Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to have the opportunity this afternoon to speak to Bill . It is an act to amend the Broadcasting Act. Updating this Broadcasting Act is crucially important. The statutes in the act provide the guidelines for everything in our media industry, from how our Canadian broadcasters operate to how we support Canadian content and production.
Updating it right now is particularly important because, as we know, the Broadcasting Act has not really been updated at all since 1991, a long time before Internet companies and online streaming services were competing with Canadian broadcasters.
It is deeply disappointing that the government’s proposals are so incredibly lacking. I am going to focus in on four points today. First, the legislation does nothing to address social media companies, such as Facebook and Google, and their various properties, such as YouTube, to pay its fair share. Second, it does not bring digital platforms, such as Netflix and Spotify, into a system in which they are on a level playing field with the conventional Canadian broadcasters.
Third, it does not provide any details on Canadian content production and media fund contributions by digital broadcasters. Finally, it gives all of the power to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, commonly known as the CRTC, which is a body that is not only ineffective at regulating in its area, but that also often struggles to even enforce its own regulations.
Before I dive into the details of this bill, I want to give some background. A lot of people in the House know that prior to my election, I spent over 40 years as a radio and television broadcaster here in the province of Saskatchewan.
During my broadcasting career, I experienced first-hand the dramatic evolution of those industries and how Canadians interact with their media. When I first entered the industry back in the 1970s, radio and television were the dominant forces of entertainment here in this country.
Over time, as television became more and more accessible and mainstream, demand for radio really declined. More recently, we can look at music streaming services such as Spotify, Google Play Music and Apple Music, which have attracted many Canadians away from radio. This has resulted in many stations across the country being forced to either greatly downsize or shut down entirely. We have seen that here in Saskatchewan.
I will give some details on the radio industry. Right now, a lot of stations in Saskatchewan run for only 12 hours. They will come on at six in the morning and broadcast until six at night. They will then have repeat programming for the next 12 hours. This is disturbing. It is hard to find a live disk jockey or newscast at night because these stations only run 12 out of 24 hours.
It is disturbing because, as a young broadcaster back in the 1970s, that was how one learned the business, by working nights and late nights. That has been taken away from people in this province. It is hard to find a live announcer after 7 p.m. on any Saskatchewan radio station.
Major conglomerates have gobbled up some of the radio industries in Saskatchewan. Stations in places such as Prince Albert, North Battleford, and even the satellite feeder in Meadow Lake, are now part of the Pattison Group.
We have seen a sort of renaissance in the province with smaller radio stations trying to make it on the FM dial, such as Humboldt and recently Assiniboia. This past January, Nipawin got its licence for the first time in the north-east area of Saskatchewan. There was an intervention by one of the big players in the country, but today Nipawin has its own FM radio station. It got approval from the CRTC in January.
I would be remiss to not mention MBC radio, of the Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation. It is Saskatchewan's only indigenous radio station, and it is located in La Ronge. For some 10 hours a week, it broadcasts in Dene, and for another 10 hours a week, it broadcasts in Cree.
With this bill, Bill , this is where I would really like the CRTC to concentrate. We have seen that this station uses Cree along with Dene up in northern Saskatchewan. It is needed. In fact, during the election I caught a 30-second advertising spot by a candidate done in Dene, telling the people up there to vote for him or her. It was kind of interesting. It was really good.
I also had the fortunate opportunity to go to Nunavut just two years ago. I went to eight communities up there. They speak a lot of English. Inuit and Inuktitut are spoken as well. I went up there and saw the people up in Nunavut, including Chesterfield Inlet, Arviat, and so on. That is their way of communicating.
This is my concern today with the CRTC. How is it going to look after this whole Bill , and the Broadcasting Act? It is big. We have a big country. I have just pointed out the needs in Nunavut and northern Saskatchewan. There are many other places in this country. This is a very, very big bill.
Similarly, streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube, and even Disney+, are increasingly becoming the default source of entertainment for many across the country. Many television studios are struggling and beginning to downsize and cut costs. We saw that today with the announcement from Rogers.
Much like their radio counterparts, television stations here in Saskatchewan have been forced to make cuts. Many local stations have either been shut down or have really reduced staff. I can tell the House that, as a former broadcaster in that province, I remember when Swift Current had its own television station.
