THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE
OTTAWA, Thursday, November 1, 2018
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade met this day at 10:36 a.m. to continue its study on the impact and utilization of Canadian culture and arts in Canadian foreign policy and diplomacy, and other related matters.
Senator Paul Massicotte (Deputy Chair) in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
I am Senator Paul Massicotte, the deputy chair of the committee. Welcome.
The committee has been authorized by the Senate to study the impact and utilization of Canadian culture and arts in Canadian foreign policy and diplomacy, and other related matters. Under this mandate, the committee continues the study today.
We are pleased to have with us today Claude Joli-Cœur, Commissioner and Chairperson of the National Film Board of Canada, and Madeleine Careau, Chief Executive Officer of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal.
Appearing by video conference from Washington is Mr. Christopher Walker, Vice President, Studies and Analysis, of the National Endowment for Democracy. Welcome to all.
Without further delay, I ask senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Greene: Stephen Greene from Nova Scotia.
Senator Oh: Victor Oh, Ontario.
Senator Dawson: Dennis Dawson from Quebec.
Senator Saint-Germain: Raymonde Saint-Germain from Quebec.
Senator Dean: Tony Dean, Ontario.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you.
I remind senators and witnesses that their remarks and questions should be precise and concise in order to allow us to cover as much as possible in the time we are given.
We look forward to hearing your presentations and to your answers to our questions. We will begin in the order you were introduced.
Mr. Joli-Cœur, the floor is yours.
Claude Joli-Cœur, Commissioner and Chairperson, National Film Board of Canada: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for offering us the opportunity to speak about the ways in which the National Film Board of Canada, or NFB, contributes to the impact of Canadian arts and culture on Canada’s foreign policy and diplomacy.
The NFB is a federal Canadian cultural agency created in 1939, with a mandate to produce and distribute audiovisual works that are innovative both on a creative and technological level. Our documentaries, auteur animation and interactive works highlight Canadian perspectives on contemporary subjects and issues. The NFB produces approximately 75 works each year at its 11 production studios across the country and collaborates with thousands of creators and artisans from every province and territory.
Our works are distributed and shown not only across the country, but also internationally—at the world’s largest festivals, markets and most high-profile events—as well as at Canadian embassies and consulates, with whom the NFB has maintained long-standing relationships.
For us, having an impact means building special relationships with film lovers and distributors, along with public and private organizations, both domestically and around the world. Our institution is a repository for more than 13,000 titles, making it one of the world’s most important audiovisual collections.
In fact, this collection represents the audiovisual heritage of all Canadians. Over the decades, the titles in our collection—which includes all our new productions—have won more than 7,000 awards, including, notably, 12 Oscars. These works are accessible to the Canadian diplomatic corps through Global Affairs Canada. The ministry library is frequently in contact with our customer service and curators to discuss acquiring and presenting selected works at cultural events.
We regularly collaborate with the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris to show films and organize exhibits. We are also very active on the international festival circuit, helping to find a prestigious platform for Canadian content—distinctive works created both by established and emerging creators.
Every year, NFB productions are shown at some 250 major festivals around the world. The NFB is regularly invited to participate in prestigious festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Annecy, Venice, Toronto and Amsterdam.
Last May, the NFB presented Patrick Bouchard’s animated film The Subject in Cannes. Also in May, in association with the National Gallery of Canada, we debuted a new work at the Venice Biennale in the recently restored Canadian Pavilion. In February, the most recent film by Jean-François Caissy, First Stripes, premiered at Berlin.
In addition to high visibility, events such as these generate awards and honours that have a spillover effect, reflecting well on Canada and highlighting the expertise of its people. In 2017-18, NFB productions won 148 awards. More than half of these — 85 of them — are international honours, coming from a total of 63 different countries.
The influence of Canadian talent is also being felt through the Internet. The advent of the web has erased borders, allowing us to easily reach huge audiences on all continents. The audiences have embraced the diversity of Canadian culture — our stories and our realities — reflected works that are accessible through NFB.ca, our web platform, and our partner platforms. We have been reaching tens of thousands of millions of viewers every year.
The NFB also maintains multiple international partnerships. We’re always active and present at commemorations and large international events. Examples include our film Impressions, by Jean-François Pouliot, that was a key showcase at the Canadian Pavilion at the Shanghai World Exposition in 2010, and our participation in commemoration of the two World Wars through production of a film that serves as an homage to the Van Doos. That’s just an example of what we’ve been doing.
Last summer we showcased documentaries and immersive works during MICA, in Mexico, and we are currently working to ensure that our audiovisual works will have prime billing at the massive 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair.
I’d like to conclude my overview of the NFB’s activities, which play a valuable role in helping to spread Canadian culture on the international scene, by noting that every year we sign 100 distribution contracts with distributors and broadcasters around the world to spread our content in those outlets.
Thank you. I would be happy to answer your questions.
Madeleine Careau, Chief Executive Officer, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal: Honourable senators, good morning. It is a great pleasure to appear before you today. I would like to begin by thanking you for inviting the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal to contribute to the committee’s study.
With its 85th anniversary coming up next year, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, or OSM, has always made a point to participate in discussions centred on the advancement of culture in the country. Not only does our country have a history of cultural diplomacy, but so does our institution. The OSM is now considered one of the best, if not the best, orchestras in the French-speaking world. Founded in 1934, the OSM has performed on more than 40 tours and 37 international excursions, including 27 at New York’s Carnegie Hall, the most prestigious concert hall on the continent. That represents more than 400 concerts abroad, not just in the U.S., but also in Europe, South America and Asia.
Once again, this summer, the OSM was invited to participate in the prestigious Salzburg Festival in Austria, where we opened the festival. The invitation, a first for a Canadian orchestra, is a testament to how highly esteemed our orchestra is around the world.
