Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to be speaking today. Earlier, I listened to the Minister of Heritage talk about Bill C‑10, which he tabled, and I almost choked several times.
He began by pointing out that it was important to look back at the past to understand where we are now. I will give another version of the facts for everyone out there watching, and I would invite everyone to fact-check me by consulting the unedited transcriptions, the “blues”, of the various discussions at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. People will be able to check if what I am saying is accurate and well informed and if it reflects everything we have gone through during the saga of Bill C‑10 leading up to the present day.
The minister was right to say that he had all the resources he needed to table Bill C‑10 for more than a year and a half and garner a unanimous response from the outset. The minister is confusing things, talking about web giants and insinuating how he will handle them and make them pay their fair share. The ultimate goal was to produce an act that ensures a level playing field between digital broadcasters such as Disney Plus, Spotify and Netflix, and conventional broadcasters such as TVA, CBC/Radio-Canada, Global and CTV.
The minister even chose to ignore the important elements that everyone wanted to see, including copyright issues and CBC/Radio-Canada's mandate, explaining that he divided these challenges into three parts and was only introducing one in the House of Commons so that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage could work on it.
When he introduced the bill, the committee worked diligently and co-operatively to improve it. This bill was clearly imperfect even though the minister had had a lot of time to draft it with his experts. More than 120 amendments were proposed by all parties. Surprisingly, these amendments were moved not just by the Conservative Party, but also by the Green Party, which had been given authorization to move them, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP, Liberal members of the committee and even the government. In fact, the government and the Liberal Party moved almost 30 amendments, not to mention all the amendments to the amendments along the way, to try to address all the shortcomings of this bill.
As the minister pointed out, the committe's study of the bill was moving along relatively well, which I can vigorously and honestly confirm. We even worked with the minister and his staff, who were telling anyone who would listen that the Conservatives were slowing down the process. That was completely false. All the committee members even agreed to do a preliminary study and use that evidence in the committee's official study, to avoid holding up the work.
At no point in the legislative process was the bill delayed, despite what the minister and his aides implied. I am saying so in all honesty, and I challenge everyone to take the time to read all the speeches and everything leading up to that infamous Friday when the minister, surreptitiously and without warning, withdrew clause 4.1 that he was proposing to add to the Broadcasting Act. This made the bill altogether different by including social networks, which had originally been excluded.
Why do I say that? It is because, when we did our job in good faith as Parliamentarians, each party had the opportunity to call witnesses to testify about various aspects of Bill C‑10. That gave us the opportunity to obtain as much information as possible to do the best we could, based on the knowledge of every member and staffer, to formulate proper opinions during our study of the bill in order to improve it. That is our job as legislators, of which I am extremely proud.
The problem is that the Minister of Canadian Heritage left social media out of the original version of Bill C‑10. Furthermore, despite the minister's assertion from the get-go that it is a historic bill, to my knowledge, only one organization has said that. The other organizations highlighted the bill's good parts and said that it was indeed time to modernize the act and to align the way we deal with digital with the way we deal with what we call conventional broadcasters. However, I met with all the organizations the minister mentioned, and every one of them pointed out several frightening provisions in Bill C‑10.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage said that the Conservatives delayed and filibustered. I am sorry, but it was not the Conservatives who did that. The Conservatives have merely given a voice to a number of organizations, individuals and experts who wanted to point out the flaws in Bill C-10. The minister can go ahead and play his partisan games in the run-up to an election to try to scare everyone into believing that the Conservatives do not support the cultural community. However, it is all complete and utter nonsense, pure theatrics, a show worthy of our Prime Minister, who is a great stage actor.
The heritage minister should stop with the games, because nobody is against culture. On the contrary, we are against censorship, against this attack and the way the minister undermined freedom of expression one Friday by removing section 4.1, which was supposed to be added to the Broadcasting Act.
