Probing Canada’s cultural identity


MISC Conference to explore Canada’s cultural place in North America

Just how American have Canada’s cultural industries become? Issues such as the Hollywood writers’ strike compel us to re-examine Canada’s role in the North American cultural landscape.

“The current writers’ strike in Hollywood shows how much the Canadian and U.S. entertainment industries are intertwined,” says William Straw, Acting Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC). “It’s no longer a simple case of Canadians buying our programming from the U.S. or trying to make our own to compete with it. Canadian companies and creative talent are more and more fully integrated within the U.S. culture industries, and things like strikes are now continental phenomena.”

From Feb 13 to 15, at the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal, MISC will present its 2008 conference, ‘Are we American? Canadian Culture in North America.’ The conference will bring together artists, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, media and scholars from Canada, the United States and Mexico who have, in a variety of ways, worked on Canadian cultural products and their circulation throughout North America.

Critical issues ranging from Canada’s star-making machinery and Québécois successes in Las Vegas to language barriers and the NAFTA effect will be on the agenda for what promises to be a dynamic exchange of ideas and opinions.

“As the traditional music industry shrinks, for example, the companies to watch now are those like St. Clair Entertainment and Koch Entertainment, which fill niche markets in Canada, the United States and Mexico by catering to specialized, regional tastes. Both these companies have a major presence in Canada, and are remaking the music industry in innovative ways,” says Prof. Straw.

The conference will kick off with a free public lecture, as part of the Mini-Beatty Lecture series. MISC, in association with the Center for Developing Area Studies and the Department of Hispanic Studies, will welcome Carlos Monsiváis, writer, journalist and Mexico’s foremost commentator on culture and society, who will discuss how Mexicans view their place in the North American cultural environment at 5 p.m. on Feb. 13.

Also, Media@McGill and MISC will jointly welcome Grammy Award-winning Brazilian singer, guitarist and songwriter Gilberto Gil, who is currently Brazil’s Minister of Culture, for a free public lecture immediately following the conference. Digital Culture: Re-inventing America’s New World Dream will explore innovative policies and practices at the cutting edge of issues like copyright, digital culture and Internet rights, on Friday, Feb. 15, at 6 p.m.

On the web:

Media Registration (no fee):

Conference participants will include (updated list):


David H. Wilkins, current United States Ambassador to Canada.

Allan Gotlieb, former Canadian Ambassador to the United States (1981-1989).


Wayde Compton, writer, editor and poet, author of 49th Parallel Psalm, Performance Bond and Bluesprint: Black British Columbian Literature and Orature.

Jian Ghomeshi, writer, musician and broadcaster, currently host of the daily arts and entertainment program Q on CBC Radio One, and former host of the Gemini-award winning TV program >play on CBC.

David Julian Hirsch, actor, having recently played the lead role in the CBC mini-series St. Urbain’s Horsemen.

Émile Martel, author and poet, winner of the Governor-General’s Award for Pour orchestre et poète seul.

Pierre Perpall, entertainer, producer, and musician.

Drew Hayden Taylor, award-winning playwright, author, and humorist.

Industry Representatives:

Joya Balfour, Emmy award-winning web producer for the TV series The Office.

Steve Jordan, founder and Executive Director of the Polaris Music Prize, former A&R Executive with Warner Music Canada and True North Records.

Slawko Klymkiw, Executive Director, Canadian Film Centre, former Executive Director of Network Programming for CBC Television.

Linda Leith, President and Artistic Director, Blue Metropolis Foundation, founder of the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival.

Michael Levine, entertainment lawyer, Goodmans LLP, Chairman of Westwood Creative Artists Ltd., Executive Producer of the Heritage Project, founding Director of The Canadian Film Centre, former Director of TV Ontario.

Trina McQueen, CTV Chair in Broadcast Management, York University, former President and COO of CTV Inc., former President of the Discovery Channel, former Vice-President of CBC Television’s News and Current Affairs and CBC Newsworld.

Andy Nulman, co-founder and former CEO of the Just for Laughs International Comedy Festival, co-founder and president of Airborne Entertainment.

Dominique Zgarka, President, Koch Entertainment Canada.

Media Representatives:

John Cruickshank, new head of CBC News, former publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Terry Mosher (“Aislin”), political cartoonist for the Montreal Gazette, winner of two National Newspaper Awards and a member of Canada’s News Hall of Fame.

Patti Schmidt, host of Cinq à Six on CBC Radio One, and weekend host of Canada Live, as well as host of Inside the Music, on CBC Radio Two.

Carl Wilson, editor and critic at The Globe and Mail whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Blender, The Nation and Saturday Night.


Louise Beaudouin, former Québec Minister of Culture and Communications.

Vladimir Skok, Director, eCulture, Canadian Cultural Observatory, former Director of International Relations, Department of Canadian Heritage.

Roz Wolfe, Senior Political, Economic Relations, and Public Affairs Officer (Communications and Film Entertainment), Canadian Consulate General, Los Angeles.


Michele Byers, sociologist, editor of and contributor to the award-winning book Growing Up Degrassi: Television, Identity and Youth Cultures.

Andrew Cohen, professor of journalism, award-winning writer and journalist, best-selling author of While Canada Slept and more recently of The Unfinished Canadian.