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View Carolyn Bennett Profile
Lib. (ON)
moved that Bill C-18, An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to split my time with the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer.
View Chris d'Entremont Profile
CPC (NS)
Do we have unanimous consent?
Some hon. members: No.
The Deputy Speaker: The hon. parliamentary secretary.
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my Conservative friends. I guess they miss me. I am at home, participating online, and they do not want to hear me for 15 minutes. They want to hear me for the full 30.
I know they enjoy my speeches. I get a lot of feedback in real time. Unfortunately, I cannot hear that real-time feedback at the moment. I am sure they are listening attentively to what I have to say.
I appreciate the opportunity to add and—
View Chris d'Entremont Profile
CPC (NS)
Order. The hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou on a point of order.
View Sylvie Bérubé Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Speaker, there is no interpretation right now.
View Chris d'Entremont Profile
CPC (NS)
I will keep speaking in English and hope that the translation will come through.
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, that is wonderful. It is unfortunate we lost that minute or so, but I guess that gives me even more time to speak to my Conservative friends who do not want to hear the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer, who is an hon. parliamentarian. It is disappointing. I am sure he will get an opportunity to speak going forward, but I thank my Conservative friends for allowing me to carry on and answer even more questions.
I would like to start my speech with a statement, and I hope all members agree with it: There is no real democracy without a free and independent press. A bankrupt press is not a free press. To play its fundamental role, the press needs revenue. This principle is at the core of Bill C-18, and it is at the core of our approach to supporting strong and independent journalism. What we are seeing now, more than ever, is just how important that is.
The way Canadians get their news has changed a lot. Many of us get our news through Google or Facebook, which is okay. There is nothing wrong with that, but the problem is that digital media platforms do not compensate media when they use their content. Advertising dollars have left Canadian media. In 2020, online advertising revenues in Canada were close to $10 billion, with Meta and Google taking 80% of those revenues.
The consequences for many Canadian businesses are dire. This is especially hurting Canadian media that rely on advertising to pay their journalists. Between 2008 and 2021, 450 news outlets closed across Canada. Let me repeat that: Canada now has 450 fewer news outlets, and it shows no signs of improving. Since the start of the pandemic, 64 news outlets have closed. This is a crisis.
In many regions, that means there are no more local media and no more journalists holding local governments and officials to account. Many Canadians have no way of knowing what is happening in their communities and no way of knowing what is happening at City Hall. The very foundations of our government are eroding. All this is at a time when disinformation is on the rise. Canadians need credible, independent and reliable information.
We have implemented concrete solutions to address these issues, and I would like to go through a couple of them. We created the Canadian journalism labour tax credit. This has kept many outlets afloat: many more would have gone bankrupt during the pandemic, leaving many communities without any local journalistic coverage. We created a tax credit for subscriptions and donations to media.
We increased funding to the Canada periodical fund, which many local media outlets had to rely on. We are even adding an additional $40 million to the budget in 2022. We created the local journalism initiative. Thanks to this program, many communities can count on journalistic equality and consistent access to local news. Without it, many communities would have absolutely zero coverage on the ground. These are all important steps, but we know there is more work to do.
We have heard loud and clear from the Canadian journalism industry that news businesses are struggling. They are in dire need of long-term, reliable and structural supports to continue producing the news that Canadians rely so heavily on. That is why we need tech giants to do their part, and that is why we need Bill C-18.
The compensation that tech giants would provide to Canadian media through Bill C-18 would represent a giant step in ensuring the viability of strong and independent journalism in Canada, which is essential to our democracy. That is what Bill C-18 would do. It is simple. Tech giants would fairly compensate Canadian journalists when they use their content. That is it: no more, no less.
It is a market-based solution that involves minimal government intervention, and I think everyone in this place can agree on that. I am sure my Conservative colleagues will be very happy. They believe in the free market and independent journalism. I really cannot think of anything in this bill that they would not like.
