Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly launched her surprise national consultation on Canadian content in a digital world last April with considerable excitement for the possibilities of revolutionizing policies born in an analog era. Joly spoke enthusiastically about the potential for Canadian creators to use digital networks to reach global audiences and for all stakeholders to rethink the cultural policy toolkit.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes that submissions to the consultation closed last week and despite the hope for new, innovative thinking, many of Canada’s largest cultural groups placed their bets on extending a myriad of funding mechanisms to the Internet. Rather than overhauling older programs, the groups want those policies expanded by mandating new fees, costs or taxes on Internet services, Internet service providers, Internet advertisers, and even the sale of digital storage devices such as USB keys and hard drives.
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The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage wrapped up its lengthy hearing on the media and local news last week with appearances from Facebook, Google, and the Globe and Mail (I appeared before the committee last month and my opening comments and review of the discussion that followed can be found here). The high profile witnesses sparked another round of debate over the ongoing troubles in the newspaper industry with intensifying criticism of the CBC’s emphasis on digital news services, including a new opinion section and its acceptance of digital advertising, which are both viewed as direct competition for the struggling private sector alternatives.
For example, Globe and Mail publisher Phillip Crawley told the committee that the CBC is the Globe’s largest competitor in the digital ad space. He expressed concern over the inclusion of opinion, which is viewed as further encroaching on newspapers’ turf, and pointed to the BBC’s approach, which faces government-backed restrictions on accepting digital advertising on its domestic websites. The CBC criticism has emerged as a common theme for several years with many media organizations and commentators arguing that CBC should not be in the business of competing with newspapers.
The CBC responded on Monday with a letter to the committee titled “limiting access to the digital public space is not in the public interest.” The CBC argued that given the struggles of smaller papers, its online presence is more important than ever. Further, it tried to downplay the significance of its digital advertising revenue, arguing that it amounts to $25 million annually, a very small share of the total digital advertising expenditures in Canada.
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President-Elect Donald Trump has ended any further speculation about the future of the Trans Pacific Partnership by announcing that he plans to formally withdraw from the agreement on his first day in office. I’ve written extensively about why ratification for Canada would be a mistake and argued last week in the Globe that Canada should use the death of the TPP as an opportunity to re-examine its approach to trade agreement negotiations including working toward greater transparency, focusing on tariff reduction rather than regulations, and dropping controversial ISDS provisions.
The need for Canada to wait on the U.S. has been readily apparent for months. As currently structured, the TPP cannot take effect without the U.S. since entering into force requires ratification by at least six signatories who represent at least 85 percent of the GDP of the countries in the original deal. That provision effectively gives both the U.S. and Japan veto power. With the U.S. pulling out, the agreement will not enter into force no matter what Canada (or anyone else) does.
The central role of the U.S. in the TPP is no accident. For most TPP countries, access to the U.S. market was the primary reason for entering into the agreement and as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said over the weekend, “the TPP would be meaningless without the United States.” Indeed, the reason Canada, Japan, and Mexico all joined the TPP talks late was that without a clear commitment from the U.S., the agreement was of limited value.
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The costs associated with the increased patent protections for pharmaceutical drugs in the trade agreement between Canada and the European Union has long been one of the most controversial elements of the deal. At least one study has pegged the cost to provincial health care at more than a billion dollars. In response to those concerns, the Conservative government promised to compensate the provinces for the increased costs. Earlier this year, when officials from Health Canada appeared before a House of Commons committee, they acknowledged that it is hard to estimate the actual cost but that they knew that the agreement would increase the costs of drugs in Canada.
Last week, Steve Verheul, the lead Canadian CETA negotiator, appeared before another House of Commons committee and was asked if the department has done any analysis on the financial impact of the extended patent protection. Remarkably, Verheul said that it has not, arguing that it is difficult to come up with a projection. In fact, when pressed on the issue, Verheul speculated that perhaps costs would not increase since Canadians already pays higher prices for pharmaceutical drugs than consumers in European countries such as the UK, France or Germany.
These comments from Canada’s lead CETA negotiations are simply bewildering.
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The Canadian chapter of the International Institute of Communications held their annual conference in Ottawa this week, headlined on Thursday by back-to-back appearances from Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly (in a question and answer session with Jennifer Ditchburn) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.
Both ministers spoke primarily about their key policy initiative, namely digital cancon (Joly) and innovation (Bains). Joly’s cancon discussion again emphasized the benefits of exports and foreign investment, but she also indicated that all policies are still on the table, including an ISP tax and efforts to bring Internet companies such as Netflix “into the system.” Joly was followed by Bains, who used his speech to sketch out the foundation of his forthcoming innovation strategy. His focus included universal, affordable Internet access and telecom competition (which raises real doubts about whether the government will approve Bell’s proposed purchase of MTS).
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