Ottawa: A glimpse of what Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly and her Liberal colleagues have planned to promote Canada’s cultural industries in the next several years is included in a 52-page Ipsos research doc released Wednesday. What we heard across Canada: Canadian culture in a digital world’ states that the federal government needs to find new ways to boost Canadian content on digital platforms but doesn’t contain specific recommendations for funding these ambitions.
The findings are drawn from a series of town hall and one-on-one meetings, social media discussions, citizen emails, and public postings made to a customized Heritage Canada web portal. The report is the first of several expected. This one condenses feedback drawn from public consultation about cultural industries in the Internet age that concluded late last year. No timetable has been announced and another report could be forthcoming before a final policy report is published later this year.
The core questions of the consultation process
1. What does a cultural system that supports creators and respects citizen choice look like?
2. How to meet the challenge of promoting creativity in the digital world and how to use content to promote a strong democracy?
3. How to support Canada’s artists, content creators and cultural entrepreneurs in order to create a cultural ecosystem where they can achieve middle-class incomes at home, and promote themselves on the global stage?
Key themes in the report
1. Showcasing Canada’s cultural sector: Increased support for the production of Canadian content and the marketing and communication services to promote its value at home and abroad.
2. Reasserting the role of Canadian creators in the digital age: There is a need to ensure that Canadian creators share in the financial benefits resulting from increased dissemination of content on digital platforms, and a need for investments to promote digital cultural content.
Some participants voiced concern that Canadians are increasingly paying for access to the platforms and that the lion’s share of the traditional household’s “culture” budget is used to pay Internet and cable bills, leaving little for paying for the content itself.
The reports suggest there was a degree of consensus that a level playing field for private sector competition was necessary, hence foreign service providers such as Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook should be subject to the same taxation and cultural investment regimes as those firms with head offices in Canada.
3. Defining Canadian cultural content and Canadian cultural creators: There was near unanimous agreement that Canada should revisit and update what qualifies as Canadian content and who qualifies as a Canadian creator.
There was considerable diversity of opinion, however, on what constitutes Canadian content. For some, it was simply content created by Canadians; others suggested the content must be both created by a Canadian and expressed from a uniquely Canadian perspective.
The report’s authors state that how this question is answered carries significant implications for the debate around support systems in terms of funding and the Canadian brand.
Again, some felt that too broad a definition threatens the ability of Canada’s cultural identity to sustain itself; many suggested that a key differentiating factor for Canadian content is the unique voice and some feared without protection this unique perspective may be lost.
Others felt that Canadian creators bring their unique Canadian voice to any project they work on, that their stories are inherently Canadian regardless of whether it contains squarely Canadian content.
Participants also referenced that technology has led to new classes of creators that leverage digital tools and platforms to create and disseminate their works and these creators may not fit into categories currently eligible for support. Moreover, participants felt that the established definition of the cultural industries must be broadened to include domains such as design and video games.
4. Adapting current funding models to a constantly changing cultural landscape: There is a need for increased funding, the creation of funding models that are more adaptable, and a level field for private sector competition that would nullify the current tax holidays that Netflix, Facebook, Amazon and Spotify enjoy.
5. Finding new sources of public funding is required, but where should these funds come from? There is a general recognition that increasing the tax burden on foreign and/or Canadian enterprises to fund creative development is not a wise political solution.
Many options were proposed, such as sales tax on digital services, an ISP tax/levy, contributions to Canadian content by digital platforms, spectrum auction revenue or an increase from government general revenue.
6. Modernizing Canada’s legislative framework and national cultural institutions: Many participants said that Canada’s Broadcasting Act, the Copyright Act and the mandates of the CRTC and the CBC/Radio-Canada have not kept pace with today’s digital universe and need examining.
A number of participants suggested a narrowing of the CBC/Radio-Canada’s scope so that the pubcaster can focus on showcasing Canadian local, regional and national perspectives with an emphasis on arts and news content.
7. Clarifying the role of Canada’s public broadcaster: The pubcaster’s funding structure is in need of review. A number of contributors commented that it should not be required to compete with private broadcasters for advertising dollars. The issue of focusing their attention on local news and cultural programming was also viewed as subject to discussion.
8. Collaborating to take up the challenges ahead: Much of the needed change discussed involves collaboration between Heritage, other government departments, provinces and territories, as well as the public and private sectors.
There was broad agreement that Canada should re-evaluate how the cultural sector in Canada is structured and perceived. It was noted that the cultural sector is isolated from industrial and economic strategies and infrastructure. This limits its ability to fully contribute to economic growth and reap the benefits it generates as a catalyst for innovation and a valuable industrial sector.
Collaboration in funding: While the role of the government funding is seen as essential, it mustn't preclude private sector and alternative financing channels such as crowdsourcing and micro-financing.