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Crews work on a film set for a Titans Netflix TV series on a Toronto street on April 17, 2019. Bill C-11, which is now in the Senate, could become law within weeks.Doug Ives/The Canadian Press

The online streaming bill will lead to an $86-million annual “surge” in new Canadian TV production, and may lead to more TV and film being classified as official Canadian content, internal Heritage Department documents predict.

The papers, obtained by University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist under access-to-information laws, also reveal that YouTube is the only social-media platform likely to come within the scope of bill C-11, which will modernize broadcasting laws to cover streaming platforms.

“YouTube was determined to be the only qualifying service,” one Heritage Department paper on social media and C-11 says. The bill was originally expected to cover other platforms, including Tik Tok.

Social media would only contribute around $10.5-million, or 1 per cent, of the estimated over all $1.03-billion raised for the Canadian media sector after C-11 becomes law, the document adds.

Bill C-11, which is now in the Senate and could become law within weeks, would make YouTube and streaming platforms such as Netflix and Disney Plus promote Canadian content – such as music, TV and film – and contribute financially to their production.

Mr. Geist, Canada Research Chair in internet law at the University of Ottawa, questioned whether including social media in the scope of the bill – which stoked fears that regulating user-generated content was its goal – was worth it “when the payoff is so minor.”

“After years of controversy over the inclusion of social media, the expected benefits are a rounding error – 1 per cent of the expected benefits – and government officials have little idea of how it will work or how much content could be included for contribution purposes,” he said.

The papers suggest that the definition of official Canadian content will be expanded, and some productions which are made in Canada – but don’t currently tick enough boxes to be certified as Canadian – could count in future.

The internal documents refer to “unofficial CanCon” – TV and film that doesn’t qualify as Canadian content under the rules but may be made in this country – which they say “represents about $48-million per year.”

“Although we don’t know what regulatory process will be in place to certify such production by foreign entities, we assume these companies will eventually have some way to turn their currently unqualified productions into certified ones once Bill C-11 is implemented,” one departmental document says.

The existing rules mean that the holder of the copyright must be Canadian for a production to qualify, including for certain tax breaks.

Disney’s Turning Red, which is about a Chinese-Canadian teen in Toronto and stars Ottawa-born Sandra Oh, is among the films widely considered Canadian which don’t count as an official Canadian production.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has said he wants the definition of Canadian content to be modernized and plans to ask the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission to do so in a ministerial direction after the bill passes. He is expected to insist that the intellectual property remain in Canada to count.

Producer and director Jack Blum, who is the executive director of REEL Canada, warned against diluting the definition of Canadian content to include a production just based on a book by a Canadian or with a Canadian cast.

“Every time I have seen the definition of what’s defined as Canadian broadened, it has led to a watering down of the kind of content that’s made,” he said.

The proportion of TV productions made in Canada which are certified as Canadian is predicted to drop from 49 per cent in 2020 to 40 per cent in 2025, according to one Heritage Department memo to associate assistant deputy minister Thomas Owen Ripley, who steered the bill through Parliament.

The memo says: “If C-11 measures were to be implemented, the decrease is likely to be mitigated by the expected surge in new production of Canadian television initiated by online broadcasters … most of which are foreign owned.

“The net effect would be an increase of 2.4 per cent, or $86-million, in yearly Canadian production by 2025.”

It says overseas productions, including those by Hollywood studios, filmed in Canada are likely to soar by around $800-million by 2025, with or without the online streaming law. Most don’t count as officially Canadian, though they employ Canadians as cast and crew.

“Regardless of the status of Bill C-11, FLS [Foreign Location and Service Productions] in Canada is expected to continue to surge to new highs by 2025,” the paper says.

Michael Macmillan, CEO of Blue Ant Media, whose shows include Canada’s Drag Race and the nature documentary series Orangutan Jungle School, said he is hopeful the bill will create support for the TV and film industry long term and not just a “jolt in production for one year.”

Laura Scaffidi, spokeswoman for Mr. Rodriguez, said the online streaming bill “will support the growth of our cultural industries.

“That means more jobs and more Canadian stories under a modernized definition of CanCon,” she said.

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