Good afternoon, everyone.
I call this meeting to order.
I would first like to acknowledge that this meeting is taking place on the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
Pursuant to the motion adopted by the committee on Monday, January 31, 2022, the committee is meeting on challenges related to the recovery of the arts, culture, heritage and sport sectors, which have been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.
Given the ongoing pandemic situation and in light of recommendations from the health authorities as well as the directive of the Board of Internal Economy on Tuesday, October 19, 2021, to remain healthy and safe, all those attending the meeting in person are to maintain two-metre physical distancing and must wear a non-medical mask when circulating in the room. It is highly recommended that the mask be worn at all times, including when seated and including when speaking. Please use the hand sanitizer in the room.
As the chair, I will be enforcing these measures for the duration of the meeting, and I thank members in advance for their co-operation.
For those participating virtually, I would like to outline a few rules to follow.
You may speak in the official language of your choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. If interpretation is lost, please let me know immediately and we will ensure that it is properly restored before resuming the proceedings.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute. I remind you that all comments by members should be addressed through the chair.
Today, I would like to welcome to our meeting the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez and, also from the Department of Canadian Heritage, Isabelle Mondou, deputy minister, and David Dendooven, assistant deputy minister, strategic policy, planning and corporate affairs.
The minister will stay for one hour—from 3:30 to 4:30—and then he will leave. The remainder of the Department of Canadian Heritage will be here to answer questions. They will be Joëlle Montminy, senior assistant deputy minister, David Dendooven, assistant deputy minister, and Thomas Owen Ripley, associate assistant deputy minister.
We will begin. Welcome, Minister, to the committee. I'm waiting with bated breath to hear from you. As you know, you will be given five minutes to speak, and then you will be able to receive questions for the full hour.
Please go ahead, Minister Rodriguez.
Madam Chair, honourable committee members and colleagues, good afternoon.
Thank you for inviting me here today to speak to you about the support the Department of Canadian Heritage has provided to the arts and culture sectors throughout the pandemic.
You've heard me before. I often ask the question, “Can you imagine a day without arts, without culture?” It would be boring. Without theatre, television, movies, books, it would be super boring. Culture is fundamental to us, but that sector was hit hard throughout the pandemic, extremely hard. Each wave of the pandemic brought new or renewed public health restrictions, and that meant, Madam Chair, that theatres, cinemas and museums had to close their doors over and over again.
These sectors are vital. They're vital for our culture—for who we are—but also for our economy. Prepandemic, the sector represented 726,000 workers, workers whose livelihoods were immediately impacted by the pandemic.
Therefore, we immediately understood that urgent action was needed to help workers in the cultural sector. Time was of the essence, and we didn't have a second to waste. We acted quickly to help these sectors weather the pandemic. Now, the wave attributable to the Omicron variant needs to be overcome. We also need to plan for a strong recovery and build truly solid foundations in the sector.
As an aside, if I may, I'd like to thank all the public servants at Canadian Heritage and its portfolio agencies, who are absolutely extraordinary. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Despite the pandemic and all of its challenges, despite the fact that we are all human beings and we all have our own challenges to overcome, they were up to the task. In fact, they were more than up to the task; they were absolutely extraordinary.
I would like to say a few words about our accomplishments. At the beginning of the pandemic, we launched the $500‑million emergency support fund for cultural, heritage and sport organizations. It was extremely important for the sector, and it worked well. In fact, more than three‑quarters of funding recipients told us that it allowed them to stay in business.
We also launched a $149‑million compensation fund administered by Telefilm Canada, which allowed organizations in the film and audiovisual industry to resume production. It was like an insurance that allowed them to continue filming. Furthermore, we have just renewed this fund. In addition, $181.5 million has been paid out to support workers in the performing arts and music sector.
We know, though, Madam Chair, that we need to do more. We need to do more to help the sector get through the rest of this pandemic and secure a strong recovery too. That is why, in the last budget, budget 2021, we included a historic investment of $1.3 billion to help ensure the recovery and growth of the arts, culture and sports sectors.
More recently, the advent of the Omicron variant in 2021 triggered new restrictions and lockdowns. Even though this was the right thing to do, it was another brutal blow to workers in the cultural sector. Let's be honest. As we have done throughout the pandemic, we listened to them, we worked with them, and we continue to do so to help them weather this storm.
After several discussions with colleagues from different parties, we have just announced increased support for workers in the performing arts by creating the $60‑million Canada performing arts workers resilience fund. Funding will be distributed through organizations such as guilds, unions and other associations.
