Evidence of meeting #2 for Canadian Heritage in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was report.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Janet Yale  Chair, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel
Monique Simard  Panel Member, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our first meeting on this particular study.

First of all, I want to say thank you for providing us with a gorgeous, large room like this. My goodness, if it were any bigger, we'd break out into a soccer game, I'm sure, but this is really nice.

I also want to thank our guests.

Today we have a briefing by the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel on the report “Canada's communications future: Time to act'”.

First of all, I might say congratulations on a report of this size and depth. It is quite something. It takes a little while to get through, but that's no reflection on you. That's actually a reflection on how well you know the subject matter. We thank you for doing this study on such short notice.

There are two people with us today from the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel. We have the chair, Ms. Janet Yale, and panel member, Monique Simard.

Thank you very much for your participation today, Madam.

Colleagues, since this is our first meeting with witnesses, I would like to point out that the first round will have six minutes of questions for each, starting with the Conservative Party and then the Liberal Party.

Then it will be the turn of the Bloc Québécois.

Then we will have the New Democratic Party.

Before that, however, we give you up to 10 minutes to tell us about yourselves and what you've been up to lately and that sort of thing. Keep in mind, that's for up to 10 minutes. If you are stretching beyond the 10 minutes, I will try to provide some visual cues to please wrap up.

Are we starting with you, Ms. Yale?

3:30 p.m.

Janet Yale Chair, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel

Yes.

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting us to be here today.

We are really pleased to be here this afternoon.

My name is Janet Yale, as you know.

Here with me is Monique Simard.

Beside me is Monique Simard, a member of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel.

We're here today on behalf of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel, which included four other members. They are Peter Grant, Marina Pavlovic, Monica Song and Pierre Trudel.

Together we were appointed in June 2018 by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry and the Minister of Canadian Heritage. Our task was to review Canada's Broadcasting Act, Telecommunications Act and Radiocommunication Act and to make recommendations for modernizing the legislation and regulatory framework.

This marks the first time these decades-old laws have been reviewed in such a comprehensive and integrated manner. The need for this work has never been more urgent.

This work has never been so urgent.

Digital technologies have transformed the ways in which we communicate, entertain and inform ourselves and conduct business at home and around the world.

The pace of change is dizzying, the opportunities unprecedented and the risks to our privacy as consumers, to our cultural sovereignty as a country, and to our economic competitiveness significant.

Today everyone, no matter where they live in Canada, expects and deserves to live a connected life, one that allows us to connect to one another, to new ideas, to news and entertainment, and to the services and economic opportunities that new technologies and platforms offer us, and we expect to do so in a safe and secure environment.

While we embrace this new world of endless choices and voices, as Canadians we also expect there will always be a place for Canadian voices and perspectives, where we can showcase our diversity as a country, including the stories of indigenous and official language minority communities. We expect access to the most advanced technologies that drive innovation and contribute to creating jobs and economic prosperity—technologies that can enhance our competitiveness at home and internationally.

Our report entitled “Canada's communications future: Time to act” is a road map for addressing the challenges of today and seizing the opportunities before us, while remaining flexible enough to anticipate and adapt to the unforeseen changes and challenges of the future.

The scope of our task was significant, and that required us to make choices about where to focus. We chose measures that will have the greatest impact and from which the benefits to all of us would be most tangible. We embraced the open global market, preserving people's freedom to choose the news and entertainment content they want, when they want it, from wherever they want it and on whatever platform or channel they want it.

3:35 p.m.

Monique Simard Panel Member, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel

Good afternoon, everyone.

We focused on four major issues. They are: reducing obstacles to access to advanced telecommunications networks for all Canadians; the best ways to support the creation, production and discoverability of Canadian content; the best way to protect privacy and improve the rights of consumers in the digital environment; and finally, renewing the institutional framework that governs the communications sector.

We made a number of recommendations to address these issues. First, we propose a new legislative model that would make the Broadcasting Act applicable to all media communications entities, including services like Netflix, Spotify and Apple TV+. This new model would also establish obligations for online entities, Canadian or not. As a result, they would be required to play a role in supporting the country's cultural policy.

