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Why the fuss about funding We Are Canada? It’s just tedious TV by John Doyle

Apr 25, 2017

Source: Globe and Mail

On Tuesday, this newspaper reported that Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly changed her mind about funding a Canada 150 TV series for the CBC called We Are Canada.

The report said public servants urged Joly to reverse a previous rejection and emphasized that the series is “important” to the CBC and that the CBC is a “major media partner” for the government’s 150th-anniversary celebrations. We Are Canada duly received $500,000 from the Canada 150 Fund.

Why the fuss? Well, the CBC gets loadsa money already. The act of singling out We Are Canada for special attention was peculiar.

Me, I was startled to read the report. I’m aware of the series called We Are Canada, but had declined to draw your attention to it because, well, it is that most fatiguing of things to write about – a worthy, well-meaning Canadian effort. There isn’t much to say. But now that it has drawn attention, I will say this – it is very, very tedious TV.

We Are Canada (Sundays, CBC, 7 p.m.) has been on the air for some time now and has largely been met with a wall of silence. Little wonder. It offers what it promises in the CBC’s official description: “We Are Canada is a bilingual six-part series telling the stories of a new generation of passionate change-makers whose work is shaping and defining our future in inspiring and imaginative ways. With stories selected from across the country and reflective of the cultural and ethnic diversity of our population, this series celebrates the accomplishments of young Canadians who are groundbreakers, innovators and visionaries within their respective fields of endeavour.” Yep, it’s that profoundly boring.

The first program in the series (created by former Liberal cabinet minister, writer and hockey fella Ken Dryden, and made by White Pine Pictures) began by profiling photographer Maayan Ziv, who has a form of muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. A photographer of startling skill, she has produced some stunning fashion work. But her real mission in life is an app called AccessNow, which will map every place of every size in the world and determine what is wheelchair-accessible. Her mom is featured, telling stories about how creative and driven Ziv was as a kid and how she remains driven. “I’m not thinking small and I’m not thinking polite. I wanna go big,” Ziv says.

Then, we meet two young corporate execs from Calgary – Andrew Hall and Jeremy Bryant, who founded Mealshare, a “Buy One, Give One” concept that allows restaurant diners to donate money that in turn provides food for youths who would otherwise go hungry. The pair are nice, earnest young men doing good. One of them inevitably quotes Bono from U2 about the importance of both having fun and making the world a better place. People praise them and we see their efforts having an impact as little kids get meals funded by their Mealshare idea.

The program also features Shawna Pandya, described as a “physician/citizen-scientist astronaut,” who is from Edmonton. Multitasking at a high level is her thing and she is interested in “extreme medicine,” which means medicine in space, I think. Honestly, the program is not very clear about how the world benefits from her skills and many achievements.

We Are Canada is, frankly, mind-numbing in its devotion to do-gooders. The subjects all seem to be very decent, interesting people, but the program devoted to them has all the oomph and impact of a church bulletin about good deeds being done in the parish.

There isn’t much to Sarah Polley’s narration. She reads the words very nicely. Tinkly piano music and generic rock music accompany scenes to illustrate a meditative moment or indicate that somebody has determination and drive. There are many scenes of people sitting around a table at a meeting and scenes of somebody praising the subjects for their worthy efforts.

And the efforts are indeed praise-worthy. It would be churlish to demean or diminish the achievements. That said, We Are Canada is bafflingly bad television. It is bland, boring, utterly lacking in wit or sagacity. Each episode goes on for a very, very long hour and, at the end, you are left feeling really bad that you’ve contributed so little to the world while these young Canadian activists/entrepreneurs are scaling the high mountains of hard work, accountability, responsibility, charity and righteousness. A person should feel inspired by the stories told in We Are Canada. Instead, a person feels proud of sitting through such an hour of prosaic TV.

© Globe and Mail