The Motion Picture Association – Canada this week promoted the Canadian link to Sonic the Hedgehog movie, the top grossing movie in the world at the moment. Much of the movie was filmed in British Columbia, generating millions in production spending and creating nearly 1,500 jobs. Normally, this would be viewed as a good news story and indicative of the global competitiveness of film and production in Canada. Yet the Broadcast and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel report downplays the importance of this production, crafting policy recommendations that emphasizes the importance of supporting Canadian stories as a critical aspect of its approach.
Indeed, the willingness to violate net neutrality norms, impose discoverability requirements, and establish a global levy system for websites and services around the world is primarily based on the argument that Canadian policy must work to promote the production of Canadian content. This policy goal is framed as the need for Canada “to continue to assert its cultural sovereignty and Canadians can continue to express their identity and culture through content.”
The report acknowledges the record breaking film and television production in Canada (driven by Netflix, which CRTC chair Ian Scott has called “probably the biggest single contributor to the [Canadian] production sector today), but argues that such production does not contribute to Canadian stories and Canadian content. Instead, it suggests that only Cancon certified production can do so:
The support for Canadian drama has led to the growth of the independent production sector in Canada. In 2017-2018, Canadian productions accounted for over $3 billion in Canadian film and TV production, half of this amount in the drama genre. That is an important economic driver in the Canadian economy. But more important is the fact that these producers can create stories rooted in Canada and with a unique Canadian perspective that all Canadians will be able to enjoy.
Despite the emphasis on Canadian stories, the panel does not grapple with the question of whether the Canadian system for certifying Cancon actually produces Canadian stories. Instead, it states “it is time to review the model for supporting Canadian content, but not the definition of Canadian content.” In other words, it is prepared to overhaul the regulatory rules for creating and delivering Canadian content, but not even consider the rules that determine what qualifies as Canadian content.
In fact, the not-so-secret reality of the Canadian system is that foreign location and service production and Canadian content are frequently indistinguishable. Qualifying as Canadian requires having a Canadian producer along with meeting a strict point system that rewards granting roles such as the director, screenwriter, lead actors, and music composer to Canadians. Yet this is a poor proxy for “telling our stories”.
Just how poor of a proxy? Take this quiz of 20 film and television programs, all of which are either Cancon certified, based on works written by Canadians, feature Canadian performers, or (in the words of the panel) are rooted in Canada.