This program plays an extremely strategic, even unique, role. The deadline for submitting applications is March 4, 2022, which is just around the corner. I know that you are aware, but if you know of people who might want to apply, please let them know soon.
There's no need to say that COVID-19 changed our lives. It fundamentally shifted the ways we connect and interact with each other. We also changed how we discover, how we create and how we consume content. We are on digital platforms more, and we need to make sure that our system and our culture are protected as a result.
We recently tabled the online streaming act, which will ensure that online streaming platforms contribute to our culture in a fair and equitable way. Our next step, Madam Chair, will be to introduce online news legislation, and that legislation will create a framework that makes sure that Canadian publishers and journalists receive fair compensation for their work. That's essential, Madam Chair.
At the same time, we're working on how to tackle harmful content online. It's a complex issue, we all know, and that's why we are working on putting together a panel of experts to further help guide this work. I look forward to bringing an update to colleagues very soon.
As you know, we had to unfortunately postpone the national summit on the arts, culture and heritage because of the Omicron variant, but we will reschedule it as soon as it is safe to do so. It will be held in person. We want to be able to see our artists and creators, give them the chance to talk to us, and reflect together on a collective vision for a sustainable recovery for the cultural sectors and on ways of making this vision a reality. The recovery is coming. I am optimistic. The sectors will bounce back. Better days are awaiting our arts industry and our cultural sector. Our cultural sector workers have been there for Canadians throughout the pandemic. They have made us laugh, think and cry. They have been there for us, and we will continue to be there for them.
Yes, they're only hours. I will wait for that, but I appreciate that. I agree with the sentiment.
On the topic at hand, the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the arts, culture and sports industries, we can't underestimate the impact it has had on more levels, not just financially and economically, but culturally as well.
One challenge we've heard from witnesses and from the stakeholder groups we've met with is the stigma associated with the return to theatre, the return to live events, the return to large public gatherings. It's this idea that people are hesitant, and obviously rightfully so.
I'd be curious as to what efforts you, as minister, and the department are going to take to decrease that stigma, to tell people it's okay to return to the theatre, that it's okay to return to large public events. For two years we've been telling people to stay home. Now we're telling people to get back there, to get back and support the important cultural aspect. I'm curious as to what steps you'll be taking.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I appreciate this.
Thank you, Minister, for being here. Your passion for the arts is clearly on display.
I have said this before, but I will start by saying that science is getting us out of this pandemic, but it's the arts that are getting us through this pandemic. The artists are the people we turn to in order to make sense of what's happened and the challenges we've faced in the last two years.
Making art takes dedication, and that dedication requires support. We get more with what we support. I have heard many times from our artists that our government supports were a lifeline to their sector. That is the term they used.
Throughout the study, we have seen how far-reaching the Canadian Heritage programs are, the number of sectors that fall under the scope of Heritage and the number of programs that are created specifically to support those in the cultural industry.
Can you take a step back, look at those last two years, and speak to the scale and scope of the funding that has been created since the pandemic started?
Thank you for the question, Mr. Louis. If anyone knows the sector, it's you.
Thank you for raising the importance of culture and how it helped us to get through this. I said in my speech that we got through this with the help of culture. How many of you were in front of a television, playing the guitar, playing the piano or reading a book? We made it through this because of those things.
As I said, culture makes us laugh, think and rethink a lot, but at the same time a lot of people and a lot of sectors are very vulnerable. They don't have a safety net. This was a disaster for a lot of elements in the culture sector.
We started by putting in place that first $500 million, which was an immediate support for the arts and culture sector industry. As I said, we did a poll. I think 85% of the people said this was what got them through this. We added more money—$281 million—a couple of months later. The $500 million was in November, and then in April, we added $281 million. Remember, guys, that included the insurance for the film sector.
What happened with the film sector was nobody wanted to insure them, because if one of the main actors got COVID, everything was shut down. They had reserved the studios, the actors, the technicians and everything, so it would have cost a fortune. They had the problem with insurance companies not wanting to support them, so we came in with this $150 million to back them, which allowed filming to go on and on.
We came back with more problems in the end for festivals, this and that. I could read this, Mr. Louis, but there was help for our music sector, for our museums and for books. We tried to be there for everyone, because they are there for us as Canadians.
I appreciate that. That's what this study is. We're taking it a sector at a time and seeing what we can do to support them as they come out.