In the past 30 years, we have made 106 albums, which have garnered 59 national and international awards, including 15 Junos and two Grammys. Lastly, many of our concerts are now webcast in over 40 countries, extending the OSM’s reach to nearly 1.4 million listeners and spectators across the world.
Today, the committee is studying the importance of international exchanges. For a major orchestra like the OSM, they are an integral part of our business model. Many of our concerts feature soloists from abroad. Since our founding, we have hosted more than 5,000 artists. On the one hand, they are the draw for much of our audience. On the other hand, they bring a whole new depth and richness to the OSM’s performances.
An orchestra’s power to attract is tied to its international reputation, which largely hinges on the buzz and appreciation generated by its international tours. In other words, the OSM is popular at home and abroad because it attracts the best soloists, and it attracts the best soloists because it is known around the world.
Canadians are not to be outdone. The OSM’s sound is unique. To listen to the OSM perform is to hear a sound that has been shaped by the country’s long-standing tradition of classical music, a tradition that is passed on through an extensive teaching network of schools, conservatories and universities.
It is also to hear a sound enriched by the nuances of Quebec and Canadian culture. What’s more, when the orchestra’s performances are heard on radios around the world, when it plays in other cities, it is our sound that travels, spreading our shared sensibilities and aspirations across the globe.
It is important to understand that our international tours draw not just music lovers, but also a community of Canadian expatriates seizing the opportunity to reconnect with their country. Many times, they bring their friends or clients, transforming our concerts into a veritable showcase of Canadian culture abroad. That fact was on full display at the OSM’s most recent concert in New York, in October.
Marc-André Blanchard, Canada’s Permanent Representative to the UN, used the occasion to invite about 50 ambassadors to the UN to a reception featuring Maestro Nagano and our musicians in order to highlight Canada’s role in peacekeeping around the world. Movies aside, is there a better medium than classical music to spread that message and help build the country’s reputation in that area?
With that in mind—and this ties in with our first recommendation for the committee—we believe Canada’s cultural diplomacy network could be much better leveraged to host and promote Canadian artists appearing around the world. Our embassies and consulates should be more active when it comes to hosting receptions that feature visiting Canadian artists as the guests of honour. However, the budgets for these kinds of activities are extremely small.
Our second recommendation is to continue supporting the presence of Canadian artists on the world stage. The Canada Council for the Arts has set up programs that are both appropriate and effective. However, the spending limits are far too low, which is very restrictive for an organization of the OSM’s size.
For instance, this past summer’s appearance at the Salzburg Festival, in Austria, alone used up 85 per cent of the funding allocated to the OSM for the entire year. Despite the fact that we will be embarking on a major tour of Europe’s biggest capital cities in March, the funding we receive for that purpose will be significantly lower because of what we spent on Salzburg. Our third and final recommendation is to fully recognize the importance of promoting Canadian culture on digital platforms. Canadian content requires a larger and more visible presence on digital platforms, whether it be Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube. Simply making our content available online is not enough. It is essential to produce content specifically for these new distribution platforms. This type of production requires significant financial resources without necessarily producing any revenue. Greater government support is therefore needed.
In closing, I will point out that, in 1962, it was then Speaker of the Senate Marc Drouin who supported the OSM on its tour of the USSR.
Consequently, we welcome the attention the committee is paying to cultural diplomacy, an activity that is clearly a tradition of the Senate of Canada and the country. Thank you.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you.
Christopher Walker, Vice President, Studies and Analysis, National Endowment for Democracy: I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity and privilege of presenting testimony on this important subject.
I would begin my remarks by noting that public and cultural diplomacy efforts that aim to inform and influence foreign audiences are an important aspect of states’ exertion of what has come to be understood as soft power. This includes spheres such as the arts, publishing, people-to-people exchanges, international broadcasting and the like. Such soft power is based on attraction and persuasion.
In recent years, authoritarian governments, including China and Russia, have spent billions of dollars to shape public opinion and perceptions around the world, employing a diverse range of resources that includes cultural activities, educational programs, people-to-people exchanges and the development of media initiatives that have global reach.
As such authoritarian initiatives have scaled up, observers in the democracies have tended to view such efforts through the familiar lens of soft power. This lens, in some ways, has become outdated. According to the term’s original definition, a country’s hard power is based on coercion, largely a function of military or economic might, whereas soft power is based on attraction, arising from the positive appeal of a country’s culture, political ideals, policies and independent civil society.
The governments in countries such as Russian and China are surely seeking to shape public perceptions, sentiments and opinions overseas to an extent that simply would not have been possible a decade ago. With the explosive growth of the Internet and social media, and the integration of authoritarian information outlets into the media spaces of democracies, for example, the opportunities for exerting influence are far greater today than at any time in the recent past. However, those who interpret these efforts as a way for Moscow or Beijing to boost their country’s soft power appeal may be missing the mark and risk perpetuating a false sense of security.
After all, if the aim of the authoritarians’ efforts to improve their international image, and Russia and China do not, in fact, enjoy an improved image in the democracies, then it stands to reason that their elaborate initiatives must not be working.
Unfortunately, authoritarian regimes view the use of such overseas influence in a different way, one that cannot be divorced from the political values by which they govern at home, as my colleagues and I at the International Forum for Democratic Studies observed in a report published last year titled Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence.
Instead, such regimes often appear to be pursuing more malign objectives associated with new forms of outwardly directed censorship and manipulation, which are directly at odds with the more benign perception of soft power. A clearer picture of these regimes’ intent can be gleaned from their domestic political and media landscapes. Leadership in Moscow, Beijing and Riyadh, and in other such settings, have methodically suppressed genuine dissent, smeared or silenced political opponents, inundated their citizens with propagandist content, and deftly co-opted independent voices and institutions, all while seeking to maintain a deceptive appearance of pluralism, openness and modernity.
