Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I've been looking forward to moving amendment CPC-9.1 for nearly a week now. I'll read it first and then explain why I was so eager to present it.
This amendment proposes that Bill C-10, in clause 7, be amended by adding after line 19 on page 8 the following:
9.2 This Act does not apply in respect of
(a) programs that are uploaded to an online undertaking that provides a social media service by a user of the service—who is not the provider of the service or the provider’s affiliate, or the agent or mandatary of either of them—for transmission or retransmission over the Internet and reception by other users of the service; and
(b) online undertakings whose broadcasting consists only of such programs.
With your permission, I'd like to present a summary and history of the bill.
As the minister noted, Bill C-10 was introduced last November. Everyone had been waiting for this bill, under which the Canadian government, through the CRTC, would regulate digital broadcasters such as Netflix, Spotify and Disney+—the ones the minister has named from the start—in a way that would be fair and equitable for so-called conventional broadcasters such as CTV, CBC/Radio-Canada, TVA, global and others. The same would be true for the various radio stations, CBC/Radio-Canada and commercial stations.
Although the government has been in power for six years now, this much anticipated bill wasn't introduced until last November. As has been noted on numerous occasions, the committee has worked hard not to slow down proceedings. We even agreed to conduct a pre-study of the bill in committee both to avoid delays and to enable members to express their views on it in the House of Commons. Discussing a bill in the House is an entirely legitimate process, and it's a member's privilege to do so. It was all the more legitimate in the case of Bill C-10 because we'd been waiting for it for so long and it contained significant flaws, as may be seen from the number of amendments. The witnesses who've appeared, even those who have wholeheartedly supported the bill from the start, have recommended many amendments, and speakers who completely opposed the bill naturally had many amendments as well.
As a result, nearly 120 amendments have been introduced by all political parties and even by the government itself. In fact, nearly one quarter of those amendments have come from the government. The Bloc québecois has introduced 37, the Green Party 37, the NDP 14 and the Conservative Party 15 or so. That's excluding all the other amendments that have been introduced along the way.
A key event occurred a few weeks ago in the course of this process:section 4.1, which was initially included in Bill C-10, was deleted, which raised red flags for many experts. Michael Geist, in particular, discussed it, and I would note that other experts of course expressed views that differed from his. My Bloc québécois colleague said so as well when we finally got a chance to hear from the experts following the presentations of the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Canadian Heritage. Experts for and against Bill C-10 have thus come and told us what they thought of it since proposed section 4.1 was deleted. The bill then turned into something completely different. It wasn't just about digital broadcasters anymore; it was also about social media, platforms and related applications.
Once again I'd like to note that many experts have spoken. An attempt is under way to make us believe that the cultural sector is at war with free speech and net neutrality advocates. There's no such war between those two camps, contrary to what the government would have us believe. We of the Conservative Party think we can reconcile the two concepts, as other countries have done.
It's clear in our minds that the government must support the cultural sector. It also has to pass a bill to ensure that digital and conventional broadcasters are treated fairly. However, I think the government was mistaken in deleting proposed section 4.1 because, in doing so, it attacks users and the content they upload to the Internet.
So the committee's proceedings were brought to a halt. I want to make it clear that, if the government, at the outset, had accepted our initial proposal, that it invite the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, we would only have wasted about 48 hours, but the Liberals opposed that proposal.
Thanks to our teamwork, however, we finally managed to succeed. It was even a Liberal member, Mr. Housefather, who submitted a new proposal similar in tenor to what we had initially requested. After the committee's proceedings had been halted for nearly three weeks, we ultimately heard once again from the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, and, to our delight, some experts also came and gave us their opinions.
However, people are still raising red flags. Many wonder about all the powers being conferred on the CRTC. They say we want to give the CRTC even more powers. At the same time, experts who had previously worked at the CRTC told us it was unacceptable to delete proposed section 4.1 from the bill from the get-go.
I'm thinking of Timothy Denton, who was commissioner of the CRTC from 2009 to 2013, and Konrad von Finckenstein, the CRTC's president from 2007 to 2012. Peter Menzies, who was vice-president for telecommunications at the CRTC from 2013 to 2018, even said this was a full-fledged attack on freedom of expression and the very foundation of democracy. In his view, it's hard to contemplate the levels of hubris, incompetence or both that would lead people to believe such an infringement of rights is justifiable. He was talking about the minister. I'm also thinking of Michel Morin, who was national commissioner of the CRTC from 2008 to 2012, and Philip Palmer, general counsel at the Department of Justice and head of legal services at the Department of Communications from 1987 to 1994. These are sound, reliable people.
We also had professors such as Michael Geist, whom we all know, but also Emily Laidlaw, professor of law at the University of Calgary, and Dwayne Winseck, professor at Carleton University.
