Creative Canada: An analysis of the Government of Canada’s response #DigiCanCon

Author: Hélène Aucoin

Home university: University of Quebec at Montreal

Education level: Master of Communication

In September 2016, Mélanie Joly, then the Minister of Canadian Heritage, launched a public consultation about the place of Canadian content in a digital world, with the goal of evaluating and modernizing our cultural policies. It should be noted that the lack of regulation for large American digital companies like Netflix, Google and Facebook, which provide their services in Canada, constitutes unfair competition, according to several cultural community members (Bourgault-Côté, 2018b) and politicians (Nantel, 2017). As a reminder, Canadian broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDUs) must meet the regulatory and legislative requirements set by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), but digital companies are not subject thereto. In fact, such companies are not explicitly mentioned in the Broadcasting Act (1991), and since 1999, they have been subject to the Digital Media Exemption Order (DMEO) of the CRTC. The various over the top television (OTT) companies, both Canadian (,, Club illico) and American (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video) are subject to this order. With these foreign players involved, the Canadian broadcasting system is not entirely “effectively owned and controlled by Canadians” (Broadcasting Act, 1991, 3.1.a), which is a means of cultural defense. To that effect, according to Armstrong (2015), foreign digital companies may not understand their importance in achieving the objectives of Canadian cultural policy. They are therefore more susceptible to defying Canadian cultural policies in order to protect their own interests. 

At the same time, data collected by CRTC and Statistics Canada clearly show that more and more Canadians are cancelling their BDU subscriptions: in 2012, 82.8% of Canadian households had a television subscription, while in 2016, 74.8% had subscriptions (CRTC, 2018). Given that the average time spent watching television online using digital platforms is increasingFootnote 1, viewers are moving to digital platforms, which challenges funding for the Canadian cultural ecosystem. In fact, the decrease in the number of BDU subscriptions caused them to decrease their contribution to the Canadian Media Fund (CMF), which helps finance the production of Canadian content. In three years, the Fund dropped by almost 50 million dollars, from 400 million to 350.5 million (Bourgault-Côté, 2018a). In terms of this digital transition, the lack of regulation regarding the promotion or production of Canadian content on these platforms could impact Canadian cultural development.

Developing a cultural policy is a critical issue for Canada and intrinsically linked to Canadian identity. Various study committees have been mandated with the goal of better understanding the issues surrounding culture and communication, such as the Aird Commission (1929), the Massey Commission (1951), the Applebaum-Hébert Committee (1981), and the Caplan-Sauvageau Task Force (1986). In regard to our proximity to the United States border, these studies issued recommendations to ensure that Canada does not become [translation] “simply an American broadcast satellite” (Task Force on Broadcasting Policy, 1986, p. 745). Furthermore, the Caplan-Sauvageau Report highlighted the fact that despite the fact that those study committees were held many years ago, the issues are essentially the same: they reoccur at the same rate of technological advances.

As an example, in 1985, the Caplan-Sauvageau Task Force was mandated to assess the effectiveness of the Broadcasting Act, 1968. In their report, issues related to the arrival of American satellite and cable television were carefully studied. It highlighted the importance of responding to these new challenges, specifying that [translation] “understanding the consequences is one thing, accepting and reacting to them is another” (Ibid., p. 86). It seems urgent to establish measures to [translation] “help Canadians conserve their identity” (Ibid.) and that these collective goals be adopted by both the public and private sector. 

Today, while foreign actors have integrated the Canadian cultural ecosystem, the federal government has not adopted such an alarmist tone. These technological changes do not seem to pose a threat to cultural protection, but rather business opportunities to develop Canada’s creative economy. At least, this is what became clear during the government’s public consultation and strategic framework.

The #DigiCanCon consultation

The #DigiCanCon public consultation was launched by the Department of Canadian Heritage. It was a national consultation held in the form of round tables in six Canadian cities, which allowed discussions to be had with 235 stakeholders in the Canadian cultural sector. A digital platform was also made available to Canadians so that they could submit their suggestions. The goals of the consultation were to obtain “insights from a wide range of creators, cultural stakeholders and citizens in order to identify what needs to be done to continue to support Canada’s creative economy” (RC, p. 6).