Today’s media landscape reflects this challenge. As I wrote in the Journal of Democracy in 2016:
— illiberal regimes are scaling up their traditional- and new-media capabilities and broadcasting content to global audiences. On the surface, these enterprises seem like soft-power instruments. But China’s CCTV (now CGTN) and Russia’s RT are not the BBC, or Deutsche Welle — or the CBC — which operate according to a fundamentally different value system.
As we observed in the Sharp Power report, while there are differences between the approaches of China and Russia, they “both stem from an ideological model that privileges state power over individual liberty and is fundamentally hostile to free expression, open debate and independent thought.” I note that in the present environment in democratic countries, the cultural sphere, as well as those in academia, media and publishing, are open and accessible — and they must remain so. Yet at a time when leading authoritarian regimes are contesting democracy at the level of ideas, principles and standards, this openness unfortunately makes them ripe targets for sharp power.
A prominent example of this challenge is China’s global network of more than 500 Confucius Institutes. First launched in 2004 and now found in more than 80 countries, these institutes are initiatives of the Chinese state that straddle the worlds of education and culture, providing Chinese-language instruction and various cultural offerings through a presence on university campuses. In Canada, as of this year, there are 12 Confucius Institutes and 36 Confucius classrooms.
The Chinese authorities portray the Confucius Institutes as being similar to France’s Alliance Française or Germany’s Goethe-Institut, both of which receive government funding to give language and culture classes. Yet, unlike those free-standing organizations, the Confucius Institutes are embedded within educational institutions, most of which are committed to the type of free intellectual inquiry that is impossible at the Confucius Institutes themselves. Little about these institutes is transparent. It is hard to say, for instance, what amount of Chinese government money goes to host universities. It’s also unclear what level of control universities have over curricula within these institutes. The agreements between these parties generally remain confidential.
These institutes are only one aspect of China’s comprehensive engagement of educational institutions and democracies. Such activities are part of a broader effort to influence the public sphere in democracies that is being brought into sharper relief through important reporting by independent journalists, including those in Canada.
Why should we care about this dramatic buildup of influence by the authoritarians, and how should we think about it? After all, aren’t China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, and other such states, simply pursuing their own interests? They are, to be sure; but it is critical to remember that these interests are informed by autocratic political values and preferences that privilege control and manipulation.
The information I have referenced here only touches in a limited way upon the potential corrosive effects of sharp power that are increasingly apparent in the spheres of culture, academia and media, sectors that are crucial in determining how citizens of democracies understand the world around them.
In conclusion, I would emphasize that democratic societies must reckon with the challenges presented by sharp power. The challenge is multifaceted and so must be any response. Society-wide responses are needed. At the same time, democracies must be cautious that they do not make things worse. Democratic systems cannot sacrifice their own standards and values as a way of safeguarding against authoritarian sharp power.
I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize Canada’s leadership in this regard, in particular for its support of the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism to defend against critical threats to democracy as part of the Charlevoix Commitment. This is a very important step. As long as China, Russia and other internationalist authoritarian powers remain unfree societies in which independent institutions are unable to hold the top leadership accountable, their authoritarian governments will continue to exert sharp power. The democracies, therefore, must draw upon their reserves of innovation and determines as free societies to meet this challenge.
I’d like to thank the committee for its attention and would be pleased to answer any questions.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you, Mr. Walker.
I’d like to thank all the speakers, because these are very important issues. Your contribution is very relevant to our study.
Senator Saint-Germain: I have two questions. The first is for Ms. Careau. I’d like start by thanking you for providing us with written information, which is especially helpful. In a submission to the committee, your colleague at the Orchestre Métropolitain made the following statement:
Currently, cultural organizations have to respond to the themes, the directions, the standards and the priorities of the government, even to the point of being entirely distanced from their mission. This is to gain access to budgets that, while helpful, are designed for less relevant projects that are outside their mission, short-term and with little possibility of expansion. Organizations have to tailor their artistic programming to very strict funding models and criteria, when the opposite should be true.
You gave the committee three recommendations. I found the third especially compelling given the context we now live in.
You recommend that our cultural policy take into account the importance of promoting Canadian cultural content adapted to digital platforms.
How can we improve current funding models, current rules and programs, to give organizations greater freedom of expression, while supporting the implementation of such a digital platform internationally? In the current context, such a platform could contribute to the spread of culture.
Ms. Careau: For a symphony orchestra—and no doubt the same applies to our Orchestre Métropolitain colleagues—that means making the content produced by hundreds of artists at the same time available online. It could be the work of an orchestra, a conductor, one or more soloists, or even a choir, so the costs are extremely high.
As part of the collective agreement, we negotiated with our musicians a number of measures we refer to as opportunities. With the support of the unions, of course, we deviated somewhat from the usual approach to compensation for audiovisual artists, so we could build our own presence on digital platforms. Nevertheless, the budget requirement is extremely onerous. First, in order to make content available on digital platforms, we have to compete with the world’s top orchestras. We will soon be launching a major European tour, including a performance at the Digital Concert Hall in Berlin, which is an amazing platform. It’s an exceptional concert hall with equally exceptional digital broadcasting properties. It is going to cost us $50,000 to have our concert broadcast live around the world. That is not just to pay the musicians, but also to cover the cost of the technical facilities. Most digital platforms, including Spotify and YouTube, do not see the need to pay for content. They are already making their platforms available, the platforms they created. They are providing the audience, access to the public and the advertising, and we have to supply 100 per cent of the content at our own expense. In that sense, then, program funding, be it through the Canadian or Quebec government, is not sufficient to support European tours featuring the likes of Marie-Nicole Lemieux or other top Quebec artists, whose performances we would like to broadcast around the world. Whenever we do that, it costs an exorbitant amount of money, so we have to make choices.
