Supporting Canada’s creators a strong focus of #DigiCanCon consultation report

Feedback gathered through social media, in-person consultations and the DigiCanCon web portal has been compiled and released in the form of the Department of Canadian Heritage’s consultation report called What we heard across Canada: Canadian Culture in a Digital World.

Focus On Creators has analyzed and discussed the report with our partners. We are encouraged by the consensus message sent to Canadian Heritage by those who took part in the consultations.

The report was prepared by Ipsos, who the government commissioned to synthesize feedback from thousands of Canadians, including citizens, industry associations and stakeholders. Ideas and submissions are archived on the government’s ‘What we have heard’ website.

Focus On Creators’ supporting partners shared news of the report’s release:

A wide swath of Canada’s creative industries participated in the consultations, including authors, visual artists, musicians, actors, screenwriters, and other creators of cultural content.

Overall, the ideas and submissions contained in the report provide many reasons to be hopeful that the consultation will produce positive results for creators. Many participants expressed a belief shared by our coalition that creators need to be compensated fairly when their work is used.

Creators were central to a few of the consultations’ key themes:

Modernizing Canada’s legislative framework and national cultural institutions could have profound results for Canada’s creators. Our letter to Minister Joly, now signed by more than 2,400 Canadian creators, identifies the 2017 Copyright Act review as a major opportunity for the government to stand up for Canada’s creators. Participants in the consultations agreed the Copyright Act has “not kept pace with the shifting digital environment and should be examined.” This feedback reinforces the importance of the 2017 Copyright Act review, specifically the need for meaningful updates to the Act to better support creators in the digital age.

Showcasing Canada’s cultural sector includes exploring the need for increased support for the production, marketing and export of Canadian content, which would help underscore its value at home and abroad.

Reasserting the role of Canadian creators in the digital age was something participants felt was necessary because of the “need to ensure that Canadian creators share in the financial rewards resulting from increased dissemination of cultural content via digital channels,” as well as the need “to foster increased re-investments in order to promote the creation of Canadian digital cultural content.” According to the report, these actions will help ensure creators can earn a living from their creative work so they don’t have to “seek out other career paths in order to support themselves.” This is, of course, a key point for Focus On Creators, and we’re encouraged that the report recognizes the link between digital dissemination and declining incomes for professional creators.

Defining Canadian cultural content and Canadian cultural creators was something that participants felt was in need of an update if the government is going to create new policies centered around these definitions. The report says there was “near unanimous agreement” on this point, while noting participants’ differing opinions on the definitions themselves.

Adapting current funding models to a constantly changing cultural landscape would allow for projects of cultural significance, such as Indigenous and diverse perspectives, to be expressed regardless of their perceived commercial viability.

The consultations were based on three core questions, which after review of submissions and feedback from participants, transformed into core principles.

Focusing on Citizens and Creators:

This first principle was suggested by participant consensus that our cultural system must support creators through skills development and the ability to protect ownership of their work so they can capitalize on success. Investing in our creators through sustainable funding models is another part of this principle, and there is agreement that “Canada’s current public funding model needs to be re-evaluated and transformed to allow broader access, more flexibility and reduced bureaucratic processes and procedures.”

Developing our creators through promotion and investment in arts education was another action identified by participants that could contribute to a healthy cultural system. A strong call also came to equip artists and creators with business skills, as “most agreed that creators and creative entrepreneurs need support that will allow them not only to refine their technical skills in the arts but also to turn their creative endeavours into sustainable businesses for themselves and to the benefit of the Canadian economy.”

Protecting our creators cannot be achieved without protecting their ability to commercialize their work. This is another point of consensus identified in the report. This section includes mention of the Copyright Act, noting the problem currently for most creators is that our intellectual property legislation is viewed as outdated and ineffective. “Several participants spoke specifically of the mandated five year review of the Copyright Act in 2017, saying that this was a vital opportunity for Canada to ‘stand up for creators.’ Most agreed that changes to IP legislation that divert the flow of revenue back to the hands of the idea generators is essential to the future of the cultural ecosystem in Canada.”

Reflecting Canadian identities and promoting sound democracy:

To reflect Canadian identities, participants felt that cultural funding should take our diverse population into account and particular attention should be paid to promoting Indigenous representation, both official languages, and stories that reflect our broad spectrum of voices. As for promoting a strong democracy, “there was general agreement that a robust Canadian cultural offering contributes to a strong Canadian identity which in turn breeds engaged citizens.” This is another reason it is so essential that our government ensure our creators can continue to tell uniquely Canadian stories to the world, and global stories to Canadians.

Catalyzing economic and social innovation:

A cultural ecosystem that thrives and fuels the growth of the middle class was identified by participants as central to this third principle. We believe this begins with creators. As our letter states, our work is being consumed in greater volume than ever, but too many creators are being squeezed out in the digital marketplace, and the middle class artist is being eliminated from the Canadian economy. A cultural ecosystem that fuels the growth of the middle class MUST ensure that our cultural creators can earn a reasonable living from their work so that a creative middle class can thrive.

Although there were differing opinions on how to achieve the goals and changes participants agreed were necessary in the digital age, the fact that creators were always front and center in the conversation is reason to be optimistic about the end result of this consultation, as well as future policy decisions that affect our cultural industries like the 2017 Copyright Act review.

We urge the government to use the information gleaned from this consultation to establish a model for the sustained growth of Canada’s creative middle class.