Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise and speak in the House once again.
Before I begin, I also want to take a moment to offer my sincere condolences to the family of Jim Carr, the hon. member who passed away, as well as to his colleagues in the Liberal caucus who have worked with him over the years. I want to offer my thoughts and prayers to everyone.
When I decided to run for office in southern Saskatchewan, one of the driving principles for me and generally a lot of people in Saskatchewan was to see less government interference overall in our lives. That is one of the interesting elements in this bill, that it provides an opportunity to have less government interference in people's lives. That is the opportunity that exists with the bill. That is what we are going to get to as we get through the rest of this debate. As the bill has come through committee, we see how some of the interventions at committee reflect that.
Generally, a government bureaucrat in a distant office does not know what is best for individuals in a family given that family's own unique circumstances, so responsibility for those people should be left to the individuals and not to the government.
Usually, when there is a discussion about smaller government in Canada or somewhere else, it has to do with issues of expanding state power, which directly or indirectly restricts people's lives further. This results in less freedom, either because there are fewer options and choices available to make, or because sometimes it gets to the point of trying to plan citizens' lives for them. In this case, the problem with interference is not so obvious when we compare it to something like the situation in George Orwell's 1984, or maybe the other lurking threat that is another government bill, Bill C-11. It got a lot more negative attention in its previous iteration as Bill C-10, and later passed in this Parliament as Bill C-11.
The Liberals want to hand over way too much power to the CRTC with this bill, Bill C-18, which we are debating tonight. The Conservatives stood with the people and policy experts to make our opposition absolutely clear.
When the same Liberal government with the troubling history of Bill C-11 introduces yet another Internet bill, it is reasonable for Canadians to look at it with a healthy dose of skepticism. However, the problem with government does not always come from control or overreach; sometimes it seems friendly and tries to help out with something good, but it can still create problems despite the best intentions. Unfortunately, although what we saw with this bill when it was first drafted was an honest attempt to support small media outlets, it has turned into a large bill that needlessly grows the size of government institutions.
The CRTC already wields a great deal of power in regulating the Internet and the dissemination of information, and now the government wants to further add to it. Should it have the power to determine who is considered a journalist, or the eligibility of a news agency, which is part of the process of this bill?
It does not end there. The CRTC can resolve disputes and issue penalties. As part of that, the bill allows it to set mandatory terms to which both parties, news outlets and platforms, must agree.
What is perhaps most concerning of all is that the CRTC would have the authority to demand information from these platforms and news outlets whenever it pleases.
At the end of the day, Bill C-18 is inflating the size of the CRTC and giving it enormous power, with little accountability, to regulate the news all of us view. This begs the question: What are the impacts of doing this? An important part of a free society is having an independent press and free speech to hold our leaders accountable, but how much can we trust the Liberals to maintain these things? If the government and the Prime Minister want to talk as much as they do about defending democracy and promoting diversity around the world, they need to take these things seriously when it comes to our own country.
Sadly, over the last year they have damaged their national reputation with respect to these values by abusing emergency powers and allowing vulnerable Canadians, including veterans, for example, to be offered death instead of the help they need. They have undermined our freedoms and respect for human dignity.
My fellow Conservatives and I have spoken a lot about the danger of censorship. I also say that I understand the importance of small media organizations and their place in the local communities, because I represent a very large rural riding. To this day, many still rely on these small media organizations to inform them of the happenings both locally and on the global stage, and rural Canada is better off because of it.
There are many of them in my riding, and they all play an essential role. For instance, the Southwest Booster, which is located in Swift Current, has been producing a weekly paper since 1969. We also have the Prairie Post, which covers both southern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta. North of Swift Current, for example, in the small town of Kyle, we also have the Kyle Times, which has been operating for a number of years. Up in the northwest corner of the riding we have papers like Your West Central Voice and the Kindersley Social, both providing a unique perspective on what is happening in their communities.
Cypress Hills—Grasslands is also home to The Shaunavon Standard, which was founded back in 1913, along with the Maple Creek & Southwest Advance Times and the Maple Creek News, which provide a weekly newspaper and distribute it in the southwest corner. In the eastern half of my constituency, we also find many papers such as the Gravelbourg Tribune, The Herald and the Assiniboia Times. All these papers contribute greatly to the social fabric that we find in rural Canada. In a place where most people do not have access to reliable Internet, these papers are critical to keeping my constituents informed.
However, through the transition into a digital world, these organizations have had to adapt and provide their service online. Before the Internet, papers like the ones I mentioned used a physical newsstand or post office boxes to promote themselves, but today, with the Internet, search engines like Google are the updated newsstands. With Bill C-18 the government is trying to interfere with this updated newsstand, and is going too far in doing so.
In this discussion, we also need to talk about the existing government support for media and how we can fix this framework. As I said, having an independent press is fundamental. However, when our media are receiving multi-million dollar payouts from the federal government, their independence quickly comes into question. The common saying, “Never bite the hand that feeds you,” exists for a reason, and I believe it applies to this situation.
Let us be honest: The job of the media is at times to bite, to seek for answers, to find the truth and to hold those in power to account. However, they cannot fully do this when they know it may impact their subsidy. Many Canadians have seen a subtle shift in the private corporate media, with its reporting starting to resemble that of the CBC, which, as a state broadcaster, receives over $1 billion directly from the government. Because of that relationship, the question is raised as to how much the organization can operate like a PR firm of the federal government. That is why we have previously called for reviewing its funding and mandate.
Having said all this, my concerns with Bill C-18 do not stop with media independence and the newly proposed powers of the CRTC, but extend also to the current government's attempt to interfere in a free market. Bill C-18 would require search engines like Google to pay a royalty to an organization that is putting out information, but the government claims this is only minimal market intervention.
Earlier in my speech I talked about many of the small newsprint operations that we have in southwestern Saskatchewan. Here in the House, we have many former members of the press or journalists or those who have been news anchors or different things over the years. I would submit that the majority, if not all the organizations they worked for, would not receive a penny from any of the funds that would be raised by doing this.
First, the government would allow media outlets and organizations to reach a deal on their own. However, if they failed to do this, the CRTC would force both parties into a binding arbitration process whereby the government would get to set the terms of the deal. If an outlet and the organization reached a deal on their own, but the CRTC officials felt the outlet was not using the money appropriately, they would say the deal was invalid and force the two parties through the arbitration process.
They cannot call this “minimal market intervention” when they are giving an institution the power to force two organizations into a binding arbitration process as well as the power to apply hefty fines. A thing is not market-based when the government needs to step in and force two companies to make a deal or face a large fine from the government if they fail to make a deal.
While the government should aim to support small media outlets, protecting their independence should be front of mind. The implications of Bill C-18 are too far-reaching, and with the lack of guidelines there is great potential for the government to abuse this process. That is why we have opposed this bill and will continue to do so.