[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.