Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to be able to join the debate today on Bill C-10, the government's bill that purports to modernize Canada's Broadcasting Act. It raises many issues.
I have certainly enjoyed listening to the debate and seeing the passion that colleagues from all parties on all sides of the House have for Canadian culture and for the particular linguistic or regional identities that animate their corner of what constitutes Canadian culture. I want to start by identifying the objectives of the bill and then highlighting some of the challenges and some of the concerns that we have in the Conservative caucus with respect to Bill C-10.
As I said, Bill C-10 proposes to modernize the Canadian Broadcasting Act and certainly Conservatives recognize the need for change, modernization and updating, but we have some significant concerns about the way the bill fails to live up to its stated objectives. I am struck again and again by this.
I think a particular thing about the government and the way its members speak about their proposals is that they often want to focus on the objectives of what they are doing instead of on the substance of what they are doing. Regularly, government members talk about the objective being this or the objective being that, but it falls to us in the opposition to then point out that good intentions are not enough. It is not the intention but the text of the bill that becomes law, and the failure of the text of the bill to live up to the intention of the bill creates big problems for those who are then impacted by the measures that have been put in place.
More precisely, under the ambit of modernization, the bill confirms that online broadcasting is covered under the act. It seeks to introduce additional provisions for encouraging more diverse content in Canadian broadcasting, including content that is reflective of the experiences of Canadians around gender equality, as well as those of LGBTQ2+, racialized communities, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples. That is one of the identified objectives.
It purports to create a more flexible approach to regulation that would allow the CRTC to establish rules for all broadcasting services that operate in Canada. I will speak more about this in a few minutes, but, when the government talks about a more flexible regulatory approach while in the process of giving powers to an external agency, this should be a red flag for all of us.
Effectively, what this gets at, in coded language, is the fact that vaguely worded legislation is giving powers to the CRTC. These powers are not as clearly or precisely described as I think most Canadians would expect them to be. The language that the government uses around regulatory flexibility is something that I think we should watch out for and understand what is underneath it.
The legislation also purports to “modernize the CRTC's enforcement powers [and] update oversight and information sharing provisions to reinforce the CRTC’s role as a modern and independent regulator”. What is the context in which we see this legislation, and what do we make of these purported objectives?
One thing that all of us as members of Parliament should think about is how we are defining broadcasting in the world of changing technology. In a sense, as a member of Parliament, I am a broadcaster. While I do not think this speech is being livestreamed on my Facebook currently, although obviously sometimes we do that, it is likely that clips of what I am saying will end up being broadcast to my some 30,000 followers on Facebook, as well as possibly on Twitter and Instagram. Therefore, I am a small broadcaster. There are many people out there who have podcasts or YouTube channels who are using the unique power they have through social media and other channels to broadcast their own opinions. This is really a revolutionary power for everyday citizens to have.
Historically, when we spoke about regulating broadcasting, it was because there was a limited amount of bandwidth in terms of radio and television air waves. Decisions had to be made collectively about who had access to that bandwidth. There was a hope that certain content would be broadcast in that way.
However, now we are living in a world of unlimited broadcast capacity on the Internet, where people can access more of the different kinds of content that they want. That world of unlimited broadcast capacities lowers the barriers to entry in terms of becoming a broadcaster and being a person who is broadcasting their views to a wider and wider audience. This is the new world we are living in.
There are many cases where somebody working out of their basement on their own YouTube channel may have far more views and importance as a voice than certain “mainstream” networks and channels, so how do we define what constitutes a broadcaster? If somebody is running a very popular YouTube channel where they express their own views, are we going to expect them, through the CRTC, to have a certain proportion of a certain kind of content? Is that where we want to be going with modernizing this act?
I think most members would accept that it is not particularly reasonable for that to happen, and that the idea of prescribing parameters around broadcasting is aimed at only the very large producers and purveyors of content, but that is a slippery space to be in. It raises, I think, some questions on the regulations around the parameters of content in a world where the barriers to entry are so low. We are not dealing with the same limited supply of bandwidth in terms of television or radio that we dealt with historically.
Under the label of modernization, this bill brings the online world into the existing legislative framework, but I do not think that it engages enough with this question of whether or not the current frameworks are aligned with the kind of world we find ourselves in today. I would be concerned about the possibility that Canadians who are not running big budget operations, who are just broadcasting their views and making content of different kinds, would become subject to CRTC intervention if the level of public attention crossed a certain threshold.
I want to flag as well a continuing issue concerning broadcast regulation, and that is this issue of market demand and how we define Canadian content. It is my observation and my contention that there is actually a strong market demand for more and more diverse content. There is a great deal of interest among people I talk to in learning more about indigenous culture and indigenous communities. I think there is a real demand for that content, and that is good to see.
I think there is growing interest among people in my Alberta constituency to learn French and consume content in French. That market demand is really necessary for the increasing knowledge of those things, because if there is no market demand for these shows and messages to be produced, then people will not consume them.
It is one thing to say someone may want more diverse content on a major online video platform. The question comes down to, though, whether people will consume that content. If people are eager to consume that content then, presumably, the incentives will exist for there to be increased production of that content. As parliamentarians, I think we all want to see increasing diversity and to see that reflected in media.
