Canada's cultural industries have been boot-strapped by grants, subsidies and legislated protectionism for 40-plus years; in fact, since the era when Justin Trudeau's father, Pierre Elliott, was PM and the nation's chief cultural brands were the CBC and the NFB.
It would be almost a decade before dial-up access to the World Wide Web became commonplace, and the then shiny new toy in the tech toolbox was FM radio broadcasting in stereo.
Today, Canada's cultural industries stand at a crossroad with one sign pointing home and another pointing to world markets. Federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has been tasked with finding consensus between the nation's stakeholders consuming, creating and delivering Canadian content in the digital age. She says “everything is on the table" excepting taxing online interlopers such as Netflix.
One of the first orders of the day for today's edition of the Trudeau government was to commit to a $1.9 billion five-year investment in the arts and culture—one-third of which will go to the CBC.
The investment is tied to a review of Canada's cultural industries and, to this end, Heritage has opened an online pre-consultation process that allows any and all to submit views online. The government says it has received more than 10,000 submissions so far. Following this, the minister opened up a series of by-invitation-only discussions with pre-selected stakeholders in a handful of cities this month.
The outcome of these submissions and discussions will set the future agenda for a sector that generates three percent of Canada’s GDP or $54.6 billion in economic activity, and directly or otherwise has created as many as 630,000 jobs. It is a given that the new strategy will have a big impact on the roles the CBC and the CRTC play in nationhood building and fostering the ambitions of the new government's cultural strategy.
On Wednesday, the fact-finding mission with the minister and her advisory group landed in Toronto with 80 or so people invited to informal round-table discussions and a Q&A with Joly at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
The two-hour plus meeting was peppered with blandishments, platitudes, hyperbole, buzz words, and plurality of 'I Me Mine' suggestions.
For the many who watched the proceedings from a live Facebook stream, the discussions were marred by a weak audio feed, a single camera that mostly failed to spotlight the speakers, and an unpolished host who filled in time for us online viewers by both giggling and asking inane questions to participants including Joly and Rick Mercer.
The big take-away from yesterday's meeting is that the government is going forward with an export strategy for Canadian cultural products; unstated, it can be inferred that new soft taxes (perhaps levied on ISP revenues) and tax incentives will fund these ambitions. There is also a thought that much of the required funding can be found through selling a new round of spectrum licenses that could easily net billions of dollars in revenue for the feds.
A discussion paper released earlier makes clear the government doesn't want to place limits on foreign content, but aims to channel energies into supporting cultural industries.
"The way forward is not attempting to regulate content on the Internet, but focusing on how to best support Canada's creators and cultural entrepreneurs in creating great content and in competing globally for both Canadian and international audiences," the paper states.
Reporters were left with little to report on from the proceeding. The Star ran with a sub-head stating that ”It’s clearly time to rethink how we support and promote Canadian content,” Heritage Minister tells industry players. The supporting article quotes Joly as stating that "the media landscape is going through a lot of complexity (and) we want to make sure we have a good ecosystem that is able to support content creators and at the same time that their content is discovered, watched and liked.”
Hardly any revelations there!!
The Globe & Mail and the CBC picked up a Canadian Press story quoting Michael Geist who suggests new digital taxes may be the future of CanCon. Online searches earlier this morning failed to turn up coverage in the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, National Post or Huffington Post.
Online subscription magazine Cartt.ca ran a story mainly drawn from the Heritage discussions in Halifax on Tuesday. The article suggests the new system set out by the CRTC for TV will expect a higher point system for those productions drawing on public funds than those drawing on capital through the Canadian Television Fund that is co-funded by contributions from the Canadian cable and direct-to-home satellite industries.
Below are various comments posted to a Facebook feed from yesterday's AGO discussions, and below them are a series of tweets from the same.
The Facebook feed
Clara Pasieka Hi fellow creators not in this room, can we give the minister a list of really top quality/popular Canadian digital series so we can help Canadian Heritage recognize the success?
Leif Nelson Northern charm hasn't been developed yet ,and needs to become a government program, and is purely untapped.
Clara Pasieka Also, it's a really important message to tell creators that you value their jobs. You can only do this if you put in place policies where jobs can't go to Americans or internationals. Jobs: screenwriting, acting, directing, composing etc need to go to Canadians. Canadians are the stakeholders...not Americans.
Katherine Carleton The assumption that the Facebook Live feed is youth-only should be challenged. I'm 53!
