Pierre Juneau, the former head of the CRTC who championed Canadian music, has died at the age of 89. If it wasn’t for this guy, the musical landscape of this country would be very, very different.
In 1968, a just-elected Pierre Trudeau tapped Juneau to be the head of the just-created Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Knowing that Canada was being submerged under a flood of American and British music–and realizing that our best talent (Neil Young, the Guess Who, Joni Mitchell, Paul Anka, The Band) was leaving for the US–Juneau mandated minimum levels of Canadian music on Canadian radio.
This was not a popular move. Radio programmers rightly proclaimed that most domestic music was substandard and sounded horrible next to the more polished material coming from other countries. But forcing radio to play this music forced everyone, including the artists, to up their game.
This was an industrial strategy as well as as a cultural one. At the time, there was practically no Canadian music industry at all. The new CanCon dictates forced the country to build recording studios and the establishment of domestic record labels. People got into band management. Promoters sprang up across the country.
It was all quite painful and expensive for about the first ten years, but it was worth it. Today, the Canadian music industry punches far, far above its weight on the world stage and there’s a thriving domestic scene. The fallout from Juneau’s CanCon requirements is incalcuable. It’s impossible to image what our music would be like–or if it would exist at all–had it not been for these government-mandated rules.
To show its thanks, the industry established the Juneau Awards [sic] in his name to honour achievements in Canadian music. The name was changed to “Juno Awards” in 1971. Expect a big tribute at this year’s ceremony in Ottawa on April 1.