As I said, Bill C-18 is a market-based approach designed to revolve around bargaining and balance between large, dominant digital platforms and news businesses. It would ensure that eligible news businesses are fairly compensated for their content by digital platforms through negotiated deals. The bill incentivizes parties to reach commercial agreements on their own.
It is based on the Australian model, but we made it more transparent. Public and transparent criteria would determine which platform is included and has to negotiate with Canadian media. It is not a minister and not a government. Every step of the way, we would make sure that the government stays as far away as possible from this process.
Digital platforms would be designated under the act. If they had a significant bargaining power imbalance compared with news businesses, they would be required to negotiate with eligible news businesses a fair compensation for the news content that appears on their services.
Again, this is not the government that determines which outlet is eligible. There are criteria. They are written in black and white in the bill. It is as transparent as it gets.
I hope my colleagues are listening carefully. I am sure they are, because they wanted me to go on for an additional 10 minutes. The next part of this speech is important, because the bill is important to smaller local media as well.
Eligible media may collectively bargain if they wish. This would allow smaller media outlets that did not have the resources to single-handedly negotiate with tech giants to still receive fair compensation for the use of their content. In other words, we are ensuring that local journalism can continue to thrive in communities across Canada.
We went even further on transparency, because we believe this is essential to preserve public confidence in Canadian journalism and in our democracy. Every single deal would be disclosed. Canadians would know which news organizations have deals with each and every platform. Through this bill, we are making sure that commercial agreements between digital platforms and news businesses are in the public interest.
For the deals to be acceptable, they need to satisfy six criteria.
First, they provide fair compensation for news content.
Second, they ensure that an appropriate portion of the compensation will be used for the production of local, regional and national news content.
Third, they do not undermine freedom of expression and journalistic integrity.
Fourth, they contribute to the sustainability of the news market.
Fifth, they ensure that a significant portion of independent local news businesses benefit from the deals.
Sixth, they involve a range of news outlets that reflect the diversity of the Canadian news marketplace.
Again, we see the criteria are public and transparent. There is minimal government intervention.
The bill even contains an exemption to this. It contains a set of criteria that, if fulfilled, may exempt digital platforms from further negotiations. This is essential to encourage voluntary commercial agreements to further minimize government involvement. To be exempt, digital platforms would have to show that they sufficiently contribute to the Canadian digital news marketplace by reaching fair commercial agreements, that they have an appropriate portion of compensation used to support local and independent news, that the agreements are inclusive and made with a diversity of news businesses representing a diversity of Canadian interests and identities, and that the agreements support innovative business models. As we can see, this is another way to make sure that local media also receive fair compensation. It is at the core of the bill.
Without this legislation, Canadian journalism and democracy will continue to erode. It is already happening as we speak. Bill C-18 would ensure that digital platforms are negotiating fair commercial deals with news businesses. This is not just about large news businesses, as I clearly demonstrated through the availability of collective bargaining. As a criteria for the exemption, this bill would ensure that small businesses also receive fair compensation.
This bill would limit government involvement and protect the independence of media from both government and commercial interference, because now, more than ever, Canadians need strong and independent journalism.
The Conservatives have told us they want market-based solutions to the media crisis. I agree, and we agree, but right now there are two companies, Google and Meta, that get 80% of the ad revenue on the Internet. It does not feel like it is a free market. There is not much competition. It is almost a monopoly, but with our bill Canadian media would have the tools they need to negotiate fair deals. It is a solution that protects media and protects their independence.
We are basing this on the Australian model. I know when a similar bill came out in Australia, Facebook, or Meta, attempted to have a fight with the Australian government and threatened to pull all of the country's news sources from Facebook. It thought it would turn the Australian people against their government, but what it did was turn them against Facebook, which backed down.