Senator Saint-Germain: You are eligible to receive funding for digital broadcasts, but the level of funding is the problem.
Ms. Careau: Yes, and in some cases, the criteria are so specific that a symphony orchestra cannot meet them. The requirements should be reworked to make the funding more accessible, but, yes, as you said, one of the biggest problems is, of course, the level of funding.
Senator Saint-Germain: I see. If you had any specific improvements to suggest as far as the criteria or any of the programs were concerned, it would be helpful if you could forward them to the clerk of the committee.
Ms. Careau: My colleague could provide that information.
Senator Saint-Germain: Mr. Joli-Cœur, in listening to you and reading the documents provided, I was interested to learn that the National Film Board is implementing 30 or so commitments in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations.
I’d like more information on some of those key commitments. What statutes, regulations, international agreements and programs promote, limit or completely hinder your efforts on the world stage, as far as copyright, intellectual property and audiovisual co-production are concerned?
Mr. Joli-Cœur: In June 2017, we initiated 33 measures to bring about organizational change at the NFB, in terms of how we produce and distribute films. Legally or commercially speaking, there aren’t any specific barriers to Indigenous production in relation to overall production. Rather, we are taking a new approach in the three areas I mentioned.
Our online distribution platform, NFB.ca, is not geoblocked, so it’s accessible anywhere in the world. Since we produce our own films, we control the copyright and the rights of all the rights holders we work with. We compensate them accordingly. Globally, it’s a barrier, but, as a public institution, we are very meticulous about it.
We created an indigenous channel on NFB.ca, providing access to 100 or so works produced exclusively by Indigenous people. It is accessible around the world.
We have had tremendous success with the distribution of Indigenous-made films, including those of acclaimed director Alanis Obomsawin, who remains the NFB’s last employee director. She has been with the NFB for 52 years. With 52 films under her belt already, she is still working on more. Hers is an indigenous voice known around the world.
The 33 commitments set out in the plan do not address any specific Indigenous production challenges. Instead, they fit into the overall context of the issues we face.
Senator Saint-Germain: You are able to take action thanks to the programs and funding available to you.
Mr. Joli-Cœur: As a public organization in the Canadian Heritage portfolio, we do not have access to all of the Canada Council for the Arts or Creative Export Strategy funding announced by the department last year. We have to support all of our activities from our own funding. According to our incorporating legislation, we must produce and distribute works on Canadian issues for Canada and the rest of the world. It’s part of our legislative mandate to open up to the rest of the world. That is why our distribution is focused both on Canada and the rest of the world, which the Web allows us to do with greater ease.
Senator Saint-Germain: Thank you.
Senator Oh: Thank you, panel, for your presentations. I have a question for the Commissioner of the National Film Board.
As we know, Canadian values are embodied in our culture and our works. Take the National Film Board, for example. Many of the NFB’s films are about giving voice to vulnerable groups in our society: Aboriginal people, LGBTQ communities, immigrants, refugees and many others.
Mr. Joli-Cœur, I’ve had the pleasure of working with you on a number of occasions now, including your kind assistance in the panel discussion to mark the seventieth anniversary of the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act I hosted in 2017. Your team worked tirelessly to translate and add a Chinese subtitle to the documentary film In the Shadow of Gold Mountain by Karen Cho. In fact, thanks to this effort, more than 500 people attended the screening I hosted in Toronto in May of this year.
In doing this, it shows that we respect and affirm those Canadian families who were affected by the Chinese head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act. It also creates a new audience for the film in the Chinese-speaking population internationally, a market in excess of 1.2 billion people.
I understand the NFB has more than 20 films about the Chinese community in Canada. How much has been done in terms of having the Canadian film tour around the world? It is a great way to share our culture and perspectives with the international community, especially among young people in universities and colleges.
I also understand the NFB has considerable interests in the Canada-China Friendship Society plan for a multi-year film festival. How is it going on that front?
Mr. Joli-Cœur: Thank you, Senator Oh. It has indeed been a pleasure working on those files with you and being in China at two events when we were there together.
China, of course, is a major market, but, in terms of cultural exchange, it goes back to those first diplomatic relationships that happened in the 1970s. The NFB has been producing films with Chinese-Canadian creators for all those years. It’s really part of our mandate to reflect that part of Canadian society, not only to the world but also for Canadians to know more about those stories.
I was very proud of showing that film, In the Shadow of Gold Mountain, a story that most Canadians know at a very high level. That film shows the immense contribution of Chinese descendants to the construction of our country. I’m very proud we were able to make that Chinese version.
When I was in China last year with Minister Joly, I met and created a relationship with Canadian Studies at the University of Beijing, where they have access to all our films for their students to get a better understanding of Canada.
Through the works that we produce — and we work every year with almost a third of Canada creators who have diverse origins from different countries — through our programming, we are able to reflect a full diversity on points of view of Canadian issues and values.
The example of what Minister Joly has been doing in terms of culture and extending the awareness of Canadian culture in China is a very good one. It opens a lot of doors to the set of values that we can bring to the world. I really value those opportunities, especially under the umbrella of the department, where we have so many public institutions that have different public mandates in culture working together in the way that Minister Joly has been able to do in that mission in China. It was a very good example of what we can do.
To Madeleine’s point, we can do that in many countries around the world. We see a difference when we bring those stories, because we bring a perspective that is valued by a lot of people.
Senator Oh: My question is for Mr. Walker. Can you tell the committee a little more about the Confucius Institutes you mentioned earlier? You mentioned that the Germans and French are doing the same thing. What is the teaching curriculum? What do they represent? What kind of cultural teaching?
Mr. Walker: Thank you for your question, senator. The fundamental difference we can identify is, first, one of transparency. This is a persistent issue across the educational institutions in the democracies that have entered into partnerships with the Confucius Institutes that are run by Hanban, which is a state propaganda agency of the Chinese government. This is one issue.