Yorkton and Prince Albert are repeater stations now. Prince Albert rebroadcasts Saskatoon, and Yorkton rebroadcasts Regina. I remember at one time that CKBI, Prince Albert television, had over 80 staff. We do not have that any more, so we can see that the industry is coming down. Swift Current no longer has a TV station. Yorkton basically has two or three people, and the same thing at CKBI Prince Albert.
For a long time, I think that sports was considered the bedrock of television. While television series could always be recorded, watching sports live had a particular importance. No one wanted to miss that big game or have the results spoiled.
However, today even sports, a sector that has long thrived based on live television, is moving away from the traditional broadcasts. Services such as NHL GameCenter, Dazn, Sportsnet NOW, and TSN Direct allow sports fans to watch their favourite teams from wherever they would like. They can flip between games and even watch multiple games at once.
I will make this point. I remember the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The president of Bell Media was in line for the gold medal game, the women's hockey gold medal game. There was a big crowd in Vancouver. No one could get into the game on time, but at that time the game was streamed.
The president of Bell Canada went on his phone and watched the game. He turned to his assistant while he was in line and said that this was the future of broadcasting, and that Bell Canada had to buy it. That was in 2010. Lo and behold, a short time after, Bell reacquired the CTV television network.
The reality today is that the way most of us here in the House of Commons consumed entertainment growing up is no longer the norm. Many growing up today would consider it simply out of date or even obsolete.
Certainly, even though many of these changes have been revolutionary and have benefited consumers, they have created many problems for the Canadian broadcasting sector. Our laws and regulations need to be updated to match the changes of the last 30 years. That raises this question: What exactly needs to be fixed in a modernized broadcasting act?
The Internet giants such as Netflix and Spotify are simply not paying their fair share. These companies do not pay taxes. They are not required to pay into the Canada Media Fund, as conventional broadcasters are today. They are not required to meet the Canadian content requirements that conventional broadcasters are bound by.
As more and more attention is paid to major streaming giants, and they are taking up more and more of the market share, conventional Canadian broadcasters, both at the local and the national level, are being pinched out, and they know that.
The current circumstances not only create an uneven playing field, they also put Canadian broadcasters at a significant disadvantage in having to allocate their resources, when Internet giants simply do not have to do that. The Broadcasting Act clearly needs to be updated for the world that is dominated today by the Internet.
Unfortunately, the legislation that the government has put forward to us today is wholly inadequate in addressing the issues that I just laid out. Let us begin taking a look at what the government's main solution seems to be in Bill . I think they are passing the buck solely to the CRTC. It is unfortunate the government is simply passing off the responsibility to the unelected body that has historically had many issues fulfilling its own mandate, particularly on this issue.
At the beginning of this year, the Canadian Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review panel tabled its report, known as the “Yale report”. In fact, I attended that news conference in Ottawa in January when the panel released its 94 recommendations. That news conference lasted almost two hours. There were plenty of questions directed at the panel, and it was directed by conventional broadcasters.
Many of them expressed concerns about some of the 94 recommendations that were made that day. The objective of the panel was to review the current broadcasting and telecommunications framework and present possible paths forward for Canadian broadcasting.
While I have my own issues with some of the recommendations in this report, one thing that has been raised as a major concern in my meetings with industry stakeholders is that the Yale report makes it clear that the CRTC already has the power to regulate Internet giants like Netflix. That surprised a lot of people.
If the CRTC can already regulate Netflix and its online counterparts, why has it not done so? Let us be clear here. The CRTC, the Canadian broadcasters and the government have all known for years what the impact of the unregulated online market is. It is crushing Canadian broadcasters. The CRTC done absolutely nothing with the power that it has to regulate, despite having had years to act.
One cannot help but wonder if the Canadian media today would be in a much better state if it were not for the CRTC's lack of desire to actually take some action. This bill would not change that. It simply reiterates it. It restates a power that the CRTC already has and has opted not to use, so why would it use it now? There is absolutely no reason to believe that the CRTC is going to change now, when there is no compulsion to do so.