Strategic framework: Creative Canada

In September 2017, the Department of Canadian Heritage revealed its strategic framework which outlined “the path forward” to provide a framework and grow the Canadian creative industry. While this framework is reminiscent of the government’s responsibilities regarding the protection of Canadian culture and expansion of cultural diversity, it faced a difficult welcome in the cultural environment, given the announcement of the Netflix investment agreement (Angers, 2017). That agreement was not discussed during that consultation (CBC, 2017). The strategic framework does not impose any new regulations or taxes on whom they call “new players and new partners” in the digital world. Instead, the government intends to “seek commitments from, and pursue agreements with, global Internet companies that provide services to Canadians” (CS, p. 26). This measure is said to ensure that online services remain accessible and affordable, as these issues “are important to Canadians” (Ibid.). Thus, Minister Mélanie Joly took advantage of this opportunity to announce the very first agreement of its kind with the American OTT company, Netflix. The company committed to establishing a physical presence on Canadian soil and investing a sum of at least 500 million dollars CAD over the course of the next five years to promote Canadian content. Furthermore, an additional 25 million will be used to support the development of the Francophone market. However, this agreement does not include a cultural mandate, particularly in regard to a production quota for Francophone content. 

Analysis of the government’s response

In light of the current upheaval in the Canadian cultural and televisual ecosystem, we wondered about the ideology shaping the current discourse regarding establishing a cultural policy in the digital era. In this paper, we analyze documents surrounding the public consultation process, in order to identify the nature of the ideological processes. Our corpus analyzed consists of four documents:

  1. A press release from May 2016: “Strengthening Canadian content creation, discovery and export in a digital world” (PC)
  2. The document with the pre-consultation conclusions: “Canadian Content in a Digital World - Focusing the Conversation: Consultation Paper” (DC), published in September 2016
  3. The national consultation report: “What We Heard Across Canada: Canadian Culture in a Digital World: Consultation Report” (RC), published in February 2017
  4. The Creative Canada strategic framework (CS), published in September 2017

To analyze these documents, we used critical discourse analysis (CDA) (Dijk [2006, 2011], Machin and Mayr [2012]) which we linked to a socio-communicational theoretical framework (Dardot and Laval [2009], Filion [2006], Freitag [1986], Throsby [2001]). We chose critical discourse analysis because it is an interdisciplinary methodology which aims to determine the ideology of discursive practices, which allows one to expose:

strategies that appear normal or neutral on the surface, but which may in fact be ideological and seek to shape the representation of events and persons for particular ends. (Machin and Mayr, 2012, p. 5)

The “critical” aspect of this approach refers to the “denaturalization” of language used during the analysis “to reveal the kinds of ideas, absences and taken-for-granted assumptions in texts” (Ibid.). In this paper, we will present the definitions of two themes related to the identified problem, i.e., culture and cultural industries. By determining the identity, roles, values, goals and challenges associated with these themes, we can discover the elements where the ideology is likely to show through (Dijk, 2006). By making connections to the concepts in our theoretical framework, we will be able to reconstruct the ideology characterizing the discourse.

The definition of culture

The importance of Canadian cultural content in forming Canadian identity was emphasized during this consultation. This content allowed the participants to share their common experiences despite the vast size of the country. It is said that culture serves as a reflection of our identity and that “Canada's diversity is a strength and Canadian content that reflects our diversity strengthens our democracy” (DC, p. 8). It is mentioned that culture is primarily a “social phenomenon” and “culture’s unrealized potential” constitutes a “driver of economic growth” (PC, p. 4), meaning a potential source of revenue. To that effect, many countries will be looking to find ways to “tap into the unrealized economic potential of culture” (DC, p. 10). 

The role of culture is expressed in a more exhaustive manner through creative content and institutions:

For these communities, having access to content in their language is essential to community vitality and pride. Along with education, local media, music, theatre and cultural institutions form fundamental elements that ensure the vitality of our two languages across our country. (CS, p. 18)

On the other hand, participants in the consultation and the government used the idea of a “brand” as a tool to promote marketing for culture. More specifically, the strategic framework emphasized the idea of strengthening “Canada’s creative brand and its creators on the international stage” (CS, p. 28). Developing this brand will also be part of the mandate of the Creative Industries Council (CIC) that the government wants to create. Thus, in addition to the social nature of culture and beneficial effects to strengthen “our social fabric”, the government relied on statements from the World Economic Forum to support culture, which is “at the heart of the creative economy”. (DC, p. 10):

Thirty years from now, the arts and culture will be an even bigger part of all successful economies. The World Economic Forum recently found "creativity" is rising as one of the most valued skills (Ibid.)

