I'd like to say a quick word before we get into amendment CPC‑9.2. My purpose isn't to delay the process, but to express my real displeasure with what's happening right now. Some might suggest that this is so because of all that has happened in the last few days, but I want to emphasize that we are all human beings. We work in Parliament, but we also have families. The employees who work with us and try to do their jobs in a professional manner also have personal lives.
Last Monday, you told us that the next meeting would be on Friday. It's now Wednesday, so the House starts at 2:00 p.m. It's my responsibility, it's part of my role as a parliamentarian in a hybrid Parliament. At an hour's notice, I received the notice of this meeting. I didn't have access to my documents because I'd left them at my apartment. These documents help me do my job. Our work requires us all to do a lot of research.
I think it shows contempt for the work of members of Parliament to give us one hour's notice on such an important issue. We don't have much time, and a gag order has been imposed on us, which has never happened in the last 20 years. Parliament isn't supposed to interfere with committee work; committee work is supposed to be independent.
From what I understand, even you, Mr. Chair, were not aware of this. The decision to hold a surprise meeting was made by various whips. This has implications for all of us.
Tonight, after my day at the House, I had planned to pick up my daughter in Montreal. I haven't seen her in three weeks. Now the whole process is being delayed. I'm changing my entire schedule. Some people will say that it's no big deal and that they have the right to say what they want about politicians. But politicians have personal lives too. We usually have meetings scheduled and work to do.
It's true that in some cases, procedures are deliberately slowed down. In other committees, the Liberals are professionals at this. We've done that in some cases, but always in the proper manner of committee procedure and by the means available to us when we are dissatisfied or have a message to communicate.
Currently, this meeting requires the presence of staff, interpreters and the committee clerk, among others. In addition, other committee meetings have had to be cancelled. Some of my colleagues are frustrated because they had work to do in these other committee meetings. The scheduled meetings of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans were cancelled at the last minute to free up that time slot for this meeting, which the Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois whips arranged among themselves without even notifying our committee chair, according to the information I received. This is unacceptable.
I find this work incredible in the context of the study of this bill which, as we have been denouncing for so long, attacks the very foundations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This has nothing to do with an attack on culture, even though some would have us believe that it does.
In short, I wanted to take three minutes to share this with you. You all know I'm in shape and working out. Using my GPS, I've calculated all the trips I've had to make back and forth between the House, where I am on duty, and this committee room, to fulfill all my responsibilities.
The situation we're in is unbelievable. It's the last straw at the end of the parliamentary session. This isn't the first time a similiar situation has occurred, by the way.
Is there any way to make some kind of statement to support your work as chair, to have decorum and to ensure that parliamentarians from all parties can work in partnership and collegiality? We all want to be in a good mood, to be able to laugh together and try to lighten the mood, but the current situation remains inconceivable.
I, for one, am frustrated today because I will have to call my daughter to tell her that I won't be in Montreal until almost 11:00 p.m. tonight. After that, I'll have to drive another two and a half hours to my riding, which will affect my day tomorrow. Also, I just received notice that we have another meeting tomorrow. All of this is on top of the rest of my schedule.
I wanted to point out that we're human beings, too, even though we're politicians, even though people think they have the right to attack us as much as they want and to say whatever they want about us. We have to take the hits one after the other. I find it unfortunate that the whips have agreed on our work without even informing us.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Chair, and also for welcoming me to the heritage committee.
I've been following the procedure of this bill through various stages for some time now and I am concerned about the broadness of scope and the serious concerns that many well-placed advisers have brought up. I could speak to that at length. I will start by speaking to the amendment that my colleague brought forward.
On this bill, I just don't understand why the government and members on this committee aren't supportive of putting some restrictions and limitations on who this impacts. Again, some of the amendments that have been defeated at this committee would, I think, take away some of the fears of Canadians who are rightly asking questions about what this means for them.
Some of us have served longer than others here in the House and in Parliament, so I'll just speak to my experience. When I started my public service, social media was really still in its infancy in terms of its transformation of how we consume information, but today, the reality is that traditional broadcasting and traditional ways of creating Canadian content have been disrupted, much like Uber disrupted the taxi industry.
As parliamentarians, I think we have a responsibility to ask ourselves if putting in place certain government regulations benefits the country and creators as that disruption comes through, or if it's actually hindering the emergence of new voices, new content and Canadians actually engaging in cultural activities.
I do think this amendment that my colleague has put forward actually would benefit many Canadians and I want to explain why.
My colleague Ms. McPherson raised the issue of consulting with Quebec cultural influencers. I can name one off the top off my head: Cynthia Dulude. She has over 600,000 YouTube subscribers. I'm sure she has been able to monetize her account. This is a voice that wouldn't necessarily be eligible for the current structure of proceeding that we have. Rather than supporting her, this bill would allow the CRTC in many ways to essentially deem her to be a broadcaster. That's why I think amendments like this are beneficial to enshrining the rights of women especially, who have been typically excluded from the way we've done things in Canada for a long period of time.
When you look at the progression of legislation and regulations over the years, I fully support the strides that were taken to ensure that Canadian culture, content and heritage were promoted, but this bill doesn't work with the disruption that has been created in the industry. It just seeks to enshrine an old way of doing things, and in doing so, it marginalizes Canadian voices when we're looking at where the football is going to be10 or 20 years from now.
In a lot of ways, the way that social media has disrupted the development of Canadian content has really democratized the creation of content. It's a really exciting thing. There are voices that never had a platform before that now do have a platform and don't have to go through gatekeepers. I think that's a very positive thing for Canada, not a negative thing for Canada.
I understand why the gatekeepers want to gatekeep. I understand why the gatekeepers, the incumbent telco companies, those who have a stake in making money off grants and contributions without really promoting the advancement of heritage activities, want to protect the status quo, because they profit off it. Why can't we do both?
The amendments that my colleagues have been suggesting would allow us to support influencers, support those who have found platforms on social media, and protect them but also allow the current way of doing things to exist.
I guess, maybe, this is a different a way of looking at things. I'm glad we're having this debate, but I don't think that government should exist to regulate away disruptive influences in the marketplace that actually benefit Canadians.
We often see this. When I was vice-chair of the industry committee, I made some pretty bold statements about how we need to potentially look at disrupting the way that Internet is provide in Canada in order to address rural broadband issues, even access within urban centres.
You see those incumbents that benefit from the monopolistic structure that government protects. They are going to push back at that because their profit models are dependant on it. Again, I almost feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone here because we have the left arguing for the propping up of a monopolistic structure that doesn't benefit the people in any way, shape or form. I think it just benefits large companies that, arguably, I'm not sure have done the best job of promoting Canadian content and culture.
We have the opportunity here in Parliament to rethink how government interacts with content creators. Instead, we get this bill that seeks to enshrine the status quo. I don't know why we couldn't be looking at taking the best of the status quo, like supporting.... Ms. McPherson brought up the issue of Quebec content creators. I don't understand why we can't be looking at regulations and laws that support those content creators but at the same time acknowledging that disruption has occurred and ensuring that we're protecting those new voices and those new ways of doing things. I really think that's what is at the heart of the amendment that has been put forward today.
