Ottawa The Globe and Mail Last updated: Saturday, Apr. 23, 2016 11:48PM EDT_
Changes to Canada’s cultural policies would be first major overhaul in decades, reports Daniel Leblanc. Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly announces the launch of public consultations with consumers and content creators with an aim to bring Canada’s cultural properties – everything from the Broadcast Act to the CRTC – into the digital age.
Ottawa is ready to blow up the rules governing Canada’s $48-billion broadcasting, media and cultural industries, arguing that decades of technological changes and government inaction have left a broken system in need of a revolution.
“Everything is on the table,” Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly told The Globe and Mail.
Announcing the launch of consultations with consumers and creators of cultural content, Ms. Joly said she is willing to change laws such as the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, modify the mandates of the CRTC and the CBC, and create new laws or agencies, as needed. The scale of the coming upheaval hasn’t been seen in 25 years, since the Mulroney government revised the Broadcasting Act in 1991 at a time when no one could foresee the arrival of YouTube, Netflix and iTunes.
Ms. Joly said her ultimate goals are to foster the creation of Canadian content across the country, but also increase the international audience for Canadian creators.
“I think the current model is broken, and we need to have a conversation to bring it up to date and make sure we harness its full potential. For a long time, politicians have been afraid to deal with these difficult issues, but I don’t understand why it wasn’t done.… The issue is how can the government be relevant today, instead of being left behind,” Ms. Joly said.
The review of Canada’s cultural policies was not part of the Liberal platform in last year’s election, and wasn’t mentioned in the Prime Minister’s mandate letter to Ms. Joly in November. Instead, the Liberals simply focused their arts and cultural promises on boosting the budgets of the CBC, the Canada Council for the Arts, Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board, with no mention of deep structural reforms.
Still, Ms. Joly said the urge to tackle the root of the problems came naturally to her as a 37-year-old politician who grew up with digital technologies. She added that in the first five months in her position, she has had a series of conversations with key players in Canada’s cultural industries who complained about Ottawa’s inability to respond to ongoing changes.
“I’m a Heritage Minister who thinks about digital technology first and foremost, that’s how I consume information and music. I’m a product of my generation,” said the rookie MP from the Montreal riding of Ahuntsic-Cartierville.
Ms. Joly pointed out that her 2013 mayoral race in Montreal – in which she finished in second place behind Denis Coderre – was run mostly on social media. “All of my career was built outside of traditional models,” she said. “For me, all of these reflections on digital technologies and the model that we will build after these consultations, that will be the cornerstone of my mandate at Heritage.”
The consultations are starting Saturday with an Internet poll, to be followed by public hearings after Labour Day.
The government is guaranteed to hear widely diverse and contradictory views during its consultations. Common complaints these days include musicians and artists who can’t make a living selling their creations on the Internet, Canadian cable and television firms that are riled by foreign Internet rivals that don’t charge sales taxes, and media firms that decry the publicly funded CBC’s unfair advantage at selling advertising.
At the same time, an agency like the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which enforces federal legislation over broadcasters and telecommunications firms, has had a hard time forcing media giants to offer flexible and affordable cable packages to consumers.
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