Accusations of Political Interference Fly After Industry Minister Says He “Supports” Complaint Against Meta

The Industry Minister, François-Philippe Champagne, is facing controversy after he said he “supports” the complaint against Meta.

The Canadian government has screwed pretty much everything up with Bill C-18. From ignoring valid warnings to political attacks against anyone who dared to criticize the legislation to a failed boycott to collapsed negotiations that were meant to salvage the situation, virtually everything about this debate is marked with governmental failure.

As Facebook begins rolling out their planned news links blocking in Canada, it continues to be painfully clear that both the government and supporters of Bill C-18 have run out of options. With large waves of media being blocked in Canada, Big Publishing filed a complaint with the Competition Bureau.

The complaint was weak and filled with contradictions and, as a result, isn’t expected to go very far. After all, saying that a business (a business that isn’t even the number one source of referral traffic) refuses to promote you isn’t really grounds for a competition complaint. What’s more, it flies in the face of the large media companies complaining that the platforms are “stealing” their content.

What’s more, the traditional media also blocked Meta ads from running. So, it really raises the question: if it’s not OK for Meta to block the media’s content, why is it also OK for the media to block Meta content? We’re talking about a situation with multiple layers of nonsense here on the part of the large media companies. It does certainly smack of “it’s only OK when we do it”.

If you thought that this trainwreck of failure will finally start slowing down, you are certainly way off on that assumption. The government is now facing even more controversy over this terrible legislation. The Industry Minister, François-Philippe Champagne, is facing accusations of political interference into the complaint lodged against Meta by the media companies. In a tweet, the Minister said that he does “support” the complaint:

I am determined to use every tool at our disposal to ensure that Canadians can have access to reliable news – across all platforms. I fully support the complaint made to the Competition Bureau by Cnd media groups against Meta in their effort to promote a free & independent press.

The tweet is hugely problematic. Whenever there is, say, a controversy surrounding someone’s tax returns making the news, government officials will always say that they can’t comment on a particular file. If something happens and something is before the courts, government officials generally say that the matter is before the courts and they cannot make a further statement. Whenever something is before the CRTC, the general government response is that the matter is before the CRTC and they cannot make further comments on the matter. Sure, they may react after a ruling of some sort is made, but not while something is ongoing. While this may be frustrating for media types trying to get a good soundbite, there’s good reason for this.

Governmental agencies have to operate at arms length from the government. If they are making some sort of determination or investigating a complaint, there has to be impartiality involved here. It’s how a country builds confidence in the system among other things. Anyone who has ever worked for government knows, or, at least, has it hammered into them, that any semblance of political interference or a compromise in impartiality – even if perceived – is grounds for anything from an investigation to outright dismissal. This is something you simply do not mess around with.

After all, this is the kind of shenanigans third world dictatorships do. Innocence or guilt doesn’t matter. What matters is what the government thinks is good for themselves. As a result, on those basis alone, you can be found guilty or innocence. It’s one way in how you get rampant corruption.

If we are talking about even the perception of political interference, it has become quite evidence the Minister crossed that line. Michael Geist responded with this:

Nothing to see here: only @FP_Champagne, the Minister responsible for the Competition Act and reviewing the mandate of the Commissioner of Competition, expressing his full support for an application currently before the Bureau against Facebook.

Marc Edge also said this:

the Competition Bureau is a law enforcement agency, like the RCMP . . . there is supposed to be a separation between law enforcement and politicians . . . what if the minister were to publicly declare support for a private complaint to the RCMP? . . . there would be an outcry

Peter Menzies responded with this:

US lobbyists continue to encourage political interference into the workings of an (well, it’s supposed to be) independent Canadian regulator.

The Globe and Mail noted these developments with the following:

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said as the commissioner’s appointment is not independent from cabinet, the Minister should not be giving his views on complaints to him or inquiries.

“Ministers should be staying away from any decisions they would make because that undermines their independence even more,” he said.

So, it’s not hard to see why this is actually political interference of an independent governmental body on the part of the Minister. Of course, since many other media outlets are pushing for this complaint as well, most of them have chosen to remain mum, hoping that this political scandal will just disappear because no one will talk about it. Well, we’re talking about it, so that play didn’t pan out either.

Either way, this is just yet another misstep on the governments part in this long running trainwreck of a link tax law. At this point, is there really anything the government hasn’t screwed up on this file? So far, besides actually passing this disaster of a piece of legislation, it’s hard to think what they haven’t messed up up to this point.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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