Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise in the House as the Conservative critic for Canadian heritage and present the official opposition's response to Bill C-11, the online streaming act.
I want to begin by recognizing and celebrating the contributions made by our creators, including artists, actors, musicians and everyone who works in the Canadian arts, culture and heritage sector. There is no doubt that Canada is home to world-class talent that has found success at home and around the world.
Meanwhile, our young talent continues to develop, which will contribute to our national culture for years to come. This is especially true of the exceptional Quebec and francophone talent that we all want to see flourish.
These creators and artists deserve to be treated fairly and to have the tools they need to succeed. They deserve an economic environment that allows them to be fairly compensated for their work as they tell our stories, whether through music, prose, movies, television or, increasingly, online content.
The Broadcasting Act has not been updated in any meaningful way since 1991. Believe it or not, times have changed a little since that time. When I was a seven-year-old kid in 1991, the phrase “be kind, please rewind” reflected so much of the broadcasting world. Now, three decades later, as a legislator, I can acknowledge that times have changed. Technology has changed, and how Canadians enjoy Canadian stories has changed.
What has not changed, as has been acknowledged, is the legislative and regulatory framework that governs this sector. The Government of Canada and, through the government, the CRTC must update their approach to the treatment of arts, culture and media to reflect the realities of the third decade of the 21st century. As many of colleagues know, my riding is home to some of the great cultural institutions in Canada, including the Stratford Festival, Drayton Entertainment, and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Moreover, our community has a vibrant music scene through events, such as Stratford Summer Music, and it is becoming an destination for television and film production.
When I was asked to serve as the official opposition's shadow minister for Canadian heritage, I was certainly honoured to do so. It has provided me with the remarkable opportunity to meet with so many arts and culture stakeholders from across the country. I have met with many artists, musicians and creators who are deeply invested in the future of the industry and the future of this very particular piece of legislation.
The Conservative opposition agrees that the existing system is outdated. However, we have watched the government fail and waver in its efforts to modernize the Broadcasting Act, adapt to our new digital reality and prepare for future disruptions that we cannot even predict today.
That is what the government and the CRTC ought to be doing. They should be there to ensure they are not in the way of the next disruption or the next innovation. Rather, they should be there to lay out the ground rules to ensure that when that next disruption happens, when that next innovation happens, it happens right here in Canada, and that it allows Canadians and Canadian creators to benefit from and export our top-notch talent around the globe.
In fact, in our 2021 election campaign platform, we committed that a Conservative government would conduct a full review of the CRTC to ensure that it better reflects the needs of Canadians and does not prevent Canadian broadcasters from innovating or adapting to changes in the marketplace. Speaking of election platforms, I want to be clear about where our Conservative opposition stands on updates to the Broadcasting Act related to foreign streaming service.
In our platform, we clearly stated that we would support legislation that updates the Broadcasting Act to deal with the realities of an increasingly online market and the need to provide businesses with certainty and consumers with choice.
We will require large streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime to reinvest a significant portion of their Canadian gross revenue into producing original Canadian programming, of which a mandated proportion must be in French.
If they fail to do so on their own in a given year, they will be required to pay the difference into the Canada Media Fund. The proportion chosen will vary based on the nature of the streaming service and would be determined based on the best practices of other jurisdictions, such as those in Europe and Australia, as well as the nature of the Canadian market.
Content reinvestment requirements will also recognize and incentivize partnerships with Canadian independent media producers.
We were also very clear in our platform that we would do this while ensuring that Canadians who uploaded content to social media platforms continued to enjoy freedom of speech and the ability to express themselves freely within the confines of Canadian law.
Let me be clear. Most Canadians understand and expect that large, foreign-owned streamers ought not to be given advantages over the regulated Canadian broadcasting sector. Large, foreign streamers should pay their fair share. What is more, it is logical to expect that those who benefit from the Canadian regulatory regime should also be expected to contribute to Canadian content. We want to see Canadians telling Canadian stories.