We have seen other countries and other allies of Canada move in this direction. We have an understanding and we have full knowledge. Again, I hope all members support our need to have strong independent journalism to help our democracy. Australia created a model that works. The tech giants have negotiated fair deals with Australian media outlets, including Australian Crown corporations. Journalism there is now stronger. Australian democracy is now stronger. It worked in Australia, and it will work in Canada.
I think that is what we want. I truly hope that this will be a speedy debate and that all parties will come together on this, because that is what we want to see. I am sure there are members in this House who do not like that there are local news outlets that hold them to account, but that is what strengthens our democracy.
I know the Conservatives have been very vocal on our committee, and I respect that, talking about the Shaw-Rogers merger and its impact on local news. We have had some very good discussion on that. Because there is a potential impact on a number of local television stations and local news across the country, I hope that concern goes broader. The merger is an excellent discussion, a discussion worth having, but this is the elephant in the room, in terms of ad revenues that have left, ad revenues that are going away from local news organizations and going to massive American companies, the dominant digital players. Again, 80% of that revenue goes to those two companies. It does not seem like we could have a healthy space, and this concerns me.
We see the consequences of misinformation and disinformation online. The types of things that local media and national media outlets do are to get the truth out, but on Facebook and other social media, we do not see that impact. To see the safety of the hon. leader of the NDP threatened because of individuals who have now become subsumed in the disinformation that social media has to offer is horrific. It was frightening to watch, and it was disappointing to see. No member of this place should have to go through that. He handled it with poise, and I tip my hat to him, but none of us should be placed in that position.
I will wrap up by saying that this is a significant bill for Canadians, for democracy. We need to find ways to strengthen that. I look forward to getting this to committee as quickly as possible. We have excellent debates in the heritage committee and we have a very good working relationship with all parties. There is an appreciation across all the parties that we need to do more for local media and we need to do more for national media to ensure that that presence continues to exist.
I hope that we see broad support on Bill C-18, and I look forward to its passing speedily at second reading so that we can get it to committee as quickly as we can.
View Chris d'Entremont Profile
CPC (NS)
I do not know if we always go to the first one standing, but the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan beat everyone to it.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
CPC (AB)
Mr. Speaker, I have just a simple question for the parliamentary secretary about the discussion around spreading misinformation and disinformation.
Is “spreading misinformation” simply a fancy way of saying “telling a lie”? Does it mean the same thing as telling a lie, or does it mean something different?
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what the hon. member is getting at. Misinformation and disinformation are endemic on social media platforms. It is much broader than telling a lie. I do not know that I can encompass that in a very brief answer to the hon. member. I think he knows that. I think he knows that we are having difficulty as a society acknowledging what is truthful.
We could take a look at what has happened on COVID-19 and the anti-vax movement. We could take a look at climate change and see the misinformation and disinformation out there, when there is scientific consensus on those types of issues. There is no check against it, seemingly, on Meta, Twitter, Google and other companies, so we are going to rely more heavily on local journalism and national journalism, the media in general, to ensure that Canadians have access to accurate information.
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Speaker, we have been waiting for this bill, along with the broadcasting bill, for several years. In this case, it is about levelling the playing field so that the print media can thrive in a media landscape dominated by the omnipresence of new technology.
Does the parliamentary secretary think this bill will actually enable the print media to thrive in today's context?
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question from the hon. member. We need to start levelling the playing field somewhere. This is an excellent start.
This deal is already in place between major media companies in Canada and Facebook and Google. It is time to ensure that there is more transparency. It is time to ensure that smaller entities will be able to get a fair deal as well. This will help level the playing field. The argument that we are making on Bill C-11 is an important argument that we are making on Bill C-18 as well.
We need to get this bill to committee and through the House as quickly as possibly, because, as we said, more media outlets are closing. We are in a crisis. We need to do what we can, and this is a model that works.
View Mark Gerretsen Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, the highlight of my morning was when I found out that the parliamentary secretary was going to be speaking longer than he wanted to.
