolution by establishing “Canadian content” rules, a quota of airtime for home-grown product. As Austen’s article recounts:

It was an era when radio airplay largely determined record sales, and Canadian bands and musicians found themselves largely shut out.

With the government’s backing, Mr. Juneau moved to require Canadian ownership of radio and television stations. One controversial step was to set a minimum amount of Canadian music or programming that stations would be required to broadcast. For AM stations, that meant about 30 percent of the songs played.

In a 1971 speech, Mr. Juneau said Canada’s cultural identity was at stake. “To obliterate real works of the Canadian imagination is to obliterate ourselves,” he said.

The notion of government interfering with broadcasters and influencing programing content was (and is) controversial. From the outset there were doubts and critics.

Private broadcasters fought the plan, arguing that there were not enough Canadian records to meet the quota. Indeed, when the content rules came into effect, “Snowbird,” the 1970 single that made Anne Murray a star, was played so frequently by so many stations that even her fans may have tired of it.

Juneau was a shaker and mover in TV as well, as the first chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and president of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. from 1982-1989. (For this forum I’m focusing on Juneau’s impact on radio and music.)

Though I moved here well after those changes came into effect Canadian content rules reflect an aspect of this country I find fascinating. Good music with insufficient access. Government policies that seek to direct or curtail private businesses to further cultural goals. Golly, how’s that going to work?

Does it work? Obviously, opinions vary. I see valid arguments on both sides.

Do the ends justify those means?  Again, that’s debatable. (In Box readers, please feel free to discus!)

But I will go this far: this nation’s amazing musical diversity is a gift to Canadians and the world. To the extend that Pierre Juneau furthered that contribution, I’d say he is due some measure of gratitude.

Who is your favorite Canadian musician or band? Which one(s) deserve more exposure? And what’s the best way to get that?

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1 Comment on “Pierre Juneau changed Canada’s musical landscape”

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  1. Bob Falesch says:

    I’d like to highlight a record label by mentioning the great Montreal-based label, empreintes DIGITALes. How a label that supports a tiny niche-genre can survive and celebrate its 20th anniversary (two years ago) by going all DVD-Audio is beyond me. This label with its several subsidiary imprints and its marketing arm, electrocd.com, are treasures of the Canadian new-classical music and the so-called ‘avant-jazz’ scene.

    Their stable of composers includes a couple dozen of the world’s most famous and innovative musicians in the genre of electroacoustics. Many of them are Canadians, and in the spirit of Lucy’s invitation, I’ll mention one, Robert Normandeau, born in QC — a prolific and interesting composer.


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