In Canada, creativity could even be improved by cultural diversity, as it generates “creativity, out-of-the-box thinking and an appetite for experimentation – all key ingredients of the creative economy” (Ibid.). It specifies that “global competition is not about looking like everyone else. It’s about taking what is unique about our country and telling those stories proudly” (CS, p. 27). At the same time, Canada’s diversity has been described in this way: “Canada’s population reflects the world, and this diversity is Canada’s competitive advantage” (Ibid.). 

It should be noted that there are three values which make up the “social contract” between the Canadian government and the Canadian population. These values are at the heart of the Broadcasting Act, specifically linguistic duality (the country’s two official languages), cultural diversity, and the renewed relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Therefore, the “Creative Canada” strategic framework should respect those values. 

Finally, respecting copyright is a challenge for culture and cultural content. It is described as a “tool that can position creators for success in a competitive, global marketplace” (CS, p. 18). It is “a vital part of our creative economy,” because the implementation of a “well-functioning copyright regime” allows creators to “to leverage the value of their creative work” while making a “wide range of diverse cultural content” (CS, p. 18) available to consumers. Thus, copyright is a crucial aspect to developing the creative economy. As such, the legislative framework should be effective, so that this economy can bear fruit and be profitable for both creators and Canadian users.

An economic culture

In order to analyze the definition used by the government, we referred to the work of Throsby (2001), which included an anthropological and a functional definition of culture. Applying these two definitions to the way culture is represented in our corpus allowed us to illustrate the transition towards the concept of a culture which, in addition to highlighting our Canadian identity, also has the role of a “brand” with a marketing function. More explicitly, we examine the connections between these theoretical concepts.

Throsby’s anthropological definition (2001) suggests that the goal of the various forms of cultural manifestations are to differentiate ourselves as a group. In other words, they make cultures distinct from one another.

This is effectively what is suggested in our corpus, when it is specifies that our cultural products are responsible for “bringing Canadians together” (PC, p. 1) and that the importance of “taking what is unique” is highlighted, as well as spreading our cultural diversity. However, cultural diversity seems to be particularly beneficial from an economic perspective, when we remember that it is “Canada’s competitive advantage” (CS, p. 27). 

Cultural diversity is one of the defining characteristics of the “Canadian brand”. This brand is an element that the Creative Industries Council (CIC)Footnote 2 should use to help “harness global interest and demand for Canadian creative content” (CS, p. 29). As such, culture is valued for its ability to integrate the market economy logic, and the “Creative Canada” brand aims to take advantage of this same logic. From a critical perspective, this process of creating a “Canadian brand” suggests formalizing culture based on the characteristics which set us apart on the economic market. Thus, culture is not only something that defines us as a group, but that makes us a “brand” with potential market growth. Adopting such a vision of culture ensures both economic development and sustainability in the digital world. 

Now, we will discuss Throsby’s functional definition (2001), which establishes the three necessary categories for defining what constitutes a cultural activity, i.e.: involvement of some form of creativity, demonstration of a symbolic value, and integration of a form of intellectual property. 

The involvement of creativity in culture was highlighted during this consultation. Creativity characterizes the government’s “vision” of culture, with the latter being an objective to make the country, “a Creative Canada”. Like the World Economic Forum, the government feels that creativity and innovation will increasingly be at the centre of the economy and that they will “create jobs and foster growth” (CS, p. 5). While creators are at the heart of the Canadian strategic framework’s new approach, we noted that in the first government press release, creativity is taking on a more formal role, i.e., acting as an “engine that drives economies and societies forward and improves quality of life” (PC, p. 1).

With regard to the presence of a symbolic value in cultural activities, we discerned various ways in which this was mentioned in our corpus, specifically the symbolic value of culture, the core values of the Broadcasting Act, and finally the emphasis on the economic value of content. First, the symbolic value of cultural content was discussed and debated by those who participated in the consultation, whether by attempting to determine what it is or reiterating the financial significance of content that has a cultural value, despite the lack of profitability. The term “value” is used by the government in the strategic framework to identify “values that must underpin our approach: our commitment to linguistic duality, cultural diversity and a renewed relationship with Indigenous Peoples” (CS, p. 6). Finally, in the strategic framework, this term is used more frequently with an economic connotation, i.e., to express the market value that Canadian content holds or to suggest ways of “showcasing” the cultural sector. 

