Celebrating our Past, Charting our Future

Dear ACTRA members,

Seventy-five years ago, an intrepid group of voice performers stormed out of the CBC demanding better wages and a little respect for the work they were doing entertaining Canadians. That strike was short-lived and successful! Few recognized it as the spark that would create a vibrant national union . . . ACTRA. In short order, groups in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg realized there was strength in numbers. In 1943, they decided to form a national coalition.

Now, as we celebrate 75 years of union activism in the arts, we stand on the shoulders of those early members and all the others who have since volunteered to make things better and more secure for performers working in the audiovisual sector. Those first inspired activists probably never imagined what their walkout would become. In 2016, the film & TV sector in Canada grew to over $7 billion in production spending and created over 140 thousand Full-time Equivalent (FTE) jobs. ACTRA has and continues to play a large role in building our important domestic industry. Performers have always been and remain the face of Canadian culture. Through the diversity of our performances, we have helped to define what it is to be Canadian. We project Canada to the world, supporting all kinds of Canadian business pursuits, including tourism, immigration and more. Our industry is an important driver of the Canadian economy.

ACTRA is also the go-to voice on the arts in Canada and we punch above our weight on the international stage too, taking a leading role in discussions surrounding the best of contract provisions and on intellectual property rights for audiovisual artists. Our union was the first to negotiate terms for Internet Use. We were the first to land a national contract for videogame production . . . the only such contract to include terms for residual Use. Our last Independent Production Agreement (IPA) landed Use provisions that now see work broadcast in Digital Media treated the same as work done for conventional broadcast. Similarly, our latest National Commercial Agreement (NCA) sees members better compensated with full session fees and increased Use fees for digital commercials. We do this important work because change is happening . . . constantly.

With each change, we’re told by our producer/engager partners, “This may not catch on. We’re not sure how to monetize this. Be flexible.” Fortunately, successive groups of member volunteers and staff have figured out the necessary steps and always worked to put performers first. Their efforts include work done on everything from contracts, to work opportunities, health & safety, respect on set, diversity, inclusion, accessibility, political lobbying, industry relations, pension & retirement (AFBS), CASCU—the bank for performers—and so many more import-ant initiatives.

So, YES! As self-employed workers in the arts, we stand on the shoulders of those leader members who stepped up and laid the foundation for all the benefits we enjoy today. To them I say, “Thank you and well done.”

However, lest you think the work of our generation is done . . . with 2018 bringing reviews of the Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Copyright Acts, along with a fresh mandate letter for the new CRTC Chair and the renegotiation of NAFTA under the still looming spectre of the TPP, now is the time for Canadians and ACTRA members, concerned about their cultural future, to pay close attention and demand that we set our own cultural agenda. We have a government that is willing to talk and appears to be listening; but will it follow through? Its recent deal with Netflix would suggest the devil is in the details and we still have work to do.

It’s 2018. We know what the Internet is now. Smart people have learned to monetize content delivered through the Internet pipeline. Just as we regulated signals through the air, cable and satellite, the time has come to regulate the Internet and to collect on the real value our Canadian marketplace offers. So, YES. Over-the-top streaming services should pay to support the creation of Canadian content and should follow the same rules to which we hold our domestic broadcasters. Last year over $730 million dollars in subscription fees left Canada bound for Netflix. Netflix paid no GST, no corporate tax, and contributed nothing into the Canada Media Fund to support the creation of Canadian content.

Wait, didn’t Netflix recently agree to invest $500M over five years in Canadian production? Yes, but not specifically in Canadian content production. And this deal—a deal written by Netflix—is less than the foreign service work it already has in development to be shot in Canada. Don’t get me wrong, we welcome and celebrate content production of every kind, but we celebrate Canadian content produced by Canadians just a little bit more.

This is why it’s even more important to get our definition of cultural sovereignty right. Now! NAFTA currently works to protect culture through a broad cultural exemption that allows each country to create rules to support its own cultural voice. While the government has said it supports the current provision, it also supports certain provisions in the TPP, including stronger language supporting the rights of corporations over actual countries. This is unhelpful. Free trade deals must not ignore our sovereignty, our history, our legacy, and our cultural responsibility to future generations. Our cultural agenda must be set by Canadians and must serve all Canadians.

I would be remiss if I did not touch on the important topic of harassment and assault in our industry. At the time of this writing, we are meeting with members across the country, individuals who have bravely stepped forward with disturbing reports of discrimination, harassment and assault. Your union is listening, learning, working with stakeholders and seeking advice from professionals to create stronger processes and policies for the industry and for ACTRA so we can better support survivors of such abuse. On November 23, 2017, ACTRA hosted an industry roundtable convened by CUES, and attended by the leadership and advisors of many groups, including the CMPA (producers), the CBC, TIFF, Equity, DGC, WGC, NABET, IATSE, TAMAC, the Casting Directors Society of Canada, Women in View and many other organizations representing workers and management in the entertainment industry. This first of what will be many meetings allowed a place for gaps to be identifies, ideas to be shared and progress to be reported on. Our initial shared goals are for the industry to stand together against harassment, bullying, abuse and assault of every kind; to develop a speedier, more inclusive process to support survivors; and to continue to move this file forward by ensuring it has industry-wide support and effective teeth to change behaviours, and eliminate the fear and confusion that helped predatory behaviour persist for so long. The work we do must be effective now and into the future. Thanks to all who bravely stepped up to share their experiences.

For half the time there has been a Canada, there has been an ACTRA. To mark our 75-year anniversary, we’re kicking off celebrations with this special edition of ACTRA Magazine, the first of two anniversary issues in 2018, to commemorate the past and the future of our union. Many will remember our 60th anniversary InterACTRA magazine edition—you can read it online at actramagazine.ca (along with other archived issues of ACTRA Magazine and InterACTRA). Please take the time to learn more about your union’s history. Thanks to every ACTRAvist who has supported the work of our union and our industry. We achieve great things when we work together. Now, on to the special 75th anniversary issue. I hope you enjoy the stories told by your fellow members from coast to coast.

In solidarity,

David Sparrow