There was an assertion made that there was no research done on this particular amendment. I know that to be false. There have been white papers drafted around the world. I'm thinking of one. I can't remember the reference off the top of my head because, much like my colleague, Alain, I'm jumping into this meeting at the last minute, but it's important for me to be here on behalf of my constituents. I know that there was a white paper done out of Australia that did look at certain threshold limits based on the disruption that had occurred in their national market and a desire to protect those voices.
The account that I mentioned out of Quebec.... They're not a broadcaster; they're creating videos and giving a voice that is unique to their lens and their perspective on certain issues. For the government to try to come in and use a.... Frankly, we could have a whole other discussion about the CRTC's being an outdated institution that is desperately in need of reform. However, this amendment would actually limit the scope of what that outdated institution could do to the benefit of intersectional voices that all of a sudden have a platform in Canada.
I really think that if we don't put amendments like this in place, we're going to look back 10 years from now.... I think that Canadians will look back at this debate by parliamentarians and these types of amendments, and the parliamentarian who don't support these amendments and say, “Why were they supporting the old way of doing things? Why weren't they supporting my voice? Why did they regulate speech?”
Why should the CRTC have a say over individual YouTube accounts? Why wouldn't you put clarity to this? If the government is true when it says there is no intention to regulate individual social media accounts, why wouldn't we put those safeguards in there?
This isn't the Criminal Code. This is policy that influences how business will be undertaken, and it's the right to freedom of speech.
I'm going to reference another example that I've been deeply uncomfortable with: the subsidies for print media in Canada. I believe it's very important for our country to have a strong journalistic culture that holds all of us to account, regardless of political stripe. However, when the government puts in place a fund to support media and then it picks the recipients of funds, there's a direct linkage there. A direct bias is created and you no longer have independence in journalism. That's wrong. We can sit here and vociferously disagree on policy and politics, but we should be agreeing that we need independence of media. There needs to be a separation—a clear delineation—between media, the speech of Canadians and government.
There has been a lot of discussion about how the government should regulate hate speech. That's another thorny area because there is a lot of hate, even today. As a parliamentarian, I have received a lot of hate in the last 24 hours for statements I've made that I strongly believe in. That doesn't mean I should be taking away the right of people to make those statements, unless they fall under existing Criminal Code provisions related to libel or hate speech. We already have the Criminal Code for this.
If you port that concept over to Bill , why would the regulator be seeking to limit the activities of individual voices and Canadians? That's why I think Bill is a flawed piece of legislation. I don't support it in general, but at least the amendments that my colleagues are putting forward seek to separate this concept out.
Honestly, the point I want to make at this committee on behalf of my constituents is that you have this nexus right now where historically over time our country and the government have sought ways to promote Canadian content. However, we've had such a disruption in how that content is produced and consumed that porting the old style of supporting content creation onto a disrupted model is opening the door for government abuses on freedom of speech.
That's why it is so important for us to pass these amendments. There needs to be more structure. There needs to be more clarity. Even for user accounts that.... Consider the Quebec account that I mentioned earlier. I am sure she has a good business from that. I'm sure she is making money off of it. Good for her. That's awesome; that's fantastic. Why would the government seek to limit her voice?
These amendments give clarity and certainty for an emerging area of business that most Canadians are just waking up to. For us, it's about understanding that putting “influencer” on a CV is a thing. Influencing is a thing. People make money off of it. It's a new way of advertising. Yet, I feel like we are sitting here as legislators looking at this with a lens that is 30 years old. That's a huge problem.
I understand that there might be some really rote, basic politics. There might be a polarization here to score quick political wins one way or the other. However, I encourage colleagues on this call, from the bottom of my heart, to look past that and ask, what's in the best interest of this country? We should be seeking to support Canadian content creation, definitely ensuring that we are supporting French-language content creation as well. It should be all content creation, including marginalized voices that typically have not had platforms because of the gatekeepers. We should be seeking to do that while ensuring that we are acknowledging the fact that the structure of how we create content has fundamentally changed.
The amendment at hand that my colleague proposed puts clear limitations on and structure around intent. If the government's intent is X, Y or Z, this amendment makes sense, as did the one that was defeated in this committee. I was so disappointed. I honestly thought that the government was going to put this debate to bed by proposing the amendment that was defeated earlier that was in the media. I was shocked. My colleagues on here who have known me for a while, from all political stripes, know that it takes a lot to shock me. I was actually shocked.
Again, there are winners and losers with Bill , and why would we be doing that? Why would we be picking winners and losers? Why would we be picking voices?
What I worry about is that groups who seek to promote the status quo have a very well-funded lobby. I know they have been in front of many of you. They seek meetings. They seek to spin their position.
The people who are emerging in this market disruption—the voices such as the account I mentioned—don't have a lobby. They don't have a well-funded group that's coming in and talking about how they're going to influence votes in our ridings. That is why I'm here at the heritage committee today. I'm trying to cut beyond the political bluster to try and honestly, from a place of reason, say, “Look to 10 years from now. Look 10 years from now and understand that if we put this legislation in place without some definitions...”.
. They're not coming in and talking about the polling based on the popularity of a spun question within our ridings. They're just doing their thing. They're new content creators. They don't have that lobby, but that doesn't mean we don't have an obligation to protect them.
The amendments that are being put forward here are designed to protect those people. They are people who haven't had a voice in our previous iterations of cultural content creation, and they don't have a voice with these big lobby groups right now either. Why wouldn't we be protecting them? Why wouldn't we add this in? It makes so much sense.
I really think we should go back to the drawing board. I get that parties are set in here. However, if we don't get this right, now, I really think we have opened up Canadian influencers to a chill on freedom of speech. I think that is absolutely possible. We have not done our jobs as legislators here to tell the regulator what they can and can't do. We haven't done the systemic reform of the regulator that's necessary. That's a problem as well. We also haven't.... We are trying to impose the regulatory structure of a system that was put in place before cellphones existed on to a disrupted system of how we create content. That is why these amendments are being put forward.
I would just say this to colleagues: If you don't like the amendments, if you don't like the set thresholds of subscribers or the advertising thresholds, then propose a subamendment. Bring forward other research. But this bill, as it is right now, is bunk. It needs to be fixed. It can't pass without this happening.
What I'm hearing, from watching the media coverage of this, is that there is a desire among all parties to ensure that Canadian content is created, is funded, is supported, particularly French-language content creation, which needs to be shared across the country.
I think there's a shared desire here.... I also hope that there's a shared understanding that we shouldn't be rushing to put in place systems that could inadvertently put a chill on our freedom of speech.
I'll put it this way, and I've said this to people: For those of you who were in Parliament under Prime Minister Stephen Harper and vociferously railed against him, if you would be uncomfortable with Stephen Harper having the power to regulate individual social media content, then you should also be deeply uncomfortable with Justin Trudeau being able to do that. No person, no government, should have the right to regulate freedom of speech in the way that this does.
