There are a lot of issues at play in this federal election but we know that readers of TV, eh? are particularly interested in federal government support of Canadian culture and specifically Canadian television. The following outlines and compares the major party platforms (to the extent they exist at the date of posting) on Canadian culture.
Note that I have pulled the platform promises from the party announcements (with links) and added any additional information that I could find. I’ve added in clarifications from the NDP and Liberals (no response to my enquiry to the Conservatives) and as well things that were said by Andrew Cash (NDP) and Stéphane Dion (Liberal) at the Screen Industries Debate held October 7, 2015 in Toronto (there was a last minute cancellation from the Conservative representative). I have submitted a few follow up questions to the Liberals and the NDP and will update this post when I receive answers.
There have been no party platform announcements on Canadian culture from the Conservative Party. The closest thing to a platform announcement was Stephen Harper’s video promising to not tax Netflix or similar streaming services and claiming that the Liberals and NDP would do so.
Fact Check – neither party has taken the position that Netflix should be taxed but have at the federal Heritage Committee supported Netflix providing more data such as the number of Canadian subscribers and number of Canadian programs in their catalogue (the data they refused to give the CRTC). This was repeated by Stéphane Dion at the debate and Andrew Cash raised the need to ensure fair payment to creators from OTT distribution as an issue but neither went so far as to endorse a ‘Netflix Tax’.
The NDP recently released their culture platform. It is not fully costed but includes:
- $60 million over 4 years to Telefilm and NFB and Canada Council
- loosen rules to obtain Canada Council
- income tax averaging for artists and cultural workers
- promote work internationally through cultural attaches at embassies
- $10 million digital content fund to fund content to celebrate 2017
- reverse $115 million cuts to CBC and guarantee multi-year stable funding for the CBC (five years was suggested by Andrew Cash) and an independent process for appointing board members
- Review the Broadcasting Act as part of a National Digital Strategy (this is not in the platform but was mentioned by Andrew Cash in the debate and by my recollection is the first and only time anyone has mentioned National Digital Strategy during this campaign)
- What is the breakdown of the investment in Telefilm, NFB and Canada Council?
- What kind of rules need to be loosened to increase access to Canada Council?
- Why is there no increase in the federal government contribution to the Canada Media Fund, which funds television, convergent and digital content. The CMF has not had an increase since its predecessor was founded in 1996 (other than digital content funds being reallocated from Telefilm to CMF in 2010). Note that when asked this question, Andrew Cash mentioned looking at decoupling the digital media requirement from television funding through the CMF, which could potentially have a significant negative impact on the Canadian digital media industry.
- What is the logic behind income tax averaging for artists and cultural workers and not all freelancers?
- Why is the digital content fund limited to content to celebrate 2017 and not a permanent or ongoing fund?
The Liberal culture platform has a bit more detail as culture has been included in their fully costed plan:
- reverse $115 million cuts to CBC and top it up an additional $35 million per year, create a new strategic plan that incorporates the new funding and takes into consideration the new digital world, the CBC board to have merit-based and independent appointments
- double Canada Council from $180 million to $360 million
- Telefilm and NFB each receive an additional $25 million per year
- Restore Promarts and Trade Routes cultural promotion programs and increase funding to $25 million each year
- Increase funding to Young Canada Works for the next generation of museum staff
- Invest in cultural infrastructure
- Review the Broadcasting Act to update it for new technologies
- Ensure that the mandated Copyright Act review takes place in 2017 (there is a concern that the Conservative Party will not implement the review or may short change it)
- Allocate some of the promised funding for training to mid-career training for media professionals to help them adapt to new technologies
- Advance 75-80% of the tax credit payments to improve cash flow and reduce interest costs
- The last 4 points were from Stéphane Dion at the debate. I am trying to get clarification (and confirmation) of the last point in particular as it would be a huge cost savings benefit to the Canadian film and television production industry.
