Quill and Quire

Book news

« Back to

Publishing at the polls: Foreign-ownership regulations

As Canadians head to the polls on May 2, Q&Q looks at key federal policies affecting the publishing industry. Stay tuned for upcoming features on federal funding and mass digitization.

When it comes to foreign ownership in Canada’s book businesses, the only thing all industry players seem to agree on is that the current policy is woefully outdated. Known as The Revised Foreign Investment Policy in Book Publishing and Distribution, an amendment to the Investment Canada Act, the current regulations have been in place since 1992.

Since that time the global economy has adapted to an increasingly consolidated business scene and the advent of digital publishing. In light of these massive changes, the federal government initiated a review of the guidelines and their effectiveness in the industry’s three main sectors “ publishing, distribution and wholesale, and retail “ four years ago. An announcement regarding the review findings and the government’s subsequent decision, officially slated for 2011, was unofficially expected sometime this month. And then the election was called, which halted any further discussion or review.

In July 2010, the department of Canadian Heritage released Investing on the Future of Canadian Books, a discussion paper that addressed the evolving book industry landscape. The paper presented policy review options available to the government, and solicited feedback from industry players. Phase two of the book policy review saw this feedback posted to Canadian Heritage’s website, where the public could comment on submissions.

The third phase involved three roundtable discussions with industry representatives, which took place December in Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto.

Canadian Publishers’ Council executive director Jacqueline Hushion reports the sessions were well attended and represented an array of industry interests. On the publishing side, CPC members included David Swail, president and CEO of McGraw-Hill Ryerson; Kevin Hanson, president of Simon & Schuster Canada; Greg Nordal, president and CEO of Nelson Education; and Brad Martin, president and CEO of Random House of Canada, among a number of others.

The Association of Canadian Publishers was represented at both English-language events in Vancouver and Toronto. Publishers who attended from the ACP at both of those roundtables all got the message that the status quo for the policy is not, in [Canada] Heritage’s view, a viable option, says ACP executive director Carolyn Wood. There’s going to be change.

The ACP supports the current policy, and has pushed for increased accountability, as opposed to relaxing or repealing restrictions. We think the current system needs to be more carefully applied, and that a greater degree of transparency would be valuable and productive, Wood says. We think the limiting of ownership to Canadians, except where net benefit can be demonstrated, is a sound basis. We believe the application, measurement, and reporting of the net benefits process need to be strengthened.

So what’s to become of this intensive multi-year review? Wood suggests it may be quietly shelved for the moment, though she quickly adds it’s possible the Department of Canada Heritage will push ahead. Hushion agrees that once the election dust settles, there’s likely going to be a long delay getting the process back on track, but she’s confident it will happen.

The process will have to go forward, because the process was something that came from Cabinet, Hushion says. It’s just now a question of how much later it will be completed.