A majority of Canadians are opposed to a new tax on U.S.-based Internet services such as iTunes and Netflix, even as many struggling media and cultural groups argue they need additional sources of funding to survive in the digital era, according to a new Nanos/Globe and Mail poll.
The recent poll of 1,000 respondents comes as the federal government has launched a full-blown review of the laws and regulations that govern Canada's $48-billion cultural industry. Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has said "everything is on the table" in a bid to fix a broken system.
Over all, the poll suggests a majority of Canadians are not in favour of radical changes. There is no strong consensus to allow increased foreign ownership of media companies, to shift the CBC's funding formula or to change the rules in favour of increased Canadian content, the poll found.
As it stands, Canadian consumers do not pay sales taxes when they purchase music or movies on iTunes or their monthly subscriptions to Netflix's streaming services. In addition, clients don't pay a sales tax when they purchase advertising on foreign websites such as Facebook.
The Liberal government has said it is "not considering" imposing a new tax, but it is an idea that is increasingly popular among cultural groups and broadcasters.
Still, the poll found a majority of respondents (55 per cent) either disagreed or somewhat disagreed with the possibility that the government would impose a sales tax when Canadians purchase entertainment from foreign services such as Netflix and iTunes.
By comparison, 40 per cent of respondents agreed or somewhat agreed with the proposition.
Many groups, politicians and experts have said the situation disadvantages Canadian firms and places them in an unfair situation as they try to compete on digital platforms.
"The Americans are currently making the most money, as they are not charging a sales tax on their advertising contracts. That's despicable," NDP MP Pierre Nantel said at a recent meeting of the Heritage committee of the House.
As the debate grows over the future of Canada's broadcasting industry, a number of people are looking at the mandate of the CBC and its roles in fostering and distributing Canadian content.
The Liberal government has boosted the public broadcaster's annual budget by $675-million over five years.
A number of private media companies, however, are concerned the CBC is using public subsidies to build a growing presence on the Internet, arguing the corporation benefits from an unfair advantage in selling advertising on its websites.
Still, Canadians seem relatively happy with the fact the CBC uses both public funding and advertising to cover its costs, with 45 per cent of respondents to the poll stating that was their preferred formula. Only 18 per cent of respondents said the CBC should abandon advertising revenue altogether and live entirely off of its subsidy, while 29 per cent said the broadcaster should rely solely on advertising.
Another percolating debate in the media world relates to current rules that restrict foreign ownership of media companies in Canada. However, 69 per cent of respondents disagreed or somewhat disagreed with the possibility of increasing foreign ownership of media companies (compared with 27 per cent who agreed or somewhat agreed).
Respondents were nearly evenly split on the need to change "current content rules to favour even more Canadian content in the media," with 48 per cent in agreement and 46 per cent in disagreement.
Ms. Joly has said her main objectives in launching the review of the rules and regulations in Canada's cultural industry are to foster and increase the exportation of Canadian content.
The Nanos Research random survey, conducted by telephone and online between April 28 and May 3, offers a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.