Madam Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-10, an act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts. In short, Bill C-10 would create a regulatory mess of our streaming and broadcasting industry in Canada.
I understand that one of the main reasons the bill is being brought forward is because it has been so long since our broadcasting regulations have been updated and our current policies are extremely out of date. Therefore, we need to update the Broadcasting Act. However, Bill C-10 as it currently stands is a regulatory mess. Real harms could come from the legislation, and I will use my time today to focus on how the bill is far broader than many realize and certainly broader than the minister has claimed. This has led to a lack of understanding of the consequences of the bill as it relates to the general public.
I will start with addressing the limitations that the government claims are integrated into the bill so that it is not too overreaching.
The minister said in the House of Commons, “user-generated content, new content and video games would not be subject to the new regulations. Furthermore, entities would need to reach a significant economic threshold before any regulation can be imposed." This claim by the minister is false, as no specific economic threshold would be established by the bill, which means that all internet streaming services carried in Canada, domestically and foreign-owned, would be subject to Canadian regulation. This means that if someone has Canadian subscribers, this law would apply, regardless of where the service provider is located.
The limitations the minister is referring to are that the bill would give the CRTC the power to exempt services from regulation. It would also leave it entirely up to the CRTC to establish thresholds and regulations once the bill is enacted. However, members should make no mistake; handing this half-baked legislation to the CRTC is not a fix or the same as claiming that the bill contains significant economic thresholds.
It is probably fair to say that the CRTC will not limit its regulatory approach to companies that generate large revenues in Canada as they will want to generate more tax revenue in order for the CRTC to determine who might be exempt. It is only likely to require that smaller foreign service providers register with the CRTC and provide it with confidential subscriber information, revenue data and whatever else the CRTC may ask for.
This policy could have unintended consequences and internet streaming services thinking about entering the Canadian marketplace could put their plans on hold until the legislation has been implemented for some time and until they have a better understanding of what they will face from the regulatory perspective. This could lead to less competition, less choice and an oligopoly market where Canadian consumers are overcharged.
Further on this economic threshold, the bill would leave the CRTC open to establish its own thresholds. Then what happens if they establish a high threshold that limits it to targeting a handful of large companies like Netflix, Prime Video, etc.? These are American companies, and the policy then would invite a trade challenge.
As I quoted earlier, the minister said that there would be exemptions for user-generated content, news content and video games and that none of those would be subject to new regulations. There is a reference to the user-generated content in the bill, but it covers the individuals, not necessarily the sites themselves.
YouTube, as an example, is only exempt if it limits itself to user-generated content. Once it moves outside that realm and has subscription services, as the site currently does, then it would be caught by this legislation. Therefore, there would not be as many sites and services that are 100% completely excluded from this legislation.
Maybe now members can see what I am getting at when I say the bill is a regulatory mess.
Continuing to the video game side, there is no reference in the legislation, just an assurance by the government that video games will be exempt. However, we have heard assurances from the Liberal government before and know its assurances do not carry much weight.
On the issue of news content, the minister said that would be excluded too, but once again that is not the case.
Online sites that offer news in video and audio format fall into this grey area, where they could be interpreted to fall under the bill. The language surrounding news content in the bill is confusing to say the least.
For example, it says that news sites that do not predominantly display text are not captured by the act. What it does not say is that those same news sites that rely on audio and video would be regulated by the act. The potential scope of news site regulation under the bill is wide-ranging as it covers everything from small local media sites to podcasts. Therefore, when the minister said that news content was excluded, that is just not true.
Whether we are talking about Rebel News, PressProgress or anything in between, it is important that online news not be affected by regulatory burdens intended to target large companies. That would be doing the exact opposite of levelling the playing field as the government claims this bill is supposed to do. Regulating Internet content in any way sets a dangerous precedent and is a threat to the freedom of expression. We must ensure the bill would not do that.
I have only a few minutes left and I have not even begun to address the massive costs associated with the implementation and enforcement of Bill C-10. I am sure some of my colleagues will go into further detail on the costs, so I will leave it with them. However, the massive cost of this program will no doubt be passed along to the consumers.
Since the legislation was introduced to the House, several of my constituents have emailed my office expressing their concerns with the legislation. Constituents fear that in attempting to level the playing field, the government would only make things worse. They say, “All [Bill] C-10 will accomplish is further entrenching the power of the legacy media companies who already benefit from today's rigid CanCon/Canada Media-Fund structure, while leaving small and indie new media Canadian creators without meaningful government support.”
I absolutely agree that it is important we level the playing field. I think most members have the same sentiment. However, how we do that is where the Conservatives differ from the Liberals. As always, the Liberals want to bring in more taxes and punish ordinary Canadians who like to unwind and watch TV and movies. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have a leader who is committed to levelling the playing field, but to do so by eliminating the goods and services taxes on subscriptions to Canadian digital platforms.
The government needs to step up and make clarifications in some of the areas I have outlined. As I have said, it seems we are trying to achieve the same goal here, but have different ideological approaches on how we get there. It is important that the legislation define the term “significant economic threshold”, and stop passing the buck to the CRTC.
I welcome questions and comments from my colleagues, and hope we can work together to pass a bill that would benefit the majority of Canadians and does not have unintended consequences.