I think of a news outlet in my riding. It is called the Kingstonist. It actually just came online, probably within the last 10-12 years, and over the years it has gradually built a larger and larger base of followers. The only way it generates income right now is if people subscribe to the service or if people end up on its website, where it can generate money from ad revenue. However, we know that the majority of people who look at its news content are seeing it on Facebook or perhaps on Google, and it is at a huge disadvantage when it comes to the distribution of its material.
I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could comment on how he thinks this bill would help an organization such as the Kingstonist in my riding.
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member, as always, for his informative questions and his hard work on the file. It is important. News outlets like the one the hon. member mentioned are fundamental to our democratic institutions. Here in St. Catharines, on the few occasions I have had to attend local city council meetings, there may or may not have been one or two members of the local media there, but we need as many people as possible there holding elected officials to account.
In Kingston, it is fundamentally important to do the same thing. Organizations like the one the hon. member mentioned will benefit across the country, to ensure that they have the ad revenue and that dominant digital players are not syphoning off the vast majority of ad revenue, which they have been doing and which is the centre of the crisis we find ourselves in.
View Lisa Marie Barron Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Speaker, in my riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith, we are seeing the impacts of many of the larger web giants using local news, much to the disadvantage of local news outlets. We are seeing news outlets in Nanaimo—Ladysmith closing down, and many of the news outlets, such as Nanaimo News Bulletin, The Discourse and Nanaimo News Now, are struggling to keep up with the large web giants. They are set up for failure.
I wonder if the member could speak about why we have not done anything to support local media to date and what needs to be done to ensure that we are supporting these local, hard-working media sources.
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, in my speech I listed many of the programs with which the government is helping out media, but there is only so much the government can do. We need to find a more market-based solution to this problem. At the centre of it are dominant digital players syphoning off the vast majority of the ad revenue. That is the big issue that we find ourselves in.
This bill provides a solution. It provides a solution, with limited government intervention, to allow deals to take place with independents. In terms of smaller media outlets, which the hon. member mentioned, they can bargain collectively with other media outlets to ensure that they get a fair deal and that they benefit from this bill, and to help level the playing field to ensure that they can continue to provide news in the hon. member's riding.
View Elizabeth May Profile
GP (BC)
Mr. Speaker, I was quite sure I was up ahead of the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, but I will not argue the point. That is virtual reality, so here we are.
I am focusing less on what Bill C-18 proposes to do. It has taken the approach of saying, as we have heard, that when information, news articles and content appear in what we might call our conventional media, the social media giants and the tech giants pay for that. However, it does not get to this new problem. Neither Bill C-11 nor Bill C-18 gets to what is now being called by our security experts “IMVE”, ideologically motivated violent extremism, which is spread through social media content. I commend to the hon. parliamentary secretary and other members a recent opinion piece by Beverley McLachlin, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and Taylor Owen, the director of the Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy at McGill University.
We are not addressing the root problem here. It is a dangerous area. People want to back away from this nexus between free speech and protecting people from violent extremism. The solution I would put to the hon. member is to treat these new tech online sources, or whatever we want to call them, not as platforms but as publishers. That is what they are. They publish. We have a vast amount of common-law jurisprudence on what to do with publishing things that are false.
I put it to the hon. member that Bill C-18 and Bill C-11 do not address the threat to Canadian democracy in online disinformation.
View Chris Bittle Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I do agree with the hon. member that her virtual hand was up long, long before the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan jumped up on his feet.
The hon. member is also right in terms of where we find ourselves with social media, that it is an unsafe place. I was threatened yesterday when I spoke about a shooting that happened in my riding. This is the type of thing that Canadians find themselves in. It becomes a much less safe place than it has ever been, with the promise of the Internet, as it rose in the 1990s, that it would be this wonderful place. However, it is not a safe place, and it is even less so for women and persons of colour.
That is why the government is consulting on online safety. We hope to have legislation soon, but the consultations are ongoing. It is fundamental. It is in the minister's mandate letter, and we hope to have legislation on that as part of our plan.