Under our proposal, media entities that derive benefits from the Canadian market through the advertising revenue or subscription fees they receive and the personal information they gather, must contribute to the creation, production and discoverability of Canadian content.

In a world of unlimited choices and voices, CBC/Radio-Canada remains an indispensable cultural institution and a platform for Canada's stories and diversity, at home and abroad. We have rethought the role of CBC/Radio-Canada as a true public media institution oriented first and foremost to public service and free from the commercial pressures that go hand-in-hand with a dependence on advertising revenue.

We have designed our recommendations so as to encourage the institution of CBC/Radio-Canada to take more creative risks, to better represent Canada's diversity, including indigenous peoples and the two official language communities, and to increase its responsibility for local and national news, and international news from a Canadian perspective.

To support those objectives, we recommend that the federal government be required to commit funding to CBC/Radio-Canada for at least five years, together with clear commitments as to the delivery of the mandate.

In parallel, we further recommend that CBC/Radio-Canada gradually eliminate advertising on all platforms over the next five years, starting with news content. More generally, we recognize that Canada's traditional news media sector is in crisis. The sector is experiencing financial difficulties, but there is more. The proliferation of fake news and disinformation is threatening the democracies of the world. The best defence against that situation is access to reliable, high-quality sources of news.

To strengthen the Canadian news sector, we are proposing a series of recommendations that will help to ensure financial stability, while preserving journalistic independence and diversity. In addition, we are recommending a number of measures to protect against harmful content, threats to privacy and the impact of big data on every dimension of our personal, professional, public and political lives. These global threats are becoming more and more prevalent.

We also recommend enshrining in the act the right to a free and open Internet, providing legitimate content to which users have access in all places and at all times. This proposal is crucial to guarantee freedom of expression and to keep democracy healthy and strong.

3:40 p.m.

Chair, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel

Janet Yale

My colleague, Monique, just referred to the panel's recommendations regarding Canada's news industry. I'd like to pause on that for just a minute, because there has been some confusion about the problem the panel was actually trying to address and what we actually recommended. Allow me to start with the problem.

The news industry in Canada is in serious crisis. In the last decade alone, over 200 community and daily papers have closed. In Quebec alone, 57 weekly or bi-weekly newspapers shut down between 2011 and 2018. The challenges facing the news industry are complex, but one thing is clear: The old financial model can no longer support the news industry.

The advertising model that used to sustain a healthy news industry by generating revenues that paid for the journalists who did the research, writing and reporting is dying. That has coincided with the rise of some of the biggest, most powerful media and communications companies in the world.

Today, individuals, reporters and editors watch as their work is aggregated and shared, without compensation of any sort, by the likes of Facebook, Apple, Google and others. If we allow this to continue, not only will we see a decline in Canadians' ability to access Canadian news and perspectives on the local, national and international stories of the day, we will also see the continued erosion of one of the most vital pillars of our democracy.

Our report recommends reasonable, responsible steps to ensure that the work of Canadian news organizations and individual journalists cannot be repackaged, repurposed and monetized for profit without compensation for those who do the work.

We believe it's not beyond the reach of policy-makers to bring the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon into some sort of rules-based construct. Already in Canada we license news organizations like CBC, CTV, Postmedia and others, while wholly protecting editorial independence. Why should we not register the largest media companies in the world in the same way and with the same editorial protections and exemptions when it comes to news functions online? Why shouldn't we insist they pay their fair share for leveraging the work of our journalists and news organizations?

Let me be clear. Nowhere does our report recommend or suggest that government should play a role in determining who is and is not a journalist, nor do we advocate for regulation of news content, editorial practices or any interference whatsoever with the independence of news media.

I expect you will have questions on that, and I look forward to the discussion.

All of our recommendations are rooted in the belief that Canadians deserve to live a connected life, but making that a reality means we need advanced telecommunications infrastructure that is secure, accessible and affordable.

