Category Archives: Government Relations

Heritage Committee on Local TV

This morning I listened to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (#CHPC).  It was their first meeting on a study on ‘The Media and Local Communities’ which is also their first study.  I tuned in because it’s the first real meeting for this committee in this Parliament and I wanted to hear them interact with senior staff at Heritage and the CRTC (and then last minute additions from Industry – I mean Innovation, Science and Economic Development – and the Competition Bureau).  I’m not that interested in local tv but I’m glad I did tune in.

I was talking to my local MP, Julie Dabrusin, on the weekend since she sits on the Heritage Committee and I realized when I spoke to her about the local tv study that her interests in it were broader than my interpretation of the terms of reference of the study.  The minutes describe it as:

“… how Canadians, and especially local communities, are informed about local and regional experiences through news, broadcasting, digital and print media; the unintended consequences of news media concentration and the erosion of local news reporting and the impact of new media”

In listening to the meeting though I was struck by how wide ranging the questions were. Heritage started off by giving a very rapid ‘Canadian media policy 101’ talk with what sounded like (the feed was audio-only) a lot of slides.  A few of the MPs sounded overwhelmed.  It should be remembered that I believe Pierre Nantel (NDP) and Hedy Fry (Lib) are the only MPs there with previous experience on the committee.   So some of the questions continued on the 101 theme (‘how is Canadian media funded’ – I think I heard Helen Kennedy’s sigh before she started counting the ways) while others went off on to topics like diversity, funding for digital media, local news, newspaper consolidation, Broadcasting Act objectives, the Bell-Astral merger and the inability for anyone to make any money on digital platforms (that was a Conservative MP statement without any evidence).

The CRTC could not really say much because their local tv proceeding is outstanding and there are rules about not discussing a pending proceeding.  They did chat a bit about why LPIF wasn’t renewed, which honestly could have been the topic of a whole meeting as it had been a whole hearing.  They made a pitch that they are lowering barriers to innovation and encouraging broadcasters to evolve to multiplatform businesses, though without specifics.  Innovation, Science and Economic Development made some odd statements about how millennials don’t care about funding for digital media, just access and making money from their content.  Umm, just because you can make content for peanuts doesn’t mean you want to.   The Competition Bureau said they didn’t care about whether diversity of voices was impacted by consolidation, only if there was a negative economic impact.

There were some good questions but my favourites unfortunately were thrown in at the end when there wasn’t time for answers so we won’t hear them publicly.  Julie Dabrusin asked if the CRTC planned to update the 8 year old Diversity study (I swear I didn’t plant that question) and Hedy Fry asked who was in a position to regulate digital platforms for accuracy.  I suspect Scott Hutton of the CRTC was pretty happy there was no time to answer that last one!  The answers should be incorporated in their report so I’ll be looking for them.

Things could obviously change over the minimum 10 meetings that will be devoted to this study but based on today the Committee will be asking all sorts of questions about the media landscape and I’ll try to pay attention when I can.  It’s good to hear what the MPs are interested in and what topics they need help on (i.e. yes, there are businesses making money with content on digital platforms).

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Ontario’s Culture Strategy Consultation

The Ontario Ministry of Culture launched a consultation back on September 24, 2015.  Sorry – life got in the way or I would have posted earlier.  I appear not to be the only one slowly realizing that this consultation is out there.  I hear few members of the cultural industries have been attending the town halls around the province.  It’s never a good thing to miss an opportunity to be heard by a government so here’s what is going on and how you can participate.

This consultation is aimed at providing the government with input on the development of a culture strategy that will guide the government in its priorities and policy development and in particular guide the allocation of the government’s spending on culture. The Ministry of Culture has released a Discussion Paper that outlines the size and characteristics of the arts and culture industries in Ontario and the questions that it wants answered.  A series of town hall meetings are being held around the province to hear from both individual members of the public and those who work in the arts and culture sector (if you live in Markham, Toronto, London, Kingston, Mississauga or Windsor there are still dates coming up).   There is also a discussion board where people are encouraged to post ideas and vote other people’s ideas up and down the list (which is a format that the Ontario Liberal Party has used to implement grassroots policy development).  Few cultural industries (mainly just music) are showing up in ideas on the discussion board – you might want to think about throwing a few out there.  Finally, anyone (members of the public and stakeholder organizations) are encouraged to file a submission addressing the questions by December 7, 2015.