View Chris d'Entremont Profile
CPC (NS)
Before we continue debate, I know the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands did have her hand up first. I have to admit that. However, I know the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, among the six Conservatives who stood up, was first in that round. That is just to clarify.
View Elizabeth May Profile
GP (BC)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I know that it would have violated the Standing Orders for the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan to stand and be recognized while the hon. parliamentary secretary was speaking, so I was rather teasing the hon. Speaker. I know that virtual hands go up at the beginning of a speech and no one in the House could do that. I withdraw any suggestion that I was critical of the Speaker's decision on who spoke first.
View Chris d'Entremont Profile
CPC (NS)
I am hopeful that this kind of discussion will continue this morning.
View John Nater Profile
CPC (ON)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for clarifying her point, because I do worry that the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan is now just going to stand in his place for the entirety of today's debate. I just worry that his legs are going to get sore from standing that long.
View Chris d'Entremont Profile
CPC (NS)
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Perth—Wellington.
View John Nater Profile
CPC (ON)
Mr. Speaker, it certainly is an honour to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-18, the online news act.
I did not get a chance to ask the parliamentary secretary for Canadian heritage a question. He spoke a lot in his speech about the online tech giants, the Facebooks and Googles of the world, gobbling up advertising revenue and leaving small local newspapers without the same access to revenue. If I would have had a chance to ask the parliamentary secretary a question, I would have asked him why he spent $13,000 on Facebook advertising, rather than investing that in his local newspaper, the St. Catharines Standard.
Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to ask the parliamentary secretary that question, but perhaps he can come back to the House at some point and clarify why he felt the need to spend $13,000 on a tech giant, rather than on his local community newspaper.
I want to begin by stating there is a clear sense that Canada's news environment has changed dramatically, and it has changed especially significantly in the last 10 to 20 years. The Internet has changed how we do business. It has brought many changes to all aspects of our lives, our communities and how businesses operate. As these changes and disruptions have happened in the digital marketplace, they have had a very specific impact on the media industry and in particular the traditional print media industry.
As many Canadians know, the cumulative advertising dollars that are spent in Canada are now being spent more and more on online means. As these dollars move online, a smaller and smaller number of dollars are being spent on traditional advertising and print advertising, which for years and decades have been used to sustain the news industry.
Newsrooms in 2022 are far smaller than they were even a decade ago. We can contrast that even further back, to 20 to 30 years ago. Many of the newsrooms that are now operating with one or two journalists at one point operated with a dozen. I know the Speaker has a background in the media industry and will be able to reflect on the changes that have happened over these number of years. Still other newsrooms have closed entirely, and when these newsrooms close, they leave in their wake news deserts in which parts of the community, or in some cases entire communities, are left without access to reliable local news sources. These closures have particularly hurt small towns and rural communities, like those communities in many of our ridings.
Canadians rely on local news to inform their lives and help inform their decision-making at the local, regional and national levels. Whether it be the members of the parliamentary press gallery, the press galleries of the provincial legislatures or countless individual journalists who cover the goings-on at city halls and town halls in communities across our country, all of these journalists have a role to play in Canada's democratic life. In fact, a free and independent press is essential to a functioning democracy.
I draw the House's attention to one of the famous comments on a free and independent press from George Mason, one of America's founding fathers. He said, “the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.” That quotation is as true now as it was then. The freedom and ability of the press to fairly, impartially and honestly report the news to citizens of this country are absolutely essential.
That local news is struggling is not in doubt. The traditional business model that saw print publications sell advertising space in hard-copy publications worked for decades and saw successes. Small independent newspapers and large media empires alike relied on the basic practice of using this advertising space to reach the eyes of readers and help sustain their newsrooms. Now, in 2022, while the advertising model has diminished, what has not diminished is the continued need for impartial, honest and trustworthy sources of news.