To put it bluntly, reopening doesn't mean recovery, and different sectors are going to be affected differently. The arts and culture sector—I know this from first-hand experience—is always the first to be affected and the last to recover in any economic downturn. The pandemic has taken that level of ups and downs, that cycle, to an unexpected and unforeseen level.
From our study already, we're hearing that the recovery is expected to be three to five years. What we have heard from artists across the country is that they feel like they have been heard and they have hope, but we need to continue that dialogue. Like Mr. Nater said, since the performing arts and the live performance sectors are so hard hit, it's a challenge to get to those workers, specifically the independent and self-employed artists in the live performance sector.
Can you speak to the supports for that sector, specifically the Canada performing arts workers resilience fund? What are the eligibility requirements for that funding, and what organizations can help us get that support on the ground to those performing artists?
Another one of the challenges, Mr. Louis, is that because it's been so insecure—with opening, closing, shows being programmed and then taken down, and this and that—a lot of people have decided to say, “I love that, but I'm going to get a more stable job. I can't stay here because I have a family; I have to pay the rent and I have to feed the kids,” so we're losing a lot of amazing people, musicians, creators. That specific fund, as you call it, the Canada performing arts workers resilience fund, is the one I announced not too long ago. We had the discussion at the finance committee, with Mr. Champoux and others.
We're going to go through associations, guilds and unions. They have up to March 4, the end of the week, to apply. It's similar to what we saw in Quebec with l'Union des artistes. Those organizations have until March 4 to apply.
Then we are going to do a thorough but quick analysis, provide them with the funding and enable them to open up the programs to individuals. It's a maximum of $2,500 per person. It could be direct funding, but it could also be through services. We talk a lot about mental health. A lot of people in the cultural sector need that kind of support so they will be able to access that or other types of support, get help with the rent, training and all of that, and it's going to come very soon.
Minister, I want to revisit the issue of media and the much talked-about legislation meant to strike a balance in the industry.
In October, Australian economist Jim Stanford released a report entitled “The Future of Work in Journalism”.
In the wake of the agreements reached with the web giants, it became clear that the smaller players were in an unfair situation. They didn't have the same power to negotiate or clout as Google or Facebook.
In the report, the author calls for the agreements between the digital giants and media outlets to be made public. It would then be possible to see how inequities could be remedied.
The bill still hasn't been brought forward in the House, but you are planning to introduce it soon. In light of this information and the things Australia has observed, don't you think Canada should add measures to ensure small players aren't penalized when negotiating with the digital giants?
A recommendation was put forward for a hybrid model, and it's gaining some popularity, according to various stakeholders. The model would still be based on negotiations between the parties, but it would also provide for a royalty fund. The digital giants would pay royalties, which would then be distributed according to needs. That model would help protect journalism and regional media coverage, which is the most affected by the gaps in question.
What do you think of the idea?
You are right to say that small regional media are probably the most affected in this situation.
In Canada, we have lost 450 news media organizations in the past decade, including 64 since the beginning of the pandemic. To my mind, that's a crisis.
We have been keeping a very close eye on the Australian model for a while now. It serves as a guide, not an absolute. What we really like about the model is the fact that the market-based mechanisms keep the government from getting involved. Freedom of the press is fundamental.
We want more transparency. Australia's finance minister has a say in identifying platforms that are in a near-monopoly position. That won't be the case here. The rules will be very clear. If you meet the conditions, great, but no minister will be involved.
I don't want to get into the details of the bill—after all, I don't want to lose my job this afternoon—but I will say that we share your concerns, Mr. Champoux.
We want to make sure small media organizations are included. In order for a platform to be excluded from the final negotiations, it has to have contributed to the news ecosystem. It's not just about signing an agreement with La Presse, the Toronto Star or the Vancouver Sun. The agreements have to be not only with the big players, but also with the small ones. When those conditions are met, the platform will be exempted.
The agreements can't just be with the big players. It doesn't work that way. We have provided for that. We have also provided for collective negotiations, which suits everyone, including the small players.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Minister, welcome back to heritage committee. Owen, Isabelle and David, it's good to see you.
I have a private member's bill, Bill , on holocaust denial. That's coming out very shortly. We've introduced it already. As you know, late April will be the one-hour debate in the House of Commons, so there's a start for you and maybe your committee.
Anyway, Minister, as you know, your government announced the new digital news tax credit in 2020, and digital subscriptions to local newspapers qualify for this credit. I got a $378 credit over the weekend from the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, which was nice.