At the same time, we should also be understanding that regular content creators have a right to proceed through this disruption. Canada went through a very sort of unsettled period of time—three to four years—when Uber disrupted the market.
There was a lot of back and forth, admittedly at the municipal level, about what bylaws should be put in place to regulate Uber and how taxi drivers were affected through that disruption, but at no time during that debate were higher-level issues like freedom of speech threatened. That's really what we have here with this bill.
I implore my colleagues here to really think about passing smart amendments. Again, if there's a problem with the amendment, propose a subamendment rather than just dismissing it outright.
I understand that people like Michael Geist and the former CRTC commissioner might be irritants to the government right now, but I know these people. They're not partisans by any stretch. These are informed people who have been working in the space for a long period of time and genuinely care about the flaws in this legislation, because they're coming from a place of academic understanding that this is flawed, deeply flawed, to the point where it is detrimental to the country. They're not doing this from a place of partisanship or politicking; they are genuinely concerned. We have a job as legislators to listen to those concerns in this period of time.
I know that my colleague Mr. Arnold wants to get on. This rant has been brewing for some time for me. It is so crucial that we get this right.
I would put this on the record. Colleagues, I'm sure many of you watched the American Senate committee hearings, over a couple of years ago now, when Mark Zuckerberg appeared before a Senate committee and the questions that he was asked were so pedantic. You could see him trying to explain to legislators what an email was. I'm being slightly facetious, but not that much.
I just feel as though we are here right now and the debate that we're having is so mired in a lack of understanding of this space, as opposed to really thinking about what the role of government is in the broader discussion of the disruption that has happened in media, in how we consume information and how we create information. I implore you that rather than just importing a regulatory structure that is 40 years old onto a beautiful new way of doing things, in a way that could put a serious chill on it, that silences voices of Canadians who have finally found a platform—
Mr. Champoux, I had said I was wrapping up, but now I feel like I need to explain a few more things, unfortunately. If you had given me another 10 seconds, I would have closed. I was on the grand finale, but perhaps now I will take a few more minutes to discuss the motion at hand.
Again, to colleagues who are looking at the amendment, it reads:
9.2 (1) This Act does not apply in respect of online undertakings that have fewer than 500,000 subscribers in Canada or receive less than $80 million per year in advertising, subscription, usage or membership revenues in Canada from the transmission or retransmission of programs over the Internet.
(2) Every two years after the day on which subsection (1) comes into force, the Commission must, with the approval of the Governor in Council, review the subscriber and revenue thresholds and may make regulations to increase them as required.
This is smart because it actually puts in place form and substance in a bill where these did not exist before. This amendment talks about what the materiality principle is in relation to the regulator, and that has not been described anywhere else in this law. Again, there are bodies of knowledge and work that have been undertaken, I think, to support that as a starting point.
What I like about the structure of this amendment is that it says, here's a starting point, but on a biannual basis there's a requirement for the commission to review whether or not that's adequate in terms of how Canadian content creators are actually growing. It has this built-in review process, and that's why it's elegant.
I know that some colleagues have asked—I believe it was Ms. McPherson—how he came up with this threshold. I believe that my colleague came up with it based on white papers that have been produced around the world. He has also built in this mechanism here to say that we will have a review process to ensure that it is adequate over a period of time.
I'm not going to propose a subamendment, but if I were to change it, I think that review process should also take into consideration the impact that the current incumbents and current system have. Why should we just give them a free pass here too? Why shouldn't we be talking about their actual views? The elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about is how many views CBC News actually gets on any evening, or how many views CTV News gets on an actual evening, yet we are moving heck and high water, Chair, to protect them.
Perhaps that's something the committee could discuss as well. How are we putting checks and balances on the incumbents that would benefit from our maintaining the status quo? I do think that the review process that's built in here is elegant—it's nice—and it recognizes that this is an emerging field of regulation.
The need for a review process that's built into the amendment acknowledges that Bill is coming in almost ham-fisted, this very “bull in a china shop” approach to ramming through regulatory process that doesn't really reflect the reality of new content creation.
Again, I know that my colleagues are going to propose other amendments to try to do what we've been talking about, which is recognize that we shouldn't be putting a chill on freedom of speech and shouldn't be unduly burdening a new source of economic revenue for Canadians, but this is an excellent amendment.
I hope that my colleagues approach our amendments, not from that blind partisan perspective but more from the perspective of getting this right on behalf of Canadians—Canadian women, indigenous voices, Black voices, persons of colour and members of the LGBTQ+ community, who traditionally haven't had voices and now have voices and platforms. Put amendments in place to protect them, and be clear on what the role of the regulator is.
To my colleague, Mr. Rayes: good work, excellent, well done. You have served your constituents well.
I implore my colleagues on this committee to really think about this so that when we are looking back in 10 years time to these committee hearings, which will undoubtedly be referenced in numerous challenges, we're on the right side of history and the right side of the disruption that happened.
Thank you, Chair.
It won't take that long. I don't think there are any more questions on the amendment I proposed, but I want to take one last little moment to remind all members of the committee that the ultimate goal is to set guidelines. We believe that the powers of the CRTC must be circumscribed. We all know how frustrating the deletion of clause 4.1 originally proposed in Bill as well as the changes made to that bill throughout the process have been.
I invite the committee to consider this request, which I repeat is quite reasonable, in my opinion. The thresholds we're proposing are below those recommended by Australia. They would provide a minimum level of protection for users and small players on social networks, so that they're not controlled and aren't subjected to additional regulations and paperwork. These people are asking for nothing more than the freedom to express their art, and not just at home but around the world.
I think that, as Quebeckers and as Canadians, we're proud to see artists succeed outside the country. In Quebec, we have Cirque du Soleil, which everyone knows and which has performed all over the world. If it had been restricted to Canada because other countries had prevented it from performing on their territory, I'm not sure it would have had the opportunity to enjoy the success it has.
The idea is not to close in on ourselves. We must instead show that we are proud and strong, and that there is talent here. We should be proud to see our home‑grown talent exported around the world and let everyone's creativity shine on social networks.
The game has changed. Digital players like Netflix and Disney+ have joined the so‑called closed broadcasting system. There is also the open system, where broadcasters use certain algorithms and let users choose the content they want to download.
As legislators, we have a responsibility to protect users and the content they broadcast. The proposed amendment to add section 9.2 to the Broadcasting Act does not amend Bill perfectly, I agree. Personally, I would have liked there to be no standard. At least this amendment protects a certain number of users.
Also, as you know, under proposed subsections 9.2(2) and 9.2(3), the CRTC will have the opportunity to review these thresholds every two years, if I'm not mistaken. I'm going from memory, since the short notice we had for this meeting didn't give me a chance to get my notes from home.
I implore the members of the committee to consider this in their thinking before voting. I also ask them to rise above the direction they've received from their strategists. We now know that they have a kind of hold over the committee. We only have to look at what they did: the gag order was imposed on us and then, as a result of corridor discussions between the whips, this meeting was set up without all of us knowing about it.