That is when we began what could indeed be described as filibustering or slowing down the committee's work. We are talking about a maximum of three weeks during the six-plus years the Liberal government has been in power. Those three weeks have allegedly been catastrophic, but the Liberals are filibustering in many other committees with regard to the corruption scandals they were involved in, whether we are talking about the former justice minister, SNC-Lavalin, the WE Charity or the Standing Committee on Health, where we have been requesting access to the vaccine procurement reports. The Liberals have definitely done their share of filibustering.
Why have we been filibustering for approximately three weeks? The heritage minister was right. Let us give some background on all of this. It is important to understand it, so that people know how we got to where we are today, muzzled by the Liberals with the support of the Bloc Québécois.
By amending the bill one Friday afternoon, the heritage minister set off alarm bells all over the place. During the weekend, law experts and university professors sounded the alarm, telling us to look out because the government was doing something that would undermine freedom of expression.
What did the Conservatives do? We just asked to hear from the heritage minister again and get a legal opinion from the Minister of Justice stating that the rights guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were not violated by the removal of clause 4.1.
In response, the Liberals objected incessantly for more than two weeks until the member for Mount Royal moved a new version of the motion asking for exactly the same thing we had proposed, which was to have the justice and heritage ministers come explain the situation and answer our questions, as well as an opportunity to hear the other side of the story from experts who had concerns about Bill C‑10.
They ended up appearing, and we were finally able to put an end to the committee's three-week-long standstill. That is the truth about the delay that has the minister up in arms.
I have to wonder whether the minister really wants to pass Bill C-10, because the reality is that the work of the House will be over in just 10 days' time. When the bill is passed by the House at third reading, it will have to go to the Senate. The Senate will have to examine the bill, although 40% of the amendments will not even have been discussed by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. It is pretty preposterous to hear the minister lecturing us, given his behaviour.
Earlier, the minister said that some 30-odd organizations from across the country had highlighted the importance of the bill for the cultural community. They are right, it is an important bill for the cultural community, but that does not release us from the obligation to make sure we protect freedom of expression. I can already picture the minister pointing out that the Minister of Justice tabled his report with his experts. I am sorry, but what he tabled was an explanatory document, which was not in the motion we had presented.
We did not get any answers to our questions, and people started to wake up. The committee heard from former CRTC officials including Timothy Denton, CRTC commissioner from 2009 to 2013, Konrad von Finckenstein, CRTC president from 2007 to 2012, Peter Menzies, the CRTC's vice-president of telecommunications from 2013 to 2018, Michel Morin, the CRTC's national commissioner from 2008 to 2012, and Philip Palmer, legal counsel at the Department of Justice and senior counsel at the Department of Communications from 1987 to 1994. The heritage minister never names them, but all those individuals said that what the minister was doing made no sense.
Peter Menzies went as far as to say that this was a full-blown assault on freedom of expression and the foundations of democracy. He said it is difficult to understand the level of hubris or incompetence, or both, that would lead someone to believe that such an encroachment on rights can be justified.
When the minister attacks the Conservatives, he is also attacking all those individuals, not to mention the thousands of Canadians who support us and have said they want us to keep up the pressure on the minister about his bill and his encroachment on their rights.
These are facts, and I have not even mentioned Michael Geist, who is very often referred to as a professor emeritus of law at the University of Ottawa. His expertise is so sought after that even the Liberal government supports his research in this field. He was one of the strongest critics of the Liberal government's attitude, and the Bloc Québécois's as well since it supported the Liberals' gag order. Imagine: a gag order that has not been used in 20 years, that the Conservative Party never used during its 10 years in power, a House of Commons gag order that the government imposed on a committee when the House leaders keep telling us that committees are independent every time we question them.
Given what the Liberals just did to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, they can never again say that a committee is independent. This is something unique. Even when people used this measure in the past, they granted a minimum of 10 hours to work on the document in question. All we were given was five hours.
This law professor, Michael Geist, is not alone. There are others from other universities. I do not have the documents with me, but I have quoted them several times. People can go and check.
