Finding the Silver Lining: Canada’s Outlook on the 2023 WGA Strike

writer's strike wga

In May, 11,500 Hollywood screenwriters picked up their pickets and embarked on a nationwide strike. Their end goal: better pay, greater job security, and new policy to protect their work from AI tampering.

Now, Canada’s entertainment industry — a hub for American runaway and foreign service productions — is experiencing shockwaves.

Just last week, ABC announced that the premiere of The Good Doctor, which films in Vancouver, will be pushed to midseason along with the majority of the broadcaster’s scripted slate. Meanwhile, Toronto’s chief film commissioner told reporters that at least one “substantial” television series has already been shut down in the city and that Toronto location scouting is swiftly tapering.

If you work in Canada’s film and television industry, now may feel like an appropriate time to panic.

Don’t.

Backed by expanding infrastructure and a growing labour force, Canada’s screen sector is ready to weather this storm.

But as politics play out south of the border, there may also be a long-term opportunity here; one that could result in unchecked growth for Canadian content.

Hollywood history repeats itself

Today’s constantly connected audience has a seemingly insatiable hunger for new entertainment. And now, with the stream of new Hollywood scripts completely stagnant, U.S. producers and broadcasters are facing immense pressure. 

Interestingly, this exact situation has happened before, and the simple solution is the same as it once was: fill the void by buying up Canadian programming.

Rewind back 15 years to the last time the Writers Guild of America (WGA) put down their pens in protest — a labour stoppage that lasted over 100 days. At that time, there was a palpable shift in the entertainment landscape.

Late-night shows were shut down, scripted series like Breaking Bad, Lost, and 30 Rock were interrupted, and viewers were forced to embrace an influx of new, low-budget reality TV — unscripted programming doesn’t require professional screenwriters and thus became a crutch for American networks.

At the same time, Canadian content found its way into the spotlight. 

To pad their lineups, several high-profile Canadian shows were picked up by U.S. broadcasters. NBC scooped paramedic thriller The Listener and CTV’s beloved police drama Flashpoint was sold to CBS.

Today, we are on the brink of a similar situation. We’ve already seen the CW acquire U.S. broadcast rights to the CTV series Sullivan’s Crossing. The only difference this time around is that Canada has never been more ready to capitalize.

Canada’s thriving entertainment industry

As the strike compels networks, streamers, and producers to turn to the north for new content, what they’ll also discover is a thriving industry.

Ontario alone will be opening an additional 2.6 million square feet of production space in 2023, signalling a major expansion in the province’s overall capacity. Meanwhile, the labour force throughout Canada is on a steady rise, fortified most recently by CineCare’s new production crew training programs. Not to mention the “Squid Game Effect” — Hollywood producers are realizing that foreign productions have just as much potential for success as homegrown programming.

Elements such as these combine to create a robust engine for economic growth in Canada, demonstrated most clearly by the whopping $13.73 billion that media production generated for the country’s GDP between 2021-2022.

Compound these factors with Canada’s already attractive financial incentives — tax credits and currency savings — and it’s clear to see Hollywood North’s future appeal to U.S networks and producers.

“Historically, shows come here because of a strike, then discover that, thanks to the weak Canadian dollar and various tax credits, it’s more economical to stay and produce here — and so they stay,” explained Daniel Keyes, an associate professor of cultural studies and media studies at UBC Okanagan, in a recent interview with the Toronto Star.  

How to navigate the writer’s strike as a Canadian

If you work in Canada’s film and television industry, you might be asking yourself, “How should I navigate the strike?”. 

First, brace yourself for short-term turbulence; Canada will suffer immediate hits to its overall production volume and this could have a direct impact on the amount of work available to you. Diversify income streams, pick up freelance projects, and, perhaps, even consider temporary roles in adjacent industries. 

Second, remind yourself that the strike is only temporary and start thinking about how you could leverage its potential upside within Canada. Amid a content drought, your creativity could be the oasis producers are in search of. 

So, seize the moment. Polish your portfolio, tighten up your scripts, fearlessly pitch your ideas, and keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to work on homegrown productions. Be strategic, and the WGA strike could become a springboard for building a long-term, prosperous career in Canada’s screen industry.

What if the WGA strike ends tomorrow?

In the end, what Americans consider to be a worst-case scenario — the strike goes on for months — is precisely what could turn into a best-case one for Canada’s film and television industry. 

That’s not to say there won’t be short-term shocks to the entertainment economy. Work could dry up temporarily, which could have profound impacts on our film and television workers. But in the long run, these challenges may only be remembered as the growing pains of an industry that was poised for expansion.

Alternatively, should the strike conclude tomorrow, it’s back to business as usual. Plus, Canadian writers are set to benefit via a trickle-down effect from the tireless negotiations of their WGA counterparts who are pushing for greater job security and better wages.

In the face of adversity, there’s almost always a silver lining. This time it could be shaped like the maple leaf.

Taegan MacLean

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