We've recommended a number of measures that would accelerate and make the rollout of advanced infrastructure, including 5G, more efficient. We recognize in particular the expansion of broadband is a special challenge in rural, remote and many indigenous communities. That's why we've recommended that, where there's no economic case to be made for the private sector to drive expansion of broadband, the federal government must step in and ensure those communities are not left out or left behind. We would ask the government to commit to 100% broadband coverage and dedicate the resources required to make it happen by the year 2030, and that the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development submit an annual report to Parliament on the status of broadband deployment.

We know the affordability of Internet and mobile wireless services has been a challenge for too many in this country. With that in mind, we've also recommended a legislative tool kit that will help facilitate competition, reduce prices and encourage innovation in telecom markets. I won't go into the details of those recommendations because time is short.

We have a total of 97 recommendations in the report. We'll give you a chance to ask on any of those you'd like. We believe the measures we've proposed will enable Canadians, no matter who they are or where they live in this country, to seize the promise of new technologies and platforms offered.

On behalf of the whole panel, we are very grateful to the government for entrusting us with this important work.

We now look forward to your questions.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Thank you, Ms. Yale.

Thank you very much, Ms. Simard.

Thank you for your presentation.

I want to remind colleagues that this hearing will last 90 minutes. At the top of the hour, at around five o'clock, we'll go in camera to deal with committee business.

Mr. Blaney, you have six minutes.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I feel privileged to speak at this first meeting of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and I would like to thank our first two witnesses for accepting our invitation so quickly. We extended it just last week.

We are pleased that you are joining us today. I feel that it sets the scene well for the work we have to do here at the committee on this pressing issue, promoting content, culture and the business of culture in Canada.

I would be remiss if I did not tell you again—as I have been able to tell you unofficially— that I greatly appreciate some aspects of the report, specifically the one on network accessibility. As you know, I live across from Quebec City and my constituency includes 30 municipalities. As I have said before, we have volunteer firefighters who cannot be reached by either cell phone or Internet. So network access is important. I really liked your recommendation that those living in rural or remote areas not be treated as second-class citizens. I also appreciated your recommendation to act with a sense of urgency.

As we are in the opposition, we are urging the government to act, but, unfortunately the announced funding is not appearing. Currently, in my constituency, we rely on provincial funds to solve the most pressing problems. There are also definition problems that are a little technical. Apparently we are not remote enough to have access to the programs. Those are things of which we want the government to be aware, and you have done so in your report.

The third point that seems interesting to me is about really reviewing the mandate of Radio-Canada, with its major role as a national public broadcaster and with long-term funding recognized. It is equally important to see clearly the role that it can play in this environment, I will come back to the whole matter of the role that Radio-Canada can play in a digital world.

I don't know if your group focused on this, Ms. Yale, but I would like to come back to the point that you mentioned. I feel that your report is clear, but perhaps the Minister's unfortunate interpretation has led to confusion.

Can you tell us again clearly today how you see freedom of expression in terms of the media? Could you repeat it for my benefit? You mentioned it in your introduction, but I would like us to have it settled so that we can move on to the regulatory framework as such.

How does your report see journalistic independence?

3:45 p.m.

Chair, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel

Janet Yale

If you don't mind I'll speak in English.

Let me say that we made it very clear, both in the telecom section of the report and the broadcasting section of the report, that we believe in a free and open Internet.

In our telecom recommendations, we proposed that one of the objectives of the act be the right to a free and open Internet because we recognize.... There's a term in telecommunications called “net neutrality”, which speaks to the responsibility of telecommunications carriers not to interfere in any way with the content of what they carry. There is that obligation. We recommend enshrining that obligation in the act as one of the objectives of the Telecommunications Act.

In addition to that, we talk about the importance of freedom of speech online and the importance of freedom of expression to a vibrant, healthy democracy. Given all of that context, we made it very clear that there is no intention to regulate news content or to interfere with freedom of expression online.

I hope that answers your question.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Yes, that's great.

3:50 p.m.

Chair, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel

Janet Yale

We made it very clear that we do not intend to regulate the news or in any way interfere with journalistic freedom of expression.

February 24th, 2020 / 3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

I am delighted to hear that, Ms. Yale.

