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Canada Former CRTC head praises Ottawa for rethinking CanCon

Canada's Heritage Minister Melanie Joly speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, December 9, 2015.

Chris Wattie/REUTERS

The former head of the CRTC is applauding Ottawa's decision to review the rules governing cultural industries in the country, pointing out that imposing regulations on the broadcast industry is increasingly difficult and ineffective.

"Clearly the Internet and the digital age have changed things, and we have to rethink how we foster Canadian content," Konrad von Finckenstein, who was chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission from 2007-12, said in an interview.

"You can no longer use control, like we used to do in the past, in order to try and steer things in a certain way. ... [The government's] regulatory levers are becoming fewer and fewer, and so it's going to be more difficult and we have to rethink how we do this and how we do it effectively."

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Former Conservative heritage minister James Moore added he is impressed by the ambitious scope of the review undertaken by his Liberal successor, Mélanie Joly, who made a surprise announcement over the weekend to reassess all of the rules and regulations governing Canada's $48-billion broadcasting, media and cultural industries.

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.

"Everything is on the table," Ms. Joly told The Globe and Mail.

However, Mr. Moore cautioned that the exercise is rife with political perils, saying Canadians do not share a unanimous view of culture.

"There are some very difficult and divisive issues that will come to the fore very quickly," he said. "The vast majority of the public pressure is toward maximizing consumer freedom and choice, while all of the stakeholder pressure is toward subsidizing the creation of content or regulating the distribution of that content to the consumer. These are two worlds that often collide."

In addition, Mr. Moore said, there is a large segment of the population, especially outside of Quebec, that is not interested in picking up the tab for increased assistance to the creation and distribution of Canadian content.

"Canadians believe in the value of investing in the arts and the role of the government in investing in the arts," he said. "But forcing people to pay for something, forcing people to pay for the infrastructure to make it available, and then forcing people into having to purchase it at the end? That is the third step that people are very wary about."

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Still, Mr. Moore agreed that Ottawa needs to update the legal and regulatory framework over Canada's cultural industries, stating that "the private sector is way ahead of the government in recognizing the demand and servicing that demand" for digital products.

"The government is still playing catch-up," he said.

Ms. Joly said her ultimate goals are to foster the creation of Canadian content across the country, but also to 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," she said.

The consultations are starting Saturday with an Internet poll, to be followed by public hearings after Labour Day.

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