The government itself has admitted that it has not yet found a solution to this problem. In fact, in his press conference after introducing the bill, the Minister of Canadian Heritage himself conceded that a significant number of news providers have closed their doors in recent years during the government's time in office. This is not only unfortunate; it is weakening our communities.
Local newspapers, radio stations and television stations bring us the stories that impact us in our daily lives. At the local level, they report the stories of community. They cover municipal councils, charitable events and fundraisers, community festivals, fall fairs and the success of our local sports teams or, in some cases, hope for the future success of these teams. Local journalism also covers the more unfortunate but nonetheless essential stories that need to be told in our communities: stories of crime, fires, floods and violence.
As I drive across the 3,500 square kilometres of Perth—Wellington, I find myself flipping through my car radio's preset stations. I want to be clear that I use my radio in my car. I do not use Spotify and I do not use satellite radio. I prefer traditional radio when I am driving, and I listen to it as I drive across my riding and from there to Ottawa. I also listen to local stations as I drive along Highway 401 or Highway 7, depending on which direction I am taking. It gives me an opportunity to hear what is going on in not only my own communities in Perth—Wellington, but those across the country.
As I drive through Perth and Wellington counties, I find myself flipping to The River, which is a non-profit entity out of Mount Forest, Ontario, that celebrates everything local and everything important to the community. I often switch to a number of the Blackburn radio stations that are present throughout southwestern Ontario given the important services and news they provide. In fact, one of the Blackburn stations is AM920 out of Wingham. I fondly remember as a child listening to AM920 and being shushed by my mother every time the “in memoriam” part came on, because we certainly did not want to miss that. To this day, it is still part of the station.
In Listowel and North Perth, we can tune in to The Ranch, the newest entrant to the news and radio market. It has quickly found an important spot in the media landscape in Listowel and North Perth and, indeed, in the northern part of Perth County. Of course, in Stratford, we can tune in to 2day FM or Juice FM to hear Jamie Cottle in the morning, and before him, local legend Eddie Matthews.
I would like to highlight the fact that the radio predecessor to 2day FM and Juice FM was CJCS 1240 AM. It was in 1945 that the CJCS commentators were providing coverage of the Perth Regiment's return from World War II. That coverage on CJCS 1240 AM inspired a young, 12-year-old boy from Stratford to begin a lifelong career in broadcasting. That young boy began working at CJCS as a high school student, and while he got his start in radio, generations of Canadians know him for his television career as Canada's most trusted news anchor. However, Stratford and Perth County will always lay claim to the fact that Lloyd Robertson got his start in our little community on the radio.
In Perth—Wellington, we also have a number of tremendous local newspapers. In Wellington County, we are lucky to have the Wellington Advertiser, which has proudly served the people of Wellington County for more than half a century. It has been recognized for its work on multiple occasions, including being named the top community newspaper in Ontario in its class by the Ontario Community Newspapers Association.
When I attended the 50th anniversary celebration for the Wellington Advertiser, I was struck by a story told by Dave Adsett, publisher of the Advertiser. He recounted how his father, Bill Adsett, the founder of the Wellington Advertiser, once had the option to save money by removing delivery to a small portion of Wellington County. He refused to do so out of principle to ensure that every citizen in Wellington County had access to the news and information contained in the Wellington Advertiser. When Bill Adsett passed away on October 5, 2021, he was rightly remembered and honoured for his lifetime of contributions to the County of Wellington.
In my hometown of Mitchell, I have been a reader of the Mitchell Advocate literally since I was able to read. I say that completely honestly. Throughout all the years that I have been reading the newspaper, Andy Bader has been working hard to bring the news and our local stories to us each and every week. Similarly, I have wonderful memories of reading The Stratford Beacon Herald, and watching as photographers like Scott Wishart chronicled the life of the community through his photos, or as Steve Rice recorded the rise and fall of any number of local sports teams.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned, many local news providers have closed in the past number of years, hurting communities across Canada, including those in Perth—Wellington.
