When Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly announced the new Canadian film venture with Netflix in September, she said a $500-million investment of “new money” over five years will fulfill the government’s new vision for cultural policy in Canada. As well, the money would fund new Canadian film productions. Approximately $25 million will be used to produce more French-language content.
Many people have asked why a tax on Canadian subscribers to Netflix was not imposed. The Netflix tax was proposed by a parliamentary committee in June, but was rejected by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Such a tax has been imposed in some European countries and in Australia, and would have added more funding to the Canadian sector than the proposed $500 million. Many Canadian filmmakers are concerned that, under the current arrangement, decisions about Netflix Canada will be made in its headquarters in California.
While this investment is good for Canada’s film industry, it is important to look at the details. First, this deal is part of the government’s new cultural policy, and according to Joly, “everything” was put on the table and reviewed. When the deal was announced, not one of Netflix’s Canadian representatives was present, creating uncertainty over the company’s commitment. Cultural advocates hope Netflix will not just create more productions using Canadian film crews and locations, but also tell Canadian stories.
Although Canadian films have earned an admirable reputation on the international stage, it is a challenge to compete with big budget films made in Hollywood. This Netflix deal will only create an equal playing field for Canada if the money is used to produce high-quality Canadian content.
Both Netflix and the federal government need to present a fleshed-out plan detailing Netflix’s plans. In fact, anytime there is a deal struck that affects taxpayers, transparency is crucial.
It is refreshing that the federal government is looking to a private company to generate competitive content. Now, it must ensure the deal works for Canadians. The government would be wise to publish a thorough plan showing how the deal with Netflix will stimulate the Canadian filmmaking industry.
Alexandra Burnett is Junior Research Associate enrolled in the Frontier Centre for Public Policy Internship Program.
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