Heritage Minister Mekanie Joly stands during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, October 3, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Quebec artist union says Netflix deal hard to defend wants Ottawa to ensure funding

MONTREAL — Heritage Minister Melanie Joly didn’t realize the furor her deal with Netflix would cause, especially among the country’s artistic class, said the president of Canada’s French-language artist union.

The minister negotiated a sweetheart deal for the U.S. web-streaming giant at the expense of Canada’s cultural producers, Sophie Pregent of Union des Artistes said Tuesday after a meeting with Joly.

“Maybe she underestimated the furor in the industry, on the ground,” said Pregent. “I think she didn’t see it coming.

“I think (Joly) genuinely thought the deal with Netflix would assuage our concerns but it did the opposite. The fire has spread all over.”

Union des Artistes represents roughly 13,000 French-speaking artists across the country.

The deal with Netflix sees the company investing $500 million on Canadian productions over five years.

Artists say the federal government is giving Netflix an unwarranted subsidy by not forcing the company to pay taxes like it does in many other countries around the world.

Pregent said Canada should look to pressuring internet service companies if it can’t get big online firms to pay taxes.

“Ultimately, if we don’t have the legislation to act on the Netflixes of the world, let’s go higher and see the internet service providers,” she said.

Joly said she “hears” the concerns of the artists.

“The issue,” Joly said, “is how to work together so that we have tools to protect our culture online.”

Joly also dismissed the claim she has essentially given Netflix a tax break that Canadian-based production companies don’t get.

She said the government has the power to hold Netflix accountable if it doesn’t hold up its end of the deal.

Joly added she is waiting for a report by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission about the new business models in the internet era.

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