Much has been said about the origins of the current regulatory regime. In reviewing the interventions of past colleagues on this topic, I was drawn to the comments of the then minister of communications, the Hon. Marcel Masse, from November 3, 1989. At page 5,546 of Hansard, Minister Masse states:
...let us retrace the development of our broadcasting system. How did it start? How can we define it? Since its beginning, Canadian broadcasting has had to adjust to Canadian realities: the proximity to the United States, a vast and sparsely populated territory, as well as the existence of two official languages. Every measure taken by public authorities since the turn of the century can be explained by these economic, social and cultural challenges, which lie at the root of the bill before us today.
The minister goes on to state:
What has changed, however, is the technology of communications and the significant evolution of Canadian values.
With the important addition of the consideration of indigenous languages and culture, I would suggest that commentary, provided in the House on that November day in 1989, rings true today as well with the challenges and opportunities faced in today's broadcasting system here in Canada.
While we are going down memory lane, I want to turn back to something not quite as far back as 1989 and look at what happened in the previous Parliament with the former bill, Bill C-10. As all members of the House will remember, and many Canadians watching this debate will remember, in the previous Parliament the iteration of Bill C-10 was one of the most poorly managed and poorly messaged policy proposals that I have seen from the government.
The new bill, Bill C-11 picks up where the old Bill C-10 left off. That flawed bill made headlines for all the wrong reasons. The decisions that were made by the government seemed to fail from drafting to introduction to third reading.
Conservatives were not alone in our concerns with Bill C-10. Many individuals and organizations were concerned about free speech and the implications of government overreach and expressed strong concerns with the former Bill C-10. Professor Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa professor and the Canada research chair in Internet and e-commerce law, called the former Bill C-10, “an exceptionally heavy-handed regulatory approach where a government-appointed regulator decides what individual user generated content is prioritized”.
He further pointed out that “no one—literally no other country—uses broadcast regulation to regulate user [generated] content in this way.” Even the Senate, which is now filled with a plurality of senators who were appointed by the current Liberal Prime Minister and who generally share his agenda and ideology, refused to pass Bill C-10 before the Prime Minister called his unnecessary attempt at a power grab in the summer of 2021 election.
One of the main flaws with the former Bill C-10 related to user-generated content, which we will hear a lot about in my comments and the comments throughout this debate. Under that bill, there was originally an exception, proposed section 4.1, which would have allowed those who generated content on social media sites like YouTube and other content-sharing sites to be excluded. However, at committee, government members removed that exclusion, meaning the CRTC could have regulated the content individual users put up on those social media sites.
Further complicating the matter was the unclear and unaccountable authority Bill C-10 proposed to give the CRTC. Bill C-10 proposed to give the CRTC broad new powers, but not clear direction on what those regulations would be. With little to no government oversight, it was concerning that an unaccountable government agency would be enforcing and controlling what people see and do not see on social media sites, which brings us to the current bill before the House, Bill C-11.
I can appreciate a certain irony that this bill was introduced on February 2, groundhog day, because it certainly feels like we have been here before. When I was first appointed as shadow minister for Canadian heritage, I spoke with and I wrote to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and had wonderful, productive conversations with the minister. There were two things in particular that I urged him to do. First was not to reintroduce the flawed former Bill C-10 in the same form. The second request I thought was important was, should he introduce amendments to the Broadcasting Act, that the government not interfere with the work of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and that we as parliamentarians be given the opportunity to properly study and, if necessary, amend this bill. That is still my hope.
I want to talk a bit about what this bill would not do. It would not reduce the current regulatory burden faced by incumbent Canadian broadcasters, nor would it reduce the costs to Canadian broadcasters. The government could take immediate action today to support Canadian broadcasters by adopting Conservative policies.
As I said in this place and elsewhere, the CRTC part II licence fees should be scrapped. These fees amount to a tax on Canadian broadcasters and do nothing but provide additional revenues to regulators and, by extension, the Government of Canada. In fact, in the 2019-20 fiscal year, these part II licence fees amounted to $116,594,742. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, they were $113 million. In those two years alone, that amounts to a quarter of a billion dollars that went to CRTC coffers, rather than contributing to Canadian programming. This bill, unfortunately, would not scrap part II licence fees.
