All these shows have something in common, apart from the facts that crazed killing takes place and cops have difficult personal lives just about everywhere. They’re all beautifully written and acted and stylishly directed and produced. They’re all middlebrow or maybe in some cases upper middlebrow. And, most importantly, they held our attention. Some Netflix series, although not many, we have given up on. That was our choice. Which as National Post columnist Chris Selley has pointed out, makes it a crazy kind of imperialism: Indians couldn’t switch the Raj off whenever they liked.
Another thing these offerings aren’t is Canadian — although, who knows? The way the Can-Con subsidy system works, some may have been shot in Canada, but with all distinctively Canadian markings camouflaged. Netflix does offer a “Canadian movies” option. So far we haven’t clicked on it. Over the years our experience with movies financed without the need to attract viewers hasn’t been happy.
Should Netflix pay tax? Of course it should. It provides a newly produced service, and the whole idea of the GST is to tax all newly produced goods and services, with the rate of tax getting lower and lower as the tax base gets wider and wider. That said, it would take a brave politician, or a foolhardy one, to tax people’s Netflix. (Where are Joe Clark and John Crosbie when you need them?)
Should Netflix have to contribute to a Canadian film and TV production fund? No, it shouldn’t. Earmarked taxes are a bad idea. You want to tax where the cost of taxation is lowest and spend on public purposes where the social returns are highest at the margin. Tax money should go into general revenue, which should be allocated to wherever benefits are greatest. Diverting revenue streams to specific purposes messes that up.
Plus, if we’re going to have a programming fund, why should people who enjoy Netflix programs be the ones to pay for it? If Canadian programming truly benefits all Canadians, that’s yet another argument for taking the funds out of general revenue. If everyone benefits, everyone should pay.
But how is it again that everyone benefits? We now have a mechanism where if people make excellent film or television, they can show it around the world, even if it is Canadian. Netflix is a for-profit company: If the world wants something, you can bet Netflix will provide it.
With the market now taking good care of in-demand properties, the programming funds must be to support properties that either can’t or prefer not to attract enough viewers, whether at home or around the world, to pay for themselves. In effect, they’ll go mainly unwatched.
It may not be imperialism when a government takes your money to produce films and TV you don’t care to watch, but it’s nothing good.
© Ottawa Citizen