Ms. Yale, Ms. Simard, your proposal is to move forward. We recognize that there are blatant inequalities at the moment. I am thinking, for example, about cable companies that have to contribute to the Canada Media Fund, while other players do not.

Can we transpose the broadcasting model of the last 50 years to a digital environment? Are you not proposing a more innovative and flexible way of doing so? I would like to hear what you have to say on that matter.

Let me give you an example. The broadcasting guides that I have been shown are two inches thick. What we want is to simplify them and make them more uniform. I would like to hear what you have to say on that matter.

3:50 p.m.

Panel Member, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel

Monique Simard

Thank you for your question. It really goes to the heart of our work.

The mandate we were given was huge. It includes 31 questions on a number of very varied issues from telecommunications to broadcasting, as you so rightly said.

We were given that mandate at a time when we are living between two worlds. We are still operating with traditional broadcasters, like television and radio. Those protesters hold licenses granted by the CRTC and they provide traditional broadcasting. At the same time, the Internet is in the process of more or less invading the entire universe and broadcasting all kinds of content on different platforms.

We therefore tried to determine how we can evolve at the same time as the changes that are going on, while preserving the old systems for now, because we can't throw them in the garbage tomorrow morning. So we looked at a registration system, because of the new players that Mr. Blaney named, such as Spotify, Netflix and a number of others. They have a very active market in our country.

How do we go about registering them?

We are actually proposing a registration regime. None of those companies need to be established in Canada, they just need to have a market here. As soon as they have a market in Canada, they will have to register according to the type of activities they conduct. Beforehand, regulation was done in terms of the role, but the activity is important.

There is content curation, which is what Netflix does, content aggregation, and content sharing platforms. Those three activities will probably expand more in the future. Who knows whether traditional broadcasting will still exist in five or 10 years?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Thank you very much, Ms. Simard.

I appreciate your flexibility on that issue, but I had to be flexible as well, as I only have a point. I have to stop it right there, because we're past the six minutes.

As a reminder to colleagues, I'm somewhat flexible on the time but only to allow our witnesses to answer the questions. If you want to make a point in the proceedings over the next little while, I'm sure you will.

Mr. Housefather, please, for six minutes.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Ms. Yale and Madam Simard, it's a great pleasure to welcome you here. Thank you very much for 97 very all-encompassing recommendations and what I think was an excellent report.

Ms. Yale, you've already touched on the issue of freedom of speech, but I want to give you a chance to respond again because you don't get to respond to what's said in the House of Commons.

On January 30, Michelle Rempel stated this in question period:

Mr. Speaker, yesterday a government-appointed panel enthusiastically recommended that the government should control what news coverage Canadians should be allowed to see.

Under the Liberal plan, the Liberals would be able to force all news sites to prominently link all of their coverage to Liberal government-approved websites. This would have an instant chill effect on free speech and diversity of thought in the Canadian media ecosystem.

The Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Scheer, on February 3, 2020, speaking about your report, said the following:

Mr. Speaker, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was supposed to be a cautionary tale about the evils of big government, not an instruction manual for the Prime Minister.

Do you believe that these are fair characterizations of your report?

3:55 p.m.

Chair, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel

Janet Yale

All I can speak to is what we said in our report, and I want to be clear that we did not recommend that media organizations be licensed based on their content perspective or on any other basis. That's not our vision.

In fact, our report recommends that we further enshrine the principle of journalistic independence in legislation. Our recommendations do include a provision to ensure that journalists are properly compensated for their work by the likes of Facebook and other sharing platforms that are currently using their work without compensation. That is the extent of our recommendations.

We went to great lengths to preserve journalistic independence, freedom of expression online and the right to a free and open Internet, both for their own sake and also because we believe those forms of expression are vital to a healthy, vibrant democracy.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Thank you very much.

Hopefully, with the clarity that you've expressed today, as well as with what I believe was the language of the report, there will be nobody who has any doubt about that anymore and we will move beyond these comments.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Talk to your minister.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

I believe that the minister is quite clear.

Let me now move to the matter on which Mr. Blaney and I are in complete agreement, as are a number of other committee members. This is the issue of content in French across Canada.

