Though the three main federal parties say they would support arts and culture industries that have been hit hard by pandemic restrictions, only one party has outlined financial figures in its election platform for assisting the books and publishing sector.
The industry is looking for help to get back to normal after a difficult year and a half. The Liberal platform and spring budget outlined specific supports for Canada’s books sector, while the Conservative and NDP platforms did not include detailed financial promises for the industry. However, when asked, both those parties pledged assistance for the sector.
The Liberals released their costed platform last week. The Conservatives launched their platform early on in the campaign, though it has yet to be fully costed. The NDP released their document the week before the election call, but also did not include financial specifics.
The Liberal platform includes a promise of $43-million a year to increase funding by 50 per cent for the Canada Book Fund, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Public Lending Right Program. Those programs respectively help Canadian publishers and creators, and compensate authors when their books are available in public libraries.
This spring’s Liberal budget also outlined $39.3-million over two years to support the Canadian book industry, of which $7.2-million in 2021-22 would go toward helping promote Canadian works at the Frankfurt Book Fair, a massive literary event in the fall that helps authors and publishers reach international markets. Canadian literature will be in the spotlight as Canada is the guest of honour at this year’s fair in October, which will feature a hybrid of in-person and virtual events.
Adrienne Vaupshas, a spokesperson for the Liberals, said in a statement that the party is “committed to ensuring access to a diverse range of Canadian-authored books nationally and internationally and will continue to support the Canadian book industry.”
Mathew Clancy, a spokesperson for the Conservatives, confirmed that the party, if elected, would maintain the $7.2-million commitment for the Frankfurt Book Fair. The Conservative platform also says the party would try to “enhance the commercial viability of Canada’s independent publishing sector” – Clancy specified in an e-mail that the party would conduct a heritage committee study to look at potential tax incentives and copyright reforms to help compensate and promote authors and publishers.
Though the NDP platform does outline support for arts and culture, it does not specify support for the book industry. “New Democrats will be there to support with a dedicated rebuilding package for the publishing industry and other arts that have been most severely impacted by the pandemic,” NDP spokesperson Charlotte MacLeod said in an e-mailed statement. The party did not offer a specific financial figure.
The parties’ pledges are welcome news for many in the sector after the unpredictability it faced during the pandemic.
Kate Edwards, executive director of the Association of Canadian Publishers, which represents English-language publishers in Canada, said the last year and a half has been “a roller coaster.”
She said the Liberals’ pledge to increase funding to the Canada Book Fund has been something the publishing industry has been requesting for years, noting the additional resources would help Canadian companies compete in digital spaces, among other things.
Edwards also said the commitment to the Frankfurt Book Fair is significant because the fair is key for ensuring international rights and licensing of Canadian books. “That is a must-attend event,” she said, adding that it’s particularly important for Canada to be well-represented since the pandemic has made it harder for emerging authors to get noticed.
Beth Lockley, vice-president of marketing and communications at publisher Penguin Random House Canada, also emphasized the importance of the Frankfurt Book Fair. “This is a significant opportunity for Canada to connect with the international publishing community,” she said in an e-mail, adding that much of the country’s delegation will be attending virtually this year.
“We are also optimistic to see [federal] parties talking about the book sector,” Lockley said, adding that publishers such as hers want to support their bookselling partners as the business recovers from the effects of the pandemic.
Rupert McNally, manager of independent bookstore Ben McNally Books in Toronto, said the shop has only been open for two of the past 18 months, and has had to move locations twice in the past few years. Though the store pivoted to sales through phone and e-mail, he said the continuing upheaval has made it difficult for new authors in particular to get the critical attention their books need.
“I think the big thing we’ve noticed – and I bet this is true for a lot of bookstores – is that [virtual sales] tend to focus people’s buying so that there’s less discovery,” he said, adding that when readers can browse through a bookstore in person, they often find books they didn’t know they were interested in.
McNally said that any supports that help promote Canadian books on the world stage, especially lesser-known emerging works, can make a huge difference. He added that though the pandemic has been a challenging time for the sector, he’s feeling optimistic at this point.
“There’s going to be quite a few bumps along the way, but I think the book industry has always been pretty resilient.”
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