Even if the CRTC decided to finally take the steps that it has had the power to do for years and regulate the web giants, I am highly skeptical that they would bother to enforce them. Sure, the government claims that this legislation before us today would modernize the CRTC's enforcement powers to ensure compliance with hypothetical regulations that the CRTC is not bound to actually make, but we already know that the CRTC does not necessarily use the powers that it is given.
On the specific issue of enforcement, I remember during my time as a broadcaster that when the licence renewal would come up every five years, everyone would be on their best behaviour in the station. Station management would make sure that everything was perfect for its hearings with the CRTC. Once it gave us the licence renewal, we would not hear from the CRTC again until five years later. The CRTC did not follow up to make sure we were abiding by the terms of our licence at all.
I also think about a more recent example of the CRTC simply failing Canadians. Earlier this year, at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CBC decided to pull Compass, its 30-minute local news program in Prince Edward Island. It is the only local news for P.E.I., and CBC took it off the air.
At a time when islanders needed their local news the most, the CBC abandoned them. What did the CRTC do? Absolutely nothing. It was only through the outrage of viewers in that area that the CBC brought Compass and the newscasts back to the people of Prince Edward Island.
If the CRTC is not going to act when Canadians need it the most, how can we expect it to actually act in the best interests of Canadians when it comes to Internet giants?
I remember an instance when Global doing something similar here in the city. In Saskatoon we had a newscast that actually came out of Toronto. The CRTC was unaware of that, but it has since been rectified in the city.
I think everyone here can understand my skepticism today of putting all of our eggs into one basket by dumping this onto the CRTC. However, for the sake of argument, let us pretend it is not an issue. Let us pretend that the regulator has absolutely no issues with fulfilling its mandate. Are there are any other problems with the bill?
Let us start with social media. The legislation does nothing to ensure that online platforms, such as Facebook and Google, that have built their businesses by sharing other people's content are paying their fair share. In fact, the bill absolves those companies from responsibility for content posted on their platforms.
Then we need to consider what measures are being proposed to make sure that conventional broadcasters are on a level playing field with digital platforms. The reality is there is nothing. It gives no guidance or explanation of how the regulations or guidelines should be created or drawn.
Finally, this legislation provides no guidelines at all as to whether or not digital platforms will be forced to meet the same Canadian content production rules or be required to make payments into the Canada Media Fund. All of our conventional broadcasters must still meet these requirements. This sounds nothing like levelling the playing field.
However, we should not worry if this does not go well, because the government is here to save the day. It can settle issues with an order in council afterwards. Instead of being clear with broadcasters and Canadians, the government is going to wait a little longer and potentially implement policy later. That is simply not a plan. Broadcasters cannot prepare for the future while these discussions and regulations are created behind closed doors.
Who could blame Canadians if they begin to wonder what the government is planning to implement that it is not willing to put in today's legislation. What is it hiding? The government has not told us.
Let us review. There is no guarantee that the CRTC will actually fulfill its obligations and produce regulations. It could have before, and it did not. If it does, will it enforce them?
What about the rules for platforms and conventional broadcasters? What are they going to look like? The bill does not tell us. We do not know what the rules around the Canada Media Fund or even Canadian content will be. There is nothing new for dealing with social media platforms.
What do we know? Well, not a lot, actually. What we do have is a lot of uncertainty.
The government is leaving the whole process up in the air with regard to the CRTC. Industry cannot be sure what the government is going to do to regulate in this area because it has totally neglected this in the past. Even if it does, it is going to take months for Canadians to hear anything from the CRTC, and that means months of more uncertainty at a time when our media industry is already greatly struggling.
I want to reiterate my serious concern about the legislation before us today. Canadian broadcasters and creators are struggling mightily. We know that. The government needs to do something to remedy the situation.
The power to regulate companies like Netflix already exists under the CRTC, but it has chosen not to act and this legislation does not compel it to. What reason do Canadians have to believe that the CRTC will bring in new regulations or that they will be enforced?
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging this House sits on the ancestral lands of the Algonquin Anishinabe.