The Discussion Paper asks the following questions specifically about the cultural industries:

  • What is the Ontario government doing well to support the cultural industries sector?
  • What would you like to see changed?
  • Are there best practices that Ontario could learn from and adapt?

Through the OMDC the Ontario government has been very supportive of the cultural industries with tax credits, the IDM Fund, Export Fund, Research Grants and programs like Digital Dialogue.  Yes, there are tweaks that could and should be done (I think specifically about the OIDMTC preventing co-production with other companies in Ontario and/or other provinces or countries, and the OFTTC expanding to web video) but this is the time to think about new ideas.  What could help the sector, or your part of it, expand, grow, adapt to change, become sustainable?  Yes, more funding but what kind of funding?  Are there gaps in training or skills development?

You might also want to look at the other sections of the Discussion Paper and see to what extent the cultural industries can address those questions.  Can Ontario film, television and digital media be a tool as well as an end in and of itself?  For example, how can the cultural industries be used to inspire youth to create, participate in and consume Ontario culture?  Can the cultural industries help the other cultural sectors better respond to digital challenges and opportunities.  How can the cultural industries help the Ontario government serve the various regions, communities and populations?

You can’t win if you don’t play (which probably quotes a lottery ad but that seems appropriate).

Comparing the Culture Platforms of the Major Parties

Over at TV, Eh! I have compared the Conservative, NDP, Liberal and Green platforms on culture, to the extent they have them.  I’ve also incorporated additional points from the NDP and Liberals from the Screen-Industries Debate yesterday as well as a few points I’ve received from direct questions to the parties.  I’ll update the post if I receive additional info and let everyone know if there’s more there.

If you work in digital media you are likely disappointed by the lack of discussion of your issues.  There have been brief references to a National Digital Strategy (by the NDP) and to digital being part of the CBC’s mandate (by the Liberals) but nothing specifically addressing the sector.  As outlined by Sasha Boersma in her blog post, some digital media issues overlap with mainstream issues while others are very specific to that sector.  The only way to become part of the discussion (for these and other cultural issues) is to ask candidates and parties where they stand – in person, by email, on twitter etc.  These are the last few days of the campaign but every party wants your vote.

Please do vote October 19th (or October 9 – 12th in the Advance Polls).

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.

Update – Party Positions on Arts and Culture

Well, some of them.

The Canadian Arts Coalition sent the four national parties a questionnaire to solicit party positions on arts and culture.  The Greens, Liberals and NDP responded and those answers are posted here.  The questions slant towards the Canada Council and don’t take into consideration culture as an economic driver but it is still interesting to read the responses and see to what extent the parties have thought out responses to questions about the Canada Council, international markets, digital content and the CBC.

I will let you come to your own conclusions about who has the most detailed, pro-active response to the questions but honestly, there is good stuff in all three of them.

The Cultural Sector is Missing in #Elxn42 – so far

[Full disclosure, I do belong to a political party but this is a non-partisan post about politics and Canadian media – or at least I’m trying my best for it to be non-partisan.  I think all the parties are failing on this point]

We are 24 days into a 78-day campaign in Canada (if I have my math right).  The top issue is the economy and how each party’s strategy to create economic growth and jobs differs from the others.  There are a few other issues, such as accountability, integrity, the environment and women’s issues (which by the way, I hate as a term since it refers to issues we all are or should be concerned with).  Very little if anything has been said about arts and culture.

What do we do about that?  It is rare for us to see arts and culture make the national stage.  In 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper helped make arts and culture a campaign issue when he suggested that ‘ordinary working people’ had no sympathy for rich artists whining about their subsidies while attending galas but that kind of gaffe is rare (it never occurred again).  It is also hard to talk about the need for Canadian arts and culture funding and legislation during a recession as even those of us in the sector tend to think it is not as important as health care, education and jobs – or at least will be perceived that way by voters.

That’s the problem because the cultural sectors are economic drivers that can help stimulate the economy and create jobs while at the same time giving voice to a nation’s stories.  Support for the cultural sectors should therefore be part of any party’s plan to support the economy and not just a throw away line to show they’ve thought about culture (for Liberals, Green and NDP I think that line is ‘restore cuts to the CBC’ while the Conservatives are probably focused on their big planned celebrations for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017).

