Michael Geist, who is the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa‘s faculty of law, writes, in an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, that, “a government-appointed panel tasked with reviewing Canada’s broadcast and telecommunications laws is likely to recommend new regulations for internet streaming companies such as Netflix, Disney and Amazon that will include mandated contributions to support Canadian film and television production. In fact, even if the panel stops short of that approach, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission [CRTC] chair Ian Scott have both signalled their support for new rules, with Mr. Guilbeault recently promising legislation by year-end and Mr. Scott calling it inevitable … [but, while] … The new internet regulations are popular among cultural lobby groups … their need rests on a shaky policy foundation as many concerns with the fast-evolving sector have proved unfounded.“
The urge to regulate in order to protect Canada from dominant market players like America and, in earlier years, Britain, is both strong and traditional in Canada. It is especially strong when our cultural industries are involved. The Laurentian Consensus says that Canadians are, somehow, markedly different from Americans or Australians or Brits or Danes and our stories and songs will be swamped by a tidal wave of American action movies, British pop music and Danish TV dramas. In fact, of course, many independent Canadian artists and producers, working in an increasingly global market, are producing good (by which I mean popular, often profitable and critically acclaimed) films, good TV dramas, and good music, too.
Now, music is the area within which the proponents of protective regulation point to success. Ever since the 1970s, the CRTC has mandated that a certain percentage of “air time” on radio programmes that play music must go to Canadian music ~ and there are regulations, of course, about what makes a song or a musician Canadian. I’m not going to argue that ‘Can-con’ (Canadian content) regulations did not help Canadian musicians and Canadian production companies. Air time does equal money. But I’m not sure how much ‘Can-con’ actually helped e.g. Joni Michell, Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young to become (and remain) global musical superstars. They certainly never helped Glen Gould and Jon Vickers, who were also global sensations, in the 1950s and ’60s.
Professor Geist explains that the existing ‘Can-con’ regulations are not a one-way street, protecting artists from broadcasters. They also “provide broadcasters and broadcast distributors with many regulatory advantages. These include lucrative simultaneous substitution rules that allow them to replace U.S. commercials with Canadian ones, foreign investment restrictions that limit competition, must-carry regulations that mandate that certain channels be purchased by consumers in even basic cable packages, copyright rules that legalize redistribution of broadcast signals, and protection to keep U.S. giants such as ESPN and HBO out of the market.” What we, Canadians, have, in fact, is a small, almost incestuous group of broadcasting and production “insiders” (look at CRTC Chair Ian Scott’s bio) who regulate for the benefit of their fellow production and broadcasting stakeholders.
But the new, global, internet-based market is different. As Michael Geist explains, “Internet-based streaming services are not beholden to this system, however. Notwithstanding calls for a level playing field, they do not enjoy any of the Canadian broadcast regulatory advantages. Simply put, there is no free ride. Rather, Canadian and foreign streaming services are equally subject to lightweight regulations, reflecting a business model that depends upon winning consumer choice rather than regulatory favour.” But, even if they don’t get the ‘Can-con’ gravy, the internet-based streaming services are, already, providing the meat. Professor Geist quotes Ian Scott who said that “Netflix is “probably the biggest single contributor to the [Canadian] production sector today.” … [and Dr Geist adds] … The company committed in 2017 to spend at least $500-million over five years on film and TV production in Canada, but has already exceeded that figure.“
Are Minister Guilbeault and Chairman Scott trying to kill the goose that’s already laying golden eggs? Probably not. Mr Scott, at least, knows better; but they are both pandering to a public perception that, driven by special interest groups and the Laurentian Elites, wants to regulate anything profitable, anything foreign, anything new and anything they do not understand.
Netflix (and others) are spending big money in Canada, producing Canadian stories, employing Canadian actors and technicians and so on because Canadians ~ other than the government-owned and operated CBC ~ are able to make good (popular, profitable, critically acclaimed) films, TV shows and music … just as are the Australians, Belgians, Chinese, Danes and Israelis. Canada needs to compete in every commercial and industrial sector. Entertainment is one of them. Canadians have, for decades, excelled, globally, in every field, including in the performing arts, music and popular entertainment. Regulations didn’t make Goin’ Down the Road or nurture Bachman Turner Overdrive. Regulation may provide a safe haven for second and third rate efforts, like the CBC, for example, but it will do little for maintaining a vibrant Canadian cultural scene. The proposal by Minister Steven Guilbeault, seemingly endorsed by Ian Scott, gets things back-asswards, but there will probably be very little criticism in the media and none from the public because it’s what the Laurentian Elites want.