The coronavirus has not only harmed the lives of hundreds of Quebecers, it has also launched a full-out assault on our economy. Since March 12, the cultural sector has been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. Whether we are talking about performance venues, festivals, performing artists (like music, dance and theatre), circus arts, cinema, television, literature, museums… In short, the entire sector has been profoundly shaken and afflicted by the halt to its activities as well as, and perhaps most importantly, a slow recovery which will have disastrous long-term effects.
The Premier of Quebec announced just a few days ago that confinement measures for seniors could be extended for many months and that we needed to learn to live with social distancing measures for a long time to come. But how can we go see a movie or attend a concert in these conditions? How will artists from the sector be able to survive this crisis?
And that’s without mentioning the impact the crisis will have on Quebecers’ pocketbooks. Because once the health crisis has passed, Quebec will have to recover from a financial crisis. Therefore, households will have less money available for outings and cultural purchases.
So, maintaining our cultural industries will require help, a lot of help, and we are, of course, speaking about money. It’s important to remember that when we speak of culture, we’re also talking about the economy. Indeed, the cultural sector’s contribution to the economy in 2016 was over 12.7 billion dollars, representing 4% of the GDP. It is also a sector that employs over 166,000 Quebecers.
For a month now, Quebec has been on pause. This pause has made us collectively aware of the extent to which culture is a part of our daily lives. What have we been doing in confinement? Reading good books. Going on virtual museum visits. Watching television series or films. Watching dance or circus performances on TV. Making new musical discoveries… Culture is all around is. Culture is soothing and particularly necessary in our society.
In order to guarantee the cultural sector’s recovery, the government needs to revisit its position about Internet giants and take swift action to tax GAFAM. These Internet giants must be required to pay- these multi-billion dollar Californian companies that are not subject to same taxation obligations as our other businesses.
I want to be clear: taxing revenues made by these giants in no way signifies increased prices for consumers as their services are free. It is about taxing their revenues as is done by other governments around the world. The Government of Quebec needs to stop waiting after the federal government or the OECD. We must take action immediately and assert leadership.
For Quebecers, our culture is our identity, it is our way of expressing ourselves and having our voices heard. Let’s give ourselves the means to ensure that this voice remains strong and that it continues to ring here and throughout the four corners of the globe.
For that to happen, we need to be ambitious, courageous and assert leadership so that we can restore our cultural sector and ensure its protection.
Isabelle Melançon, the Official Opposition’s Culture and Communications critic and Deputy House Leader