Coming from a linguistic minority, I feel that it is very important to have access to content in French, not only in Quebec, but all across Canada. It is also important to have content in English in Quebec.

Can you tell about the parts of your report that champions the issue of Canadian content in French all across Canada?

How can we make sure that Radio-Canada does not just provide programming in French in Montreal and provides nothing in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton or Halifax?

By the same token, how can we ensure that CBC will provide programming in English in Quebec, not just in Toronto?

3:55 p.m.

Panel Member, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel

Monique Simard

In the introduction to the report, which I invite you to read again, linguistic duality is identified, and the principle is mentioned throughout the chapter. We had six very specific questions on CBC/Radio-Canada. Our recommendations particularly stress the national broadcaster's responsibility to represent the country's diversity in its broadest form of expression. Clearly, that includes the whole matter of linguistic minorities in each of the regions, as well as decentralization.

When we say diversity, we are not just talking about linguistic diversity. There is also geographic diversity. The national broadcaster therefore has a responsibility and a role to play. That is why we made other recommendations to have the means needed, specifically funding needs, to ensure that things get done and the issue of funding is not used as an excuse for not doing them.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

How much time do I have left, Mr. Chair?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

You have a minute and a half.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

I'm going to end with one question, and another question, which again I agree on with Mr. Blaney, the importance of the expansion of broadband capacity across the country, so that small communities can benefit from the Internet and cell coverage. I noted in your report you had suggested a date—I think it was 2030—for the completion of this task. I believe one of the things you had previously mentioned was the reason you came up with this date, which was not as aggressive as some might have liked, was the capacity of the system to implement it.

Could you perhaps talk about how you came up with that date?

3:55 p.m.

Chair, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel

Janet Yale

We're going to be close to 90% of Canadians having broadband coverage, I believe within a year. The question is how do we get that last 10% done. Obviously, it is a case of looking at the mix of federal and provincial programs, as well as the broadband rollout plans of the facilities-based providers in Canada, and looking at where there is no economic case, how we ensure that on a coordinated basis across multiple federal programs, as well as provincial initiatives, that takes place as quickly as possible.

There is no doubt that about 95%, about half of that gap, can be closed through investment in traditional networks. The problem is in some of the most remote regions of Canada we have to wait for the deployment of what are called LEO, low-earth orbit, satellites, which are going to allow the most remote areas of Canada to be connected. Those aren't expected to be deployed for a number of years. Obviously, we would love to see it happen no later than 2030, but our best understanding was that was the date by which the government itself thought that could be done.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Thank you very much to both of you.

It is now the turn of the Bloc Québécois

Mr. Champoux, you have six minutes.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Martin Champoux Bloc Drummond, QC

Ms. Yale and Ms. Simard, thank you again for this expansive report filled with great recommendations. It represents a lot of work and I am grateful to you for taking the time to come before us today at such short notice.

We would like to talk about a lot of things in this report. Of course, we have only so much time and we already have had the opportunity to talk about it. I am sure that we will also have the opportunity to do so again. However, I would like to talk to you a little about the CRTC's vision, as it is at present. I know that you are recommending that it be rethought.

In your discussions, did the idea occur to you to create an organization, an entity, that would complement the CRTC, but would be independent of it, and that would deal only with the digital aspect of communications?

Of course, I know that it is going to be examined again at some stage, but, given that it is a sector that is somewhat specialized, different, and complex in itself, was that an option?

4 p.m.

Chair, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel

Janet Yale

It's a great question to look at: What is the right way to have an independent regulator that looks at all the issues in front of us?

We studied the models available in other countries around the world. We had a report done just to look at that. We were particularly influenced by the model in the U.K., with the British regulator Ofcom and the fact that they have quite a large group that does what I would call strategic foresight and research as part of the duty of the regulator, not just to react to the issues that come before them, but to be proactive in looking at what's coming ahead. If you look at our reimagined role for the CRTC, it was predicated on this mix of having a more proactive mandate, with the powers and the resources to be able to look ahead and think about what's coming, as well as having the regulatory tool kit to react to what's in front of them. We felt that expanded role of the existing regulator was the right way to go.