I therefore want to reiterate that, when the minister attacks the Conservatives, he is attacking all those who spoke out via social media, press releases, written correspondence, speeches and interviews with the media and who said that what the minister was doing did not make sense.
Does this mean we are against culture? No, absolutely not.
Does it mean that the minister made a mistake with his bill? The answer is yes.
If the work had been done properly to begin with, we would not be where we are today. It is because of all the delays that we are dealing with this mess, which will certainly not ensure a level playing field between digital broadcasters and conventional broadcasters.
My NDP colleague's question to the minister was entirely justified. That is what happened. Those are the facts.
Back when we started studying this bill, the government made a big show of saying that this was to be a partnership, so it is pretty funny that the opposition parties did not get so much as a phone call to let them know that clause 4.1 was being removed from the bill. That was the event that triggered this crisis.
No other conversations about collaboration raised problems when they were in the Liberal government's interest. I cannot talk about them because they happened in private, but I was involved in those conversations several times.
It is sad that things have come to this. It is sad that the minister is now stooping to partisan behaviour and attacking Conservatives over this file. As I said, we are just speaking on behalf of all these industry stakeholders, the ones who wanted to protect net neutrality and freedom of expression and avoid these flaws that will almost certainly be challenged in court.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission now has more powers, even though former CRTC commissioners and chairs say that giving the CRTC that kind of power is not a good idea. I am not kidding.
At the beginning of his speech the minister talked about $70 million a month, which was an approximate amount, with the calculations planned for later. People deserve to be told the truth. The CRTC now has nine months to tell us on what percentage it will base the calculations, because no one knows. The only response from the minister is that if the CRTC uses the same calculations as conventional broadcasters, the amounts will be somewhere between $800 million and $1.1 billion, which leaves a margin of $300 million. We do not know anything about it, however, and neither do we know whether the CRTC is going to use the same rules. Once the bill passes we will no longer have any control over this.
That is the current reality of this bill. Time allocation was imposed, and over the past week we have been forced to hold many votes on amendments without those watching us having access to the text of nearly 40% of them. Imagine that scenario, where the only thing the audience heard was the number of the amendment, preceded by the abbreviation of the party proposing it and followed by the question on whether members of the committee were for or against it. What transparency. The Liberals said that the people would have access to the text at the end, when it was all over. It will be too late by then and we will not be able to move forward.
The minister says that we delayed the process, but I would have him know that the committee agreed to hold as many meetings as the chair wanted. We even held meetings every day of the break week, when we were meant to be working in our ridings. Some meetings were extended to four or five hours, on barely an hour's notice. That is the truth, but the minister never mentions that when he talks about his bill.
That really stings, because these kinds of politics hurt us all. The session is ending in a few days. We know full well that the Liberals will call an election before the House comes back. All the minister is trying to do here is play politics. He wants his bill to make it into the election platform, since he knows perfectly well that he will not get it passed in time.
The Bloc Québécois helped the Liberals out of some hot water. I do not recall ever seeing an opposition party support a government gag order. The Bloc members are proud of it. They are boasting about supporting a gag order. It is crazy to think about it.
At times, I found myself wondering what was going on. The minister was weaving a story that did not make sense and that was looking like a horror story for a while there. We have tried our best to do our jobs as legislators, but it has unfortunately been extremely difficult.
The minister, through his work, has attacked net neutrality. He has created a breach. It may not be a big breach, but it is a breach nonetheless. It will be challenged, that much is clear. On top of that, the CRTC is also being given increased powers. That is the reality.
If people listening right now think that my story is not true and that I lied, if they think, as the Prime Minister has implied in the House, that I misled people, I invite them to go back and look at the record, because it is all there.
People know that that is how it happened. They know that everyone started out in good faith, until that Friday when the Minister of Canadian Heritage removed clause 4.1 without any warning. Everyone knows what happens when something is done on a Friday. It means they want to slip it through quietly. After all the theatrics to try to make people believe we do not support the arts community, which is not the case, because it is censorship that we oppose, here is what the Liberal government did instead: It censored us by imposing time allocation.