Another issue is that the Confucius Institutes are embedded within the university structures of the universities with which they have relationships, unlike the Goethe-Institut in the German case and Alliance Française in the French case, which are free-standing institutions and operate separately. This creates a host of issues within institutions, for example, in which professors or other personnel want to know about the agreements the Confucius Institutes have with these institutions that are often confidential — essentially secret.
In a number of cases, very persistent and courageous professors have gotten a hold of these documents. It’s been very rare. In those cases, there’s been an implication that the local institutions are exhorted by the Chinese partners to abide by Chinese laws and regulations.
All of these things demand greater scrutiny — at a bare minimum, more transparency — because there’s a concern that, given the Chinese authorities’ consistent suppression of discussion on issues like Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen Square, and discussions of elite politics in China in other settings, this is somehow affecting discussion within what should be open, academic settings in the democracies.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentation. Mr. Walker, you say that to counter sharp power, society-wide responses are needed. Would you like to elaborate a little bit on that?
Mr. Walker: Sure. Thank you, senator. We’ve discovered in a number of settings — and I would cite the experience of Australia as one good case, which has confronted some very serious issues with respect to the political integrity of democratic institutions in Australia, a developed democracy. It became very clear as that country began to engage with a number of questions with respect to the financing of politics, cultural questions, independent media and other sectors in the country, that governmental responses alone would not be adequate.
The participation of the scholarly community, independent journalistic and media outlets, and civil society writ large has been crucial to responding to this issue. I would emphasize the point that much of what we’re seeing with respect to the engagement of these internationalist, ambitious, powerful authoritarian regimes is essentially a wrinkle of globalization. Their deep participation in democratic societies is that it’s not so clear to find the exact line between issues that are illegal and those that are simply highly undesirable or corrosive to the integrity of democratic institutions.
Australia has set the standard to date in their response to their engagement with China, which has been difficult and heated, but I think Australia has responded in a way that’s consistent with democratic debate and democratic values. It’s something that, frankly, every democracy needs to contend with now.
Senator Ataullahjan: What has Australia specifically done that you feel helps them to have or carry the conversation the way they want? Can you elaborate a bit on that?
Mr. Walker: Sure. I’d put the response this way: In a fundamental sense, the process by which Australia has engaged with this challenge has included an identification of the problem through raising awareness by putting it into the media space. There are examples in the European Union, the United States and Canada in the recent past that suggests this process is happening in these democracies as well.
That, in turn, triggered a very meaningful public policy discussion in the Australian case. I won’t go into great detail with the some-200 proposed pieces of legislation they put forward, which a number of analysts and scholars have written about, including some very thoughtful people in Australia, such as Professor John Fitzgeraldand John Garnaut, who have been at the front edge of this issue. These issues ranged from transparency and engagement with a number of critical industries, to refining and thinking through the way in which political campaigns are funded, thinking hard about the integrity of the media space and so forth. It was a full suite of responses, very comprehensive, that had a very heated public discussion, and then they settled on what I think Australian society believed were the most important pieces of these proposed legislative approaches.
Senator Ataullahjan: With respect to the report’s five recommendations to address sharp power, how can we incorporate that into an effective cultural policy strategy by countries like Canada?
Mr. Walker: I think each country, of course, has to determine its own course for how to address this.
I alluded very briefly in my oral testimony to the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism, which I think holds a good deal of promise for a variety of reasons, not least the prospect of working cooperatively both within the G7 countries, as I understand it at the domestic level — in essence, to marshal what are seen as the critical sectors to respond to challenges to the integrity of democratic institutions, but at the same time, to share information and to work more collaboratively and cooperatively with other democracies. This is not happening, in my view, to a sufficient degree at the moment, so, at a very fundamental level, I think this sort of approach needs to be there.
More specifically, I think there’s an enormous amount of work we need to do—here I say “we” in the sense of democratic countries—in dealing with the deep changes that have occurred to the public information space and the public sphere, which not all that long ago—a generation ago—we would have looked at in a profoundly different way. Here, I think we need to really rethink how we address these issues in a new environment so that our journalists, editors and public institutions have a more effective way of thinking through public discourse, a more effective way of understanding what is accurate and true. We also need a more effective way of understanding who our partners are in the civil society space, which was one of the key findings of the sharp power report and which many others subsequent to the issuance of our report have started to look at in more detail. It is this idea that partners that are ostensibly civil society groups and independent from deeply repressive authoritarian settings are operating with the same sort of freedom, autonomy and independence as institutions from the democracies. This is something that’s very poorly understood and needs to be understood much better across the democracies.
Senator Dawson: Welcome back, Mr. Joli-Cœur.
This isn’t the first time you appear before this committee. You also appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications. You spoke about your trip to China with Minister Joly. This illustrates the dual nature of what we need to do, that is to say ensure the coordination of what is done by Canadian Heritage and what Global Affairs Canada can offer. There are a lot of organizations. There is no shortage of organizations; the problem, rather, is a lack of coordination. Let’s take the example of what Canada did with Team Canada. They left with a team to go and promote the Canadian economy.
Could such a concept be used to group people from various cultural milieux in Canada into one tour, in order to show that culture is a priority for us? Unfortunately, we don’t see groups like Team Canada anymore, and we miss them. Would such an approach be possible for culture, so as to better coordinate what is being done?
Ms. Careau, you spoke about Marc-André Blanchard and the efforts made in New York. I hope you will do the same thing with Minister Dion in Berlin. Who will coordinate that if Canadian Heritage and Global Affairs do not? Whose responsibility will that be?
