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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a town hall in Sherbrooke, Que., on Jan. 17, 2017. Union members plan to ask federal election candidates to make clear their positions on policies that directly affect the sustainability of domestic screen-based productions.

The Canadian Press

The Canadian unions representing live-entertainment-sector technicians, performers and directors in television, film and digital media will hit the hustings this fall in unison, asking federal election candidates to make clear their positions on policies that directly affect the sustainability of domestic screen-based productions.

And as would be expected, the union members will be working from a script.

The concerted campaign, called Just Ask, involves a specific list of six questions to be lobbed at federal election candidates by the nearly 50,000 members of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) during town halls, all-candidates meetings and other election-related events.

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The priority query asks office seekers whether they intend to support legislation and regulation that requires industry players who benefit from the Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications systems to invest in the creation of original Canadian programming.

“This is a crucible election for all of us," DGC president Tim Southam told The Globe and Mail. “All three organizations are aware that the digital arena is completely new in terms of how stories are told and how information is shared. It’s a massive paradigm shift, and we’re in an environment where there is no clear legislative or regulatory response to that environment as of yet.”

The hot-button topic involving the lack of a federal tax on Netflix, Google and other foreign over-the-top services operating in Canada is not one of the talking points spelled out by the Just Ask campaign.

The matters to be addressed include the funding of cultural agencies (such as the Canada Council for the Arts), film and video production tax credits, digital theft, diversity in the workplace, the funding of CBC/Radio Canada and working conditions that relate to members who are often employed on a contract basis.

Simple in premise, the Just Ask initiative was inspired by the success of a 2017 campaign by the creative industry that put pressure on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to overturn a decision to lower the amount of money required of some broadcasters to spend on dramas, comedies, award shows, children’s programs and documentaries. A public letter to Mélanie Joly, Heritage Minister at the time, represented the concerns of 19 groups of producers, writers, directors and actors.

To facilitate Just Ask, a pair of online microsites – justask2019.ca and jemimplique2019.ca – will go live at 9 a.m. on Thursday. There, union members can sign up for the campaign and find sample questions about pressing issues facing the industry.

“Our asks are fairly simple,” says David Sparrow, president of ACTRA. “I think every candidate needs to understand our perspectives. Whether or not they come around to our side is another question.”

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The 2019 Canadian federal election is scheduled to take place on Oct. 21. However, the date is under judicial review because it conflicts with the Jewish holiday Shemini Atzeret. Stay tuned.

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