Until/unless the parties come up with either detailed platforms relating to culture or incorporate the cultural sector into their detailed platforms on the economy then I think the only solution is for Canadians to ask their local candidates where they stand on arts and culture issues.  Here are a few that I think are important, and yes, I’m going to start with the CBC:

  • The CBC needs more than restoration of its budget cuts.  It needs a new agreement between the government and the CBC to identify its priorities and ensure that it has the necessary funding to meet those priorities.
  • Funding for Canadian content (all the programs at Heritage) is based on archaic methods of distribution. What will the next government do to update those programs?  For example, Canadian film and television tax credits need to include digital platforms as an approved method of distribution capable of triggering those tax credits.  The government’s agreement with the Canada Media Fund should not limit CMF’s ability to support content created primarily for digital platforms.
  • The Copyright Act is scheduled to be reviewed starting July 29, 2017 however in the last budget bill, without any discussion or public consultation, the government extended the copyright term for musical works. The government should commit to make no amendments to the Copyright Act without consultation and review.
  • Yes, we have Netflix and other non-Canadian services which earn revenues from Canadians, pay no taxes in Canada, draw eyeballs away from the regulated and contributing broadcasting system and make no contributions to supporting the production of Canadian programming. We need a solution, not empty rhetoric.
  • Affordable universal access to broadband. You might not think that’s an arts and culture issue but a basic right of citizenship and you would be right, but I put it here because as more and more content migrates to digital platforms, those who cannot afford broadband will increasingly find themselves unable to have the choice to enjoy a wide variety of high quality Canadian programming.  It is important to connect rural communities and the north but it is just as important to make sure that the urban poor (and at current ISP rates, also the not so poor) can have affordable access.  There are programs in many other countries to ensure that citizens have universal access to affordable broadband and we should look at them.

Those are just a few arts and culture topics that you could ask your candidates.  If you have other topics you would like to add to the list, let me know and I’ll update the post.

Federal Pre-Budget Consultations – Is There Any Point?

As part of the usual budget development process, the federal government launched pre-budget consultations June 6, 2014. The public has until August 6, 2014 to submit written submissions on what they would like to see in the budget. As the press release says, “Suggestions made by Canadians and the pre-budget report compiled by the Committee will be considered by the Minister of Finance in the development of the 2015 federal budget”.

After several years of a majority Conservative government, I believe that a few stakeholders, particularly those in the cultural industries, may be wondering if there is any point in participating in this process. Does the government listen to suggestions from the public or just do their own thing? Is there any point in going to the effort of writing a submission and trying to get on the witness list for the Finance Committee hearings?

I think so. Here’s the thing. The government may not listen. In fact, it probably won’t. I think that the government is looking to the 2015 election now and the upcoming budget will have that in mind. It will be about votes and I do not think that this government sees many votes for them in this sector. In film, television and digital media we got copyright reform (whether we are happy with it or not) and the Canada Media Fund made permanent. I do not think that we can expect anything else in the coming year. So what’s the point?

First, parliamentary committees are always a good way to raise the profile of an issue for government bureaucrats and provide them with data and resources. When the parliamentary committee system is dysfunctional, as it can be argued it is today, this can be the greatest value in participating in a committee process. Many issues take years to work their way through government departments, regardless of who is in power. Annual pre-budget consultations are a good way to keep publicly saying that an issue needs to be resolved and providing up to date data.

Second, there will be an election at some point in 2015 and now is a good time to let all political parties know what your top issues are. You can directly lobby them to try to get in to the party platform but a well-reasoned submission followed by an articulate presentation and well-answered questions will be noticed. There is no guarantee that your issues will fit within any party agenda but in my opinion attempting to influence party platforms in your favour is better than sitting back and complaining afterwards that you were ignored.

Besides, the Finance Committee has limited submissions to 2000 words so this really will not be a big effort on your part. Come up with the top 2 or 3 budget issues, describe them briefly and submit away. Hearings will be over the fall in Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Yellowknife and Vancouver as well as in Ottawa. What do you have to lose?