Artists and web influencers also expressed their opposition. In particular, Mike Ward, an occasionally controversial Quebec artist, made a public statement on the subject on social media.
This is a bill that challenges the very basis of net neutrality. It has to be said that, if we agreed to regulate the Internet this way, it would be a global first because no country has gone this far.
We can even raise questions about discoverability. I'm speaking to Quebec francophones here: if other countries like France, which has 67 million inhabitants, or other countries in the Francophonie, which have 400 million, decided to do the same thing, artists here at home would lose their discoverability potential. There are approximately 9 million or 10 million of us francophones in Canada.
According to an article in Le Devoir, artists from my region clearly question what the government is doing on social media. They wonder how the government can consider regulating, through an agency, platforms that constantly update in real time. YouTube, for example, can update more than 500 times a day.
With regard to net neutrality, it's important to note that the Prime Minister said in 2017 that net neutrality had to be defended. When she was Minister of Canadian Heritage, Mélanie Joly stated in her cultural policy that the government was in favour of the principle of net neutrality. Navdeep Bains, while Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, said that net neutrality was one of the crucial issues of our time, just as freedom of the press and freedom of expression had been.
At 6:18 p.m. on May 22, 2018, the present Minister of Justice, but at the time parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, told the House of Commons the following:
It is clear that the open Internet is a remarkable platform for economic growth, innovation, and social progress in Canada and around the world. It is essential to a modern digital economy and society. Many activities depend on it, including access to health care, education, employment, entertainment, and more. More broadly, it is vital for freedom of expression, diversity, and our democratic institutions. A flourishing and vibrant democracy is possible only when citizens are able to communicate and access information freely.
It was the Government of Canada, the Liberals, who said these things.
Consequently, we want to give the committee, in all the work we're doing, an opportunity to adopt a provision that would compensate for the deletion of initially proposed section 4.1. That would be like putting a band-aid on Bill C-10, which we believe is fundamentally flawed.
We hear a lot of groups talking. They're entitled to do so, and, I should point out, they represent a lot of people. I'm thinking, in particular, of Quebec's artistic sector, which legitimately advocates in favour of Bill C-10 given the impact it might have on its network. However, I want to clarify one point, and I'd really like everyone, including the people watching us on the web, to listen closely to what I'm about to say.
When the minister introduced Bill C-10, even before proposed section 4.1 was deleted, he said in his interviews, even on Tout le monde en parle, that digital broadcasters such as Netflix, Spotify and Disney+ were going to invest nearly $800 million by 2023, if I'm not mistaken, in Canadian anglophone and francophone content, particularly in Quebec francophone productions and first nations productions.
Incidentally, it took us months to access the calculations that yielded those figures. The minister said that the assumption used in the calculations was that the same rules would be applied as those applicable to our conventional broadcasters, but that would depend on what the CRTC decided in the following nine months. So we have no guarantee on that if the bill is adopted. However, the minister made that statement before proposed section 4.1 was deleted, and thus before social media were included in the bill, with all the consequences that entails for net neutrality and freedom of expression. These are two principles that are currently missing and that many fiercely advocate.
If we adopt amendment CPC-9.1, we'll find ourselves back where we started. If the government sincerely wants to help the cultural sector and allow this alleged investment of $800 million or $900 million—the minister even said in some interviews that it might be as much as $1 billion—it has to support this amendment because, otherwise, we'll wind up exactly where it initially said we would.
If it doesn't, I invite the minister to provide us with some new figures. If all the digital platforms and applications are included, it won't be just $800 million or $900 million. Given the rule of three, and considering what he's told us, it'll be much more than that, and so much the better for the artists.
Whatever the case may be, given the deletion of proposed section 4.1 and the government's stubbornness, I think we're jeopardizing this bill.
We're talking about the cultural sector right now. However, we received a document last week. I know the members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage receive a lot of documents, so I can understand why some haven't read them all. Last week, we received a document from the British Columbia Library Trustees Association, an organization that supports and represents trustees in advancing public libraries. I want to emphasize that it represents public not private libraries. This letter was sent on May 13, 2021, and it's one of the documents that all members of the Standing Committee of Canadian Heritage have received. The organization also took the trouble to send it to me personally, with copies to the British Columbia members of Parliament from all parties. The letter reads as follows:
The British Columbia Library Trustees Association, or BCLTA, founded in 1977, is a not-for-profit society and registered charity. As the association for public library trustees in British Columbia, BCLTA supports and represents trustees in their role of overseeing libraries (which have a collective annual budget of over $0.25 billion.
The BCLTA board has been following the discourse regarding Bill C-10 and is sending this letter to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, with copies to all British Columbia MPs, to communicate our concerns regarding the recent exclusion of clause 4.1(1) from Bill C-10.
