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All the World’s a Stage for Canada’s Culture, Says Joly

After decades of public policy nurturing, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly says Canada’s cultural sector is mature and ready to take off on the world stage.

“2017 will be the year of Canadian content; clearly, we want to export,” Joly said, referring to markets, including China, which she called highly open to Canadian ventures in the performing arts, augmented reality, movies and related movie-experience technologies.

“We are moving away from protectionism to promotion,” she said in an interview with the Star Friday.

Joly, along with representatives from groups including the National Film Board, met with Chinese officials and Canadian creators working in China during a visit last month that she said constitutes a first step toward a series of commercial cultural trade missions.

Joly was also a delegate to the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, the only cultural minister to attend that annual event for business and political leaders.

“I went to Davos, I went to the World Economic Forum to pitch Canadian content,” she said, noting that she stressed the need for a diversity of cultural voices in the digital age.

She also pointed to a $1.9-billion investment in cultural industries over five years that was part of the Liberal government’s 2016 budget, calling it the most substantial support among G7 countries.

“We have invested massively in the Canada Council and CBC/Radio-Canada, so we have honoured our social obligation and social contract. Now, I profoundly believe that by investing in the creative industries we can build middle-class jobs and grow the economy.”

Joly cited Canada’s strong position in the export of musical talent and the production of TV, film and video games, citing an entertainment software industry report that shows an average annual full-time salary of more than $71,000 for video game developers.

Cultural GDP has been expanding in Canada, according to Statistics Canada, rising 2.8 per cent in 2014 led by audio-visual and interactive media — with written and published works as the only decreasing category.

The sector directly contributed about 3.1 per cent to overall Canadian gross domestic product in 2010 according to the most recent data from the Conference Board, but cost cutting has also kept a lid on job growth.

StatsCan says jobs in cultural industries decreased by 0.8 per cent in 2014 as the broadcasting sector wrestled with a chronic drop in advertising in a splintered media market.

Joly has promised to unveil a cultural export strategy this year aimed in part at bolstering cultural sector employment. It could be announced with results of a sweeping public consultation on cultural industries in the Internet age that concluded late last year.

She said the process included talks with all content platforms, including foreign-based streaming web video and audio services such as Netflix, which are not regulated under a new media exemption order.

Some Internet freedom advocacy groups including Open Media are warning of an imminent imposition of a tax on content generated over the Web and sold in Canada as part of the recommendations following the consultation.

Joly deferred to Finance Minister Bill Morneau when asked if an Internet tax is on the table.

Netflix has declined to divulge details of its business in Canada, but a June report from Toronto-based Solutions Research Group said about 5.2 million Canadian households pay for a Netflix subscription, versus about one million for Bell Media’s CraveTV service.

Joly would not say if Netflix provided proprietary business data, but said roughly 32 per cent of all fixed-network bandwidth traffic during peak times in Canada is used up by the Los Gatos, Calif.- based company.

She also declined to say if she is considering public support for the struggling newspaper industry. She said it is up to the sector to come up with a business strategy that allows it to cope with virtual rivals such as Facebook that are now the go-to source for daily news for an estimated 40 per cent of millennial consumers.

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