With regard to the third element of Throsby’s functional definition, i.e., the presence of a form of intellectual property, the difficulties discussed during this consultation about respecting copyright in digital media should be mentioned. It was specified that it “has an important role to play, as one tool that can position creators for success in a competitive, global marketplace” (CS, p. 18). Thus, intellectual property is presented as an economic issue, as it allows the creative economy to grow.

So we can see that the three aspects of Throsby’s functional definition are related to the characteristics that integrate culture into the market logic. If culture relies on creativity, it represents a real driver of economic growth. If cultural activities create some sort of symbolic value that “strengthens our social fabric” they “encourage” or “promote” the economic growth of the cultural sector. Furthermore, “culture's unrealized potential” constitutes “a driver of economic growth” (DC, p. 4), a “well” that we can “tap into.” Supporting all forms of culture prevents other potential areas for economic growth from being neglected. Similarly, it is said that cultural diversity encourages several “key ingredients of the creative economy” (DC, p. 10). Finally, respecting copyright ensures creators’ success on digital platforms. Therefore, all of these elements seem to create business opportunities for harnessing the economic potential of Canadian culture, with the goal of making Canada “one of the strongest and most competitive creative economies in the world” (DC, p. 2).

Innovation and creativity in culture

The idea that culture is at the heart of innovation comes up frequently throughout the corpus studied. This theme is articulated in the press release, which states that the innovative nature of Canadian culture has “tremendous potential for Canada’s economic growth and prosperity” (PC, p. 1). We noted the omnipresence of the theme of innovation, and we noticed that this theme also appears in the most recent reports of the UNESCO Convention, which Canada has signed. These reports highlight the importance of advocating “for policy innovation both nationally and globally” and the “potential to catalyse innovation” (UNESCO, 2017) which cultural industries possess.

However, some CB researchers suggest that this choice of words has an impact on how a discourse is interpreted, and that this rhetoric comes from business language (Machin and Mayr, 2012). While the use of the concepts of ‘innovation” and “creativity” lend a more “exciting and active” tone to a discourse, it causes it to remain at a superficial level. In other words, these terms do not help to account for the fundamental underlying problem, which is generally the natural structure (Ibid.). For our purposes, we can determine that the legislative structure and power relations in the Canadian cultural ecosystem are issues that are pushed aside by this lexical choice. The question of access to “broadcast channels of influence” was studied by Raboy (1995) following the Broadcasting Act review process in 1991. During this period of strong economic growth, the cable industry knew how to make the most of it: 

[Translation] The cable industry was more organized than others. Represented in Ottawa by a one of the most effective lobbying associations in the country, it had a coherent and convincing discourse in the public arena. It also succeeded in selling its vision of the broadcasting system to decision-makers […]. (Ibid., p. 117-118)

This reality seems to be repeating itself today, as new foreign players have joined the power relationship and have representatives in Ottawa. And yet, the Canadian strategy fails to address these structural issues, and highlights the country’s innovative and creative abilities as the key solution that will ensure the place of Canadian content in the digital era. This also became clear in regard to the cultural industries, which are part of “the creative economy.”

The definition of cultural industries

Considering the uniqueness of the various players involved in the cultural industries, we have divided this part into two subsections. First, we will present the information related to the Canadian cultural sector and cultural industries. Then, the second subsection will deal with the digital media sector, particularly foreign digital companies. 

Canadian cultural industries

Throughout the long consultation process, we saw that cultural industries are part of the concept of creative industries. The use of this terms responds to the need for “an expanded definition of ‘cultural industries’ in order to get a true picture of the cultural sector and its impact” (CS, p. 12). The basis of the cultural sector is “heritage, the arts and the cultural industries – books, magazines, newspapers, audiovisual (film and television), music” (Ibid.). Regarding the term “creative industries”, it is used “deliberately”:

to include a wider range of industries that contribute to the creative sector: design, fashion, architecture, video games, digital media and multiplatform storytelling - transmedia. The intent is to recognize their role as employers and producers in the creative economy. (Ibid.)

Together, the role of these industries is to allow the creative economy to grow. Moreover, it is further stated that a “strong creative sector” is beneficial, because it “recognizes the benefit of having a strong creative sector and its impact on Canada’s identity, economy and place in the world” (CS, p. 7). Consultation participants identified a “thriving cultural ecosystem as an important way to fuel economic growth” (CS, p. 10), and said that “cultural content can be used to showcase Canada’s diversity and its strengths and values around the world” (Ibid.). The various industries in this sector can therefore can drive this content.

