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What’s on the line as Mélanie Joly prepares to chart the future of Canada’s cultural industry

Explainer

A look at what's on the line for Canada's cultural industry

Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly is set to unveil her vision for the future of Canada's $48-billion broadcasting, media and cultural industries in a much-anticipated speech on Thursday. The scale of coming upheaval – potentially touching everything from publishing to the music and gaming industries to arts funding – hasn't been seen in more than 25 years

Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly scrums with media in Ottawa on Sept. 20, 2017.

On Parliament Hill

Since coming into office, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has had a big plan: to rethink the rules and policies that govern Canada's cultural industry.

Ms. Joly, 38, an ambitious rookie politician from Montreal and close ally of the Prime Minister, assigned herself the task after she was appointed the Minister of Heritage in 2015. It was not part of the marching orders Justin Trudeau handed her when he gave her the job.

The review promises to touch on everything from industry regulation to cultural funding to the mandate of the CBC.

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There will be politically sensitive topics, too. Ms. Joly is sensitive to how any new cultural policies would play in her home province of Quebec, where Liberals hold more than half of the region's seats.

And any new taxes that fall on consumers could provide new fuel for opposition parties, which are already hounding the governing Liberals for their increased taxes on high-income earners, carbon pricing and new rules for small-business owners.

Mr. Trudeau said in June that his government would not introduce a tax on high-speed Internet providers. The idea was proposed by Liberal and NDP MPs on the House of Commons heritage committee.

The Conservative Party says Canadian artists should continue to be promoted abroad, but that technology is evolving and the government shouldn't prop up outdated industries.

The New Democrats says changes to cultural policies are long overdue and the government must protect Quebec's cultural distinctiveness.

Chris Hannay


For the news business

Finding a sustainable model for funding journalism was the focus in June of the report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage – Disruption: Change and Churning in Canada's Media Landscape, which recommended a series of measures including tax incentives, control on media consolidation and support for local news.

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The report's recommendations included providing tax deductions for advertisers spending money on ads on Canadian websites (such a deduction already applies for broadcasters, print newspapers and periodicals.) It suggested tax credits for investments in the transition to digital media and expanding the definition of a registered charity, which currently does not include not-for-profit journalism organizations. Such a move would allow news organizations here to experiment with moves being made elsewhere: The New York Times and Britain's The Guardian recently announced new divisions to seek out philanthropic funding for their journalism.

The report also recommended broader funding for local television news and an expansion of the Canadian Periodical Fund. Industry association News Media Canada echoed that recommendation, asking for the fund to grow from $74-million in 2015-16, to $350-million a year and to make that funding available to daily newspapers and free community newspapers.

"My hope is that we don't get forgotten. Canadian cultural policy is a hugely broad area. Traditionally, news gathering wasn't put in the category of Canadian cultural content. But it is important," said Bob Cox, publisher of The Winnipeg Free Press and chair of News Media Canada.

Both Torstar Corp. and Postmedia Network Canada Corp. are in support of News Media Canada's proposals. The Globe and Mail also broadly supports the proposals, but the paper would not seek out funding under a broadened Canadian Periodical Fund should that occur, preferring to remain independent from government funding, publisher Phillip Crawley said.

"We would like the government to consider supporting digital innovation, because it's the future of our business," he said, adding that this could take the form of tax credits for investments in digital initiatives.

He also advocates for a change to Canada's rules on organizations that qualify for philanthropic support, saying that The Globe is "very well-placed" to access such support.

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Susan Krashinsky Robertson


For film and TV creators

Broadcasters such as Corus Entertainment Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and BCE.Inc have argued that the government should provide more leeway in how they are regulated, to allow them to better compete with digital giants – and for some rules to apply to foreign digital media companies competing in Canada.

"The key priorities for us would be summed up in three words: level playing field," said Mirko Bibic, chief legal and regulatory officer at BCE Inc. Bell supports sales taxes being applied to digital services and has also asked for more flexibility in regulations applying to broadcasters. That could mean having control over the types of programming they are required to invest in and how that programming is produced; as well as control over the wholesale prices that they charge to distributors for carrying specialty channels.

Some question the need for relief for broadcasters, however.

"The private broadcasters have grown into massive private enterprises that own everything in our industry – broadcast of all types: conventional, cable, satellite, but also the pipes that carry that content, the ISPs [Internet service providers]," said Maureen Parker, executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada.

The government signalled during the last federal budget that it would "modernize" the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act and groups are also looking for guidance on what that could mean.

The independent players that contribute to content production in Canada have also asked for digital companies to contribute to Canadian content. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has so far declined to regulate Internet media.

"We're not saying regulate the Internet. We're saying Internet broadcasting is essentially the same as cable, as satellite; it's another form of distribution," said Stephen Waddell, national executive director of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA). "As a consequence, Internet broadcasters should be required to contribute."

"New players are equally vital to the health of the sector," said David Forget, director of policy at the Directors Guild of Canada. "Should there be some type of contribution? Yes. What should that look like? That's the conversation we should have."

Susan Krashinsky Robertson


By the numbers

600,000+ – jobs generated by Canada's cultural industries

2/3 – proportion of online advertising revenue directed to Facebook and Google in Canada in 2015, according to the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project

20 per cent – decline in advertising revenue for conventional TV stations in Canada from 2010 to 2015, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

16,500 – approximate number of jobs in the media sector that have disappeared since 2008, according to the Canadian Media Guild

59 per cent – the estimated proportion of revenue for on-demand video services in Canada directed to Netflix in 2015 according to the Profile 2016 report (compiled by Nordicity Group Ltd. for the Canadian Media Producers Association in collaboration with the Association québécoise de la production médiatique, the Department of Canadian Heritage and Telefilm Canada)

17 per cent – decline in daily newspaper subscription revenue in Canada from 2010 to 2015, according to News Media Canada

Susan Krashinsky Robertson


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