Could you give the committee an update on the cost of this tax credit that you generously gave to the newspaper industry? Do you have an idea of the cost in the last couple of years?
I'll change the topic and talk about Russia Today
Minister Rodriguez, you'll be making an announcement later. A motion was tabled this afternoon, and it was passed unanimously. I'm always cautious when it comes to censorship. Obviously, given the current situation, it's extremely justified. This is about disinformation and propaganda during a war, which has no place on the air. In my opinion, cutting off the communication channels is a good way to participate in the war effort.
In your announcement, can you tell us whether any more general steps will be taken to give the Canadian Radio‑television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, the authority to cut the feed, so to speak, of any foreign media outlet that may say something that we don't necessarily agree with?
Yes, there is the resilience fund that we talked about. We've made a number of investments in different kinds of programs since the beginning of the pandemic. At the very beginning, there was an emergency fund that provided support through a number of programs, including live performance. As we progressed to the economic update in the fall of 2020, there was $181 million that was also provided, with a focus on the performing arts. That money went to small festivals, large festivals and the music fund.
In budget 2021, there were further investments across a number of programs. I could list them all. The minister mentioned that budget 2021 had $1.9 billion spread across a number of programs. Again, in terms of large festivals, small festivals and music, all of these were covered.
I would like to also mention that we maximized the scope of those programs by reaching out to new clients so that we could go further within the ecosystem of the performing arts. For instance, in a music fund, we supported venues that typically we would not be supporting, but because they are so important in enabling musicians to perform in front of an audience, we supported the venues as well.
We stretched every way we could in order to be able to support the industry of live performance, knowing that they were the hardest hit.
Yes. Generally speaking, the recovery is progressing quite well for most of the sectors, except for the live performing arts. One sector, for instance, that is doing extremely well is the audiovisual sector, I would say in great part because of this short-term compensation fund—this insurance that was brought forward early in the pandemic that has allowed productions to continue. We've seen basically a boom in the audiovisual sector. This particular subsector has recovered to prepandemic levels and beyond.
I have some numbers, generally speaking. In terms of culture, the GDP for culture in the second quarter of 2021 had returned to 94% of the prepandemic level. Mind you, this was before omicron, but still, it was on the right track. This is versus the GDP for the live performance sector, which was at only 36%, so that's from 94% for the general culture to 36% for live performance. In jobs, it was the same. Overall in culture, we were back to 89% of prepandemic levels, whereas live performance was at only 50% of prepandemic levels.
If we look at other sectors, like books, they have been doing pretty well, as the pointed out, and other sectors have been able to recover earlier than the live performance sector, of course, which has been impacted by all these restrictions.
Okay. Thank you for that.
I'd like to go on to the issue of the web giants. Many organizations—the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, MIT—have correlated the rise in online hate and radicalization of people—which we saw, notably, in Ottawa over the last three weeks—with algorithms and a diet of toxic videos, toxic information that is sent to people, often people who had no prior experience with that. They may simply have asked whether vaccines are safe, and they're dragged into this echo chamber of very toxic misinformation that has led to radicalization and online hate.
I'm wondering to what extent the ministry is looking at that and to what extent you're engaging with the web giants on this—when I say the web giants, of course, I'm thinking of YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—so that they have an awareness of their responsibilities to curb what is becoming an increasingly toxic sector.
I will mention that there are three programs in particular that can be used to support the safe return to audience and to rebuild public confidence. I just mentioned the $50 million that was allocated to the cultural spaces fund. This is to make people feel safe in terms of all of the public health restrictions. The fund can be used for whatever else needs to be done in terms of adjusting the space.
We have another fund, which is the Canada cultural investment fund. This one supports strategic initiatives. It allows multiple organizations to come together to carry out different things, including joint marketing and cross-promotional initiatives. We really hope we will get applications from arts organizations and other groups in the cultural sector to come and take advantage of this fund, so that they can encourage the public to come back. We believe it will take enhanced marketing and promotions for people to understand that the place is safe and that measures have been put in place, or that the venues can accommodate the public once again.
We also have our arts presentation fund, which is for large professional presentation festivals and some of these similar types of expenses. Marketing and promotions are eligible expenses, so this covers those. We have over 600 clients, and we hope they will take advantage of this type of fund for additional marketing to help get audiences to return.
As you've heard as well, there's a fear that recovery for live performances will take a long time, so we really want to do everything in our power to support a safe return.