Madam Speaker, I would first like to thank the minister for introducing this bill today. I am very pleased to respond on behalf of our party and to take part in the debates that will be held today, tomorrow and in the coming days.
Bill C-10, an act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts, is quite important. The entire community has been waiting a long time for this bill and for the act to be amended, given the advent of the Internet and the digital players we are all familiar with. I think it is important to remember that the Broadcasting Act has not been amended in 28 years.
This bill is a response to the Yale report. Its main purpose is to subject online undertakings to the Broadcasting Act and to update Canada's broadcasting policy. I think all parties and stakeholders agree that the Broadcasting Act needs to be modernized. There is also a broad consensus among many stakeholders and, I believe, the other opposition parties, about how the bill should have included web giants and social media along with a number of other elements.
We have been waiting for this bill for a long time. I think many of us expected the government to come up with something a little more robust that included all the things I just mentioned. I would also consider print media, which say they are in a state of emergency and are having a hard time surviving at the moment because of how advertising revenue is being divided up.
The minister explained that the Liberal Party's strategy was to split the issues up into several parts and put some of them off until later. We think that is the wrong approach and that things should have been done differently, given the urgency of the situation and the existence of some degree of consensus around moving forward in the right direction.
In principle, this bill should have addressed some of the inequities between the so-called traditional broadcasting undertakings and those that are also online. As I said, there are serious flaws. I would like to point out what is missing from this bill that should have been in it, in our view.
First of all, there is nothing in the bill to force social media companies like Facebook and Google to pay their fair share. Furthermore, this bill does not address royalty sharing by these companies for content that is delivered via their digital platforms. The bill also does not explain how digital platforms like Netflix, Spotify, Crave and others will be treated fairly compared to conventional players.
On top of that, this bill grants the CRTC all the powers to enforce the act and the rules, and we think this is short-sighted. We believe that the legislative responsibilities of MPs and Parliament are being shifted away from us and handed over to the CRTC. The minister will no doubt argue that it is difficult to amend legislation quickly and that when adjustments need to be made in the next few years, it will be much easier to have the CRTC take care of it. However, as we have seen, it is not always easy with the CRTC, and the sector does not necessarily agree with this course of action.
There are no details about guidelines for the production of Canadian content and contributions to the Canada Media Fund. That, too, is placed in the hands of the CRTC, and months will pass before it is all implemented, months in which there will be no investment in Canadian content.
There are also no particulars about a legally required percentage of French-language content. Later, I will list several organizations that are complaining about that. There is also nothing about modernizing the Copyright Act, even though many parties asked for it.
This bill will lead to additional costs for the CRTC because naturally there will be more regulations, more paperwork for businesses and more monitoring. We do not know how much all this will cost. Lastly, in the different reports, we were also expecting that the mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada would be updated. There is not one word about the corporation in the bill.
This bill is being introduced because we have a duty to modernize a 28-year-old law that has not kept pace with an evolving sector and the arrival of the Internet and social media on the market. The major online platforms such as Facebook, Google, Netflix, Crave, Spotify and others are not subject to the same rules as conventional players. Thus, the Broadcasting Act was supposed to be revised to include all of them in the system, which has not been done.
This was supposed to be done with a view to systematically reiterating the will to modernize the act and to find a solution that is fair to all Canadian producers and broadcasters.
The costs associated with Bill C-10 are hard to estimate at this time because the scope of the additional powers that will be given to the CRTC is unclear. For those who are interested, the CRTC's projected budget for 2020-21 is about $71.9 million, which will mainly come from the licensing fees it collects. Naturally, this budget will have to be increased considerably to take into account the new oversight powers that the CRTC will be given. As we know, it is always the same people who pay in the end.
Bill C-10 gives the CRTC extremely broad discretion to define what is meant by an online undertaking and to require such undertakings to spend money to produce and broadcast Canadian content. For conventional broadcasters, this will take the form of a percentage of Canadian content to produce, which is about 25% to 40%, based on the information we have, and an obligation to contribute about 5% of their gross revenues to the Canada Media Fund, which subsidizes Canadian productions.
Broadcasters' contributions to the fund totalled $193 million in 2019-20. That makes it hard to understand how the minister could have come up with the $830-million or $1-billion figure he talked about in various interviews.
