The Minister of Canadian Heritage recently launched consultations on Canadian Content in a Digital World to explore how we can strengthen the creation, discovery and export of Canadian content in the 21st century. On November 15, we gathered some experts to explore the state of the industry and the potential impact of policy changes. We were joined by Kevin McMahon, writer, director and producer; Dave Sparrow, president of ACTRA Toronto (Alliance of Cinema, Television and Radio Artists); and Erin Lowers, writer, publicist, and digital strategist specializing in the creative industries.
Dave Sparrow explained that there are many reasons we should care about Canadian content. One is financial – job creation is high in the film and television industries. We also project our culture through our art, which benefits us at home but also leads to an increase in tourism and interest in Canada. He said we should be showcasing our diversity on TV. “When we see ourselves reflected on our screens, it makes us proud and gives us the knowledge of what it means to be Canadian.” Sparrow also noted a number of changes that the industry has gone through in recent years. Global TV used to play 100% Canadian Content but their recent prime time slot had no shows that were Canadian.
Erin Lowers has worked with hip hop artists for the past 8 years. She’s seen a growth in this realm in Canada recently despite little mainstream support for local hip hop. No artists she works with were aware of the current consultations, a problem if we’re trying to enhance and embrace all our art forms and voices. Even when Flow 93.5 was on air, it was playing a limited amount of local hip hop artists. She noted that many young artists from Toronto’s diverse communities don’t listen to mainstream radio because they don’t feel that they’re represented.
“Documentary was invented in Canada. The genre is very much rooted in this country,” says Kevin McMahon, although the industry went downhill in 2006 with the Harper government. McMahon noted that three main companies decide what goes on TV. Much of what we’re getting now is reality TV, which is cheap and takes away from the aesthetics of the work. Diversity is part of our culture and it needs to be protected. A Canadian Content policy change is a business issue, an issue of Canadian identity and an issue about what people perceive as reality, according to McMahon.
Someone from the audience asked if it’s possible to support Canadian content while having American content available as well – do we have to give up American content that we like? Sparrow noted it’s an unfair playing field since Shomi and CraveTV are subject to Canadian taxes, but Netflix and other foreign companies aren’t. Netflix has 700,000 subscribers in Canada but no money from that goes into our economy. Lowers added that we need to rely on our government to push and support our Canadian content.
Another question was about representation and if Canada should be represented by the old, white Canada, and many TV show examples point to, or by new Canada? McMahon said we should be represented by the new. In the documentary field, more female creators are producing work and there are very strong Indigenous creators, but overall it’s still a very white field. Diversity is the core of Canada’s strength. Lowers said that we use the word “diversity” too much without meaning. She questioned how we’re communicating with people in each community? Diversity isn’t just in skin tone, it’s also in economics and we need to speak to people in actual communities outside the core. Sparrow added that inclusion is as action word and we need to share the screen. Canadian stories aren’t just dog sleds.
Someone asked about the CRTC and how things should change with the digitized world? Sparrow said “our government is unwilling to regulate the internet… and they need to.” He said that we shouldn’t have too many creative restrictions in place but if offline creative outlets are regulated, online ones should be too. In CRTC decided not to regulate the internet. However, Netflix is currently paying taxes in France and two US states because they were asked to. We haven’t asked them to. Lowers said that we need regulations online and for digital content. McMahon added that Canadian media companies have no allegiance to Canada, they just want to make money. There was a comment from the audience that the government should not be regulating the internet and that there are enough limitations on content. Another audience member replied that regulations don’t have to be a barrier, it’s just making Canadian content available and putting it front and centre. Regulation means creating an equal playing field for everyone.
Sparrow pointed out that when music was sold on iTunes for 99 cents, artists got 9 cents. Artists aren’t being fairly compensated, which is why regulation is important. In response to a comment that Millennials are too used to free content, McMahon pointed out that older generations grew up with free content too via TV and radio. Overall, it’s about contributing to our culture and making global connections. Lowers’ final word was that she hopes the conversation extends beyond the mainstream so all Canadian artists and communities are represented.