I'm asking you to allow us to do our job and make sure we protect all Canadians and Quebeckers who use social networks to post content. We're not just talking about videos of dogs and cats, as some would have you believe, in an attempt to simplify the situation. We're also talking about artists who produce quality content, content aimed at informing people, such as documentaries. They create this content without a budget, using simple tools and democratized technology. Now, people can create high‑quality things just from their phones, thanks to a few low‑cost apps. These digital tools make it possible to democratize information and create content.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Orwell said, Mr. Chair, that if freedom of speech means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. Obviously, government members on this committee do not want to hear what I have to say, but I still have the right to say it. Regulators do not want to hear what Canadians have to say. They still have the right to say it.
If we have to stand alone as Conservatives in this fight for freedom of expression, so we will do. We will stand for the right of people to say what they like and express themselves freely without interference and coercion by the state. That is why we're here with such contention today. It's why we have fought so hard on the floor of the House of Commons and why we have committed, very proudly, to be the only party that will repeal Bill and restore free speech online for all Canadians.
Numerous senior ministers, including the , have said they see COVID as an opportunity for them to expand the power and scope of the state—to make people like them more powerful. That is why they have attempted to take over large parts of the economy, massively increase government spending, limit freedom of choice for parents in how they raise their kids, and now censor what people say online.
If members of the government think we're going to sit by and allow that to happen, then they've ignored 800 years of parliamentary history, where commoners have routinely stood up to defend their freedom through the system of Parliament that we have inherited through so many generations.
I am not surprised to hear that the Liberals want the federal government to have more power and that federal officials should control people's speech. However, I am surprised to learn that the Bloc Québécois, which claims to want to separate itself from Canada, and therefore from the authority of the Canadian state, is supporting a bill giving federal officials the power to control the speech and words of Quebeckers. The Bloc Québécois should be called the centralizing Bloc, since it now wants to give the federal government in Ottawa the power to control what Quebeckers say. How is this consistent with the independence of the Quebec nation?
We, the Conservatives, are the only party standing up for the freedom of expression of Quebeckers. Apparently, we are the only party that understands that people's speech, people's words are not under federal or provincial jurisdiction, but under individual jurisdiction. Everyone has the freedom to express themselves without interference from the state. We believe that all Quebeckers should be able to decide what to say, when to say it and how to say it.
I am shocked that a sovereignist party would give the Canadian state the power to control the way Quebeckers express themselves. It is ironic. Most Quebeckers would be really surprised to hear that this party, supposedly the Bloc Québécois, is in favour of giving the federal government much more power on this issue.
We, the Conservatives, are proud to defend the autonomy of Quebeckers. Everyone is free to say what they want and to choose how they express themselves on the Internet and elsewhere. Although the Conservatives seem to be the only ones willing to protect these freedoms, I am proud that we do. At the same time, I must admit that it is disappointing and surprising that no other party is willing to do the same.
From what I can see, the Bloc Québécois and the Liberals are listening to the lobbyists, the officials and the politicians in Ottawa, who simply want to protect their interests by excluding people and controlling content. The Liberals and the Bloc are attacking Quebec artists. Those artists will have the opportunity to choose the only party that supports freedom of expression, the Conservative Party.
Such is the nature of the debate we are having. However, there is still time. The Bloc Québécois may still have the opportunity to see that Quebeckers do not want the federal government to decide for them, and to understand that everyone, including Quebeckers, must have the freedom to express themselves.
That's really the choice. All of the other parties want to give more power to bureaucrats, lobbyists and politicians, and one party wants to give power back to the people. That's the Conservative Party. We're standing up all by ourselves to defend the principle that people should be able to express themselves even if the government and the political establishment close to the government disagree. Quite frankly, I'm proud that we're taking this principled stand, that we are speaking our mind and defending the millions of Canadians who are going to be voiceless if this bill passes.
What we've seen from the other parties is a desire to massively increase the power of the state at the expense of the people. When the state becomes more powerful, the people become weaker and smaller. That, of course, is the goal, the purpose of this bill and so many other power grabs that we have witnessed over the last year.
Remember, when this pandemic began, the first thing the did was try to pass a law empowering him to raise any tax to any level for any reason, without even holding a vote, for two years. He wanted to have that power locked in until the year 2022, the ability to just raise any tax with an executive order. That has never been done in our parliamentary system. The basic principle of no taxation without representation means that the government can't tax what Parliament doesn't approve. He tried to take that power away and impose higher taxes on the Canadian people.
Instead, we fought back, and to the credit of the Canadian people who joined us in the backlash, he backed down. We hope that he will back down again before this censorship bill becomes law. As you all know, there has been a massive outcry against this bill. You've heard it. Your leader has heard it. Unfortunately, here's the problem: Instead of recognizing the opposition, this has been threatened by it. He said the last thing we need is more dissent and debate in this country, because then people won't agree with him. Therefore, he needs to pass a law to shut them down, silence their voices and prevent them from speaking up in the future. That is exactly what this bill does.
The bill needs to be repealed in its entirety, every single word of it. Not only that, it's interesting that my original suspicions about this bill were fulfilled. I said on the floor of the House of Commons last year, before the bill got much notice, that it would lead to Internet censorship. However, the government had put in a proposed section saying that user-generated content would be excluded, user-generated content being the material that everyday Canadians post online. They were able to use that as a fig leaf to cover up their true censorship intentions, but then the fig leaf dropped about a month and a half ago when the government, with the backing of other opposition parties, removed that one protection that was supposed to let everyday Canadians continue to post what they wanted online.
They just eliminated that altogether, even though the department's own charter analysis had shown that the bill relied on that protection in order to keep the bill constitutionally viable. They said, “Don't worry, this bill won't touch freedom of speech—it's got this one key exclusion.” Then they took that exclusion out, and here we are with a bill that will control online content and allow government to dictate what people see and say online.
We're going to continue to fight this bill right through all the stages in our efforts to defeat it. I think the is in a mad rush to get it through so that he can have it in place and locked in before the next election. Perhaps he thinks that some of the censorship elements in the bill will help him to win the election, will help suppress criticism of him while he's on the campaign trail so that nobody can expose the corruption of his government, the mismanagement of the pandemic and his horrendous failures at the early stages of the outbreak. All of these things can be suppressed by preventing what people say online.
Then we'll be stuck, of course, with the model of a very small group of liberals in the press gallery dictating the narrative and campaigning for the , without Canadians having the release valve to speak out and spread information and thoughts of their own online. That is, I think, the model that the Prime Minister feels most comfortable with: where you have 30 or 40 liberal press gallery types who go around spreading his message and attacking his enemies and no one is allowed to speak up to the contrary because there's a government regulation to prevent their voices being heard.
I think a lot of liberals have been bewildered by this new social media environment that they can't control. For so long, of course, they had such an iron grip on the discourse, when a small oligopoly of media enterprises could dominate political press coverage. In that environment, liberals thrive, because a small group of elites tells everyone else what to think, and those who dissent are left in the wilderness. They want to bring back that model—a model that is threatened by open free speech and the free expression and circulation of ideas.
