Prime Time ’18: Minister Joly talks trade, Netflix

Joly addresses the confusion around Creative Canada, and says the Netflix agreement was "always part of our transition plan" for a policy framework that includes digital players.
Joly Prime Time 18

Creative Canada offered a number of initiatives that buoyed the Canadian production industry, but it also caused an uproar over Netflix that continues to this day.

Canada’s Heritage Minister Melanie Joly acknowledged the “confusion and surprise” around the platform in her lunchtime keynote chat with CMPA president Reynolds Mastin at Prime Time on Feb. 1. A Francophone herself, Joly said she understood the Quebec cultural community’s reaction  to the Netflix portion of the policy, which saw fierce opposition arise on both provincial government and industry levels.

She noted the “strong anxiety” that many Quebeckers have about the protection of francophone culture, and the worry that a large OTT like Netflix could overtake french-language content, especially with the younger generation.

“The reality is that we always thought that this was our transition plan,” she told the audience. “We don’t have the tools in our system right now to have a way to protect our culture on the web. The Netflix investment made sense… and this is based on the fact that we were able to convince Netflix that the Canadian market is a great market. We thought that would bring money into the system in order to export great content.”

The conversation stopped short of addressing some of the meatier aspects of the “confusion and surprise” around the Netflix deal, including the still-unanswered questions of what Netflix’s presence in Canada will look like, how much “new” money is on the table and how Canadian content will be defined.

Instead, Joly pivoted to the 2018 Broadcast and Telecommunications Act review, the consultation period for which is set to end this June. “I think that the real conversation, and I think where we will be able to work together, is the review of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Act,” she said. “This is how we can fundamentally change how we can have Canadian content in our country and our future.”

Most of the confusion Joly referenced was around the so-called “Netflix tax,” which in the past had been a term primarily used to refer to the call for OTTs to contribute to the Canadian content system, but which morphed into a confusing catch-all term  in the weeks following the Creative Canada announcement.

A significant point of interest in the conversation was an insight regarding the changes to increase credit-processing efficiency at CAVCO, an area Mastin emphasized was a “big ask” from the CMPA.

“If you look at the last months, CAVCO has been processing a record number of files: 400 per month. They’ve been able to reduce by half their waiting times,” she said, crediting CAVCO’s Scott White for spearheading the changes.

Joly also emphasized her office’s work to increase Canada’s footprint abroad with “boots on the ground” in embassies and trade offices around the world. There are 60 people in such offices now, she said, in cities including L.A., D.C. and New York in the U.S., and Mexico City, Berlin, London, Paris, Shanghai, Jakarta, Pretoria, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai and Tokyo. She said the doors to such people were open and offered access via the government-run website Tradecommissioner.gc.ca.

The Minister will formally put a piece of the Creative Canada pie into place today, Friday Feb. 2, as she co-chairs the first official meeting of the Canada-China Joint Committee on Culture with her counterpart in China, Luo Shugang.

Also on the international front was Canada’s securing of cultural exemptions, including in the digital realm, in the Trans Pacific Partnership talks this January. Cultural exemptions allow cultural products to be treated separately than other commercial products in a trade agreement; Joly said TPP represents the first time digital language has been included in such a deal, as NAFTA and CETA do not. The TPP agreement is expected to be signed in March, 2018.