Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, a former CBC intern, is no stranger to Quebec TV, going so far as downing a tequila shooter at the end of an interview on a hip television show last month in Montreal.
But behind the scenes, a battle is brewing between Ms. Joly's bureaucrats – who are cutting back on eligibility for the Canadian Production Tax Credit that for years has helped underwrite Quebec talk shows – and Ms. Joly herself, who is under political pressure to intervene in favour of the television producers.
In a letter obtained by The Globe and Mail, six major broadcasters in Quebec have complained to the government that the eligibility issue has created an unacceptable level of "uncertainty" in the industry.
"It now seems impossible to rely on established practices and past funding decisions to determine whether certain shows will or will not be admissible," said the letter signed by officials at Radio-Canada, TVA, Télé-Québec, TV5, Groupe V and Bell Media.
Ms. Joly downed her shot on a show called Deux hommes en or on Jan. 15, even as the show's producers were coming to grips with a recent letter announcing their tax credit would be withdrawn.
Three days later, the host of another television talk show, Marie-France Bazzo, publicly revealed the changes to the system that has been used for years by Quebec's unique brand of talk shows that feature a mix of politics, arts and humour.
Sources in the industry said the tax credits on average account for about 13 per cent of a talk-show's budget.
The decision to claw back the funding was made at the bureaucratic level. Still, the move put pressure on Ms. Joly, who knows and likes these programs.
"I hope that Ms. Joly will bring her particular sensitivity to this file," said Ms. Bazzo, who is the host and producer of BazzoTV. "She comes from Quebec, she knows the systems are different in English Canada and in Quebec. I really hope that a new government will mean that things are analyzed differently."
The Liberals won big in Quebec in the last election, in part by promising to invest hundreds of millions of additional dollars in Canada's cultural industry.
Three months after being sworn in, the Trudeau government is promising to better protect Quebec's unique culture. Whenever she mentions the changes to the tax credit, Ms. Joly points out the interpretation of the rules governing eligibility were tightened in June 2015, when the Conservatives were in power.
In an interview, Ms. Joly added she has called on the body that oversees the tax credit, which reports to Heritage and the Canada Revenue Agency, to launch consultations with producers and broadcasters.
"I know the shows, but, overall, I also understand the importance of having relevant, creative content from Canada and Quebec," Ms. Joly said. "As a result, I have authorized the [Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office] to launch public consultations on the matter."
Ms. Joly added that along with another consultation on the impact of digital technologies, her goal is to ensure the television industry remains "in sync" with the media world.
Hélène Messier, who presides over a group of producers in Quebec, hopes the consultations will "lift the veil of uncertainty under which we are living."
"At the same time, we hope the consultation will not lead to the exclusion of types of programs that are popular here in Quebec," she said.
Shows such as Deux hommes en or and BazzoTV have loyal six-figure audiences. While they are classified as "talk shows" in federal parlance, they feature not only interviews with artists and humorists, but also delve into political debates and social issues.
Ms. Messier said the shows are categorized as "magazines" under the provincial tax credit regime, suggesting the same format could be used federally.
While Deux hommes en or has another year of the tax credit to go, given it had an existing contract with Télé-Québec for the 2016-17 season, BazzoTV will likely die after the season's last show airs in March.
Ms. Bazzo said she is already working on new proposals for the 2017-18 season, and needs to find out soon about the rules that will apply at that time.
"All producers are making pitches for 2017, and we need to know what will be happening," Ms. Bazzo said.