Madam Speaker, I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to discuss Bill C-11 on online streaming. This is a modest beginning that will address certain aspects of what I call “living with the digital giants”.
I would like to give a shout out to the artisans in Abitibi—Témiscamingue, in particular Rosalie Chartier-Lacombe’s team at the Petit Théâtre du Vieux Noranda, who is currently hosting the Avantage Numérique forum with a view to positioning the croissant boréal, a broad area of francophone identity and culture, as a centre of excellence for creative energy, expertise and talent.
Today’s new bill acknowledges that the growth of streaming services has radically transformed our way of watching television series and films and listening to music. It also acknowledges that certain foreign companies stream in Canada with no regulations or obligation to contribute to Canadian and Quebec stories and music. They distribute them with impunity without paying royalties.
Like many Bloc Québécois members who have spoken about this bill, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-11. We have been discussing the reform of the Broadcasting Act in Ottawa for more than 30 years.
I want to mention the Yale report, which was produced by the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel. Bill C-11 is a first response to this report. The Yale report was very well received by Quebec’s cultural community, which wanted measures to be adopted quickly.
If someone says that the fox has gotten into the henhouse, it is obvious that the warning should be taken seriously. For more than 20 years, the web giants have been slowly choking the life out of Canadian and Quebec productions, as well as our written and visual media. We will agree that it is high time we did something and responded in such a way as to give Quebec and Canadian companies some elbow room.
The airwaves are a public good that must serve the people. In the coming decades, we will have to be able to recognize ourselves on these airwaves.
We know that the issues go far beyond financial considerations. The funding will have to be increased to ensure that Quebeckers and francophones in other provinces are better served in terms of less tangible aspects that are just as important, such as the protection of the French language and, of course, Quebec culture. Indigenous peoples are also facing similar challenges to their culture and language.
In Quebec, this raises quite a few questions, which is why we need to be vigilant and thorough in order to protect and better serve the Quebec nation. Bill C-11 addresses the question of Canadian ownership in a very different way than did the Yale report in its recommendations 52 and 53.
For more than 90 years, successive governments have always been in favour of Canadian control over communications, and the Yale report supports that position.
The space we are officially giving to foreign companies right now must also be regulated so that they do not have an advantage over our own companies, which have served us well over the years. This is a risk, and I want to stress that it must be controlled, monitored and handled very thoroughly.
To date, there have been numerous reports in the media, and several groups expressed they would like to see this bill pass.
Bill C-11 improves funding for new Quebec productions, and the industry desperately needs such funding. No one is questioning the benefits for producers in Quebec’s cultural sector, and I, too, am very pleased. That was the main component of the Bloc Québécois’s platform for the arts and culture sector.
In this context, Bill C-11 is the first in a series of three bills that will pave the way for the long-awaited reform, with rules that will regulate the business models of online streaming companies.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage recently tabled a second bill, Bill C-18. This bill will enshrine principles that will guarantee the newspaper industry sources of revenue based on the reuse of the news items they produce and ensure compliance with the principles of Quebec’s cultural sovereignty in the dissemination of information. I hope that Bill C-18 will be passed quickly and that there will be a place for regional media.
It will be hard work to analyze all the repercussions of the changes proposed by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, for the simple reason that we will have to know the government’s broader intentions, which we do not. Right now, the government has decided to separate the elements of this reform into several bills. There is therefore no overall vision, and we are taking small steps forward. This creates expectations in the industries affected by changes that are not all being introduced at the same time. We do not know what is in the other bills.
Are we pitting Quebec and Canadian companies against each other at the expense of the development of essentially American companies? The devil is often in the details.
At the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology, we have been hearing testimony for several years about how we have to give businesses the tools they need to have free rein within the same ecosystem. The Yale report recognized that vertically integrated Canadian businesses have very specific needs and that those needs will have to be carefully studied so that we can understand them and give Quebec and Canadian broadcasters a leg up.
One thing that keeps coming up when we talk to Quebec and Canadian broadcasters is the regulatory burden and the costs that broadcasters have to bear.
It is important to understand that Canadian broadcasters are not opposed to the broadcast policy per se; they have been clear on that. What they pay goes into the public coffers and does not necessarily support broadcasters.
For example, it was recommended that we review the licensing fees imposed on Canadian broadcasters under Part II of the act. Imagine if Canadian businesses had access to that $110 million paid annually to the federal government to produce first-run content. Let us therefore hold foreign broadcasters to account.
There have been a multitude of mistakes made over the past 30 years, and the successive governments let their guard down with respect to the fundamental issue of cultural sovereignty, which essentially makes us who we are.
Like many players in this sector of the economy, we should have no doubt or hesitation when it comes to setting a higher bar for foreign corporations. It is high time to have another look at the weight of the regulatory burden borne by Quebec and Canadian corporations.
I would like to quote Alain Saulnier, journalist and former director of French information programming at Radio‑Canada. He said, “I am not convinced that everyone has grasped the significance of this domination, the extent to which we have allowed the invasion and destruction of part of our way of life, our democracy, our economy, our culture and our language in the case of Quebec. My plea is to resist.” I had the opportunity to serve with him on the board of Juripop, and I would like to take this opportunity to send him my regards.
I will now talk about the transparency of the CRTC and about representation. That is another problem.
The CRTC has come under fire for the lack of transparency in its decision-making process. The guidelines that the government will issue to the CRTC for monitoring new foreign broadcasters must be made available to the public. Any challenges they launch must be made public. We must also take advantage of this reflection process to ensure that Quebeckers who are familiar with Quebec culture and the traditional Quebec news industry are involved.
The same would hold true for indigenous culture. If it can be done for the Supreme Court, I do not see why it cannot be done in this context. This is about having a safety net for Canada's and Quebec's cultural sovereignty.
To conclude, I would like to say that protecting Quebec culture is at the very core of my commitment as a member of the Bloc Québécois.
Broadcasting is undoubtedly the most effective tool for dissemination and helps define our national identity. Technology is evolving, and the rapid adoption of online content by a greater number of consumers means we need to reflect on rules that allow players in the production industry to operate freely and ensure that creating Quebec content in French remains viable.
We cannot afford to not overhaul the rules governing this digital space. As with other bills that affect Quebec culture, our study of the Broadcasting Act reform needs to be done with Quebec in mind.