Mr. Speaker, I have been in the House for some time listening to the debate tonight, so it is an honour to finally stand and speak.
This past year, we have seen the very best and the very worst of government in our system of democracy. When all parties were working together as the committee of the whole to address the COVID-19 crisis, we saw how well the government could work together. I am going to talk about some of the ways it worked well before I get negative and talk about the ways it has not been working.
I want to make it clear it is not that all opposition party members supported everything the government did during the COVID period. I, for one, have stood in this House many times repeatedly challenging the government to do better, particularly when it came to protecting Canadians from COVID-19 and all of the detritus that came with it. I stood in the House to make sure there were public health rules in place, that there was sick leave, that Canadians could stay home if they needed to, that there were things in place to help fight the virus in Canada and around the world without having to choose between their own well-being and the health of others. I will keep doing that. I will keep standing in this House of Commons as an opposition member to urge the government to do a better job taking care of Canadians. I will stand in this House and get it to close loopholes in its legislation.
There is a company in my riding, Cessco Fabrication. I have brought up probably a dozen times in the House that the government's wage subsidy program is being used to pay for scab labour so that this company does not have to negotiate with its workers. I have brought it up time and time again, and I will continue to do that.
It is really important that I push for students, seniors and people with living with disabilities.
One thing members have heard me say so many times is that if we do not vaccinate people around the world, none of us is safe, and that I am disappointed in the government's response to that.
The government itself adopted many of the opposition solutions that were offered. The government did bring forward the 75% wage support, the CERB was $2,000 a month and there was limited support for students and paid sick leave. This is how the government should work. The government should propose and opposition members should make it better. I am proud, as a new parliamentarian, that I was able to do that. I am honoured to have been part of that effort.
However, this has not been the case with Bill C-10. In fact, the entire process, including the debate this evening, is an example of the worst forms of democracy and government. It started with an extremely flawed bill that the minister himself could not explain. When the bill was tabled in November, it was immediately apparent to everyone, the government included, that it was a flawed piece of legislation. The Yale commission clearly identified Canadians' concerns with how web giants were dominating our broadcasting and culture, but were excluded from the current Broadcasting Act and, thus not subject to oversight, not held to the same standards as Canadian companies and, worse yet, not contributing taxes or funds to the Media Fund. The bill, as it was tabled, ignored all of those issues and I stood with my colleagues in the NDP and said on the day that bill was tabled that this was going to be problem and we needed to fix this.
Facebook, YouTube, companies that make billions of dollars in revenue from Canadians and Canadian content were excluded from the bill. For anyone who was worried about what that proposed section 4.1 was, it was excluding social media. It was letting Facebook and YouTube off the hook. It was saying that they could use Canadian content and they did not have to pay for it. It was selling out our cultural sector. We needed to fix that legislation.
I was worried because we know that Facebook has lobbied the minister and the department over 100 times. Their incessant lobbying seemed to pay off. Representatives met over and over again and then, all of a sudden, they were not in the bill. The minister floundered in responses to questions about the bill and the lobbying. He was unable to answer questions about his own bill to Canadians, unable to answer questions about its application in committee and unable to defend its rationale from critics.
The result was a committee review process that at the very best of times was disorganized and at the worst was completely dysfunctional. I know that because I was there. I was on that committee.
Immediately, 121 amendments to the bill were filed. The minister has said that perhaps this is a normal number of amendments for a bill of such of complexity and the breadth and depth of this legislation means it is not surprising, but what was surprising was the number of government amendments filed. The government knew this legislation was flawed, so it was a clear indication the bill was not ready when it was tabled and that the minister was not ready to endorse and oversee it.
Still, and this is the most important point, Canadians need a broadcasting act. We have heard it time and time again in this House from everybody but the Conservative Party. We have a 30-year-old Broadcasting Act. It is well overdue for us to have legislation in this country that will fix the holes in the Broadcasting Act. Canada desperately needs an updated Broadcasting Act.
Canadian broadcasters, media companies, producers, filmmakers, writers and artists all need an updated Broadcasting Act. Canadians who value Canadian news and Canadian content need and want a broadcasting act as well. It was absolutely vital that we roll up our sleeves in committee and we fix this bill to create a broadcasting act that would work for Canadians. It was an excruciating process, because instead of working with my colleagues, many of whom I admire and who worked very hard in this committee, politics kept getting in the way.
Again, this is what I mean when I say the worst of government and democracy. The Conservatives saw a weak minister with a flawed bill, and rather than roll up their sleeves and do the work that needed to be done so we could fix this legislation, they smelled blood in the water and attacked. They took advantage of the committee process and the flaws in the bill to spread disinformation about the bill far and wide, and then they filibustered the committee so we could not even get to the amendments that would fix it. We could not even fix the things they raised as concerns because they would not stop filibustering the committee to allow us to do that.