Due to our place in the international market, it should be noted that “today, we have an enormous opportunity in Canada”, meaning that it is possible to make our creative industries “a vital part of our future economic growth and our identity as a country” (CS, p. 8). The future of Canada’s economy and identity relies on the country’s creative potential. By concentrating on developing our creativity, we can position “Canada as a world leader” (Ibid.). According to the government, the implementation of this new strategic framework, in combination with reinvesting in culture as announced in the federal budget 2016, “charts a course towards the continued growth and investment in Canada’s creative sector” (CS, p. 6). While this strategy is based on growing the creative economy, once again we can use the origins of this concept to understand the related issues and foundations.

From creative industries to the creative economy

The concept of creative industries is associated with the neoliberal ideology and was at the heart of the economic repositioning of Tony Blair’s Labour Party government in the United Kingdom in the late 90’s. This project consisted of adopting an approach where the country was considered to be a business brand, and implementation of cultural policy promoted the development of creative industries, as they are a linchpin of economic growth (Schlesinger, 2007). The aim of this policy was to give the United Kingdom a globally recognized “brand” in terms of creativity. Tony Blair’s strategy was supported by the creation of the Creative Industries Task Force, which would guide measures allowing them “to recommend steps to maximize the economic impact of the UK creative industries at home and abroad” (DCMS in Ibid., p. 379). To that effect, it should be mentioned that this task force resembles the Creative Industries Council (CIC), created as part of the Government of Canada’s strategy. Furthermore, it seems as though the key objectives of “Creative Canada” are similar to this marketing project in the United Kingdom’s creative industry.

The concept of creative economy was then studied by the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 2008, to demonstrate the potential of creative industries worldwide. In its report, the concept was defined as an “interface between economics, culture and technology and centred on the predominance of services and creative content” (UNCTAD, in Tremblay, 2008). This research allowed a database to be created that categorizes the various types of cultural products found around the world, while identifying the main importers and exporters. This database can serve as a reference for governments to help them “make decisions that can expand trade in creative products” (CNUCED, 2009).

That said, by analyzing two international economic reports on creative industries, Tremblay (2008) noted that cultural industries account for less than a third of total revenues. Instead, it is the information technology and design sectors that are the main generators of revenue. Therefore, Tremblay suggests that expanding this definition could double the benefits for the new industries that fall under it. First, this will increase the reputation of these new sectors with [translation] the “prestige accompanying the work of artists,” and second, it will profit form the volume of business and strong economic growth in the fields of information technology, software and video games to legitimize its economic significance. In this way, the [translation] “prestigious creativity can be called the main economic driver” (Ibid., p. 76). 

Thus, the concept of creative industries [translation] “brings nothing at all to the work in cultural industries” (Tremblay, 2008). Furthermore, the use of the concept of creativity implies a completely different meaning. Coloured by neoliberal rationality, [translation] “the creativity and innovation thought of by idealists, technocrats and policies are actually more scientific and technological than artistic and cultural” (Ibid., p. 82), meaning that they are based on a utilitarian goal [translation] “which necessarily translates into the creation of jobs and benefits” (Ibid. p. 83). On the other hand, this term also takes away from the uniqueness of the cultural industries sector, as well as the importance of the intervention of public authorities, as it calls into question the concepts of public services and merit goods which justify the State’s role in this sector: 

[translation] already mishandled by neoliberalism over the last few decades [these concepts] are at risk of losing all their credibility if we try to expand the application to fields like fashion or video games. (Ibid.)

By blending cultural industries with the other types of creative industries, they lose their uniqueness, which can affect the legitimacy of government regulation. To that effect, aside from revalidating the role of the public broadcaster, Radio-Canada/CBC, when the Broadcasting Act is reviewed—because it can “be a powerful platform” given “its trusted brand” (CS, p. 31), and acknowledging the Internet as a “public information network” in the consultation document, the concepts of “public services” and “merit goods” were not emphasized in the corpus analyzed. 

