After months of campaigning, the election results are finally in: Canadians are sending a Liberal minority government to Ottawa.
Since the polls closed last night, I’ve received lots of messages asking what the election result means for FRIENDS’ priorities, namely the revitalization of CBC, the defence of Canadian journalism, and the ambitious, unapologetic support of Canadian storytellers. These are early days yet, but here are my initial thoughts.
The Liberals spent their first mandate dragging their feet on crucially important issues with major implications for Canadian culture, sovereignty, and democracy. Instead of requiring internet broadcasters like Netflix to finance Canadian content in the same measure as Canadian broadcasters, the Liberals struck a blue-ribbon panel to delay action until after the election. Likewise, the first Justin Trudeau government made the right noises about the need to hold platforms like Facebook responsible for broadcasting illegal content, but promised no action until after the election.
While these delay tactics were disappointing at the time, the good news is that “after the election” is finally here. Having been re-elected, the Liberals now have no excuse to further delay meaningful action. Additionally the NDP, which will hold the balance of power in the new Parliament, has taken strong, clear positions in support of our priorities. This sets the table for a productive session of the legislature, where our priorities are discussed and addressed.
The Liberals increased CBC funding in 2016, but the increase was temporary. Absent of government action, the CBC will revert to Harper-era funding levels by 2021. The Liberals could have promised to make that funding permanent, but their election platform was conspicuously silent on the question of CBC funding.
FRIENDS’ first priority is to get the new Liberal government to make the 2016 funding increase permanent. This is especially important given the Liberals' platform promise to enhance CBC local services. These welcome enhancements will cost money, and the government should be clear that new obligations will be accompanied by new funding to support them.
Netflix / Broadcasting Act
The Liberal platform promised to require internet broadcasters like Netflix to make “meaningful contributions” to Canadian content. How much is “meaningful”? Unfortunately, the word itself is meaningless by design. Such irony.
FRIENDS is calling for internet broadcasters to face the same Canadian content financing responsibilities as Canadian broadcasters: no more, no less. In other words, not a “meaningful” contribution, but an equitable contribution. With the Broadcasting Act under review, the new government will effectively determine whether Canadian broadcasting has a future, or will the new government pave the way for Netflix, Amazon, Disney, and other foreign streaming giants to complete their conquest of our screens?
Journalism and Democracy
While the Liberal platform did not promise to close the internet advertising loophole that sends $1.6 billion in public funds to the likes of Google and Facebook each year, it did contain a fairly clear commitment to hold the social media giants responsible when their platforms amplify illegal content, as Facebook did, for example, when it broadcast the Christchurch mosque murders in real time. This is a positive commitment and we will be pushing the government to act on it without delay.
The Liberal platform also promised a 3% income tax on the sale of foreign advertising products. While this is not enough, it is a welcome start. We will continue to call on the government to end the deductibility of foreign digital advertising expenses – closing the internet advertising loophole once and for all.
Working with a Minority Parliament
While the Liberal government did not make very clear or ambitious commitments on all of our issues, the NDP and the Greens most certainly did, and they now hold the balance of power in Parliament.
Minority parliaments can be effective. But to last more than a few months, the Liberals will have to agree to implement an agenda that the NDP and, to a lesser extent, the Greens can support. That’s where things get interesting.
It now falls on us to ensure that the future of public broadcasting, the survival of Canadian media, and the health of our democracy make it on to the list of bargaining items between the key parties. We’ll do that by keeping the pressure on, and by reminding all parties about the campaign commitments they made.
We now have our work cut out for us and the clock is ticking for us to establish our priorities at the top of this new government's agenda. Let’s get to it.