Canada’s Cultural File, One Big Joly Mess?

It’s in with the new and out with the old.

Veteran participants of Canada’s cultural industries are a resolute lot known for smiling knowingly whenever an incoming minister of culture steps into the spotlight promising change. Most often they are turfed, demoted or re-allocated before the promise is fullfilled.

Federal Minister Joly is a case in point. Painting a landscape of change in copyright and telecommunications with a broad brush stroke and articulating with a colourful palette of ambiguity, she is out after two years with little accomplished beyond topping up a variety of worthy but already massively subsidized orgs such as Telefilm and the CBC.

Replacing her as the new Canadian heritage minister is Pablo Rodriguez who is tasked with continuing implementation of Joly’s Creative Canada policy framework, and defining what corporate taxes foreign multinational media companies operating in Canada must pay (aka the ‘Netflix tax’).

Rodriguez will also be responsible for taking over the Canadian Heritage ministry’s review of the Broadcasting Act, Radiocommunications Act and Telecommunications Act that is expected to conclude with a published report by January 2020.

The Broadcasting Act falls under the direct jurisdiction of the Ministry of Canadian Heritage, while the Radiocommunications Act and Telecommunications Act fall under the jurisdiction of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). Navdeep Bains has retained his position as the minister in charge of the ISED and shares co-responsibility with Rodriguez on the mandatory review of the Copyright Act.

Kate Taylor in the Globe and Mail nails the downward trajectory of Mélanie Joly’s two years in the spotlight as federal heritage minister, and the daunting task facing her replacement, Pablo Rodriguez.

Ominously in her summation, she writes: “If Ms. Joly proved overly ambitious in her approach to the portfolio, Mr. Rodriguez, for all his impressive credentials, may prove to be insufficiently so. Canada desperately needs new cultural policy, but the new minister may be expected to keep the file quiet in the run-up to the election. Mr. Trudeau has only learned what many a Canadian political leader at both federal and provincial levels has before him: The small-budget culture portfolio may look like a pleasant backwater, but there are alligators lurking just beneath the surface.”

Her opinion piece is headlined ‘Taking on the culture file, Rodriguez is left to clean up Joly’s mess.’

Michael Geist offers a surprisingly balanced observation about the nuances necessary to provide balanced copyright reform in his blog and a Globe and Mail op-ed. Elsewhere, Kate Edwards, executive director for the Association of Canadian Publishers, tells Quill & Quire that she doesn’t anticipate that the cabinet shuffle will result in any delays of the Copyright Act review, which is being led by the standing committee on industry.

Brendan Kelly at the Montreal Gazette focuses on the insular view of La Belle Province. “Initial reaction is quite positive from Quebec’s cultural milieu regarding the appointment of Pablo Rodriguez as the minister of Canadian heritage,” he writes, adding “That’s because his predecessor, Mélanie Joly, wasn’t particularly popular with these Québécois arts movers and shakers. They didn’t like Joly mostly because she refused to support the milieu’s desire to impose a sales tax on Netflix and other foreign online entertainment providers operating in Canada.”

More cynical views about the federal cabinet shuffle are offered by CBC News’ Chris Hall and Maclean’s Andrew MacDougall. The former argues that the new cabinet is the kick-off to Justin Trudeau’s 2019 election campaign, the latter that cabinet shuffles are irrelevant for nearly everyone outside official Ottawa.

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