The Mount Forest Confederate, a paper that was first published in the year of Canada's Confederation, in 1867, has closed. The Arthur Enterprise News, founded before Confederation, in 1862, has closed. In 2019, the Minto Express was closed.
In Perth County, many of my constituents were shocked in 2017 when the major media giants abruptly shut down both the St. Marys Journal Argus and Stratford Gazette. The closure of the St. Marys Journal Argus was especially difficult because after 154 years as a newspaper serving the community, it was unexpectedly shut down in one single day without even the opportunity to deliver a final edition to the town's faithful readers.
Fortunately for the town of St. Marys, the St. Marys Independent, led by Stewart Grant, has stepped in to fill that void. I might add that he does so as a true public service to the communities of St. Marys, Perth South and beyond.
While these examples are local to my riding, the challenges are certainly national in scope. Today's debate is not the first time the issue of struggling local news providers has been raised. In fact, at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, we have undertaken a study of the Rogers-Shaw deal and the impact that it will have on local news. This study was initiated by my friend and colleague, the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood, a former broadcaster who prided himself during his broadcasting career on delivering local news to his communities in Saskatoon and beyond.
Like many Canadians, I was disappointed to see the CRTC make a ruling to approve the sale based on certain conditions. Obviously recent events involving the Competition Bureau may alter the future of this deal, but what I found interesting and frankly disappointing about the Rogers-Shaw decision by the CRTC was its use of wishy-washy, non-committal language. In its decision, the CRTC used words such as “encouragement”, “expectations” and “reminders”, rather than taking a real stand.
Setting aside for a moment the CRTC's decision on the Rogers-Shaw deal, there is no question that the decisions made by the CRTC and other entities will have an impact on local news. The question is whether the CRTC has the capacity or the competency to actually make decisions that will improve the media landscape in Canada.
That brings me to some of the concerns we have with the bill at hand.
In the last election, there was a general consensus among the different political platforms that something should be done to help local news and journalism survive. In our Conservative platform under our former leader, the member for Durham, we made the following commitment:
Canada’s Conservatives will:
Introduce a digital media royalty framework to ensure that Canadian media outlets are fairly compensated for the sharing of their content by platforms like Google and Facebook. It will:
Adopt a made in Canada approach that incorporates the best practices of jurisdictions like Australia and France.
Include a robust arbitration process and the creation of an intellectual property right for article extracts shared on a social media platform.
Ensure that smaller media outlets are included, and that the government won’t be able to pick and choose who has access to the royalty framework.
That is what we committed to in the last election campaign.
It may surprise everyone, but we did not win that election. We came close, certainly, and we did win the popular vote, but we did not form government, to the great disappointment of my friends on the other side of the House. While we did not get to draft this legislation, it is our duty as Her Majesty's loyal opposition to review the legislation introduced by the Liberal government and provide the comments that our citizens and constituents require of us.
Let me say very clearly that Canada's Conservatives believe that news providers should be fairly compensated for the use of their content. That said, we do have questions about this particular piece of legislation. As I explained earlier, local news providers are struggling. This begs the obvious question as to whether Bill C-18 will help the newspapers and radio stations in communities like Perth—Wellington, Sarnia—Lambton, Elgin—Middlesex—London, and other rural communities and small towns across our country. Unfortunately, that is unclear.
A recent report from the Toronto Star, itself a long and distinguished media provider in this country, indicated that the Australian model on which this legislation is based may be leaving out small and medium-sized businesses. The article states, “But while major publishers and networks in Australia had struck deals with Facebook and Google, some smaller, independent outlets were finding themselves shut out from making deals of their own.”
The article goes on to quote Erin Millar, the CEO of Indiegraf, who said, “If we’re going to have this bill, how are we to design it in such a way that it doesn’t lead to the same outcomes as Australia, which is, from my perspective, really not supporting journalism?”