The digital media sector

In the strategic framework, digital media are described as “new players and new partners” with which the government would like to work. It should be noted that Netflix, YouTube, Facebook “have become a part of our creative ecosystem and play a role in the production, distribution and discovery of Canadian content” (CS, p. 26). However, the government feels that their involvement should be improved, because “digital platforms can – and must – do more” (CS, p. 26). However, these additional efforts will not translate into taxes, but rather by making agreementsFootnote 3 so that:

these companies will be partners in, and contribute to our objectives for, Creative Canada, helping grow our creative industries with investments in production and distribution. (CS, p. 26-27)

In addition, these companies will be attracted to make agreements and investments by “Canada’s tremendous creative and production opportunities” (CS, p. 27). Thus, creativity, cultural diversity and the success of Canadian creative industries will allow these investments to be negotiated.

On another note, Internet neutrality can be identified as one of the values which governs these digital companies. It has been said that Internet neutrality should be respected in regard to the principle “that a public information network like the Internet is most useful if all content, sites, and platforms are treated equally” (DC, p. 7). 

Finally, while digital platforms present many challenges for “traditional” media, this does not mean that they pose a risk to them. On the contrary, they create numerous international development opportunities:

these technologies and the global platforms that have emerged have given rise to new ways of distributing and discovering content, with the potential to reach new markets for Canada’s high-quality cultural exports. (PC, p. 1)

This positive image of digital media is seen in the government’s response, which is coloured by neoliberal ideology and the implementation of what Freitag (1986) identifies as an operational logic.

Operational vision for digital media

In not regulating digital medias, the government opted for neoliberal principles and the [translation] “general movement towards deregulating the economy”, where the aim is to regulate general competition rather than establishing rules to protect us from the effects of competition (Dardot et Laval, 2009). These principles are justified by their effectiveness, because private players [translation] “benefit from a better understanding of the state of affairs and their own interests” (Ibid., p. 281). As such, it becomes more “effective” to give companies more freedom rather than opting for “direct intervention or public regulation” (Ibid.).

The appropriateness of these mechanisms is something that Freitag explains in the foundations of in his sociology of dialect. His critique of postmodernism exposes the loss of the symbolic transcendentalism relationship—while crucial for (re)production in society—for the benefit of a formal relationship. Thus, the symbolic principles which used to link individuals to a culture are replaced by formal goals: efficiency, effectiveness and producing results. It is a decisional/operational method of reproduction characterized by the implementation of an operational logic which exhibits: information and formalization, interest, and control. To understand its nature, we will present these processes with examples from the corpus studied.

The first element of the operational logic is formalization of language and law, i.e., transforming common language into formal, quantifiable and monetizable information, which comes from codifying language based on [translation] “the lowest relevant common denominator” (Freitag, 1986, p. 340). We can see this formalization in the expansion of the definition of cultural industries, so that it falls under creative industries, consequently extending the [translation] “relevant interests” by integrating “a wider range of industries that contribute to the creative sector” (CS, p. 12). This results in the distinctions between these various industries being blurred. 

Creativity is also formalized by presenting it as a common and profitable characteristic for all economic activity sectors in Canada. While creativity is described as being one of the “conditions for success” for developing Canada’s creative economy, it seems as though it is this specific characteristic that promotes the Creative Canada strategic framework, not specifically Canadian culture. “Creativity” seems to be a characteristic which is easier to formalize, quantify and monetize than culture.

The second characteristic of the operational logic is the primacy of special interests. It concerns establishing a [translation] “neutral and malleable” law, rather than power, which allows “strategic control to be ensured in one-time power relations in community life” (Filion, 2006, p. 266-267). These decisions are made using special interest strategies, particularly lobbying, where [translation] “the most organized special interests will be the ones who influence the decisions and priority agenda” (Ibid., p. 272). 

This type of law can be seen in the implementation of government “tools” which “keep up with consumption habits and technological change” (DC, p. 4). In fact, throughout the consultations, while it was noted that Canadians could actively choose what they consume from that point on, the idea that the Internet should remain an accessible and neutral platform was also supported, as this issue is “important to Canadians” (CS, p. 26). Therefore, no taxes should be imposed, or attempts made to regulate its content. While this strategy seems to respond Canadians’ interests, it should be emphasized that despite the transparency of the public consultation process, another “opaque” peripheral process was taking place, i.e., through lobbying processes. This practice has an impact on public law, in regard to the economic power of these companies that have the ability to [translation] “undermine […] the sovereignty of the State” (Filion, 2006, p. 274). 

