All you need to know about why your Netflix bill will go up sometime in the next couple of years is contained in this paragraph from a recent report in Cartt.ca:
“A Quebecor-led coalition of Quebec artists, festivals, production companies, unions, funding agencies and executives at companies including Bell, Cogeco, V, Stingray, Télé-Québec and TV5, published an open letter calling on the government to level the fiscal playing field for broadcasters.”
Cartt.ca went on to quote from the open letter, which urged federal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly to tax Netflix and others: “We cannot allow foreign giants to avoid the taxes that all local businesses must charge. This injustice must be corrected. It penalizes our business, our artists and our workers. We have a shared duty to protect Quebec and Canadian culture.”
Forget for a moment that if the francophone network TV5 deeply cared about Canada it would broadcast more programs related to it. And set aside for now that this protest comes from a patriotic coalition led by one of Quebec’s leading separatists. If all of this fuss had anything to do with Canadian culture, sometime in the past 40 years and tens of billions in funding dollars, somebody in this country would have made a feature film about, oh, Vimy Ridge or Louis Riel or Alexander Mackenzie or David Thompson. But they have not.
Disregard that, by force of will, many content creators are determined to stuff the 21st century into the public policy straitjackets that defined Canadian broadcasting in the 20th century. And forget that Netflix is already spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Canadian productions.
Only three words really matter in this story: culture, protect and Quebec.
They have been intertwined for at least 258 years and they will not be untwined. Ever.
The preservation and protection of the French language and identity on this continent is so deeply ingrained in every francophone that nothing as petty as a technology revolution can deter its instincts.
As the former Conservative government discovered in 2008, even the slightest threat is punished and repelled. As Joly found out when she was pummelled in Montreal media for her eminently sensible decisions regarding Netflix in September, the tiniest hint that things might have to change is met with shouts in the street and gatherings of les patriotes on the barricades.
When it comes to cultural symbols, language or public policies, it’s one for all and all for one. No soldier is left behind.
This doesn’t always work well for what used to be known as English Canada, which is systemically underfunded comparatively, primarily because it would rather be so than provoke the status quo.
The now-defunct Local Programming Improvement Fund, for instance, was created to address what was thought to be a temporary revenue crisis in the English language TV industry. The French system, which generally benefits from a virtuous cycle in that it has a linguistically captive audience that protects it from Hollywood in ways the English system can only dream of, faced no such crisis. And yet one in three dollars raised and redistributed through the fund was directed to Quebec because, well, no one could imagine trying to deal with the consequences of doing otherwise.
This can be frustrating for some while others wish the rest of Canada was as protective of its traditions and cultures as those who maintain the francophone fortifications.
So far, Joly has rightly recognized that the best way to preserve Canadian identity in the 21st century is not by building walls but through the development and promotion of high-quality content.
That conversation, however, may take a little longer in French than it does in English. And it will almost certainly take some of your money in the form of levies on your online content.
Peter Menzies is a former newspaper publisher who served as a CRTC commissioner for 10 years.