Neither Bill C-10 nor the minister's statements about it indicate whether online undertakings will have to make that 5% contribution, nor do they specify the Canadian content percentage they will have to comply with. Even so, the minister announced that online undertakings' additional investments in Canadian content under the act would add up to $830 million as of 2023. We have even heard amounts of up to $1 billion or thereabouts.
However, the minister has not yet responded to our request for information about how that amount was calculated. That said, I want to acknowledge that the request was made at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and that we were told the committee would get that information from the minister and his officials. I would have liked to receive it today before the debate because I think it would have been relevant, but we do not have it yet. We are still waiting for that information, and I am confident we will get it.
Based on the information they do have, affected stakeholders like Netflix are uncertain whether they will be able to abide by the new regulations. Conventional broadcasters can easily meet the content targets with sports and news programming. However, companies like Netflix are telling us that it will be hard for them, since they produce only fictional programs and documentaries and do not have that option.
That said, Netflix also told us about a problem it has that is not addressed in the bill. Netflix is still not able to fund or produce Canadian content. Allow me to explain.
Netflix's library includes the Quebec feature film The Decline, which many here are familiar with. It was filmed in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, was viewed 21 million times in the first four weeks following its released, and generated $5.3 million in investments in Quebec alone. It met six key creative requirements of the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office. However, the film could not be certified as Canadian content because it was financed and produced exclusively by Netflix.
I think this aspect is important. It employed Canadian actors, Canadian crew members and Canadian camera operators, but it was not considered Canadian content because it was all funded by Netflix. Bill C-10 offers no solution to this conundrum.
With this bill, the Prime Minister's government is granting the CRTC vast powers without including clear guidelines on things like the percentage of Canadian content required, contribution fees and expenses, French-language content requirements, and so on.
The bill even limits the oversight powers of parliamentary committees in relation to guidelines and regulations adopted by the CRTC and broadcasters' ability to appeal a decision. The message this bill sends is this: “Trust us, and you will see later.” Understandably, for us, the opposition, that is not good enough. It will take several months for the CRTC to take action, at which point parliamentarians will have only very limited oversight powers.
The bill does nothing to remedy the inequity between digital and conventional media. The regulation of social media, such as Facebook, and the sharing of the advertising revenue requested by traditional media are urgent because the longer we wait, the less there will be, which will be dangerous for our democracy.
Given its minority situation, it would have been more appropriate for the government to introduce a clear bill that set out its approach on all of these issues in concrete terms, rather than just giving the CRTC more discretion and telling us to wait and see what happens next.
I would like to talk about the matter of French in Quebec and in francophone communities. That is also important. We have seen the statements made by several organizations. The only measure to strengthen the place of French involves replacing paragraph 3(1)(k), which currently states, “a range of broadcasting services in English and in French shall be extended to all Canadians as resources become available” with “a range of broadcasting services in English and in French shall be progressively extended to all Canadians”.
I am getting to the matter of French. I even made a few comments to the minister, and my opposition colleagues who were with me during the various briefings asked questions about quotas and benchmarks. The government tried to put us in a tight corner by saying that quotas were not a good idea, that it was unreasonable to ask for such a thing and that we should trust the CRTC.
They also said that imposing a quota was like setting a limit. That is like saying that judges lose their discretionary power when parliamentarians legislate minimum and maximum sentences. I do not believe that. Market forces always work things out. If the need is really there, people will go well beyond any minimums that might be set in order to provide protection.
Naturally, the minister did his job. He published his information on social media, mentioning only those who were happy with the bill from then on. Some organizations said it was a very good bill, a historic bill and so on, but I would like to name some others.
One of them is the Union des producteurs et productrices de cinéma du Québec, the UPPCQ, which would like to see one-third of all production and content on Netflix and other platforms be in French. The UPPCQ is worried about the future of Quebec culture as people's media habits become anglicized under the influence of online giants such as Netflix and Disney.
We know how topical the issue of French is. The Quebec president of the Liberal Party of Canada publicly denounced Bill 101 and whatnot, then deleted tweets and apologized. Plus, we heard the comments made by the member for Saint-Laurent. There was the whole WE Charity scandal involving a unilingual anglophone organization during the pandemic. Then there was the English-only labels during the pandemic. On top of that, the Minister of Official Languages and the Prime Minister refuse to respond to a clear request from Quebec and all opposition parties. The Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Conservatives are calling on the government to allow Quebec to subject federally regulated businesses to Bill 101, because urgent protections are needed for French.