According to the lobbyist registry, several international companies, including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Netflix, communicated and met with members of the government during 2017 (Foisy, 2017a).Footnote 4 In the case of the American company Netflix, their exchanges with the Government of Canada allowed them to conclude a temporary agreement.Footnote 5 This agreement is framed according this company’s special interests, i.e., according to the principles of the economic market and its own business model. It should be noted that in its letter of participation in the public consultation, the company brought up the numerous advantages of its platform for Canadian content and consumers, as well as “public” interest in the lack of Internet regulation (Korn and Libertelli, 2016), which is reminiscent of the discussion held by cable operators in the 80s during the review of the Broadcasting Act (Raboy, 1995).

Thus, the implementation of these types of measures is favoured by the government’s strategic framework, which espouses Freitag’s idea that [translation] “regulatory and reproductive mediation” does not take place through power or a “unique universal system,” but through the control of localized regulatory systems. In other words, establishing several agreements based on the characteristics and interests of the stakeholders in question, ensures greater flexibility and efficiency: the implementation of an operational logic. And yet, the operational nature of these agreements gives them a sort of [translation] “uncontestable legitimacy based on their effectiveness or efficiency” (Filion, 2006, p. 261). It is not an “ideological” choice, rather—as neoliberalism claims—“good” governance (Dardot and Laval, 2009).

In that respect, it should be remembered that based on the details made public (Canada, Canadian Heritage, 2017b), the Netflix agreement does not have a cultural mandate or obligation regarding the manner in which these funds will be invested. Only the aspects that allow the—economic—operationality of the cultural sector were presented. Therefore, this agreement is “good” governance because it allows for concrete and effective results for two challenges of the digital era identified during the public consultations: difficulties regarding financial support for the development and production of Canadian content, and the accessibility of that content for the public, at home and abroad, on digital platforms. 

The agreement was also validated with regard to Netflix’s economic growth. Thus, it was specified by the Minister that while there is a “minimum amount” to be invested by the company, doubtlessly it will offer more funding and opportunities for Canadian creators, given the constant growth of its budget over the last few years (Brisebois, 2017). Therefore, the Netflix agreement will allow us to achieve the neoliberal ideals of maximizing creators’ performance based on the exponential target that neoliberalism advocates, where [translation] “less so than ever, the economic machine cannot break even, let alone at a loss. It needs to aim ‘above’ and ‘beyond’” (Dardot and Laval, 2009, p. 437).


The goal of this paper was to take a critical look at the #DigiCanCon public consultations, which aimed to establish means by which the federal government can help the cultural sector through digital transition. Through the themes of culture and cultural industries, critical discourse analysis (CDA) allowed us to determine the processes of the neoliberal ideology, as well as an operational logic. 

First, in these documents we noted the use of creative industry concepts—rather than cultural industries—and the creative economy. These concepts are related to the neoliberal ideology, where creativity and innovation take on a functional role, at the expense of artistic or cultural elements (Tremblay, 2008). We saw the importance of creativity, which was at the heart of this public consultation, and was even part of the title of the strategic framework: Creative Canada. However, creativity was presented as a universal characteristic, not limited to culture, but as something that contributes to success in all Canadian economic sectors. Thus, it seems that we are seeing a more marked integration of the cultural sector [translation] “into the capitalist logic, rather than an issue of ‘culturalization’ of the economy” (Tremblay, 2008). This move from cultural industries to creative industries, which is maintained in the title of the Creative Canada strategy, proposes measures that formalize culture according to economic characteristics and essentially push the concepts of “public service” and “merit goods” to the sidelines.

Therefore, culture is defined by the concepts that allow it to perform on the economic market. This is demonstrated in terms of defining the “Canadian brand”, where cultural diversity is a competitive advantage in the economic market. While culture is what defines us as a group (Throsby, 2001), it seems that the characteristics of Canadian culture are presented here as ways to set us apart on the economic market. 

One of the issues with this consultation was the regulation of digital companies, like Netflix. Here we can observe the implementation of an operational logic (Freitag, 1986) as a means of “regulation”. This type of agreement seems to define the government’s priorities in terms of culture, i.e., the implementation of regulatory systems that ensure economic efficiency. The critical nature of economic growth within this cultural strategy seems to respond to an existing situation that no longer needs to be justified in the neoliberal context: economic growth is a necessary process for the sustainability and prosperity of all sectors of activity, including culture.


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