Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-10, the first of the long-awaited bills from our heritage minister.
The Liberal government has been working on this bill for five years. We have gone through five years, three ministers, a media crisis, a cultural industry in jeopardy, a Yale report and, just to take things to another level, a pandemic that has finished off many players in this industry that we all enjoy.
When the Yale report was released, the minister said that he would not wait for a bill to intervene and that he was going to make changes via regulation. We are here today to talk about a bill that will change the CRTC's regulatory powers.
Members will understand my lukewarm reaction to this bill. All that for this? Even some important industry players, a few of whom my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska spoke about earlier, reacted enthusiastically at first but then tempered their views a few days later and recognized that there were still a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up before this bill passes muster.
When someone takes that long to bake a cake, people expect it to be covered in icing and nicely decorated.
Here is a little history lesson. In 1929, the government of Louis-Alexandre Taschereau enacted a broadcasting act for Quebec, the first of its kind in Canada. Three years later, on May 26, 1932, the Bennett government here in Ottawa passed the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Act, the first of its kind. The act created a broadcasting regulatory body, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, which was to regulate and control all Canadian broadcasting and establish a national service.
At the time, speaking right here in the House, Prime Minister Bennett stressed the idea of complete Canadian control over broadcasting as well as the benefits of public versus private ownership. The act also stated that the airwaves were a public asset and that the government had a duty and a role to play in monitoring their use. From the very beginning, it was understood that broadcasting, the people's primary means of communication, should be under Canadian control. Quebec had realized that three years earlier, but that happens a lot. We can come back to that later.
This year, we had reason to expect a major overhaul of the act because, as we have heard repeatedly, it has not been altered substantially since 1991.
Here is another little reminder to provide some context. Back in 1991, we were recording our music on little cassette tapes and programming our VCRs to record L'Or du temps, Entre chien et loup or Les Filles de Caleb, at least in Quebec. The current House Leader of the Official Opposition was a journalist at TQS in Quebec at the time, and the winner of album of the year at the ADISQ gala was Gerry Boulet's Rendez-vous doux.
That provides some perspective and serves to remind us how long this act has been in need of reform. I agree that an overhaul was urgently needed.
I think that Bill C-10 provides a very interesting foundation on which something solid and lasting could be built to respond to today's broadcasting reality. However, urgent action is needed. This is according to the Yale report, and Ms. Yale herself, not me.
This bill needs far too much work for it to be fast-tracked. While this may be urgent, we will not rush the work, and we will not cut corners. The world of broadcasting is extremely complex and has transformed radically over the past 30 years.
I have another little story to share. In the early 2000s, a senior CRTC executive said that it would be pointless to pass legislation for online broadcasting because no one would ever watch TV on their phone. Today, who does not have a mobile device they use to watch videos, news clips and sometimes entire shows?
That was 20 years ago. Just imagine the challenges we will face in the next 10, 20 or 30 years in the broadcasting industry. Today, it is important to demonstrate vision, but also prudence, when making decisions about Bill C-10, because we may have to live with the consequences for a long time.
I think that everyone basically agrees that many elements are missing from this bill. We expected something more substantial.
I will not repeat everything that my colleagues have already said, but I will list some of the missing elements that I am particularly concerned about, especially when it comes to the issue of hate speech and the dissemination of fake news. The purpose of a bill is not necessarily to tell the CRTC how to do things, but to clearly state the government's intent. When the CRTC enforces the regulations, it will have to keep in mind the intent of the legislation it is using and have a clear understanding of it.
I think it would have been a good idea to incorporate into the legislation an obligation for online broadcasters to put safeguards in place against hate speech and against the ever-popular fake news. Right now, content sharing platforms are subject to the law, but when these platforms allow users to upload content, those users can continue to spread material that we would do well to regulate.
Members will not be surprised to hear that I think that the way the issue of French is addressed in this bill is pathetic. For example, it could have included slightly more rigorous, more sincere protections. Take, for example, clause 9.1, which states that the CRTC may impose conditions regarding the proportion of Canadian content and the discoverability of Canadian programs. I have no problem with that, but how hard would it have been to say the same thing about a fair proportion of French-language content? As Cicero said, “Quid enim Bonum est, Bonum canem felem”, which is Latin for “what is good for the goose is good for the gander”. Well, it may actually have been the centurion Crismus Bonus who said that in Asterix the Gaul, but never mind.
