In early 2017, the federal government will reveal its highly-anticipated policy pronouncements on modernizing the legal and financial tools that it employs to support Canadian content.
Beginning with a "pre-consultation" in the spring of 2016, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has been crafting policies to strengthen Canadian content creation, discovery and distribution in a global and digital world. Warning stakeholders and regulators that "everything is on the table" in her review, a discussion paper released in the fall of 2016 began to narrow the inquiry to three policy objectives:
- Fostering a cultural system that respects citizens' content choices and supports content creation and discovery;
- Ensuring that Canadian content levers and supports Canadian diversity and democracy, including by creating and accessing local information and news; and
- Supporting the social and economic growth of Canadian cultural creators and entrepreneurs.
The public weighed in on a cross-country tour and through an online forum.
Some hot-button issues have emerged, most notably, the role, if any at all, that Canadian and foreign online content providers (such as Netflix) should have in supporting Canadian content.
There are a range of possibilities being discussed under a catch-all term of "Netflix tax." Some advocate that foreign online content providers with customers in Canada should be required to charge a sales tax on their digital services to Canadian customers. This might be accompanied by, or be in lieu of, requiring Canadian and foreign online content providers or Canadian Internet service providers to directly contribute funds to the creation of Canadian content.
One of the issues is whether to move away from a system which requires service providers to contribute funds to the development of Canadian content or content delivery to a system of tax incentives for investments. The new regime will need to balance consumers' interests for affordable Internet service and online content services with fostering production of quality Canadian content, compensating Canadian creators for their productions, and ensuring that Canadian content is available on all platforms and is made available to Canadian and international audiences.
The results of the consultation will be a significant development in 2017 in creating cultural policy for the digital age.