Canadian publishers alarmed that Time may return

The prospect that Time Canada will return to this country has Canadian magazine publishers circling the wagons. Time Canada was effectively tossed out in 1975, and that's the way the flourishing magazine industry here likes it. Time Inc. in New York City has denied it is negotiating a return to Canada -- which would involve a revision of a law that has discouraged advertising. But a group of Toronto-based investors from Comac Communications Ltd. spoke with Time earlier this year about reviving its Canadian edition, and Comac officials say a deal is still a possibility.

Denials by Time have not lessened the concern of Canadian publishers. The 230-member Canadian Periodical Publishers Association said a return of Time would put a number of Canadian magazines out of business by diverting advertising dollars. It sent a letter of protest to the federal minister of communications.

Time Canada was nudged from the country by an act of Parliament tailor-made for the job. Bill C-58 said that Canadian magazines had to be written by Canadians, not just have a Canadian section pressed into the magazine. To make that rule stick, it said any ads placed in a magazine not classed as ``Canadian'' could not be deducted from taxes.

The big loser was Time Canada. The big winner was Maclean's Magazine, a monthly that turned weekly once the competition was out of the way. One of the most tireless campaigners for giving Time magazine the boot was Peter Newman, the former editor of Maclean's.

He wrote endless ``op-ed'' pieces on Canadian cultural sovereignty and how Time Canada was no way to have Canada stand on its own two feet. The publisher of Maclean's, Lloyd Hodgkinson, is leading the lobbying battle against a return of Time Canada.

Two American publications -- Reader's Digest and TV Guide -- have been granted exemptions from the rules. That is because they do not have competition in Canada. The publishers' association worries that if Time again prints a Canadian edition, more American magazines would follow.

Before Bill C-58, Time Canada published a Canadian section. It had bureaus in Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto, and employed journalists, researchers, support staff, and a number of stringers, including this writer.

Now Time magazine has no Canadian section. It employs two part-time staffers and one full-time stringer. But it makes about $6 million (Canadian) a year, because advertisers still advertise and people still read the magazine. Time cut its ad rates in half so it is competitive with Maclean's.

All of this comes at a time when the Candian government wants to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the United States -- a dismantling of tariff barriers which the government reckons would work in Canada's favor. Ottawa will need all the bargaining chips it can if it wants to talk Washington into free trade, and scrapping Bill C-58, or at least fine-tuning it, could be part of the Canadian government's position.

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