All across Canada we were hearing the most outrageous accusations about the bill. I had one constituent tell me he had read that individual Canadians' tweets would not post until they had been reviewed for Canadian content by the CRTC. The things that were being told to Canadians by the Conservatives were absolutely outrageous.
I listened to the member for Lethbridge yell “freedom” so many times that I was in a panel with her and I thought maybe I was on a panel with Braveheart. All this did was waste time and confuse Canadians, and with a minister who could not adequately explain his bill, the disinformation campaign found oxygen it never should have had.
It brought us here to this evening to the last-second attempt to rush this bill through before the session ends. The government had six years to update the Broadcasting Act, and in the end, it served up a flawed bill that took so much work for us to fix.
As a member of the heritage committee, I worked very hard with my fellow members to close the Liberal loopholes and fix problems in the legislation. I voted in favour of a Conservative motion for a second charter review to ensure the Broadcasting Act would not infringe on personal freedoms of expression, and that review was done.
I supported a motion to force the ministers of justice and heritage to appear at committee to address concerns over freedom of expression. I proposed that the committee meet more often and for longer hours. I proposed to extend the deadline so more work could be done. I voted against closing debate and I even put forward a motion asking the committee to debate the bill through the summer months so we could get this work done. All the parties voted against that.
In the end, the Liberals closed the committee debate and we were forced to vote on amendments without even discussing them. It is not my idea of good government.
I fully welcome the attention that Bill C-10 has aroused in Canadians. The Broadcasting Act affects us all on a daily basis, and I am heartened to see so many Canadians engaged in the legislative process. It is true that many Canadians are profoundly misinformed about the bill, which is, of course, in no way their fault. I would say it falls very much on the shoulders of some of our members of Parliament who have taken great joy and have done an awful lot of fundraising off the idea, the misinformation that they are spreading and the fear that they are sowing among Canadians.
The issues addressed in Bill C-10 are complex and every country in the world is grappling with those issues right now, attempting to find a way to protect their own citizens, their own content, their own identity and their own media platforms from web giants that do not have to follow the same rules as everyone else, web giants that pull in hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue without giving anything back and companies that leave a swath of local and national media and entertainment venues languishing in their wake.
While I am dismayed by the disinformation permeating the debate on this bill, some of it coming from the web giants themselves in an attempt to resist and avoid regulation, I will vote for Bill C-10 because I worked so hard to fix this legislation. I worked so hard to make sure that people's freedom of expression was protected and that in the end web giants were held to account and that they were contributing to our broadcasting sector.
I have said it before and I will say it again: It is vital that we modernize the Broadcasting Act. The current version of the act was updated in 1991, before the Internet and before streaming services. The Broadcasting Act cannot, as it stands, address the new landscape. It cannot protect Canadians or Canadian content and it must be updated.
For me and my fellow New Democrats, the goal has always been to make sure that we had a bill that would make web giants like Facebook, YouTube and Netflix follow the same rules as Canadian companies and contribute to Canadian content just like Canadian companies are required to do. We have fought both to protect freedom of expression and to ensure that web giants are on an even playing field with Canadian companies. Canadian media and content are under extreme pressure and the web giants have a competitive advantage right now. That competitive advantage must end with this legislation.
Thanks in part to the amendments offered by all parties, Bill C-10 now would utterly protect individual rights to freedom of expression on all platforms. The CRTC powers are limited by this bill to broadcasters and the bill specifically excludes individuals from regulation. Users who upload content to social media services would not be subject to the act. In fact, the bill now contains four sections specifically exempting individuals from the act, and this bill would protect Canadian culture and heritage.
Arts and culture are at the heart of who we are. They are what make us Canadians. It is how we listen to and understand each other better. It is how we connect across the vast distances in our country and it is how we celebrate our identities. It is how we share our incredible stories with each other, in both official languages and with the entire world. We must protect our heritage and support a strong, independent arts and culture industry. Without that protection, Canadian talent will not thrive. We need Canadians to succeed on both digital and traditional platforms. Here at home and around the world, Canadian artists should be able to earn a decent living from their art, and this bill has an important role to play in making sure that the wide range of Canadian voices with stories to tell are those stories that we see on platforms.
When Bill C-10 is enacted, the next step is to increase the funding for CBC and Radio-Canada to help reverse the damage done by decades of funding cuts and unequal rules that have favoured foreign competition.
Our public broadcaster has a remarkable legacy of connecting all points of our country, and it needs a stronger future to help make sure Canadians have access to accurate, relevant information no matter where they live and no matter what language they speak.