A $500-million deal with Netflix unveiled Thursday by Canada's federal government is an abdication of Ottawa's responsibility to protect Quebec's identity and the French language, says Quebec Minister of Culture and Communications Luc Fortin.
Fortin said the five-year deal with the digital media giant to fund Canadian productions left him both "angry" and "speechless" because it does not define the proportion of the $500 million that will go toward the creation of original French-language content.
"[Ottawa] abdicated on the question of language, in the sense that we didn't get assurances that there will be a well-defined proportion of original francophone content," Fortin told reporters.
"We can't rely on the invisible hand of the market to ensure that French will have its place on digital platforms," he said.
A number of Quebec filmmakers also expressed concern Thursday with the agreement and what it means for Quebec French cinema.
Good deal for francophone producers, says Joly
Federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, however, said she is "profoundly convinced" that the deal will be good for francophone filmmakers in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.
She noted that the deal includes $25 million to develop francophone markets across the country.
"It means Netflix will have the opportunity to meet Acadian producers, Franco-Ontarian and Franco-Manitoban producers," Joly said.
Joly announced the deal as part of her revamped cultural policy, which outlines what she thinks Canadian content and its cultural industries should look like in the digital world.
It comes after months of public consultations, held last year.
Joly touted the Netflix deal as the biggest investment in Canadian content in the last 30 years from a foreign company.
Quebec's identity vulnerable in digital universe
Fortin said Quebec's identity holds a precarious place in a digital universe dominated by English and called on Joly to negotiate a defined percentage of French in the Netflix deal.
"I think the federal government needs to do its homework and insist on a proportion of original francophone content in the $500 million," he said.
Fortin also criticized the federal government's refusal to levy a tax on the streaming service or to insist that Netflix contribute to the Canada Media Fund.
He said that isn't fair to Canadian companies that must charge GST and provincial tax and contribute to the CMF, which funds Canadian productions.
"Our wish is that the Canadian government puts in place a process that leads to fairness in fiscal matters and regulation," Fortin said.
"What we're seeing today doesn't allow us to reach those objectives because other Canadian platforms receive taxes, pay taxes and contribute to the media fund."
During the Heritage Department's public consultations, Netflix lobbied against being treated like a conventional broadcaster, with all the financial commitments that would entail.
Fortin said there are elements of Joly's policy revamp that he agrees with, notably its concerns with the rights of creators.
"Fair pay for our creators is an important principle and something we will defend," he said.