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Going digital is Cancon’s biggest challenge, Heritage Minister says

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly’s comments come as she launches the final phase of a major public consultation on the future of cultural industries, which are struggling in the face of rapid technological changes.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The biggest challenge facing Canada's cultural industry is not the quality of its creative output, but finding better ways to export the material on digital platforms around the world, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly said.

"The quality of the content is already there; let's stop saying it isn't quality content," Ms. Joly told The Globe and Mail in an interview. "There is a lot talent being developed here, we are a creative country. Maybe we are too humble to talk about it, but the reality is that we have to stop being humble and sell it on the international stage."

Ms. Joly's comments in defence of Canada's creative sector comes as she launches the final phase of a major public consultation on the future of cultural industries, which are struggling in the face of rapid technological changes.

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A number of voices argue that government policies are discouraging risk-taking in the cultural sector and that Canadian content is losing ground as services such as Netflix and Apple Music are expanding.

Ms. Joly launched the consultation process in April, telling The Globe that the system was "broken" and "everything is on the table" in the bid to fix it. The scale of the upheaval hadn't been seen in 25 years, since the Mulroney government revised the Broadcasting Act in 1991, at a time when no one could foresee the arrival of YouTube and iTunes.

Under the heading of "Canadian Content in a Digital World," Ms. Joly is now set to host a series of meetings with members of Canada's cultural industries, starting in Vancouver on Sept. 26. At the same time, the government is asking Canadians to continue sending in feedback on a new discussion paper, using the hashtag of #DigiCanCon to comment on social media.

The shake-up is based on two trends that stir up fears in the industry: A clear majority of Canadians state they will be mostly using the Internet to access cultural content in the future, while research shows that Canadians consume less Canadian content when they are on Internet platforms.

"The way forward is not attempting to regulate content on the Internet, but focusing on how to best support Canada's creators and cultural entrepreneurs in creating great content and in competing globally for both Canadian and international audiences," said the discussion paper from Canadian Heritage.

Nearly 10,000 people have responded to the initial consultation on the state of Canada's cultural industries.

"Public respondents indicated that the two most urgent challenges facing Canada's cultural sector are foreign competition and making Canadian content stand out online," the document said. "With so much content easily accessible, nurturing talent, curating content and promotion are increasingly important."

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The government is arguing that it is adopting a new approach to deal with the evolution of cultural consumption, saying the goal is no longer "protecting" but rather "promoting and supporting Canadian culture."

In addition, the government is now viewing culture through a "platform-agnostic" lens, which stands to affect how Ottawa deals with Canada's broadcasting and cable giants.

As the consultation documents spell out, the government wants to reshape how Ottawa and the cultural industries look to the future.

"A new mindset on the part of both the private sector and the government is needed: one that fully leverages the relationship between creativity, innovation, social cohesion and economic growth."

Ms. Joly refused to be pinned down on the changes to come for Canada's cultural regime, while stating that issues such as quotas on Canadian content and the role of the CBC will be discussed.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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