Political debate on culture and media: the courage to take action

Political debate on culture and media: the courage to take action

With creators’ revenues melting away and the media industry in crisis mode, stakeholders from the cultural and media sectors were concerned as they came together in Montreal on September 18 to discuss these issues and, in particular, hear ideas and proposals from candidates representing each of the parties in the 2019 federal election.

Kicking off the event, author and scriptwriter Michelle Allen set the tone for this major debate on culture and media. In a heartfelt speech, the writer of the popular TV series Fugueuse condemned the “utopia of free everything” and criticized the federal government’s inaction. She noted that the Copyright Act needed to be updated in order to get rid of its plethora of exceptions and make it favourable to artists. “There are more and more reports and committees. While that’s happening, a deadly status quo persists.”

From that point onward, various participants on the panels preceding the election debate used incisive expressions to highlight that it was urgent to get moving and that the house was on fire. Political candidates Chu-Anh Pham (New Democratic Party), Monique Pauzé (Bloc Québécois) and Pierre Nantel (Green Party of Canada) each supported those ideas and accused the previous Liberal and Conservative governments of not taking appropriate action.

In-depth studies or wait-and-see approach?

With many countries in the European Union making headway and reforming their national legislation, especially copyright laws, Pablo Rodriguez, the Liberal Party’s candidate in the Honoré-Mercier riding and the outgoing Minister of Canadian Heritage, had to defend the Liberal government’s record in that area.

When his opponents accused him of having done nothing, Mr. Rodriguez listed the government’s investments in culture and the numerous studies done by the House of Commons. “The other countries have been asking these questions for 10 to 15 years. We’ve been asking them for 4 years. They’re doing a marathon. We’re doing a sprint.”

The outgoing minister’s remarks resembled those by Gérard Deltell, the Conservative Party’s candidate in Louis-Saint-Laurent. Asked pointedly about his party’s positions on taxing the Web giants and updating copyright and broadcasting legislation, the Conservative MP was evasive but consistent, repeating a number of times that his party was waiting to see the conclusions of the studies done by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Fair dealing for education

Raising an issue that she wanted the election debate to address, Frédérique Couette, Copibec’s Executive Director, discussed the situation experienced by most of the educational institutions in provinces other than Quebec where authors and publishers are no longer being compensated for the use of their content.

The addition of the word “education” to the fair dealing exceptions in the Copyright Act opened the door for educational institutions to massively reproduce thousands of works free of charge. Even though that amendment was made by the Conservative government in 2012, Gérard Deltell conceded that it had perhaps been a mistake. “There were some things that it wasn’t possible to foresee. They need to be measured and corrected.”

The other candidates made similar remarks. Monique Pauzé stated that “Artists cannot make a living from their art. They need to be assured of fair compensation.” Referring to a broader review of the Copyright Act, Pablo Rodriguez added that “We’re reviewing it. If we’re elected, we’ll continue.”

Book publishing almost absent from the event

This brief discussion about the exceptions in the Copyright Act was one of the rare times the book publishing sector was mentioned. Noting that there had been no representatives from the book publishing sector on the pre-debate discussion panel, the executive directors of the Union des écrivaines et des écrivains québécois (UNEQ) and the Association nationale des éditeurs de livres (ANEL) took advantage of the debate question period to underscore some of the sector’s issues.

“I can only deplore the absence of representatives from the book industry in this discussion panel on culture,” Laurent Dubois, UNEQ’s executive director, said circumspectly. The same criticism was made by the representatives from the performing arts. Geoffrey Gaguère, from the Conseil québécois du théâtre, did not hesitate to interrupt the debate to draw the candidates’ attention to that reality.

Now’s the time for courage

Courage was the theme discussed as the debate ended. More specifically, the courage to bring the Web giants in line. Is Canada able to be courageous when it comes to respecting creators’ rights? The Bloc, NDP and Green Party were unanimous in considering that Canada had stopped being courageous and was no longer the leader it once was. The Liberals and Conservatives emphatically affirmed that Canada was and remained a courageous country.

Regardless of how the election plays out, the arts and culture sector wants the party in power to take action quickly. “We hope that the report from the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage will be taken into consideration,” Mr. Dubois explained.

To view the entire debate, go to the website of the CPAC public affairs channel.