Media

Canada’s culture wars will never end

0 Comments 01 November 2017

Netflix has been embraced by Canadians as their go-to platform of choice when it comes to sassy, critically acclaimed cinema that crosses all genres. The newly announced deal will actually put more Canadian bums in virtual seats, which is ultimately the goal of any culture minister.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published on Monday, October 2, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Canada’s culture wars will never end. Nor should they.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly struck the right tone Thursday when she set out a plan to increase content on multiple platforms without imposing new taxes.

The last thing the Liberals need these days is to open another tax front while Finance Minister Bill Morneau is busy garnering front-page headlines on that file.

And Netflix has been embraced by Canadians as their go-to platform of choice when it comes to sassy, critically acclaimed cinema that crosses all genres. The newly announced deal will actually put more Canadian bums in virtual seats, which is ultimately the goal of any culture minister.

Critics argue that Canada should follow the French and British example by introducing on tax on the international streaming giant.

Some say $500-million over five years is peanuts when you look at the $6-billion annual world production budget of Netflix.

But Joly’s partnership will vault the company to a place of prominence in Canadian cultural investments. And the initial dollars could grow once Netflix establishes a beachhead in Canada.

Anytime a politician can increase cultural funding agreement by $100-million a year, it is a win-win for all concerned.

After all, the origins of the Canada Media Fund were voluntary. The original Canada Television Fund, was established by the government in concert with funding from cable and satellite providers. It replaced the cable fund, which voluntarily financed additional television content in return for a distribution monopoly.

Over time, demand for content creation grew and when the Liberal government created the CTF back in the nineties, it topped up growing private-sector funding with $100-million in public monies.

Meanwhile, new satellite entrants negotiated various “voluntary” contributions in return for licence approvals. The Bell Fund is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and has contributed $200-million in financing for Canadian media productions.

Netflix was not the first content provider to decide to make voluntary contributions nor will it be the last. At the end of the day, the carrot is always better than the stick and government always has the option to tax,

The Netflix decision to set up a production facility in Canada will also mean more Canadians will find jobs on the creative side, which is certainly a plus for our economy.

The beauty of Canada’s voluntary contribution model, is that it enhances the opportunity for multiple project funding sources, with most of the money going to small and medium-sized producers focused on Canadian content in costly areas of television like drama, and documentaries.

Unlike the tax credit system, which is calculated by how many Canadians are actually employed in a production, the Media Fund focuses on supporting content creation for multiple platforms and targeted communities.

To date, the fund has financed 108 aboriginal productions, and also works to support regional and official language minority language filmmakers.

In its heyday, the previous fund was the single most successful job generator of any government program. For every dollar invested by the taxpayer, $7 of additional creative sector funding followed, and cultural jobs rapidly became the fastest growing job sector for young people.

Joly has widened her reach and the partnership with Netflix will certainly be used as an example to get other international media giants, including Google and Facebook to the Canadian cultural table.

The establishment of a new Creative Industries Council which Joly will co-chair with Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, will focus more government attention on the value of creative investments.

Last week’s announcement may not be embraced by all, but it is a far cry from the days of the previous Conservative government when the dirty word of Canadian culture did not pass the budgetary lips of a single finance minister for years.

The minister’s promised retooling of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is also long overdue. During Tory times, at least one board member simply refused to even attend meetings and most were chosen to downsize the place.

In the world of international cultural content, it is about time the CBC broadened its mandate, and worked directly with Radio Canada International to establish a Canadian presence on the world stage.

The British Broadcasting Corporation has spread its wings worldwide. There is no reason the CBC cannot do the same.

And with the first stop on the minister’s cultural roadmap already logged, the timing could not be better.

CBC and Netflix could be a powerful Cancon combination. And creators will welcome an international Netflix platform.

 

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.

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© 2017 Sheila Copps.