As I hinted at earlier, we will be talking a fair bit about user-generated content. In the old Bill C-10, there was an exclusion for user-generated content, which was then excluded at committee in the melee that was clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-10. In Bill C-11, the government has reintroduced an exclusion on user-generated content on social media and it is known as proposed section 4.1 of Bill C-11. However, in what can only be considered the ultimate in bureaucratic language, the Liberals added an exclusion to the exclusion as proposed section 4.2. This exclusion to the exclusion is so broad that the government, through the CRTC, could once again regulate wide swathes of content uploaded to social media.
I want to quote from key stakeholders who operate in the field. Matt Hatfield, from Open Media, said this:
Trying to exclude user generated content from CRTC regulation is a good step, and an acknowledgement by the government that last year’s Bill C-10 was a mistake.... The problem is that it isn’t clear if they’ve actually excluded user generated content. They’re working from a foundation of a clean separation of professional and amateur content on the Internet that simply doesn’t exist. Major Canadian Internet productions like podcasts could find themselves in the worst of all worlds—subject to CRTC regulation, while not able to seek CanCon funding.
What concerns me, and what concerns our official opposition, is the impact that this will have on creators, especially digital first creators who have found success in the digital world and should be encouraged rather than hindered.
According to a 2019 report from researchers at Ryerson University, “there are an estimated 160,000 Canadian content creators on YouTube, including 40,000 who have enough of an audience to monetize their channels. These 40,000 creators have in turn sparked the development of nearly 28,000 full-time jobs”. That is 28,000 full-time jobs through this type of digital first Canadian creation. This is just one small aspect, one positive economic part that we could realize through new media.
It is not Conservative politicians alone who are raising concerns about the impact this would have on digital first creators. We are raising these concerns on behalf of creators from across Canada.
Scott Benzie, the managing director of Digital First Canada, shared this about Bill C-11: “Bill C-11 still has many issues for Digital First Creators, the 'sandbox' that is said to be given to the CRTC is too broad and could include every piece of content online. Most concerning though is that there is still room in the bill for the government to force platforms to put 'approved' Canadian content ahead of independent Canadian content and artificially manipulate the algorithms. Even in the best case scenario this bill only has downsides for Digital First Creators while the traditional media industry gets their funding doubled.”
We can go on to Morghan Fortier, CEO of Skyship Entertainment, who shared these comments: “In Canada, digital content creators have built a successful thriving industry on platforms such as YouTube, TikTok and others that export a huge amount of Canadian content to the rest of the world. Creators bring revenue from other countries back home to Canada and use it to hire Canadian workers, and pay Canadian taxes. They've done this through their entrepreneurial spirit, their hard work, and largely without government interference or assistance. This achievement should be supported, celebrated and encouraged.”
I know my time is running short. I do want to offer a few final comments about Bill C-11, including the broad powers that are delivered to the CRTC. We, as parliamentarians, have a duty to examine and review proposals of the government. The challenge with this piece of legislation is the degree to which government envisions delegating its regulatory power to another entity, in this case, the CRTC. This is being done without, as of yet, clear policy direction from the government as to how these regulatory powers would be interpreted.
This “just trust us” approach does not inspire confidence. One example is the concept of discoverability, which could be so broad and vague that Canadians would be rightly concerned about what content the CRTC would have prioritized for Canadian viewing and, by extension, what would be further deprioritized for viewing by Canadians.
Also, Canadians want to know what constitutes Canadian content in the digital world. As I mentioned before, we want to see Canadians telling Canadian stories, but what is not clear is how the CRTC would adjust its criteria to ensure that real Canadian stories are captured within the CanCon rules.
We, as the official opposition, will be clear in our position on this bill. While we will not be supporting this bill at second recording, we will nonetheless fulfill our role as Her Majesty's loyal opposition in proposing reasonable amendments at committee. Our Conservative opposition will be there for Canadian creators, artists and broadcasters in asking the tough questions and raising important concerns here in the House and at committee.