Mr. Joli-Cœur: I was a part of both trips with Minister Joly in China. During the first trip in 2017, there were six of us, two or three organizations from the minister’s portfolio, and her entourage who were doing some exploratory work. When we returned the following year, we were a Team Canada creative group. We represented about 40 organizations from all sectors: museums, shows, new productions.
I was able to observe—and I am not aware of all of the coordination details—a real synergy among the Canadian Heritage teams and those from the our Chinese embassy and consulates, who all worked hand in hand. It was extremely productive.
I was at first quite skeptical when I saw the delegation made up of all these groups, as to what this would ultimately truly lead to. In one week, I was able to observe the momentum that was created around the minister’s visit and the presence of Ambassador McCallum.
That mission by Canadian Heritage and the embassy could be a case study on how to reproduce that, in other strong missions, such as Paris, London, Los Angeles or Berlin, key locations where we can have an impact by joining forces. That is essential.
Together with the presence of important ministers and deputy ministers, I was able to see how things can fall into place. When I was in Mexico this summer, no ministers were present, but there was a strong contingent of departmental officials who created links with Mexican organizations that allowed things to emerge.
That coordination is essential. We had not seen it for years, but it has been back for two or three years now. It can make all the difference. That said, these are still the initial stages. It’s not completely operational yet. The 125 million dollars from the Canada Council for the Arts will help. A lot of efforts were made with the directors of Canadian Heritage portfolio organizations to make sure people worked together, but it is still not enough. There is a real will on the part of several directors—I’m thinking, among others, of Guy Berthiaume. There are directors general or chairs of national museums who have the will to lead projects together in order to have an impact. Without that coordination from Global Affairs people on the ground, we could not make it. It is essential that that be part of a coherent action plan.
Senator Dawson: Do you have any other concrete recommendations? The purpose of our report, which we hope to finish soon, is to find the examples and to say that they can be repeated. You spoke about Paris and London, but what about the American market? If we used that model, with our biggest economic partner—you did this, Ms. Careau, in New York—that could be repeated on several American markets, in a coordinated way. It’s being done in individual instances, but we want a cultural diplomacy policy that makes your work easier. In order to do so, we need your comments. We have some, but the problem will be choosing our recommendations. We are willing to hear others, if you have others to submit.
Mr. Joli-Cœur: I had the opportunity of attending the Oscars, two years ago, because one of our films was nominated. I saw the strength of the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles; it was a war machine, but these are isolated pockets without coordination.
Senator Dawson: You spoke about Los Angeles. Is there coordination abroad between the Government of Quebec and the Intergovernmental Affairs Department, or the Ministry of Culture?
Mr. Joli-Cœur: Yes.
Ms. Careau: Yes.
Mr. Joli-Cœur: I saw that in Shanghai, with Jean-Francois Lépine. The Canadian consulate and the Quebec delegation in Shanghai worked hand in hand. In Los Angeles...
Ms. Careau: We will experience it in Brussels during our next European tour. We will be there on the International Day of La Francophonie. Thanks to Quebec’s delegate general in Brussels, Michel Audet, who brought together at the same table the Canadian Ambassador to Belgium, Olivier Nicoloff, and the Belgian Ambassador to Canada—forgive me, his name escapes me for the time being.
The three will work together to organize a major day with elected officials, senior executives from the European Union and Quebec companies. We are accompanied by Tourism Montreal, the Chambers of Commerce, Montreal International and all kinds of organizations that can benefit from international networks.
The OSM serves as a sort of “Trojan horse”. Around an OSM concert, there will be a major meeting between the European Union, Canada, Quebec, and Quebec and Canadian organizations that can benefit from international relations. There is a very good relationship. We will also experience it in Paris during the same tour where the Canadian ambassador to Paris, Ms. Hudon, and Quebec’s delegate general in Paris, Ms. Beauchamp, thanks to the OSM concert at the Philarmonie de Paris, will take the opportunity to invite several French partners. We will be accompanied by several Quebec and Canadian companies that want to establish relations with France.
So it is done spontaneously. The fact that we have the opportunity to put on a concert—opportunity makes the thief—means that diplomats, economic stakeholders, people from all walks of life can come together for an evening and that an exchange can take place between Quebec, Canada and our guests from the country or city we are visiting.
We take care of the coordination, in particular by organizing meetings with people in Brussels and Paris. Canada’s Ambassador to Berlin, Mr. Dion, will soon be meeting as part of a tour. An evening was organized with the ambassador to Austria in Salzburg and with the Canadian Embassy in Krakow, Poland. We do it on our own initiative. When communicating with embassies and delegations, they always say yes, and that is how meetings are organized.
Senator Dean: Thanks for being here, and thanks for great presentations.
I want to pick up on where Senator Ataullahjan was taking us in terms of the relationship between popular culture and ideology. For history, I’d note that it’s of interest that the predecessor organization to the National Film Board — the National Film Commission, created in 1939 — was created in part for the express intention of supporting the Allied war effort, and was very successful in that, as were other Commonwealth countries. That’s kind of an aside.
I want to go back, though, to Mr. Walker, and perhaps others will want to comment on this. We heard about the Australian example, which I think is a very good one, but I’d like to go back, if I could, and ask for more examples of what I might call the sharper side of soft power can look like from a cultural context. Some of the examples that you gave were reactive and defensive. There were things happening in our home country that perhaps were inspired by others from without.
Are there examples of outward-looking or what I might call offensive cases of the sharp use of what otherwise we might think of as soft power? I ask this question because there’s obviously a huge gulf between the definitions of soft power and sharp power. There has to be something in between.
Are there other examples where we’ve seen either inside of authoritarian countries — one springs to mind in Russia a feminist punk rock band, for example, that has been very disruptive there to the government.
In that vein, is there anything more you can add to this notion of where we might be exercising soft power in a sharper way?