The BCLTA board endorses freedom of expression as a core principle of Canadian librarianship. Public libraries are impartial collectors and distributors of knowledge in its many forms, including Internet social media. Because public libraries are fee-free and do not require membership, Canadians regard their local libraries as being key to supporting intellectual freedom and open communication. For many Canadians, their public library is the only place where they can participate in online discourse or create and publish end-user content.
This makes the Internet an essential tool for Canadians exercising their right to freedom of speech. Accordingly, the BCLTA board believes CRTC regulation should not be expanded to include Internet platforms such as YouTube and TikTok, which are just two examples of where Canadians may post content. Clause 4.1(1) allows for the exemption of end-user content from regulation by CRTC.
The BCLTA board encourages the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to press for the reinstatement of clause 4.1(1) of Bill C-10.
Why did I read this letter to you? I could've read many other letters that we've received from associations and organizations that have questions about Bill C-10, particularly since proposed section 4.1 was deleted, because that's when a break occurred. Things were very calm before that. People weren't particularly interested in the bill, except those directly concerned by it.
This letter is just one of the many we've received from thousands of Canadians across country. Setting aside partisanship, our responsibility is to represent all Canadians: Quebeckers and the citizens of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. In short, we represent Canadians across the country.
I heard the minister attempt to portray those who are fighting for this part of Bill C-10 as people who are opposed to culture. When he attacks us as he has done—and I think he has done so in a crass manner—he attacks all the people and experts who have an opinion different from that of the government. That scares me because freedom of expression is at stake. It is incomprehensible that a minister should make such comments when people legitimately make every effort to ask the right questions. Members of Parliament aren't the only ones who have questions; so do organizations like the British Columbia Library Trustees Association, as well as web artists, influencers and users. Approximately 25,000 Canadians currently earn a living from the web without belonging to any association. I'm talking about the artists who create their works without seeking any subsidies from the government. They do their work and live out their passion.
As I said in one of my speeches, this subject is of deep concern to me. Despite the criticism and attacks that have come my way, I haven't gone to bed troubled one single night since we began debating Bill C-10. I've never found it hard to fall asleep because I'm doing what I think, in my soul and conscience, is best, based on all the information I have gathered since we began studying the bill.
I therefore ask members of the committee to let us move this bill forward. I also ask them to cross their fingers and hope the government doesn't call an election. The fact of the matter is that, if an election is held in the fall before this bill has been passed, it won't the Conservatives' fault. We already know that NDP and Bloc québécois members ultimately want to vote for it, and I'd remind you that the government's in the minority.
If the bill is passed, it will be for one single reason. Although the government has had six years to work on it, Minister Guilbeault failed by deleting proposed section 4.1 one Friday afternoon without even consulting us. He failed to keep us informed and didn't work with us, as he had done from the start in addressing this bill. He delayed the process for three weeks before ultimately deciding to come back and testify before the committee, together with the Minister of Justice, in order to advance the proceedings. Now the Liberal government is making every attempt to call an election in the fall. So it will be a lost cause, despite all the work we've done.
If we want the essential aspects of this bill to advance, even though it's imperfect, whether we're for or against certain parts of it, completely for or completely against, if we want to respect all the speakers who raised yellow, orange and red flags, the least we can do is adopt amendment CPC-9.1.
This is a fundamental issue for us. I hope our discussions will help us achieve that result. I'm eager to hear what you all have to say on the subject, not only my Conservative colleagues, but also the members of the other parties. Even though we have differing views on certain points, I know you have opinions on the subject. It's important that you express them if we are to move forward.
We still have many amendments to examine as part of our study of the bill, as imperfect as it may be. To those who feel the bill has been delayed by the Conservatives, I repeat that we have brought the fewest of the some 120 amendments that have been introduced. Apart from our own, amendments have been introduced by the Green Party—and I'm pleased to see the committee unanimously decided to allow the Green Party to take part in the process—by the Bloc québécois, by the NDP and by the government itself. Just imagine, the government brought forward amendments to its own bill. You have to believe all those amendments will help us come up with an acceptable bill.
I'll conclude with one final comment, because I want to give everyone a chance to speak to amendment CPC-9.1 today.
If the government had first listened to the discussions during the clause-by-close consideration of the bill in committee and had appropriately adapted the section 4.1 it was proposing, we would not be where we are today. If the government and its minister had made a cooperative effort right up to the end, as they wanted to do at the very start, we would not be where we are today. If the government had properly done its work over the past six years, we would not be where we are today. And if the government had not signalled that there might be an election in the fall, we would not be where we are today either.
I am asking the members of the committee to adopt amendment CPC-9.1 so we can continue moving forward in our study of this bill.
Mr. Chair, thank you for allowing me to present this amendment to the members of the committee.