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Federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly says her department is conducting hearings on how to support Canadian content in a digital world. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly says her department is conducting hearings on how to support Canadian content in a digital world. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Heritage Minister says she will not reverse Cancon rules for TV industry Add to ...

Federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly says Canada’s TV production sector, alarmed at new CRTC regulations that reduce the need to hire Canadians to obtain funding, should not count on her for any immediate help to reverse the situation.

“We have to understand that the [Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission] is independent from me and my department, and they have their own decisions,” Ms. Joly said in an interview on Monday.

Asked if she had a message for alarmed stakeholders, she noted that her department is conducting hearings on how to support Canadian content in a digital world – a process that began on Monday in Vancouver with the first of six hearings to be held across the country.

“I understand their concerns, and I really hope they voice [them] in the content of these consultations because we’re here to study the entire federal policy toolkit when it comes to culture,” she said.

Concern is increasing in the Canadian production sector over the policy shift the CRTC announced last month, one that comes as the industry marks a milestone: actress Tatiana Maslany’s Emmy award for Orphan Black, a Canadian series that airs on BBC America in the United States.

The independent public authority in charge of regulating and supervising broadcasting and telecommunications in Canada announced a change in the point system that determines producers’ access to funding and tax credits.

Related: B.C. studio lands Neil Patrick Harris Netflix show

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

Points are allotted for key creative staff in projects.

The CRTC announced it would cut the number of points required to be eligible for funding to six from eight, a shift that could make it easier to hire more Americans.

Dennis Heaton, a writer and executive producer on the made-in-Vancouver TV series Motive, said he found Ms. Joly’s comments lacklustre.

“It is disappointing, obviously, to hear that a Liberal Government that campaigned with a mandate to reinvest in Canadian culture is supporting a CRTC policy that will undercut Canadian creatives,” Mr. Heaton said on Monday in a statement.

Alvin Sanders, president of the Union of B.C. Performers – the provincial branch of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) – said the situation is a test for the federal Liberals.

“Performers were expecting a lot from the government consultations on Canadian culture and the CRTC decision has sucked some of the optimism right out of the room,” Mr. Sanders said in a statement.

“Performers are hopeful that the minister, and the Liberal government, will send a clear signal that this is not the direction that they want to go in. We have built a world-class industry in Canada and the CRTC has been chipping away at the foundation. The consultation is an ideal chance to set a new direction.”

In announcing the decision, the CRTC acknowledged the concern that the change could result in “fewer opportunities for Canadians,” but added that non-Canadian actors and creators “may increase a project’s attractiveness and visibility in international markets.”

It also said some stakeholders say the change will give producers “creative flexibility” in developing Canadian productions with “international market appeal and the potential for international investment.”

“American writers won’t guarantee better content,” Mr. Heaton said. “And to say that Canadian programs [need] help [in] the international market is confusing when we have so many examples of successful Canadian shows already.”

Asked for further comment, the CRTC referred to a letter CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais sent to the national president of ACTRA on Aug. 31 that also stressed the international marketplace.

“There are important audiences that Canadian creators have and must continue to reach. It is essential to the continued financing of Canadian-made productions,” the commissioner wrote.

“We, as well as other federal and provincial funding partners, have always recognized the importance of international partnerships and collaboration to help ensure that productions made by Canadians with Canadian resources and the support of over $4-billion in contributions by tax payers and subscribers, reaches not only a national, but also an international audience.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Dennis Heaton, a writer and executive producer on the TV series Motive, as saying the Liberal government promised to reinvent Canadian culture. In fact, Mr. Heaton said the Liberals campaigned on a promise to reinvest in Canadian culture.

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