Mr. Walker: It’s a terrific question, senator. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. What we identified as we got into our research on this, which was done by people on the ground in a number of democracies — that’s what led to the sharp power report; this was in Latin America and Central Europe, young democracies — is that many of the institutions or instruments that we would customarily look at as being in the sphere of soft power didn’t have the characteristics typically associated with Joseph Nye’s definition of the term: attraction and persuasion. What we found was it was often more the case of manipulation and censorship.
For example, in academic publishing, which is a wonderful way to transmit ideas, what we found is that publishers in the democracies are now sometimes intent on circumscribing or curbing the content of their publications.
There was famously the case of Cambridge University Press, which was pruning its content at the behest of the Chinese authorities. In the face of an outcry by scholars, experts and civil society groups, they reversed that decision, thankfully.
Springer Nature, which is a German publisher, one of the largest publishers, has acknowledged and openly admits that they censor their content on a wide range of issues connected to China. These are materials that go there. So this is one example.
In the university setting more broadly, we’re very much in the early phase of understanding the depth of this challenge. As I mentioned earlier, I think part of what we need to do now is raise awareness so that each country can come to its own conclusion about the nature of the relationship it wants to have with countries or their surrogates, such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Canada has had its own experience where, in some ways, students from a country in the Gulf were weaponized in a sense by virtue of one of your senior officials speaking out on human rights.
We see versions of this replaying itself across a host of countries. I think in a way the democracies’ challenge — and it really is at the heart of this — is that the impulse is to open our doors to engage, and properly so. This is part of the openness, pluralism, volunteerism and putting independent civil society at the forefront of our engagement with the world, which is in essence our soft power, which I believe we need to reinvigorate and think through in a more 21st-century way.
It’s fair to say that the authoritarians have thought this through very seriously, and they use their digital acumen and the ability to bring to bear enormous resources in this space to shape the environment in a way that’s consistent with their political preference, values and interest.
I’m hopeful that’s responsive. I can give more specific examples of cases in other settings where we’ve seen what I would say is the outward-facing censorship and manipulation, which is inconsistent with the typical definition of soft power, and I’m happy to do so.
Senator Dean: The next question is to our colleagues at the table. We know that in the world of literature, film, poetry and music, there are countercultural, oppositional messages and capacities. We can think of Canadian artists who have been successful in doing this. We can think of the way that film interrogates questions of power and, in some cases, authoritarianism.
Ms. Careau and Mr. Joli-Cœur, do you have anything to add to what Mr. Walker said in this realm of how soft power might be toughened up a little bit?
Mr. Joli-Cœur: I’m not sure I’m entirely understanding your question.
Senator Dean: Let me put it this way: We know that in our various forms of culture, including film, that some filmmakers purposely set out to tackle issues of authoritarianism, sexism, racism, for example, and we see that as part of the evolving nature of the arts. It’s almost a natural thing, and we applaud that. It’s interesting that one of the first places authoritarian institutions go to is the arts, because of the freedom of expression and ideas.
Any thoughts on the relationship of the arts to what I’ve termed the sharper end of soft power and the way that must be realized, or is that a volunteeristic activity that is purely seen as part of freedom of expression?
Mr. Joli-Cœur: When the NFB was established in 1939, it was just before the war. The war created that period of propaganda films for the war effort, but through the years, the way the mandate has been implemented by various predecessors that I have had, it has been evolving.
I would say that for the last couple of decades, we’ve been able to operate, being an arts organization, we’re totally brought from an influence from the government, but it comes with a huge duty to hold that power of what a filmmaker can bring in terms his message, views and his own agenda.
Being a public producer brings the responsibility of not crossing that line of being an activist and bringing Canadian values. What are Canadian values? What are the things that are creating debate among Canadians? That’s where the expertise of our producers all over the country, with that public mandate in mind, is essential.
Actually, we are an exception in the free world, being a public producer that is not a state producer. There are none that are still in existence. There are public broadcasters sometimes, but not with the mandate we have: sharing those values, creating dialogues on issues that are facing Canadians, and reflecting how Canada is evolving.
That comes with a lot of responsibility, and that’s how we take that mandate. But we’re not shy of taking aboard works reflecting things that have not been great in Canada. The film In the Shadow of Gold Mountain is a good example. We’re currently doing interactive work on the Japanese internment camps during the war. That would be very powerful.
Those works are creating an environment for reflection, debate and conversation on what free values are all about. Indigenous production is exactly the same thing. We can bring that dialogue to another level.
There is a very fine line between how a public institution can act rightly, and we’re quite proud of what we’ve been doing over the last couple of years, because it’s that delicate balance between that kind of content.
Senator Greene: Thank you very much. I particularly want to thank Mr. Walker for his presentation and for raising issues we haven’t heard before around this table in the context of this report.
I have two quick questions. First, is there any other organization like yours operating in Canada? Second, if you could give one or two precise recommendations to this committee that might end up in our report, what would they be?
Mr. Walker: Thank you, senator. For the first question, my understanding is that there’s been some discussion over the years of creating something analogous to the National Endowment for Democracy in the Canadian context. I would note that the National Endowment for Democracy is an unusual animal in the U.S. context, in the sense that we’re very fortunate to receive a congressional appropriation. That is to say, the U.S. taxpayer funds us, but we are a privately chartered institution and hence have enormous autonomy, which is critically important for us to be able to consistently, year in and year out, pursue and support democratic and human rights values around the world.
In terms of the sorts of things that are critical at this juncture for Canada and other democracies to keep in mind, I would put front and centre the need in this environment to find ways to reaffirm democratic and human rights values. In this environment, my sense is that authoritarian regimes are very vigorously projecting their own sense and preference of authoritarian values, including those that seek to shut down debate on some very critical issues.
