President’s Message – September 2019

Let’s stand up for culture

The year 2007 was fraught with frustration as professional ACTRA performers haggled with producers for fair pay when our work was used online. Our frustration escalated and eventually led to the first strike in our union’s then over 60-year-history.

Twelve years later, digital is still disrupting our industry. While our own collective agreements have evolved to guarantee we’re paid fairly for Internet use, it is our federal politicians who have fallen behind in adapting to the digital economy.

Over-the-top players like Netflix and Amazon Prime continue to get a free ride in Canada, taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of our economy with no requirement to contribute in the form of HST, the creation of Cancon and making Canadian programming accessible. Two EU countries (France and Hungary) plus Turkey have already started taxing Internet companies’ revenues with Austria, Belgium, Italy, Spain and the U.K. looking to follow suit. Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Taiwan, Russia and several U.S. states also impose sales taxes on digital players.

Last fall, the European Union approved a new Audiovisual Directive requiring video-on-demand services to devote at least 30 per cent of their catalogue to European content and to contribute to the development of European audiovisual productions, either through a direct investment in content or a contribution to national funds.

Two Canadian provinces are also ahead of the game with both Quebec and Saskatchewan introducing legislation earlier this year requiring provincial sales tax to be collected on digital players. Even Netflix has stated, on record, it would comply with any government legislation, but no one’s asked it to.

What we’ve seen at the federal level in Canada over the last four years are numerous studies, reviews and public consultations about key pieces of legislation affecting our industry, including the Broadcasting Act, Telecommunications Act and the Copyright Act. Problem is, although these public consultations have taken place, legislation has yet to be changed and will not be addressed until January of 2020.

With the federal election coming up on October 21, it’s critical we collectively shine a spotlight on issues affecting Canadian performers and the film, television and digital media industry. We must step up and make our voices heard because this election may very well be a pivotal point in our country’s cultural history.

It’s up to us, as artists, to each play a role in electing a government that supports arts and culture. Let’s vote for a government that will Keep Canada on our Screens. We need to show politicians we’re not just characters on screens.

We’re their neighbours and their constituents. It’s because of our professionalism and our work with governments and industry partners that we continue to attract productions from around the globe. Last year, Canada saw almost $9 billion in production and 179,000 full-time equivalent jobs in film and television, contributing $12.8 billion to our country’s GDP.

So, get involved. Talk to your local candidates – whether it’s at a debate or a town hall, when you run into them at a community event or when they come knocking on your door – take the opportunity to ask them a question about the film and television industry, such as:

  • Will they level the playing field so all players in the Canadian market – domestic and foreign, traditional and digital – are held to the same standards in terms of taxation, production contributions and discoverability of Canadian content?
  • Will they provide long-term, stable funding to the CBC/Radio-Canada, Canada Media Fund, National Film Board and Telefilm Canada?
  • Will they deliver a made-in-Canada copyright solution that respects audiovisual performers and ensures we are properly compensated for our work, including the extension of economic and moral rights to audiovisual artists?Have your say in this election! Vote for your industry; the industry that helps pay your bills. Vote for your career and for the betterment of Canada through culture. Don’t leave the choice of government up to others. Demand more from your government. Ask questions. And most importantly, VOTE on October 21.

    In solidarity,

David Sparrow