You can't maintain a small oligopoly of media voices when everyday people are able to compete in a free market. needs to abolish the free market of ideas and bring back a small group of media sycophants and give them the exclusive ability to dominate the discourse. Then, when he gets back to that position, no one will be able to contradict him or the overall party line.
Rest assured that we as Conservatives will fight back against this, and in the end, we will win. We will win this debate. We will overturn this bill. Whether we do it before the election or after, this bill will be defeated and freedom of speech will be restored.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I welcome everyone to committee here once again.
I want to thank the member for and the member for , because both of them have huge followings on Facebook. This is the concern that we have at committee. When you get to 500,000-plus subscribers, the government or the CRTC will start looking into your activities.
We got rushed into this committee meeting today. I think the chair duly noted his disappointment with that here today, because we were scheduled for Friday morning. Now I see that we're also going to meet tomorrow morning, Thursday morning, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. We're rushing through this bill, as we all know. It is flawed, and this has been talked about for quite some time.
This amendment by Mr. Rayes I've talked to before, and I like it—no “fewer than 500,000 subscribers in Canada or receive less than $80 million per year in advertising”. We have used those numbers because they equal what they have in Australia more or less. When Mr. Rayes brought forward this amendment, this was well thought out. We had some information from Australia that he certainly followed.
That's why we put forward this amendment. It's a very good one.
I'm going to read its second proposed subsection:
(2) Every two years after the day on which subsection (1) comes into force, the Commission must, with the approval of the Governor in Council, review the subscriber and revenue thresholds and may make regulations to increase them as required.
We even talked about this earlier, Mr. Chair, because the commission might want to decrease them as required, per the regulations on the CRTC's part.
I think the member from brought up a very good point. We had not heard a lot from the CRTC until the chair was here. We all know this bill will have major ramifications for the CRTC's workload. You will have listened to me for months about the concern I have about the CRTC. I understand, with the recent changes on licensing, that some want the seven-year licences because they will keep everyone in check. Others don't because, to be quite honest, when and if this bill does get passed, we will put strenuous time restraints on the CRTC, the chair, Ian Scott, along with members. We all know, sitting around this table, that we're concerned about the CRTC's involvement with this bill.
I've seen it as a conventional broadcaster. I've seen it for four decades, where they hand off the licence, then don't return for another six and a half years, when the conventional broadcasters in this country have violated their agreement with the CRTC almost the first week into the seven-year contract. If you're going to give conventional broadcasters the white flag and say we're going to do away with the seven-year contract on a licence, that opens up another can of worms. I think, in this country, we all have concerns about this.
The National Post has a big base in this country. It was interesting that on the front page of the National Post today—and the Windsor Star, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, all the newspapers that the Post owns in this country—they have a message to the . There are not as many Canadians today subscribing to our newspapers as they did in the past. We all know that story, but it was an interesting read by the publisher of the National Post, the owners, signalling that their business is in trouble. They are worried about Google and Facebook like the rest of us are.
I really question the timing of the front page article today in the National Post. Knowing that we have less than five hours to go through Bill , as a former broadcaster, I really do question why today? Why June 9? You have a full-page editorial in all the newspapers that the National Post owns in this country—many of them—to give a signal to the Prime Minister to deal with Facebook, with Google and all the other social media.
It was strange timing. I am reading between the lines on it. They have had their hands out, as we know. They are part of the $600 million already guaranteed to many in this country for the newspaper industry, which the Liberals have given many owners of newspapers. Yet today, Wednesday, June 9, two days before we're going to shut down debate and the gag order on Bill , here we have a full-page editorial in every newspaper owned by the National Post in this country.
I agree with the amendment. It was interesting today...and I'm glad that the members for and were on, because they are going to be targeted. They will easily have 500,000 subscribers. They will easily be in line with the CRTC's—they will be flagged. They may not have the $80 million per year in advertising, but they will have millions of followers on Facebook. To me, they are going to be flagged.
Mr. Chair, I really appreciate both the members coming forward this late in committee, because they are concerned. They are concerned about free speech—their free speech—as we don't really know what is going to happen after this bill.
How involved will the CRTC be? I think they're going to be heavily involved in social media, more so than conventional TV, conventional radio, which we really even haven't talked about a lot in Bill C-10. I've had many radio owners in this country who are concerned because this bill got off the rails. We were trying to save radio and television stations in the country, and then, thanks to proposed section 4.1, we got derailed into the social media. In talking to many radio and TV owners, I know they're concerned that this bill does nothing for them and does everything for social media.
Now the CRTC is directing all of their attention towards Google, Facebook and so on—Netflix, Disney and the rest of them. They are very concerned that going forward, if this bill does pass before we rise, and also in the Senate, that their concerns.... Their concerns have been talked about long ago. We all had lobbyists knocking on our door when we came back in the fall and we started this Bill C-10. It seems like a long time ago that we opened the doors to radio stations across this country, conventional networks, left and right. To me, they've been forgotten now.
We barely remember who came to committee on their behalf with their concerns, as we've been absorbed by the free speech debate we are having as a result of Bill C-10.
Proposed subsection 9.2(3) of the amendment is interesting, because it says:
The Minister must prepare a report on the Commission's review under subsection (2) and submit the report to the standing committee of each House of Parliament that normally considers matters relating to broadcasting.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, I want to to thank you for your words when we reconvened today, on a Wednesday instead of Friday. Your comments we're well observed from coast to coast, as I'm seeing from social media. I, too, was surprised that we got called back early for this. I think we all agreed that we were going to do the five hours, which would have been two on Friday, two on Monday and maybe one more next week, and we knew that we could have extended meetings.
Having said that, I like this amendment. I like what Mr. Rayes has brought forward in proposed section 9.2, subsections (1), (2) and (3).
As we move forward on this, let's not forget the conventional television stations, the networks. My fear with this bill, if it does pass, is that we're going to see more carnage in that business, television and radio.
We've seen enough in the last year or two, but my fear now is that we have forgotten about those that we were to deal with first of all in this bill. The carnage with layoffs could be tremendous in the fall once this bill does pass.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, thank you for allowing me to introduce amendment CPC‑9.3.
I apologize for earlier. In addition to voting, I made a gesture. As you all know, the lights in the committee room are automatic. Our meeting is long, the lights went out suddenly, and I am slightly claustrophobic.
Having said that, I'd like to introduce amendment CPC‑9.3 right away. It proposes that Bill , in clause 7, be amended by adding after line 19 on page 8 the following:
9.2 An online undertaking that provides a social media service is deemed not to exercise programming control over programs uploaded by any user of the social media service who is not the provider of the service or the provider’s affiliate, or the agent or mandatary of either of them.
We are therefore proposing to add a new section to the Broadcasting Act.
I'd like to exercise my right to explain this amendment, as we may not all have had a chance to chat about it. It is quite consistent with what we are trying to do, which is to improve the bill as a result of the withdrawal of section 4.1 originally proposed in the bill, and the refusal to reinstate similar provisions through our amendment CPC‑9.1.