I would give one other example in this space, just to put it in context. Using the U.S. as an example, Hollywood is struggling mightily in the arts and cultural sphere with how to navigate its engagement with China. Our trade magazines in Hollywood are at the forefront of writing about this. Increasingly, some thoughtful analysts have started to write about it.
I would emphasize the point that powerful institutions like Hollywood struggle in maintaining the highest standards of free expression. One can only imagine how challenging this is for weaker institutions or individuals that face this sort of challenge.
In addition to stressing the need to reaffirm democratic and human rights values, I think there’s a very strong need to embrace a comprehensive approach, which is to say that civil society today in the democracies needs to raise its capacity to think about these issues facing their own countries, including the more subtle and pernicious ways of curbing discussion on what should be appropriate issues for public debate. This is certainly an issue at the university level, as well as in the media space.
These are not things that, necessarily, can be legislated. I think this is what the Australians are trying to navigate. What it suggests is that there needs to be more voluntary standard-setting on a commonly-agreed basis within the university sector and within the media sector. This would require, for example, the leadership of universities and media institutions to seriously talk through the way in which they deal with these sorts of challenges, whether it’s partnerships with foreign authoritarian governments which can seem quite lucrative or possibly even necessary, but which always come with costs. This is part of the challenge.
We’re in the early stage of working through this, but I think the key is to get these cross-sectoral, community-level discussions going now so that many of the responses can be done in a voluntary way rather than seeking to impose legislation or regulations.
The Deputy Chair: Before we end the discussion, if I could ask a question.
Ms. Careau, Mr. Joli-Cœur, the purpose of the study isn’t just to talk about culture, cultural works and artists. We need to determine our impact from the perspective of cultural diplomacy and our work outside the country. We have to try to measure the costs and opportunities, and see what the benefits are for our country.
Ms. Careau, you told us that the costs are relatively high. How does this benefit Canada, our brand image, our reputation, our future benefits, is there a way to measure all this and show Canadians that there are benefits to investing?
Ms. Careau: For example, this summer we were in Salzburg and Krakow, and we will be in Brussels, Vienna, Berlin and Paris next March. First of all, our receptions are held under the umbrella of the Canadian government. Of course, there is a lot of Canadian branding. We bring people from all fields, not just artists. They can be people from companies that sponsor us, such as Bombardier, Power, Paribas, people who help us go on tour. For the OSM, realizing a tour such as the one planned in Europe will generate costs of up to $2 million. The Canadian government is not expected to pay this. Often, it is our foundation and our sponsors who do. The Canadian government benefits enormously from this. One evening, such as recently in New York, 350 people gathered at an event, including 50 UN ambassadors, Nikki Haley, Chrystia Freeland, Christine St-Pierre, representatives of sponsoring companies, such as BMO and Power Corporation of Canada, and so on. They were all present, as well as their American guests.
More than half of the people present were Americans, not Canadians. Therefore, exchanges between various Canadian companies in sectors other than culture and music are encouraged, as are political exchanges. Ms. Haley spoke with the president of Power Corporation and the chair of our Board of Directors. She had exchanges with other sponsors. The Canadian government benefits greatly from this.
As part of this tour, not a penny was asked of the Canadian government. Everything was funded through our sponsors, who covered the costs of this reception and so on. Everywhere, and in Salzburg too, the president of Bombardier Transportation Europe-Asia and others from various backgrounds attended the reception hosted by the Canadian government. Even the ambassador told me that it’s fantastic, because she has the chance to meet many people she doesn’t have the opportunity to meet in Vienna. Canada benefits all the time. There is never an occasion when this is not done under the aegis of the Canadian government.
Sometimes, we invite a delegation from Quebec to a city like Paris or Brussels. Otherwise, it happens under the umbrella of the ambassador in Vienna, for example. So Canada benefits all the time.
Mr. Joli-Cœur: Beyond these events, we are never at that level, but we still take part in major international events like the ones I mentioned.
First and foremost, through its investment in the National Film Board, Canada benefits from the sharing of all the values and issues that our films reflect in the rest of the world. On our online distribution platform, we have nearly 4,000 films available for free anywhere in the world. We have established partnerships with Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and many other channels where millions of our films are watched by people outside Canada who understand the issues and values of our country. It is difficult to measure the return on the $60 million that the Canadian government invests in the NFB, but these tens of millions of film screenings per year are a reflection of Canadian culture and its values, that is, the way Canadian stories are told. In our opinion, the return on investment is the number of people who watch our films. These millions of people abroad are our way of measuring our success.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Walker, if I could ask you a question. I think it’s acknowledged and nobody doubts the comment you made earlier relative to China, Saudi Arabia and Russia relative to their efforts to influence our democracies, but without getting too much involved in your own situation, if you look at the polling they do and so on, increasingly the world is kind of concerned about your own country and whether there are not attempts by some people to diminish the democracy or the vibrancy of your democracy, by all forms and measures, locally.
Do you have any comments on that? Do you sense equally a threat or a mini threat to your own democracy in the way the media is being controlled and manipulation is happening? Do you have any comments there?
Mr. Walker: I don’t think I’ll go into too much detail on that, senator. What I would say is that the media in this country are highly stimulated and very active in ways that would be unimaginable in, for example, China or Russia. If anything, I think the problems that we’re contending with here have marshalled quite a response from civil society, political opposition and the public. It’s quite possible in the coming electoral cycles there will be some responses that will also evince the sort of response from a democratic perspective that one would never see in any of these other cases that we’ve been discussing earlier.
So democracies are imperfect, it’s true. Right now, not only the United States but globally, any number of countries that looked far more favourably disposed not so long ago are going through some very challenging times. But I remain quite optimistic that the underlying commitment to these values will be reflected here and in many of the other environments that are facing challenges.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you. I hope you’re right.
Thank you very much for your participation.
Thank you, Mr. Walker, for being available to allow us to have this open discussion in a very open and transparent democracy.