The people I mentioned earlier are worried about culture and identity. It is one of our greatest assets, and our country is proud to have two official languages. It gives us access to a market of 300 million francophones around the world, to share our culture, our economic expertise, and so on. I think it is normal for us on this side of the House to find it worrisome that the Liberals want to rely solely on the CRTC to protect French.
It is not just the opposition MPs saying so. Some organizations have unambiguously denounced it. Here is the title of an article for you, “Web giants still have the last laugh”. It was not an opposition MP who said that. It was political analysts. The article says:
The Minister of Canadian Heritage chose the day of the U.S. election to introduce his baby. If he was so proud, the minister surely would have chosen another time. In politics, the timing of this sort of announcement is never left to chance.
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting says that the bill introduced by the Minister of Canadian Heritage leaves Canadian broadcasters at the mercy of foreign competition. Friends of Canadian Broadcasting believes that the legislation needs to be more precise and more exact, as we have been calling for by the way, with requirements on the percentage of local content to be broadcast. They maintain that the change enshrines the rights of the web giants into law and neglects our cultural and journalistic sovereignty. Friends of Canadian Broadcasting also condemn the prerogative given to the CRTC to deal with the web giants. Netflix and company will be able to send their lobbyists to Ottawa to negotiate secret agreements with the CRTC, which could sanction them or compel them to comply with the legislation at their discretion.
Once again, it is not opposition MPs who are saying this, but the organizations that are directly impacted.
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting has also pointed out that this bill does not update the CBC's mandate. Bill C-10 makes no substantial changes to the CBC's mandate or governance structure. It does not put an end to political appointments to its board; it does not put an end to the political appointment of its president; it does not specify that its programming must be ad-free; and it does not clarify its obligation to produce local information and news.
The National Assembly of Quebec and Quebec are the beating heart of the French language in North America. The National Assembly asked Quebec to demand that the Government of Canada set fair and equitable quotas for original Quebec and French-language content and that they be included in the Broadcasting Act.
Clearly we are not the only ones disappointed by what is in this bill. We expected something more robust. We were expecting, and everyone agreed on this, new legislation that would modernize the Broadcasting Act, that would ensure that all stakeholders contributed equally, that would protect Canadian, Quebec and francophone content. It was expected that everyone would be contributing equally. That is not what is in the bill, though.
As the minister often points out in his speeches, there are other issues, such as hate speech on social networks and discrimination, that need to be regulated. We were surprised that these topics were not even touched on. That will come in an upcoming bill. I spoke about copyright and certain organizations. There are some urgent problems that could have been solved easily. These organizations are starving, and they were expecting these problems to be solved. Artists, writers and performers were expecting something more satisfying, but they too will have to go hungry.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage made an appearance on Tout le monde en parle to talk about his bill. Naturally, the discussion got off topic a bit. Obviously, it was not a very tough interview with Guy A. Lepage, but the minister talked about hate speech and freedom of speech.
One of the political analysts, Mathieu Bock-Côté, was one of the few who pointed out something that the minister said that was a bit disturbing. When speaking about freedom of speech, the minister said, “Our rights end where another's pain begins”.
I am mentioning this because these issues should have been worked on in conjunction with the whole issue of web giants and social media, which will come in a next step. However, there is a quite a debate going on about freedom of speech. Radio-Canada pulled an episode of La p'tite vie because it was worried certain people would be hurt. In the end, after some pressure was exerted, the episode was reinstated, and it is very funny.
We then hear the minister make this comment about freedom of expression. Where does it end, if that is what our Minister of Canadian Heritage is saying, the one who comes up with the rules and the legislation on such fundamental issues? This means that the moment another citizen is offended, everything we say has to be regulated. Does this mean that we will withdraw all comments and we can no longer allow people to express themselves freely, under the pretext that it could hurt someone? In my view, we are witnessing a shift that could undermine this freedom that we hold so dear in this country.
Let me come back to my analysis of Bill C-10, introduced in the House.
Many issues remain, such as the fact that the CRTC has vast powers, powers that should be in the hands of legislators so they can make important decisions. There is also the issue of Canadian content, which we believe should be safeguarded to ensure its presence among the players in the digital world. I would also add that French is once again being sidelined by the Liberal Party of Canada.
We will continue to examine the bill. I hope the minister will accept the various amendments that will be brought forward by all opposition parties.