Firestorm Erupting Over Bev Oda’s Fundraisers

There may be a ripple effect that is coming out of Bev Oda’s fundraiser that goes beyond bloggers and people of special interests.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Steven Page wrote a letter in the Hill Times expressing disappointment over Bev Oda’s fundraiser, saying “Canadian artists still cannot compete with the $250-per-plate fundraisers thrown by the big media stakeholders.”

Many would recognize Steven Page as the lead singer for one of Canada’s more famous bands, The Barenaked Ladies. They’ve developed a large following. Their latest album ‘Barenaked Ladies Are Me’ reached into the millions of sales and beyond. This was with DRM-free music. This isn’t the first time they have done this sort of thing. They even released their music on a USB stick last November.

While it may be to prove a point about DRM, Steven Page chose not to stop his efforts to show his openness. He, among other bands, and Nettwerk formed their own coalition when the 6 biggest Canadian labels left CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association).

That coalition is what is known as The Canadian Music Creators Coalition (CMCC). The aim was to make as big of a splash as possible when the coalition launched back in April. Many actions were taken right after the launch, including making a guide to Copyright reform in Canada and landing an interview on an interview on CTV AM. One of their open letters (PDF) to the ministers of Heritage and Industry in May states, “At present, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss our views with you and your department officials. We look forward to meeting with you, and to participating openly and constructively in Canadian copyright law reform and cultural policymaking.” That notion was also presented on Canada.com’s podcast. The government was also mentioned when he was interviewed on Electric Sky’s Podcast.

Then news came that Bev Oda was alleged to have organized and canceled a fundraiser which involved broadcasters. On November 7th, the NDP Heritage Critic Charlie Angus said, “The heritage minister is holding a major fundraiser and, for the price of a ticket, one gets access not just to the heritage minister but to the industry minister.” After the fundraiser was cancelled, he said on November 9th, “Mr. Speaker, earlier this week the heritage minister was caught passing the hat with industry insiders and lobbyists. As soon as we shone the light on it, they scrambled to cancel the event so we would not find out who was at the trough.” Adding to this, he said the very next day, “Mr. Speaker, the heritage minister’s predilection for hitting up for cash the key industries she is charged with overseeing is not a new phenomenon.

I would like to bring to the attention of the House the fundraiser she held in May of 2005 in the very offices of Corus Entertainment. Fern Belisle was on the board of directors of Corus at that time. He is now rumoured to have the inside track as the new head of the CRTC.”

According to an article in The Hill Times, Bev Oda was accused of ‘having a conflict of interest’ by Charlie Angus. This issue was over a another fundraiser that netted $15,000 on May 24, 2005 at 181 Bay Street in Toronto.

Combined with the apparent $250-per-plate fundraiser that was supposed to be held this year, it was enough for Charlie to say that the whole thing “smells” and that Bev Oda is “very closely tied to the industry” even though in 2004, a stakeholder donated “a couple of hundred dollars”.

Chisholm Pothier, director of communications to Bev Oda, disagreed with these accusations and argued that she could have been appointed anywhere and she happened to end up being the Minister of Heritage because she happened to be “the most qualified Heritage minister in the history of Canada.” He then argued, “Nobody has to buy tickets to anything to have a meeting on an important file with the minister.” Mr. Pothier also argues that the Barenaked Ladies were also an important part in the political process as they were “supporters” of the NDP.

Rogers Communications Inc. vice President Jan Innes said that Rogers participated in Bev Oda’s 2005 fundraiser as well as a fundraiser held in 2004 – though no one from Rogers hosted or was even invited to this year’s fundraiser.

Co-Founder of ‘The Lobby Monitor’ John Chenier noted, “They’re giving a fundraiser for Oda. Why did they invite Bernier as well? Well, because they happen to be the two ministers that are on the communications file.”

Even Liberal Heritage critic Mauril Bélanger had his say on the matter: “Everybody is a lobbyist […] they’re just not [all] registered lobbyists. That is the ebb and flow of politics. We can’t work in a vacuum.”

After all was said and done, Steven Page responded to the Hill Times article with a letter of his own. “We came to Ottawa as representatives of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition, a broad-based and politically neutral coalition of musicians from across the country.” Steven wrote, “my role in this coalition has been free of partisan ties. We welcomed the opportunity to work with this current government on the issues of copyright and Canadian culture, but, recent news suggests to us, sadly, that our voices as Canadian artists still cannot compete with the $250-per-plate fundraisers thrown by the big media stakeholders. They speak for themselves and their shareholders, not for artists.”

This may be a bad sign for Steven Page and many other musicians and fans efforts, but casting a grim shadow on copyright reform was also foreseen by Michael Geist (who also tracked the Bev Oda fundraiser debacle) in a post back in April which suggested that it would seem likely that copyright reform on hot button topics would go the direction of the US. There was also the story in June where there was allegedly a meeting between CRIA and Bev Oda. CRIA has been known for taking a stance similar to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) when it comes to copyright laws. Could this be a sign that Copyright reform may be headed towards a US style law? If so, how hotly contested would it be now that there is an even larger movement against this?

While there are many hints suggesting that the outcome could be a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) style legislation, copyright reform has yet to be tabled. It is a possibility that a damaged reputation that could be further damaged by such legislation could be a deterrent from tabling such a bill. What that bill will end up looking like has yet to be seen.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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