Dan Speerin Another serious question is how can we better market our content here at home too - it's unrealistic to think everyone can just go "viral" and blow up globally without a base and networking opportunities where they live.
Jason Leaver We punch way above our weight. At web series festivals around the globe, Canadian productions are almost always disproportionately represented.
Annelise Larson I would also say put more value on creators and balance that with smart strategies to reach audience. I think the balance should be between audience and creators. The more can be done to support of those things the better.
Robert Mills Of course - no one's looking for an endless trough. We've had enough of that with the current bandits at the helm of the broadcast / cable industry. Attach CanCon as a value and as incentive to invest. If someone can make money just by funding Canadian Content we'll have a system that pays for itself without having the bottleneck of bureaucratic adjudicators with limited funds to distribute to an even more limited group of traditional media outlets. That's all.
Guifré Bantjes-Ràfols Yes, invest in stronger Canadian content and leveraging the global market that is the Internet to provide viable international distribution for Canadian culture.
Clara Pasieka @ Canadian heritage, it is clear that digital creators want to be taken really seriously. You are SO lucky that Canadian digital series are often doing really well and have fans all over the world.
Cory Pelletier Hey Ash you might be surprised that you're not the only "Creator" in this conversation ;)
Leif Nelson Increasing Broadband on a Super corridor will give provide a simple solution, but other specific ideas are not approved based on this conversation alone.
Ash Catherwood Micro financing instead of big budget financing creates more projects, more jobs, more education opportunities, more opportunities for diverse content/diverse creators, more chances for the audience to discover and champion that diamond in the rough.
Annelise Larson Not just cash - smart cash with lots of accountability and transparency as to results
Robert Mills cash, man - find a way to make it flow
Ash Catherwood Trust me/us. Money is a big big big answer.
Ash Catherwood Cory: we are speaking as digital creators in a social media world. Trust me/is.
Mann LeeNess Yu Invest in digital content and independent filmmakers, especially those with diverse ethnicities and/or ideas. Make content that reach out to different ethnicities all around the world.
Cory Pelletier I do not think the Cash, Cash, Cash argument is the right focus. Creators will create and if it is good audiences will find it. Money helps on multiple levels for sure but it is not the only solution...nor do I believe it is the silver bullet. Especially in the age of social media and connectivity.
Heather Knox We must have Canadian creators creating 10/10 work. A C isn't good enough!!
Annelise Larson Kaptain Kanuck that may be true when you try to reach everyone at the same time - I've been a part of many digital success stories that are successes because we have been so specific with our targeting and engagement - still absolutely possible to make these algorithms work for you if you are creating content & experiences that use the language of your niche audience(s) and giving them stuff that created visceral emotional response.
Chris Greencorn Oh we're interested
Sandy Irvin I don't know about 70s-style tax credits. It takes a nation of dentists to fund more Porky's....
Sandy Irvin Fund more micro projects. Fund presenters as well as creators. Simplify the forms. My goodness, they are challenging. To put it as politely as possible.
Ash Catherwood Canadian Heritage: 2. Provide marketing money support for completed projects. Digital content *needs* marketing.
Robert Mills Get rid of the funding agencies. Replace with a '70's style tax credit to incentivize investment. The amount of the credit is linked to the amount of CanCon. More CanCon = higher tax credit = higher investment. That's for Production. For Development / Initial Creation a different approach needs to be crafted. The point being - spend money to bring money to the table. Eliminate unnecessary gatekeeper/adjudicators. Support Creators - they'll make yer CanCon for ya.
Annelise Larson We need to create a climate that does not penalize failure. Experimentation and learning from the results is how we will survive and, again, sharing and empowering creators with data to make smarter and smarter choices and decisions.
Kapitan Kanuck Sadly when it comes to public promotion of Canadian content - the power is in the hands of the Google search algorithm or Facebook Trending algorithm. Discoverability is a myth and marketing means giving money to Google and Facebook.
Huayi Li Content creation is absolutely vital on so many levels. While studying cultural policy in the UK, I noticed that Canada, as compared to leaders of the creative industry like the UK or Australia, has a lot of catching up to do! In terms of supporting Canadian content, we must first redefine the meaning of culture workers in Canada, which is rather exclusive and divisive. As for content creation, at the heart of it is participatory culture and that everyone is involved --- artist or not.
And on Twitter