Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.
I would like to present today's speech based on the perspective I bring from my previous profession as an artist.
Being a professional artist, whether a composer or writer, is an extremely difficult vocation to pursue, attain and sustain. There is a huge gap between those who have talent but have not been able to get their big break, and those who have found stardom. Secure gigs as staff writers or contracts to long-term projects are limited and competitive, and most artists pursue other careers to pay their bills.
As a composer, I have been around creative people most of my life. Artists are dreamers with a lot of discipline with their art and tireless hope to find their rainbow's end. They give their best performances whether for a three-member audience at an open mike or at an outdoor concert with hundreds of listeners. Artists do not tire of doing their best and following their dreams, because they are driven by the love of creating and the dream of sharing their work with a captive audience. For most artists, it is a labour of love.
A talented artist gets their big break when they are discovered by a large enough following that will help their career become sustainable. That is why songwriters want their music to eventually make its way to radio, television and film, and writers want their stories on TV and the big screen. However, anyone who has navigated the entertainment industry knows that there are gatekeepers who ensure media platforms give precedence to major players and minimal opportunity to the small players. They also base their content on market reach and capital.
At the end of the day, we call them the arts, but they are a business that uses the arts for capital. I am speaking neither for nor against this. There is room for commerce and art to contribute to economic prosperity together. What I am concerned about is the inequity of opportunity when industry gatekeepers determine the culture of a nation because of their mass reach. It is not a level playing field for artists who have a lot of talent and simply want to express themselves without having to succumb to the matrix for marketability that large corporations define.
Broadcasters and artists continue to have a symbiotic relationship, but not all artists are welcome to participate in this symbiotic relationship. Having CanCon regulation is a good thing to the extent that it safeguards Canadian content, but in practice CanCon is applied by corporations to Canadians who have already found their success to a large degree and who fit the marketability matrix. Fortunately, with or without CanCon, Canadians artists are still rising to the top and I am pleased by the diversity of content that broadcasters are tapping into today. There has been progress.
The digital world turned the entertainment industry upside down. It allowed independents to enter the arena without having to pass through gatekeepers. With fewer CD and DVD sales, big-name entertainment corporations and independents turned to download sales, but download sales were hurt by pirated content. With the shift to online streaming, the revenue source for creative content producers has become fluid with the prominence of Internet usage. Now Canadian broadcasters are also threatened by foreign players, as foreign content enters the Canadian digital market.
In response, the government may have thought to update the Broadcasting Act by increasing discoverability for artists and levelling the competition for broadcasters, and voila: here is Bill C-10. Originally, Bill C-10 was supposed to level the playing field by regulating large online streaming services, such as Disney+, Netflix and Amazon, to meet Canadian content requirements, just as for Canadian radio and television stations.
Through the Broadcasting Act, the CRTC is given power to issue broadcast licences to allow radio and TV stations to operate, and to regulate broadcasting while meeting conditions on the kinds of programming they can air and community standards. A portion of their programs, often 20% to 40%, is allotted to be Canadian content, and broadcasters can also be mandated to pay licence fees and contributions to the Canada media fund: a federal agency that subsidizes Canadian television and film.
The update that Bill C-10 proposes is a new category of web media called “online undertakings”, which would give the CRTC the same power to regulate the web that it has for traditional TV and radio stations without having to apply for licences. It seems simple and straightforward, but there is a glitch that could turn this seemingly benevolent piece of legislation into a Trojan horse.
Bill C-10 defines web media as “an undertaking for the transmission or retransmission of programs over the Internet for reception by the public by means of broadcasting receiving apparatus”. This definition is so vague that it could include everything from Amazon Prime to anyone with a website or a podcast. Programs under the Broadcasting Act are defined to include images, audio or a combination, of which written text is not predominant. This would refer to podcasts, photos, videos and memes, but not the written content on news articles and posts. It could include everything from a multimillion dollar film produced for Netflix to a 15-second pet video on TikTok.
I was shocked to learn that, while Conservative heritage committee members proposed an amendment to Bill C-10 to set some safeguards to limit regulations to online undertakings with more than $50 million a year in revenue and 250,000 subscribers in Canada, which would apply only to large streaming services, the Liberals rejected it. That means that not only was the government aiming at big companies but also that broadcasting is now being used to control everyday Canadians.
Section 2.1 and section 4.1 were two exemptions in Bill C-10 for social media. Section 2.1 refers to users who upload onto social media platforms. Thus, the user would not be subject to conditions like Canadian content requirements or contributions to the Canada Media Fund, which the CRTC would impose.
That exemption remains on Bill C-10, but section 4.1 was taken out of the bill. It dealt with the programs that users upload on social media, indicating that the CRTC and the Broadcasting Act could not regulate programs that only consist of user-uploaded programs, but the Liberals removed that section in the bill.
In summary, section 2.1 regulates speakers, while section 4.1 regulates speech. With the deletion of 4.1, the CRTC can regulate the content uploaded on social media and also regulate the social media platforms that allow users to publish content, just as it regulates content licensed on regular traditional stations.
The Liberals keep telling Conservatives that 2.1 will safeguard users, but the absence of 4.1 removes a safeguard from content. Bill C-10 has expanded the powers of the CRTC and the Broadcasting Act to provide grounds for the CRTC to adopt regulations requiring social media sites such as YouTube to remove content it considers offensive and discoverability regulations that would make them alter the algorithms to determine which videos are seen, more or less. Violations for these regulations could be very high for the individual and the corporation. These are the details of concern. I take issue on the infringement of personal freedoms and freedom of expression of Canadians. Even the B.C. Library Trustees Association is saying it needs clause 4.1 back. These are librarians and libraries.
As I mentioned earlier in my speech, the gap between artists and their audience is discoverability, but if the discoverability is regulated through controlled algorithms, then it creates yet another barrier for artists. Why should the CRTC define what listeners should discover instead of allowing audiences to determine that for themselves? Why is the government trying to bring a barrier between artists and their audiences?
The minister keeps saying they want Canadians to tell their stories, but why is there a gap in the bill that would allow someone or an entity to determine which stories are to be discoverable? Artists have already faced an industry that was dominated by large companies to determine what was worthy of discovering and promoting through broadcasting giants, so why should the CRTC be given access to gatekeep discoverability?
The minister says he wants to protect the languages of minorities, but the minister should know that much of ethnic programming is created by underfunded, independent producers who never see any advertising money because it goes straight to the network. Where is the support these independent grassroots producers need? Again, the small players are left behind.
The minister says artists have said Conservatives are not supportive of them, but who is the minister speaking with? I do not think he has the numbers of small players on speed dial. Were they consulted for this bill? If any artist thinks that Conservatives are not supportive of artists, it is because the Liberals have created this wedge by refusing to reinstate 4.1. They are forcing Conservatives to bow for democracy, and we are the only ones who seem to be doing that. The Liberals have created a custody battle that I do not want to be a part of.
I want to support content, and I want to support our broadcasters, but why does it have to be a battle between choosing between them and democracy? We put forward a motion at committee calling for new charter statements to be provided, but the Liberals voted to shut it down.
I cannot help but wonder if the Liberals have an agenda for omitting 4.1. Artists who are still striving to find a rainbow are discriminated against and exploited. They face financial instability for following their hearts. Most will never get fully compensated for the investments they have made in their careers.
If the Liberals had simply fixed 4.1, I would not have my suspicions. The fact that they have not done something so simple with something that was originally there, makes me come to the conclusion that they are playing political games against Conservatives, at the expense of struggling artists.