Earlier, the conversation was about protecting users or small players on social networks who are not part of the so‑called closed broadcasting system. The original intent of this bill was to regulate broadcasting companies like Netflix and Disney+. However, as we all know, it has taken a completely different turn since the beginning of the debate. So we see a loophole there.
According to the definition proposed in the bill, “programming control” means control over the selection of programs for transmission, but does not include control over the selection of programming services for retransmission. We believe that the CRTC should not consider that social media sites must exercise programming control over the content that users upload. The CRTC would be over‑regulating, which would make it extremely difficult for those users. It would increase the bureaucracy and cause some stress to those people who use social networks in a completely free way.
Not everyone sees this, but again, there is a real difference compared to a broadcaster in the so‑called closed system. Everyone has used Netflix before. When you log on to Netflix, you see the programming. In terms of discoverability, we can assume that it must be quite simple to access so‑called Canadian programming, or more specifically, French‑language or Quebec programs among all the programs that are offered.
When we think of Netflix, we think of a program in a specific setting. I'm thinking of the French series Lupin, whose second season we're all waiting for, which will be released on June 11. It will be in the programming, it's settled, it's clear to everyone. The programming can't change at any time. When one season is over, we wait for the release of the second season, which takes some time to be produced. All the better if it's done with artists from our country, whether they are Quebeckers, Canadians, francophones, anglophones, indigenous or anyone else.
Then we have the broadcasters of the so‑called open system, which includes social networks in some cases. It can involve everyone. I'm not a company like Netflix, but I can post things on social media. My colleague Mr. Poilievre, who spoke earlier, has many more followers than I do. I'm sure he doesn't want a federal agency to have a say in what he wants to post.
In a recent decision, a judge brought the CBC to heel over its criticism of the Conservative Party for posting a video with excerpts from public broadcasts. The last thing we want is for users, whether they are politicians, the public or artists, to be regulated in this way.
The purpose of the amendment is to remove the notion that social media sites have control over programming. The approach we are proposing today, in practical terms, is in line with that of the European Union in its Audiovisual Media Services Directive. It's important to say that we are not reinventing the wheel. This would allow us to conform to the international practices of countries that are trying to find a fair and equitable way to include social networks. What I am proposing in amendment CPC‑9.3 is nothing out of the ordinary. It is perfectly aligned with current practices in the European Union.
The European Union uses the concept of editorial responsibility, which roughly corresponds to our concept of programming control, to differentiate services like YouTube from other players in the so‑called closed broadcasting system and platforms like Netflix or Disney+. The European Union makes a distinction in this regard, which the current Liberal government and Minister do not. Perhaps that's why he has been so confused in the various interviews he has given. Not only the Conservatives and the opposition parties, but all Canadians, experts and political analysts could see his failure to understand the issue, which is extremely complex. This is something new; it didn't exist 30 or 40 years ago. With our proposal, we are trying to strike the right balance, or at least improve the bill as introduced.
So I was saying that the idea is to differentiate services like YouTube from other players in the so‑called closed broadcasting system and other platforms.
According to the European Union directive, editorial responsibility for programming means exercising effective control over both the selection of programs and how they are organized, chronologically, for example.
As I explained earlier, on Netflix, there is a set schedule. There is no to‑ing and fro‑ing programming, no algorithms that mean that all the content can change in real time. That simply makes it impossible to apply measures to control discoverability without penalizing certain artists and certain Canadians and Quebeckers who use social networks to make their voices heard.
We are therefore talking about control over the way television programs are scheduled or, in the case of on‑demand audiovisual media, listed. It is a way of providing service.
We believe it is necessary to make a distinction to include video sharing services.
The European Union has expressly recognized that a video sharing platform that uses algorithms and automatic means to organize content does not necessarily have editorial responsibility for it. This is extremely important. I want everyone to understand what I'm saying. It is not we who are saying this, it is the European Union. If these platforms do not have editorial responsibility for the content, how can they be forced to ensure discoverability?
It is important to note that some 500 hours of video are uploaded on YouTube every minute worldwide. I repeat: on YouTube, 500 hours of videos are uploaded every minute. We often use YouTube as an example because it is one of the biggest players, but there are all the other platforms that we can't name. We, as politicians, officials and the like, are sometimes in a bubble and we don't even know all the other platforms that young people are using right now, or all the ones that will be created in the future and used by the generations that will follow us. Technology is changing so fast. Five years ago, nobody knew about TikTok. Today, even politicians are pressured to use that platform and post videos of themselves dancing or singing on it. Some people do it; personally, I'm not there yet.
The YouTube model presents videos to users based on their search criteria. YouTube doesn't decide what content to suggest, the user requests do. If I want to see Canadian content or a Canadian artist, if I want to listen to a Céline Dion song and send it to someone afterwards, I do my own search. If I want to see Canadian content, I'll type “Canadian singer” into Google and, believe me, the answer will come up. People know how to program keywords to be discovered. We don't need to ask YouTube to do it for us. We are all capable of doing it. I can do it, the members of this committee can do it, everyone can do it.
People will make their own requests according to their preferences. In some cases, YouTube will recommend content based on users' search histories or the content that they have already listened to, among other things.
I personally subscribe to Spotify. I always have five lists available to me based on the type of music that I listen to. When I'm tired of listening to the playlist that my children prepared for me, because I'm unable to create one myself, I can choose another one from the five suggested to me. The suggested content varies. This gives me the chance to listen to something new.
Given the type of music that I listen to, especially music from Quebec, I discovered a young up‑and‑coming artist. You may not believe me, but he's the son of one of my wife's best friends. This friend lives a three‑hour drive from us. Coincidentally, Spotify introduced me to this young artist through my playlist, when I didn't even know that he was on the platform. I was very proud to call and tell him that Spotify introduced me to him and that my children were listening to him through my playlists, and so on. He's a young artist making his mark. His music is now being heard by people all over the French‑speaking world, not just in Quebec and Canada. You can imagine the boost that this can give to his budding career.
A social media outlet with an almost infinite supply of content can't be treated in the same manner as a platform that orders and acquires specific content, such as Netflix. It's impossible, even utopian, to imagine that, through Bill , we can ask the CRTC to manage players in the closed broadcasting system, platforms such as Netflix and Disney+, and social networks in the same way.
The CRTC hasn't even been able to establish clear rules between the big and small players in telecommunications with regard to competitive rates. We all know that. We're currently talking about this matter in the House of Commons. The CRTC found it too complex to strike a balance between the big players and the small companies, which drive down prices for all consumers.
We're now asking them to find a way to play within the algorithms of platforms where 500 hours of videos are uploaded every minute.
It makes sense to impose standards and obligations on the content controllers when the content is ordered and the controls can be implemented effectively. I want to say that to the people who are tuning in.
We can't consider that services with search engine‑like functions, which help users find content, contain organized content. This simply isn't possible. We can't consider that they selected content for their users either.
The European Union has acknowledged this difference in nature between open and closed platforms. How can the European Union understand this, but not the Liberal government and its ? I can't believe it when I see this.
If we were to move forward, if Canada were to apply the same broadcasting standards and obligations to user‑generated content, whether we're talking about an open platform such as YouTube or a platform such as Disney+, we would be the only country in the world to do so. I repeat: we would be the only country in the world to do so.
