"Netflix Tax" Becomes Hot Button Issue in Canadian Election

Steven Harper, Netflix Still - H 2015

Steven Harper, Netflix Still - H 2015

Prime minister Stephen Harper used Twitter to allege opposition parties were eyeing a digital download levy, a charge quickly denied.

Netflix has become a hot-button campaign issue in Canada after prime minister Stephen Harper embraced the U.S. video streaming giant in an attack ad that accuses opposition parties of wanting to slap a tax on Netflix Canada subscribers.

Rival parties were quick to deny they would tax digital download services like Netflix and YouTube after Harper took to Twitter with a 54-second online video just as an 11-week national election campaign gets underway. The video, in which Harper stands in front of a giant Netflix logo, has the prime minister insisting he "loves movies and TV shows” and that Breaking Bad is one of his “all-time favorites."

Then Harper added he doesn't want to tax the U.S. streaming service, unlike his political rivals. "Some politicians want to tax digital streaming services like Netflix and YouTube ... Some have even called on us to introduce a Netflix tax," Harper said.

The Conservative party leader is campaigning for re-election against NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, both of whom came into Harper's sights. “Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair have left the door wide open to doing just that (imposing a Netflix tax)," he said.

The NDP and Liberal parties were quick to deny plans to tax digital downloading services. "We have no plans on bringing in such a (Netflix) tax," Mulcair told reporters in Ottawa during a campaign stop on Thursday. "Every time he promises not to tax something that is actually a clue that that's something he is going to tax," he added, with a reference to a 2012 iPod tax introduced in 2012 by Harper's Conservative government.

“Any suggestion that the Liberal Party supports a Netflix tax is nonsense,” Liberal spokesman Cameron Ahmad told CTV News. Canadian broadcasters and indie producers, represented by the Canadian Media Production Association, in recent years have urged Canada's TV regulator to impose a tax on Netflix and other digital platforms to help subsidize homegrown TV production.

Netflix and Google are unregulated in Canada, unlike local broadcasters, cable players and local streamers like Shomi and CraveTV that contribute a share of their revenues to subsidize local TV production. The CRTC has, on three occasions, rejected a so-called Netflix tax, including during Let's Talk TV hearings earlier this year.

Executives at Netflix were unavailable for comment on Thursday on the U.S. streamer's entry into Canada's election campaign.