Dave Chan/For The Globe and Mail
Ottawa is ready to blow up the rules governing Canada’s $48-billion broadcasting, media and cultural industries, arguing that decades of technological changes and government inaction have left a broken system in need of a revolution.
“Everything is on the table,” Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly told The Globe and Mail.
Announcing the launch of consultations with consumers and creators of cultural content, Ms. Joly said she is willing to change laws such as the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, modify the mandates of the CRTC and the CBC, and create new laws or agencies, as needed. The scale of the coming upheaval hasn’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, Netflix and iTunes.
Ms. Joly said her ultimate goals are to foster the creation of Canadian content across the country, but also increase the international audience for Canadian creators.
“I think the current model is broken, and we need to have a conversation to bring it up to date and make sure we harness its full potential. For a long time, politicians have been afraid to deal with these difficult issues, but I don’t understand why it wasn’t done.… The issue is how can the government be relevant today, instead of being left behind,” Ms. Joly said.
The review of Canada’s cultural policies was not part of the Liberal platform in last year’s election, and wasn’t mentioned in the Prime Minister’s mandate letter to Ms. Joly in November. Instead, the Liberals simply focused their arts and cultural promises on boosting the budgets of the CBC, the Canada Council for the Arts, Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board, with no mention of deep structural reforms.
Still, Ms. Joly said the urge to tackle the root of the problems came naturally to her as a 37-year-old politician who grew up with digital technologies. She added that in the first five months in her position, she has had a series of conversations with key players in Canada’s cultural industries who complained about Ottawa’s inability to respond to ongoing changes.
“I’m a Heritage Minister who thinks about digital technology first and foremost, that’s how I consume information and music. I’m a product of my generation,” said the rookie MP from the Montreal riding of Ahuntsic-Cartierville.
Ms. Joly pointed out that her 2013 mayoral race in Montreal – in which she finished in second place behind Denis Coderre – was run mostly on social media. “All of my career was built outside of traditional models,” she said. “For me, all of these reflections on digital technologies and the model that we will build after these consultations, that will be the cornerstone of my mandate at Heritage.”
The consultations are starting Saturday with an Internet poll, to be followed by public hearings after Labour Day.
The government is guaranteed to hear widely diverse and contradictory views during its consultations. Common complaints these days include musicians and artists who can’t make a living selling their creations on the Internet, Canadian cable and television firms that are riled by foreign Internet rivals that don’t charge sales taxes, and media firms that decry the publicly funded CBC’s unfair advantage at selling advertising.
At the same time, an agency like the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which enforces federal legislation over broadcasters and telecommunications firms, has had a hard time forcing media giants to offer flexible and affordable cable packages to consumers.
“All of our tools predate the Internet,” Ms. Joly said.
The CRTC was created in 1968 and was initially designed to regulate an industry based on analog and cable technologies, like most other federal rules and policies.
“There is a vacuum that has been created. It’s not the CRTC’s fault, it’s because the legal and regulatory framework hasn’t been developed in a holistic manner,” she said. “For a long time, there was a belief that it would be up to the market to manage those changes. For us, we feel we have to launch a conversation on the best way to support content.”
The questions that are being put to Canadians in the online consultation touch on key and controversial issues facing Canada’s broadcasting and cultural industries, including existing limits on foreign ownership of media companies and the Canadian content rules for television and radio. The document also seeks input on what should be the CBC’s priorities for the future, offering choices such as focusing on local content, reflecting the country’s diversity, fostering a new generation of creative talent or offering all of its content on a variety of platforms, including digital.
The online questionnaire, which can be filled out until May 20, will be used to prepare the second phase of consultations, to be called “Strengthening Canadian Content, Discovery and Export in a Digital World.” A yet-to-be-announced panel of experts will oversee the process, to be completed by the end of the year.
In 2017, Ms. Joly said she will prepare a new cultural export strategy with International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, but also start acting on the recommendations to come out of the consultations to implement the necessary changes to Ottawa’s “cultural-policy toolkit.”
“We will not come up with solutions to all of the transformations that flow from the technologies that change the way we act and live,” Ms. Joly said, adding she hopes to find the best way to nurture and distribute Canadian content.
“I look at it this way: ‘If there was no model in place, what model would we create? And given the existing model in place, how do we transform our tools – both regulatory and legislative – to develop this new model?’” Ms. Joly said.
What should be the federal government’s long-term priorities as it reviews Canada’s cultural policies and rules? Here are the views of key industry representatives:
Jayson Hilchie, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada
“Because we consider ourselves to be more creative industry than cultural industry, some of the new policies that may be coming out that would celebrate Canadians making content that is sold globally – more so than just focusing on Canadian content – is something we’d be interested in seeing.… Anything that can be done to make it easier to sell games, both physically and digitally, and promote ourselves abroad, especially when it comes to some of the smaller, independently owned companies, that would be fantastic.”
John Hinds, president and CEO of Newspapers Canada
“For newspapers, a big issue is the investment in public-interest journalism. That’s what we do, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult. There are some things the federal government could do to assist us. I don’t think anybody in the industry is going to go for a handout, but there are areas of support, including through the tax system or structure, to encourage the creation of public-interest content.… Maybe there would also be a way to encourage advertising in Canadian publications.”
Elliott Anderson, director of public policy at the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA)
“Ensuring Internet broadcasters play by the same rules as traditional broadcasters. More and more Canadians are turning to Internet broadcasters like Netflix when they’re looking for film and television programming. However, unlike traditional broadcasters, Internet broadcasters are exempted from any regulation under the Broadcasting Act. This means they do not contribute to media production funds, which help fund Canadian productions and ensure Canadian stories are told on our screens.”
Reynolds Mastin, president and CEO of the Canadian Media Producers Association
“We believe Canada’s independent producers must be at the core of any new framework so that world-class content continues to be made by Canadians for both Canadian and international audiences across all platforms. Producers must be able to continue to effectively finance competitive productions and retain intellectual property to capitalize and grow their companies. We believe it is important that […] Canadians can take full advantage of the digital age to access the vast array of content made by Canadian independent producers.”