After hearing the explanations provided by the in his various interviews, it worries me that we're the only country in the world to implement these types of regulations, especially when we don't have a good understanding of the technical details being discussed. We aren't experts. The experts came to talk to us about the topic.
I didn't speak extensively about freedom of expression or discoverability. I discussed a situation that's currently an issue. We must find a way to improve this flawed bill, despite the fact that a gag order has been imposed on us. In any case, the Liberals can do as they please, with the help of the Bloc Québécois and the NDP. The NDP expressed outrage and said that imposing the gag order made no sense. However, they took part in the discussions to sneak in today's meeting, which we were called to without notice.
Yet, when the bill arrives in the Senate, do you think that the senators won't try to address the flaws? They're smart as well. Moreover, we won't even have finished dealing with all the amendments before us. Senators certainly won't want to vote without having done the thorough work or without having studied all these amendments.
We have a week and a half left before the House of Commons draws to a close. We already know that the Liberal government is recruiting for the election that should be called as soon as the summer break is over. In other words, the cart is being put before the horse. There will inevitably be a hurdle when the bill reaches the Senate. Even if, through various tactics, the Liberals manage to speed up the process, there will be a challenge.
Some people may think that, with the passage of this bill, we can provide support for Canada's cultural infrastructure starting tomorrow morning. The minister is trying to make everyone believe that we're currently losing $70 million each month that could be reinvested in culture. In any case, when it comes to releasing funds, the Liberals have no problem. They print money. For them, money grows on trees. If there's an emergency and support is needed, they have no issue finding money. They come up with indirect ways to do so.
Today, through amendment CPC‑9.3, I'm proposing another attempt. Earlier, amendment CPC‑9.2 was rejected. Yet we proposed thresholds that were below those of Australia, supposedly the current model in this area. I chose lower thresholds, thinking that perhaps I would convince my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Liberal Party that basic guidelines were absolutely necessary and that we couldn't leave this completely in the hands of the CRTC without drawing any lines. We saw what happened in the case of French‑language content.
I'm thinking of my colleague, Martin Champoux. He knows how much I appreciate him.
By the way, Mr. Champoux, I have some muffins for you in my car. I thought that I would be seeing you. However, since I'm leaving after the meeting to pick up my daughter in Montreal, I won't be able to give them to you today. That said, I hope to see you again before June 23.
I can't understand why the Bloc Québécois would agree to give more powers to a Canadian organization that has difficulty managing these things, even though they wanted to prioritize francophone and Quebec culture. The current situation is completely illogical.
We're told to support the content. We'll do so. We want the legislation to apply to digital broadcasters in a fair manner, compared to traditional broadcasters. However, we're now in a completely different realm, since we're talking about all social media.
The open letters floating around are calling for the sharing of advertising revenue as a way to help our print media. This bill doesn't provide any support measures. There's a reason why all these publishers are saying loud and clear that the government hasn't done anything. It hasn't done anything in this bill to regulate the role of CBC/Radio‑Canada. It hasn't done anything for the writers, who are saying that nothing has been done for them.
Former commissioners and senior CRTC officials now represent several groups, including Timothy Denton, Konrad von Finckenstein, Peter Menzies, Michel Morin and Philip Palmer, who was legal counsel at the Department of Justice and, I believe, general counsel at the Department of Communications. All these people, who know the structure of the CRTC because they worked there, are saying that this must be stopped, that it simply doesn't make sense.
This is on top of the comments made by all the law professors. It isn't just Michael Geist. Many others have stood up. These people know that this bill, if passed, will be challenged immediately.
At this point, we can't play our role as legislators to help the cultural community at all. A gag order has been imposed on parliamentarians who are trying to correct and improve the current bill.
I'll stop here for now. I may have more comments to make later, since I'm sure that some people will be asking officials about the potential impact of our proposals.
I just want to remind people that, when considering this bill, they should take into account the difference between digital media or broadcasters that generate content within a defined structure, and social networks, which are platforms that generate so‑called open content. These are two completely different things. Netflix can't be treated the same as a social network. People can't upload content to Netflix, but they can upload content to YouTube. This platform can serve as a launch pad for artists to promote themselves to other users around the world. Afterwards, the Netflixes of the world or traditional broadcasters can raise the profile of these artists through documentaries or new shows. All this helps to increase the number of success stories and the discoverability of our Quebec, Canadian, francophone, anglophone and indigenous artists, or our artists of any origin.
I hope that you'll consider my recommendation through amendment CPC‑9.3.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and Mr. Genuis.
I will have a couple of questions for Mr. Ripley, but before I get there—because we've covered a lot of ground all around the bill and beyond it—I just wanted to perhaps remind, especially Mr. Rayes when I was listening to him, about a couple of things.
One is that we adopted clause 2 much earlier in this review of the legislation, and that, in fact, created an exclusion for user-uploaded content.
Also, if he would take a look at the amendments that we had introduced with G-11.1, it actually does have a different discoverability rule for social media companies. I need to say “social media companies”, not people uploading their content. I just wanted to clarify that because we've covered a lot of ground and sometimes it can be hard to remember exactly where we've been.
There has been a lot of conversation about our artists and what the purpose of this bill is. I think it's been clear all along that the purpose of this bill is that we want web giants who are making money here in Canada to contribute a portion of the revenues they make here in Canada to our Canadian artists. The decision by the Conservatives to block this actually dates back to before this even got to committee. It dates back to when this was first debated in the House. That's just to give some background as we have that conversation.
I believe that one of the questions raised by an earlier speaker was about who the artists are who want the support. I guess I can understand where this question comes from this, given the statements made by the Conservative member for who has been a frequent attendee at this committee. She said that this bill was about supporting artists who “are not able to make a living off of what they are producing...so they require grants that are given to them by the government.” It also included a statement saying that artists can “apply for that money so they can continue to create material Canadians don't want to watch”.
In some of the previous statements that were made today, there were questions about who the artists were because there were many references to lobby groups. Individual artists like Yannick Bisson, who is the star and director of Murdoch Mysteries, which is a big success here in Canada and around the world, have expressed support. There's Jean Yoon of Kim's Convenience, which is also popular here at home and around the world. There is also the director, I believe, of Corner Gas.
Looking at who's received FACTOR funding—and who the member from felt we do not want to watch—there are people like Grammy-nominated Jessie Reyez, Gord Downie, the Arkells and shows like Schitt's Creek.
That's just to give a bit of background because there has been a lot of conversation today about this bill. I think it's important to ground it in what we're actually trying to do with this bill, the artists we're trying to support, artists who have actually spoken up individually to show their support, or who—if we look through the granting systems—have received support, so that they can create the great art that we love here and has been loved around the world.
On that, when I was looking at this specific amendment, I was trying to understand what it adds to clause 2.1.
Can I please ask Mr. Ripley how it ties in with that addition to the bill?
It's good to see the members of this committee. I think it's my first time subbing in at the heritage committee, but from a distance, I have been following your proceedings very closely out of great interest in the bill's subject matter in general.
