Creative economy focus of new Liberal culture policy, but not new taxes

By , on September 27, 2017


Mélanie Joly at Fail Camp 2014 in Montreal (Photo by Eva Blue, CC BY 2.0)
Mélanie Joly at Fail Camp 2014 in Montreal (Photo by Eva Blue, CC BY 2.0)

OTTAWA— The federal government’s approach to culture was drafted in an era when rabbit ears perched on top of TV sets, but a major speech by Heritage Minister Melanie Joly on Thursday is expected to set things hopping in a new direction.

While it won’t go as far as a new tax on Netflix, building new relationships with digital media companies is part of the plan Joly will unveil this week to revitalize Canadian culture.

The theme will be revving up the creative economy and it’s the product of months of consultations with an eye towards how to best promote and position Canadian culture in a digital world.

For many, the answer has been to find a way to level a playing field massively disrupted by the dominance of U.S. media giants like Netflix and even Facebook.

“As digital disruption changes the way people watch TV and movies, we need to adapt our broadcasting system to ensure new Internet broadcasters are playing by the same rules as traditional broadcasters,” said David Sparrow, president of ACTRA, the performers’ union.

“As our economy changes in an information age, we need to support creative talent who will be critical in future economic growth.”

Building relationships that ensure all of the players chip in to develop Canada’s cultural content will be essential to the survival of Canada’s relatively small media marketplace, argues CBC president Hubert Lacroix.

“The levelling of the playing field, so that everyone … contributes to the ecosystem, is key,” Lacroix said Tuesday after taking part in the broadcaster’s annual public meeting.

“We’re too small in this world to be doing this by ourselves.”

One option long on the table has been the so-called “Netflix tax,” which could take the form of anything from forcing Netflix to add sales tax to its subscription prices or Internet service providers to add a fee to theirs. The funds would then go into the same media production funds that traditional broadcasters are required by law to support.

But there will be no tax changes put forward in Joly’s remarks, sources tell The Canadian Press.

She’ll lay a course, however, for the review of the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act promised in the 2017 federal budget. Both could open the doors to some measure of regulation.

Except there’s no time to wait, argues Kirwan Cox, executive director of the Quebec English-language Production Council. Legislative reviews could take years and, in the meantime, U.S.-based media giants are eating away at the Canadian market.

While Joly is expected to discuss new relationships with those companies, it can’t be a voluntary system, he said.

“If the foreign companies are allowed to sidestep regulation, then why should not the Canadian companies demand the same thing?”

Joly’s speech will be divided into three themes: investing in creators, helping their content get discovered and distributed and because no conversation on Canadian culture could be complete without it a discussion of the future of public broadcasting.

Among the likely announcements a more robust fund to help Canadian film, television and music producers get their material seen far and wide. Some money was allocated to two programs in the 2016 budget, but the expectation for Thursday is that they’ll be supported with additional funds, in a section of Joly’s speech that focuses on “distribution and discoverability.”

The role companies like Google, YouTube and Facebook could play in all this was the focus of discussions Joly had with those companies early this year during a trip to California.

Some fruits of those labours are already in evidence; in late July, YouTube launched a channel devoted explicitly to showcasing Canadian content and a feature called “creator on the rise” to help identify Canadians growing rapidly in online popularity. In turn, their videos will be showcased in the trending tab on the site.

New sources of funding to get those creators onto YouTube’s radar in the first place are imperative, said Kate Cornell, co-chair of the Canadian Arts Council.

There has to be a way to figure out how to manage companies like YouTube in a digital age, be it through regulation or levies, she said.

“But please don’t forget the Canadian artists and make sure to protect them so they can continue to offer amazing Canadian content.”