Madam Speaker, I am glad the government has finally brought this long-awaited modernization of the Broadcasting Act, also known as Bill C-10. Too often government regulations have fallen far behind human innovations and progress, such as those for unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, and various forms of the sharing economy, and it is definitely encouraging to see, 15 years after its founding and 10 years after YouTube reached one billion views, that the act is being updated for social media platforms. However, my initial excitement was doused with a bucket of cold water when I saw some of the half-hearted measures and the complete abdication of responsibility. We missed a great opportunity to genuinely reform the act for the 21st century, and I therefore find it challenging to cast my support for it.
Let me explain. In my research preparing for this speech, I came across Dr. Michael Geist's criticism of the faults of the proposed changes in Bill C-10. In fact, there are so many problems, he has a daily blog called “The Broadcasting Act Blunder”. Allow me to mention a few highlights from this blog.
First, Bill C-10, as a broadcast reform bill, could spell the end of Canadian ownership requirements by removing Canadian ownership and control requirements from the Broadcasting Act, yet the heritage minister says the bill would safeguard cultural sovereignty. Second, the bill in no way prevents online streaming services from operating in Canada or requires them to be licensed. It instead requires registration, which may result in nondescript additional regulations and conditions that are “virtually indistinguishable from licensing requirements”.
When the Liberals claim it ensures that online broadcasting is covered under the act, why is it covered in such indecisive terms? The bill creates uncertainty, increases consumer costs and creates a risk for tariffs and blocking content from Canada. However, the government calls the bill a matter of fairness.
Michael Geist is not one of those regular Canadians who the elitist government looks down upon. He is a Canadian academic. In fact, he is the Canada research chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa and a member of the Centre for Law, Technology and Society. He holds multiple law degrees from prestigious institutions and has taught around the world. It would be fair to take his misgivings on the bill seriously.
Let us take a closer look at fairness. The Liberals say they are updating broadcasting and regulatory policies to better reflect the diversity of Canadian society. How is it fair to virtual signal with much empty aspirations about gender equality, LGBTQ2+ people, racialized communities, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples without specifying how the changes will help them? Is it fair to arm the CRTC with new enforcement powers through an administrative monetary penalty scheme that, when translated into English, means government's overreach could potentially end in a windfall of cold hard cash?
Speaking of cash, is it fair that the government has used the pandemic to repeatedly seek more unchecked power for itself, all the while drowning Canadians in a projected $1.2 trillion in national debt? That is a credit card debt of more than $63,000 for each of Facebook Canada's alleged 19 million registered users in this country. Estimates indicate that if online broadcasters are taxed for Canadian content at a rate similar to that of traditional broadcasting, the new framework would create an $830 million government windfall in three years, by 2023.
In addition to power grabs, the government also wants a cash grab, but the obvious other side to this is increased costs. When someone is going to pays for fees that are projected to run into hundreds of millions of dollars, it is only obvious the burden will fall on Canadian consumers. None of this is fair to Canadians, and Bill C-10 follows a pattern we have become all too familiar with this year: bold intentions, little clarity, empty promises and a failure to deliver meaningful changes.
I, for one, am tired of seeing our government feeding Canadians word salad for every meal. It is past time for a meaty and substantial policy to be put forward.
Bill C-10 would hand massive new powers to the CRTC, Canada's telecommunications and broadcast regulator, to regulate online streaming services, opening the door to mandated Canadian content, also known as CanCon, payments; discoverability requirements, even though we have no issue discovering Canadian content on any capable search engine today without it; and confidential information disclosures, all backed by new fining powers.
Many of the details will be sorted out by the beefed-up CRTC bureaucracy long after the legislation is gone. The specifics will take years to unfold, meanwhile leaving Canadians in uncertainty and insecurity. Some are estimating it will take nine months alone to undertake the very first regulatory phase.
Thankfully, from where I am sitting, it appears that Canadians are not being fooled this time. They are calling for beneficial legislation that would tax multi-billion dollar foreign corporations such as Google and Facebook. They realize the bill would kick the legs out from under small content creators. They know the bill would be the surrender of any meaningful priority.
My office has been receiving notices from online campaigners asking to compel the CRTC to regulate online broadcasters, update the CBC mandate and governance structure and make sure social media companies are responsible for the illegal content they broadcast. They say, “Any updated Broadcasting Act that doesn't tackle these key issues isn't doing enough to defend Canadian broadcasting, culture and journalism.”
The bill also lacks definitions to clarify applications for social media services and user-generated content. For example, if a friend of mine sets up a subscriber-funded online broadcasting app to live-stream programs of Canadian current affairs and commentaries, unlike the author of this act seems to assume, he is doing this on his own and not relying on any of the big box social media platforms. His single-operator platform would be subjected to CRTC's mercy to allow his exercise in freedom of expression and speech, at best, or it would get buried out of business under the mounds of bureaucratic red tape, at worst. It is clear Bill C-10 does not meet the concerns of regular people.
I believe government control should be adequate and not overarching. As Andrew Coyne writes in The Globe and Mail, “But just how far the state's regulatory tentacles will now extend will depend in large part on how the CRTC interprets its new powers—and the bill's language gives plenty of room to worry.” I agree.
He is not alone in holding this view, though. Laura Tribe, executive director of OpenMedia, an Internet watchdog group, has issued an urgent warning, saying, “[The minister] has created an artificial sense of crisis around Canadian cultural content—content that is surviving and flourishing in the 21st century.” Amid all the other crises we have experienced this year, I hardly think now is the time or place to be manufacturing a new one to hive that policy.
When it comes to bills, like Bill C-10, that make claims as bold as they do, I agree with Andrew Coyne when he says, “You can lead a horse to culture, but you can't make it watch.”
On the last sitting day of the House, I wish you, Madam Speaker, and every member of the House of Commons a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah and happy holidays.