Canadian Heritage won't be able to step in to fill the industry funding gap left by a recent cut to the Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund, says the official in charge of the Canadian Culture Online Program (CCOP). In an exclusive interview with Canadian NEW MEDIA, Ted Bairstow, director general for the CCOP, says the department is still in negotiations to renew money announced in the May 2001 Speech from the Throne, and that it is uncertain whether the one-time funding boost for digital media can be continued as Ottawa works in an uncertain political environment. Bairstow tells CNM that he recognizes the difficulties currently being faced by the new media industry as it continues to struggle for access to capital. His first goal is to maintain funding for programs such as the Canada New Media Fund at their current levels, but producers must recognize that Heritage is running up against both an economy that has fallen from the highs of two or three years ago, and against inertia in Ottawa where senior officials are unwilling to commit major funds to projects until the pending Liberal party regime change occurs. But, he notes, there are encouraging signs as the private sector begins to find innovative uses for existing cultural content, and as departments such as Industry Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade work together to create business opportunities. Further, Bairstow notes that funding for the industry is well above what it was just five years ago, and he sees the long-term trend as being analogous to film, television and book industry development. To hasten that progress, he says new media producers will have to better organize themselves - something he sees happening already as the Canadian Film and Television Production Association (CFTPA) takes a lead in organizing regional associations to push for greater government assistance. Bairstow starts by recognizing the damage done to the industry as a result of the cut in funding to the Bell Fund, but says it's too early to panic. "I don't know if I see a crisis," he says. "There's been a disconcerting drop in the capital funds available for people in the business through cuts to the Bell new media fund. Some of the adjustments that the new Quebec government has made have moved them back from their leadership position in terms of promoting new media production in Quebec. "So, yes, there are some factors that are of concern to the industry, but I don't know that I would say we're at a crisis point at this stage. I think over the last little while, the pool of financing available to new media has grown by a little bit in Canada, and now it's contracting a little bit. But, there's still a substantial amount of money there compared to what there was five years ago to support this industry." He notes that while Heritage can help by renewing or even increasing funding to the CCOP, there is still work to be done by the industry itself. "There are also some structural things that are starting to happen that are a little more positive," Bairstow says. "The emergence of the CFTPA as a voice that draws together a number of industry partners is an encouraging sign for me that the industry is finding ways to get better coordinated and to have a louder voice in policy." He later adds: "One of the things is seeing the CFTPA emerge as one of the voices, at least, pushing this case is that they have experience in figuring out how to get the system to put more money into their members' industry. I think we have a small amount of flexibility within the program to make adjustments. "But, if they really want a significant change in the level of those funds, they're going to have to get the government to believe it's a priority. In order to do that, they've got to convince those sitting around the Cabinet table, those who are elected to Parliament, that they're an important place for government to be spending money. They're competing with some pretty high priority stuff. It's not an easy sell. You can't just snap your fingers and say, 'boy, that fund needs $50 million. Let's get it.' "On the other hand, it's that slogging work and that ongoing education of the policy and decision makers that's an important part of developing the kind of support that you now have for television and film. That's just in its infancy, I think, in the Canadian new media industry." Bairstow is careful to note that he anticipates at least some money over and above the ongoing A-base funding of $30 million the department has allocated to digital culture, but that the future of the $108 million committed in the 2001 Throne speech is still being negotiated. Included in an overall review and negotiation is a close look at Telefilm Canada, but he cautions that legislative changes pertaining to any shifts in priority toward digital product could be as much as two or three years away. Compounding industry woes is an uncertain political climate. The Liberal leadership race has put important decisions into limbo, though Bairstow stresses that "the capital continues to operate and things continue to happen." Nonetheless, he says, some major decisions are on hold. " is reluctant to make a lot of commitments at this stage. You have to remember, also, that the substantial surpluses that we've enjoyed over the past four, five years are not as substantial as they were. The economy is still doing better than lots of economies, but it's still not doing as well as the Canadian economy was doing two, three years ago. …Holding your own right now is a pretty good outcome. You should be looking for longer-term growth factors than immediate band-aid things." Bairstow also notes in reference to greater funding for the industry that the department's goals aren't necessarily economic or focused on industry-building. "I think that our primary role is a cultural role. But, we clearly demonstrated in the television business, in the film business, in the book business, and all of the other cultural industries that if you don't pay attention, at least, to how the industry's developing, you won't have the industry to achieve your cultural objectives. You need to keep a little bit of balance in how you look at things. But ultimately, at the end of the day, the reason that people have conferred upon us the ability to spend taxpayers' dollars is because they've got cultural objectives. "If Industry Canada, which is the part of government that looks at industry sectors, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade look to the new media sector as a growing, emerging industrial sector and see the potential for a major economic contribution, then they might make some decisions with an economic basis and an industry basis that would be different from a cultural basis." Read a full transcript of our conversation with CCOP chief Ted Bairstow here.