- Why is there no increase in the federal government contribution to the Canada Media Fund, which funds television, convergent and digital content. When Stéphane Dion was asked this question at the debate, his response was that there had been no agreement by stakeholders appearing at Heritage Committee hearings on what the CMF needed. It could be more money but it could be guideline changes. He felt the need for more industry consultation before making a proposal. It could be that the parties are waiting for Heritage’s internal review of the CMF before making any commitments. I was also advised by a party spokesperson that the focus was on replacing Conservative budget cuts and the CMF had not been cut.
- Does the Liberal Party have any plans for a National Digital strategy?
The Green Party culture platform has a lot of ideas but no costing associated with it:
- Increase funding to all of Canada’s arts and culture organizations including the Canada Council for the Arts, Telefilm Canada, orchestras, theatres, and publishers. The goal will be to make increases in this sector commensurate with increases in support over the years for other sectors such as transport, energy, and health care;
- Provide stable base funding for the CBC so it can continue to provide quality Canadian content television and radio programming in both official languages to all Canadians;
- Restore CBC international short-wave service;
- Reverse the CBC application and CRTC approval for commercial advertising on CBC Radio 2;
- Reverse cuts to suppertime news and local programming in CBC and Radio Canada;
- Ensure that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) reserves more bandwidth for independent and non-profit stations;
- Enact legislation that requires cinemas and video chains to have at least 20% Canadian content;
- Restore and improve arm’s length principles in the governance of arts and cultural institutions and agencies under federal jurisdiction. In keeping with such a position, we believe that the heads of Canada’s cultural organizations such as the CRTC, Canada Council, CBC, and Telefilm Canada should not be appointed by the political party in power but by an arm’s length committee made up of competent people representative of the various diverse stakeholders in Canadian society;
- Seek greater support and adequate resources for arts grants programs;
- Seek increased funding incentives for artists and art events to tour Canada’s rural regions;
- Provide protection for indigenous intellectual and artistic property rights;
- Increase support for community arts programs and facilities across Canada by establishing stable base funding at a set percentage of the federal budget;
- Equalize federal funding for arts and culture among provinces, territories, and municipalities to make it consistent with the provinces and municipalities that have the highest current standards;
- Provide incentives to all provinces and territories to restore and improve arts and culture components in schools and extra-curricular activities, not only in urban but also in rural areas;
- Extend income tax relief and incentives to artists (on the very successful models established by Ireland and the city of Berlin).
Well, lots of questions starting with a costing but in particular:
- Why is there no increase in the federal government contribution to the Canada Media Fund, which funds television, convergent and digital content. The CMF has not had an increase since its predecessor was founded in 1996 (other than digital content funds being reallocated from Telefilm to CMF in 2010).
- Does the Green Party have any plans for a National Digital strategy?
- Will increases to CBC funding make up for the service cuts that the Green Party wants to reverse?
- How will increased bandwidth for independent and non-profit stations (whatever that means) ensure more independent and non-profit stations exist?
- Some provinces use provincial funding to incent productions to come to their province instead of another and therefore develop a local industry. The Green Party equalization strategy will prevent that. Was that intentional?
It is interesting to compare the language of the NDP and Liberal platforms. The NDP platform emphasizes artists: “In this election, only the NDP can be trusted to invest in CBC, to invest in Canadian content, and to support Canadian artists.” On the other hand the Liberal platform talks about culture as an economic generator of middle class jobs: “A Liberal government will reinvest in our cultural and creative industries, to create jobs, grow the economy and middle class, and strengthen our rich Canadian identity.”
However, I despair that both the Liberals and NDP continue to think that a film and television industry cares about Canada Council grants since the Canada Council funds artists and specifically NOT “work created for the cultural industries of commercial film and television”. I know that I’ve tried to explain this to MPs and party staffers from all parties and I haven’t been alone.
I would also like to point out that the Liberal Party appears to have relied heavily on Heritage Committee appearances and submissions to know what the industry thinks and is advocating. It is easy to dismiss these committee appearances as a waste of time because little is done (particularly in the last couple of years) as a result of their hearings but clearly they are a significant way for parties (as well as the government) to gather information.
I will update this post as and if I gather more information.
UPDATE: The Canadian Media Production Association compiled their own list of party promises including a lovely and handy one page chart here. Also, the NDP have released a fully costed platform and you can find the costing for the cultural promises on page 70.