Canadians are enthusiastic early adopters of technology. Time and time again they have readily embraced the wide variety of broadcasting services available to them, foreign and domestic. These broadcasting services empower consumers with the ability to watch what they want whenever they want it and however they want it. The same goes for listening to music and hearing the news. Bill will not limit the ability of Canadians to access the programming platforms of their preference; rather, it will ensure the Canadian broadcasting system continues to meet the needs of Canadian consumers.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is the independent regulator of Canada's broadcasting systems. It requires television and radio stations and cable and satellite distributors to support the creation and display of Canadian stories and Canadian music. These are requirements that have been in place for decades and have resulted in greater investment and promotion of Canadian content and talent, including high-quality journalism, groundbreaking musical artists and compelling and acclaimed programming.
However, in the current regulatory framework, online broadcasters are exempt from most broadcasting regulations. In other words, they are not required to contribute to the Canadian broadcasting system as is required of the traditional broadcasters. This is because the last time major changes were made to our Broadcasting Act was in 1991, before we experienced the new digital age and its challenges. We are well into the digital age now and it is time for our legislation to join us. It is time for online broadcasters to be treated the same as traditional broadcasters.
Bill would create a level playing field where all broadcasters have a fair chance to compete by ensuring that online broadcasters are subject to the same regulatory framework. Most importantly, it ensures that both traditional and online broadcasters contribute to a healthy and vibrant Canadian broadcasting system. For Canadian artists, this means securing sustainable funding that will allow them to continue telling stories and making music from a uniquely Canadian perspective. For most consumers this means the ability to access more content that will allow Canadians to see themselves, their communities and their stories reflected through different points of view. For Canada it means a stronger cultural unity, a shared national identity and a more inclusive society.
By presenting the content that is representative of different cultures, communities and languages from across Canada, broadcasting provides a window into the diverse experiences of Canadians. Made in Canada content is considered personally important to 78% of Canadians. It is clear that Canadians see value in seeing their stories on the screen and in hearing Canadian artists on the radio.
I am proud to say that the interest in Canadian content exists far beyond our borders. The hit show Schitt's Creek recently brought home nine Emmys, the film Indian Horse won an award at the 2018 San Diego International Film Festival and Quebec native Céline Dion is one of the best worldwide selling artists of all time. The list goes on. Including online broadcasters in the broadcasting regulatory framework could result in online broadcasters being requested to invest more than $800 million in our creators, music and stories by 2023. It could result in more Canadian successes being enjoyed and recognized abroad.
Whether getting traffic and weather updates or learning about the day's events from prime-time broadcasts, the broadcasting system is an important source of news for Canadians. Traditional broadcasters have long supported journalism and the delivery of local, regional and national news. By including a new policy objective that promotes the provision of news, including that produced by Canadians and reflecting Canadian perspectives from a variety of sources, we are strengthening the role of news in the broadcasting system.
Recognizing that a free and independent press is the cornerstone of our democracy, the bill would not contemplate the licensing of news organizations. However, the bill does create an equitable framework for broadcasting that will help safeguard news production. This way, traditional broadcasters who are important sources of news, and particularly local news, would be better able to compete with online broadcasting services.
The bill was also crafted to keep both online and traditional broadcasting services affordable for Canadians. We understand that, every day, Canadians are making difficult choices on how to spend their hard-earned dollars. This is especially true during these trying times.
Bill provides the CRTC with the ability to tailor regulatory requirements to specific business models. For example, the CRTC could impose mandatory Canadian programming expenditures on services that are already in the business of commissioning and producing content. Requiring services, such as Netflix and Crave, to spend a certain amount of money each year on Canadian content will help us move the needle on directing investments toward programming that is created and produced by Canadians, for Canadians. This will help the CRTC avoid imposing undue regulatory burdens on a particular service that would then result in raised prices for consumers.
These are just some of the ways that Bill would benefit Canadian consumers, creators and artists. The exemption for digital services was originally put in place to allow for the innovation and development of new online media services. In 2020, when Canadians mostly access programming online, these exemptions no longer make sense.
The inclusion of online broadcasters in the Canadian broadcasting system with regulatory clarity would promote the entrance of new players into the Canadian market. It supports a vibrant and healthy competition in the sector, creating additional pressures to keep costs down. For Canadian consumers, it leads to a wider variety of high-quality content, with a greater diversity of views in which Canadians proudly see themselves and their stories. After nearly 30 years, it is time to modernize our broadcasting system and to safeguard it for the future.