Also, I have a particular amendment, which I think you're aware of, that deals with issues of broadcast involving abuses of human rights. Realistically and unfortunately, given the important free speech issues that have to be discussed, we probably are not even going to get to have the opportunity to explore that amendment here at committee. Nonetheless, I appreciate the opportunity to be with you.
I'm supportive of this amendment by Mr. Rayes, which I think advances and protects freedom of speech. It doesn't fully protect it, obviously, as existing concerns about the bill as structured remain, but it's an important step in the right direction.
I'm struck by I guess two points that Ms. Dabrusin made in respect to the comments Mr. Rayes had made about the nature or objectives of the bill. This speaks, I guess, to a broader frustration with the kinds of arguments that are often used to advance the positions that the government takes.
One is to rely very heavily on intention: to say “the bill intends to”, “we intend to” or “we intend to do this”. An assertion of intention is just not reassuring when experts—former CRTC commissioners, academics and others—have reviewed the text of the bill and have said that “this is what it does” and “this is what the bill says”. Good intentions are not enough. Especially for legislators, what matters is what's in the bill. I think we should look at the bill, I think we should look at the amendment we're discussing and I think we should frame our approach to it based on the language of the amendment itself and the language of the bill itself, not on some assertion about intentions.
The other logical fallacy, I guess, that informs a lot of the reasoning of the government in this bill—and, frankly, I think in other bills as well—is the creation of false choices, the sense that we have to choose between alternatives that we don't actually have to choose between. When we're looking at a complex broadcasting reform bill, I think we should identify not just one objective or two objectives, but a broad suite of objectives, and then undertake the development of a framework that achieves all of those objectives.
Government members have said: “We're trying to support artists. We're trying to stick it to the big web giants. Therefore, this is what we're doing.” Conservatives have said that protecting freedom of speech is important and that the bill as structured raises issues about freedom of speech—experts have said that—and I think that certainly the amendment we're currently discussing takes a step toward addressing those free speech concerns by providing more protection for users and user-generated content.
I would just say in general that there's no reason why we have to choose between support for artists and protecting free speech. It seems to me, as someone who is not a regular member of this committee and not a huge expert on broadcasting policy—although I have a growing interest in it—that it shouldn't be difficult to construct a framework that supports artists, that charges whatever the legislature deems to be a fair rate of return from large online companies and that also protects freedom of speech. There would be a variety of different frameworks through which that could be done. One would be simply through tax and subsidy.
The 's latest defence of the bill is that there's money that needs to get to the artists and the delaying of the bill is delaying getting money to the artists. Well, there are a lot of different mechanisms the government could develop for getting money to the artists, and they don't require this bill to do that. There is a variety of different frameworks that they have available.
I think it's the responsibility of governments not to try to set up a false choice. We don't have to choose between commitment to artists and a desire to see content developed in Canada and freedom of speech. We can and we should seek to preserve both.
Some of the amendments that we've put forward don't in any way take away from the objective of supporting artists. As well, prior to the amendments that were put forward at this committee, when the bill was in second reading form, the government argued at that time that it was a framework for supporting artists. That was before the government made the changes that have garnered so much attention in the wider public—certainly in my constituency—in terms of their impact on freedom of speech.
Mr. Chair, I want to make this point, as well, as I think it's particularly applicable to the amendment as it pertains to discoverability on social media and what will be required of users and so forth. I think we have to understand substantively what freedom of speech is and why it's important. Freedom of speech is not just the right to say something. It's not the sort of abstract assertion in a vacuum that people should be able to say anything they want. It develops from an appreciation for the fact that people's speaking and being heard allows for an exchange of ideas; the sharing of information and concepts through conventional speech, as well as through artistic mediums and other forms; the presentation of those ideas; the hearing of those ideas by a wider public and the evaluation of those ideas; and then the creation of combinations and syntheses that in some sense move our society forward.
Freedom of speech is valued because it creates opportunity for people to hear, evaluate and compare different options, to decide what they like and dislike, to decide what they believe is conveying true or false messages in certain contexts, and to compare those messages and come to conclusions. That's why freedom of speech is important. That's the core argument and I think the most influential argument for freedom of speech that someone like John Stuart Mill makes in On Liberty, namely, that freedoms allow for the presentation of ideas and experiments in living that allow people to listen and come to conclusions.
What this bill does, I think, and what the government's defence of this bill does is conceptually try to separate this question of a right to speak from a right to be heard. It says that you can post whatever you want online but that we will allow the CRTC to go in and make regulations around discoverability that influence whether or not the things you say online are heard. It tries to sort of take from that right to speak element the question of a right to be heard.
I would just say that for freedom of speech, freedom of expression and liberty in general to be meaningful, it has to include not just the right to sort of speak into a void but also some ability to not have the state interfering with and limiting your ability to be heard.
The powers that I see this bill—unamended and in its present form—giving to the CRTC in the name of discoverability allow a government body to make regulations with respect to not, in this context, what you can say but whether or not you can be heard. That might seem like a distinction, but if we are to try to pull those things apart—the right to speak and the right to be heard—then I think we are really robbing the concept of freedom of speech of its substantive meaning.
What this amendment does is say to the users that they will have the freedom to not be interfered with by the CRTC on the degree to which their content will be heard on social media platforms. That, again, is an important effort that we are undertaking to protect this concept of freedom of speech and to protect it in a meaningful way, in a substantive way, and in a way that goes beyond just the formulaic idea of the right to speak and actually draws from the real meaning of what it means to have a right to speak. It's why our charter and pre-existing constitutional documents have emphasized the idea and importance of freedom of expression.
I do think part of why this amendment is important as well is because it speaks to this issue of algorithm regulation, a question that has not been answered. We've had multiple occasions on which the question has been put directly to the minister. It was asked, I think, by a member at this committee. Is this bill seeking to allow regulation of algorithm? I think it very clearly does. Is this bill seeking to allow the regulation of algorithms, and if it's not seeking to, maybe the government is willing to accept amendments that eliminate the risk of CRTC algorithm regulation.
The minister was as clear as mud on this when he was asked in the committee. He said it's not a yes and it's not a no. I asked the same question during the closure debate of the minister in the House about algorithm regulation. He said something to the effect of "Let me use a vehicle analogy. If we have a car, I hope it's electric, but if we have a car it's...". I'm going to get this wrong. He said, "We're not interested in what's under the hood, we're interested in where it's going." I might have that mixed up. In any event, he used this vehicle analogy that I just didn't understand. I didn't understand what he was conveying. I re-asked the question, and he said he'd answered it, but maybe the member hadn't understood.
Maybe this is just a question I should ask to the officials. I don't know that I want to put them on the spot by asking them to answer a question that the minister has been unable to answer, but it is a technical question that I think maybe they can provide a technical answer to.
Does the bill, as written without this amendment, allow for the possibility of algorithm regulation? If the amendment is added, what is the possible impact on the ability of the CRTC to engage in the regulation of algorithms?
Mr. Chair, can I put that to Mr. Ripley as part of my time?