Another element that is missing from the bill is thresholds for investment in Canadian and French-language content. If the government does not give the CRTC parameters for specific expectations regarding contributions to content production, the CRTC will end up having to negotiate with companies or groups of companies. Given the weight that giants like Netflix can bring to bear on such negotiations, we can expect to see agreements that benefit some companies disproportionately at the expense of Canadian companies like Bell, Videotron and the rest, which currently have to invest 30% of their revenue in Canadian production.
Are they likely to tell the CRTC they want Netflix to pay more? Quite the opposite: they will lobby for equal treatment, which is perfectly reasonable. However, they too will demand the most advantageous treatment possible, which may be problematic because we want the system to benefit content creators, artists, and the francophone and Canadian cultural industry.
That section is important, because the future of the entire industry could be jeopardized if this protection is not put into law. I also agree that there is not a word about the CBC's mandate. The Yale report suggested a review of the Broadcasting Act as well as the mandate of our public broadcaster. Bill C-10 contains nothing on that.
A number of measures could have been taken. For example, the funding could have been reviewed, and funding parameters could have been set to avoid relying on advertising revenue, especially for educational programming. Funding over five years could have been introduced, with a renewal at the end of year four, to ensure greater predictability. The CBC licence renewal hearings will be held in just a few weeks or months from now. This would have been an excellent opportunity, which the government is passing up, much like leaving a $100 bill lying on the sidewalk because they are too tired to pick it up. I do not think it would have taken much effort.
Our regional news media are also complaining. In August, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, or CAB, sounded the alarm when it released data from a study indicating that, if nothing was done, 737 private radio stations could shut down in the next few months. In the next 18 months, up to 150 stations could close their doors. Private radio stations account for more than 2,000 jobs across the country. As the CAB clearly stated in its report, the broadcasting industry needs the government's help and regulations to ensure a more equitable and sustainable future. I do not know if the government got the message, but the answer is nowhere to be found in Bill C-10.
One of the most important measures that protects Canada's broadcasting market is paragraph 3(1)(a) of the act, which states that businesses must be effectively owned and controlled by Canadian interests. This requirement would be removed from the act on the grounds that it cannot apply to online broadcasters.
Since a legislative overhaul is justified by the growing presence of these online broadcasters in our market, it is reasonable to want to loosen the provision, but getting rid of it entirely is a leap I am not willing to take. Instead of making an exception for online businesses by taking into account the fact that they are often foreign businesses, the government has decided to eliminate nearly 90 years of Canadian ownership from the legislation.
In the Yale report, recommendation 53 states that the landscape of Canadian broadcasting should “consist of Canadian-owned and -controlled companies alongside foreign companies”. The wording was there. It was a good recommendation and it could have been used in Bill C-10. Opening the door to foreign acquisition of broadcasting companies is handing over the keys of our culture to someone who does not care one iota about it.
The absence of clear protection of francophone and Quebec culture has me deeply concerned. Quebec's cultural industry developed thanks to the protection measures put in place to preserve the place that the French language has in our anglophone ocean. It did not settle for the place it was given, but took advantage of the importance it was given to develop, diversify and shine around the world.
Francophone artists and artisans been able to learn a living from their art, but on top of that, our industry has been so strong that artists from all around the world, both francophones and anglophones, have chosen to settle in Quebec. That is a direct result of the hard work of our organizations and representatives from the music, entertainment, theatre, arts, film and television industries.
Shows that were created in Quebec have found audiences around the world. Take, for example, shows like Un gars, une fille, Les beaux malaises or 30 Vies, and then you have directors like Denis Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Vallée and Xavier Dolan. There are too many to name.
We need to protect the French language, especially now, because with the influx of money from digital platforms, producers will be tempted to create English content, since that market is much more lucrative. That is also a major argument in support of the Bloc Québécois's request to enshrine in law the requirement that 40% of money spent on Canadian productions be used to create French-language content.
Believing that the CRTC will protect French-language content on online distribution platforms is like believing in unicorns. The CRTC is already under enormous pressure from various lobbies. I cannot imagine what will happen when billionaire multinationals deploy their weapons of mass seduction to make their case before them. Our domestic cultural organizations will never be able to hold their own, and we will lose out.
The Broadcasting Act must set much clearer and more precise parameters for the CRTC without necessarily taking away its flexibility within those parameters. That is the distinction to make. We are not talking about interfering; we are simply talking about expressing expectations clearly so they are easy to understand. The government needs to take this all too rare opportunity to review the act much more seriously than it is doing now.