The ongoing furor over Netflix taxes remains one of oddest and most poorly understood public policy debates in recent memory. Part of the problem is that a “Netflix tax” has long been used to mean different things to different people. When first raised by the Conservative government, the issue had nothing to do with sales tax. Rather, a “Netflix tax” was a reference to a mandated contribution to help fund Canadian content, a position supported by various cultural groups and some provincial governments. The no-Netflix tax position took hold, however, and all three major parties adopted the position that they would not mandate contributions from online service providers such as Netflix.
More recently, the debate has shifted to Netflix tax as a sales tax with the goal of creating a “level playing field.” I tried to debunk the level playing field claims in this post and on Canadaland, but the claims of the need for a level playing field and sales tax continues. Yesterday, the NDP stated:
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Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly seemingly put the prospect of an Internet tax to bed when she launched her Creative Canada report last month. Throughout the year-and-a-half consultation, there were persistent rumours that an Internet tax was being considered as a mechanism to help fund Cancon. Yet when the Prime Minister rejected an Internet tax last June minutes after it was proposed by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, the policy initiative promoted by some cultural lobby groups seemed dead. Joly’s comments at her policy launched suggested much the same:
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Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly presented her vision for digital Cancon earlier today, delivering a wide ranging plan that included previously leaked information about a commitment from Netflix to spend $500 million over five years on production in Canada. The Netflix commitment is the headline of the day, though earlier reports inaccurately claimed that the funding would be for Canadian content rather than productions in Canada (the two are not the same given the restrictive approach to Cancon definitions).
The agreement represents a major long-term commitment to the Canadian market which should go some way to appeasing critics who feared that the company might abandon Canadian production in the future. However, since Canada was already one of the company’s top three countries for production, it may not result in a significant increase in funding.
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