I also think we should recognize there is demand for that content and some of that increase in diversity is happening. It will continue to happen, naturally, but I think it is something we should be aware of and looking at. We should be seen putting in place policies to reasonably incentivize that development, without giving the CRTC powers that are excessive, in terms of its intervention.
Then there is the question of how we define Canadian content, or how we define content in terms of whether it is reflective of different diverse communities. Something that I looked at in university was precise definitions of what Canadian content is. It always struck me as a little odd that we could have a story that takes place in California, and that is the film, but then we have an actor who was born in Canada playing a prominent role, or we have a director who is Canadian, or maybe it was filmed in a location in Canada, even though the story purports to take place in California. However, by some definitions, that film is defined as Canadian content because of the national backgrounds of some of the people involved, even though the story that is being told is not actually about Canada.
When we talk about indigenous content, I think there are some questions that perhaps should be looked at by the committee in terms of what is meant by this. If we have an indigenous actor, but the story does not show that character as being indigenous, is that indigenous content? If we have a story that purports to be about indigenous culture, but does not represent that culture accurately, and that particular show was not created through engagement with indigenous communities, does that still constitute indigenous content?
The challenge is that at an individual level we might be able to look at whether a particular representation qualifies or not and come to our own conclusions. When we have regulatory definitions of these concepts, it can raise some significant problems in terms of whether the regulations, in the way they are applied, actually achieve the intended objectives. I think that is something that members need to think about as well, as we study and go deeper into this legislation.
I think there many problems with this vague bill, which seems to be typical of Liberal bills.
The bill is vague with regard to the powers of the CRTC. First of all, it does not guarantee that foreign tech giants like Google and Facebook will follow the same rules as Canadian tech companies. Some people have accused these foreign tech giants of misusing Canadians' personal information and censoring some Canadians' opinions. Unfortunately, this bill will allow the tech giants to continue their unfettered reign over Canadians.
I am also concerned about the lack of specific guidelines regarding Canadian content and the distribution of funding to Canadian media. We know that the French language is under threat in Canada, as my colleagues have emphasized in recent days. Canada is a proudly bilingual country, and our French culture, which has such a strong presence in Quebec, is the key to Canada's bilingual future.
Canadian French-language media outlets have a wealth of unique cultural content. That is why the Conservatives will work to preserve and maintain funding for French cultural programming once we are elected.
I am proud to be speaking in French today, even though it is not my first language. Many people in my province of Alberta enrol their children in French immersion programs because they want their children to proudly speak both official languages.
I am also concerned that this bill does not modernize copyright. At a time when the Internet dominates our lives, it is crucial that content produced by Canadians be protected against unfair use such as plagiarism.
Canadian artists work hard to produce high-quality content, and we ensure that their rights are fully protected. Unlike the Liberals, we Conservatives believe in modernized copyright legislation, new measures to preserve the French language, and protecting Canadians from foreign tech giants that need to assume their responsibilities.
Once our leader is elected prime minister after the next election, our Conservative government would eliminate the GST on Canadian digital platforms to support and promote Canadian media content that showcases the beauty of Canadian culture. We understand that proper CRTC legislation is important for the benefit of our nation and its people, and we wish that the Liberals understood that too.
The Conservative Party is a national party that is there for all Canadians. We are the only party with MPs in every region of the country. We are proud to have Alberta MPs who, like me, stand up the French language, and Quebec MPs who stand up for oil workers. We are the party that unites all Canadians and respects the unique characteristics of each region.
The French language is important not just to Quebec. There is a strong francophone community in my riding in Alberta, and I love working with that community. There are francophones as well as francophiles. There are communities of francophones who have been there a long time, and there are francophone communities full of newcomers.
I invite my francophone colleagues, especially those in the Bloc Québécois, to come to Alberta to discover our vibrant francophone community, as well as to visit Fort McMurray.
I would like to reiterate some of those points in English.
I am very proud to be part of a Conservative Party that is studying these issues carefully, diligently and recommending amendments, identifying problems and looking at the text as well as the intentions. I am proud to be part of a Conservative Party that is serious about uniting Canadians from coast to coast. We have MPs all across the country, Anglophones and Francophones, who recognize and defend the importance of English and French in all regions of the country. Also, we are a party that stands up for jobs and the economy in all regions of the country.
As a final note, I want to briefly touch on this. It is striking to me that the legislation speaks about the representation of people with disabilities, and it is very important it does that. However, people from all kinds of disability organizations are descending on Parliament Hill. They are deeply concerned about how the poorly drafted Bill C-7 entrenches discrimination against people with disabilities.
At the justice committee, so many different disability organizations have spoken out about those problems, calling for real and meaningful changes. The best the government can do for people with disabilities is to include in an amendment to the Broadcasting Act an expectation for representation of people with disabilities.
Sure, that is a nice to have, but if the government were really listening to people from diverse communities facing particular challenges, including people with disabilities, it would be doing far more than including a line in the Broadcasting Act. It would be taking the steps that are necessary, and that groups have been calling for, to support the dignified life for people living with disabilities. It would support reasonable amendments that have been put forward by disability organizations. It would be engaging in proper consultation instead of shutting it off.
I look forward to continuing debate on the bill.