There are other questions that remain unanswered with this bill as well, such as why the CRTC was selected as the regulatory body to enforce and oversee the act when the CRTC does not have a history or experience in regulating online platforms. Let us not forget that the CRTC is the same entity whose chair met privately for beers with someone from one of the largest industries it regulates. However, beyond the chair's clear lack of judgment, let us remember that the CRTC has still not implemented a three-digit suicide prevention hotline more than 500 days after this House unanimously passed a motion calling for such a resource. It has also been more than 16 months since the CRTC held hearings about the licence renewal for the CBC licences. If the CRTC cannot make a decision within 16 months on what I would assume to be a fairly routine renewal, how in the world can it have the capacity and competency to do anything that is asked of it?
We also have no indication on how much revenue will be generated when this bill is enforced. Budget 2022 earmarks $8.5 million for the bureaucracy necessary to administer Bill C-18, so it is logical to ask whether the revenues generated through this bill will be greater than or less than the costs to administer it.
We have a number of other questions, including how the code of conduct will be developed and whether it will be tabled in Parliament. We have questions about what undue preference will be considered within the bill. Will non-Canadian news providers be able to benefit from the Canadian system? Why has the government not tabled a charter statement on this bill? Why was a public broadcaster included when it already received other entities? We have these questions and, as such, I think an important committee study ought to be had.
Therefore, I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “Bill C-18, An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada, be not now read a second time but that the Order be discharged, the Bill withdrawn and the subject matter thereof referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.”
View Chris d'Entremont Profile
CPC (NS)
The amendment is in order.
Moving on to questions and comments, the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader has the floor.
View Mark Gerretsen Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I am glad to hear the member listens to radio in his riding. I would encourage him to download the iHeart radio app, or a similar app, so he can continue to listen to those radio stations when he is in Ottawa, as I listen to Reid and Ben every morning, who are on Move 98.3 in Kingston. It is a great way to stay connected to our communities.
I am thinking of those small news outlets. I referenced the Kingstonist, which is is one in my riding. I know there is the Stratford Times in his riding. These are small news organizations that do not have the ability to compete against the distributive networks of Facebook and Google. They need supports. This bill creates the framework for those discussions to happen between those big distributors of the content, such as Facebook and Google, and those smaller independent organizations, such as the Stratford Times.
I am wondering if the member can comment on why he wants to reject the bill and send the content to committee through his amendment, as opposed to moving forward on this so we can put together a good framework to allow these discussions to happen so that the Stratford Times can benefit.
View John Nater Profile
CPC (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I do have the app on my phone, and I stay in touch with my local stations when I am here in Ottawa. I have spent time in Kingston. I served a year there at university, not in the other institution of that great town, and I did read the Kingston Whig Standard when I was there.
The member asked a question about why we would send this bill to committee and have the subject matter reviewed by the committee. It is exactly for the question he asked, which is so we can hear from the small community newspapers. What we are hearing now from Australia is that they are not able to access the benefits of the Australian model, which is the model being sent here.
There is mention in the bill that the rules of the Competition Act would be set aside to allow for collective bargaining, but we have no clarification on how that works, so we want this to go to committee. We want to see the subject matter go to committee quickly so we can have those discussions with local newspapers, whether they are from Kingston or Perth—Wellington or Chatham-Kent—Leamington. We want to hear those voices, and those voices must be heard.
View Sylvie Bérubé Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-18 sets out, in black and white, the rules that the various media players must follow to ensure much healthier competition and quality content for everyone.
It is no secret that small media outlets are in immediate need of financial assistance from the government. What does my colleague think about that?
View John Nater Profile
CPC (ON)
Mr. Speaker, we know full well that newspapers and media outlets are in trouble.
Also, more and more advertising space is being bought from the web giants, including Facebook, Meta and Google. This is a concern for all Canadians who see the value of their local media or local newspaper.
We need to be able to share the stories from our communities. The government needs to do something. I think it is a good idea. We need to make sure that this bill is referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage so it can be studied.
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