Digital Rights Largely Misses the French Leaders Debate Too

After our coverage of the English leaders debate, we now turn to the French leaders debate as we examine digital rights.

Earlier, we posted our analysis of the English leaders debate for the 2021 Canadian federal election. In short, it became a huge disappointment where not only were digital rights not really part of the debate, but it fell short of being an informative one. Compounding the problem is the fact that that was the only debate held in English. So, for a majority of Canadians, we didn’t really get much out of the debate.

So, that leaves us with the French debate. Curiously, there are two french debates: The French Leaders debate and the TVA leaders debate. We were unable to locate the TVA debate, but we did find the French leaders debate. So, unless we find a version of the TVA debate in full, this will be the last analysis in our election coverage.

Like the English leaders debate, we will try to find digital rights related topics throughout. At this stage, digital related issues has been fairly absent in the election outside of the platforms. So, we’re doing everything we can to highlight when they do make an appearance.

The French leaders debate is available on YouTube and can also be watched below:

Like the English debate, this weighs in at a whopping two hours. In some regards, it’s not a surprise given that there are 5 leaders. Trying to give somewhat equal time is going to be tricky and, when successful, that time really adds up.

The Digital Issues Mentioned

About 40 minutes into the debate, we heard Justin Trudeau mention a digital transition for small businesses. Unfortunately, that was cut off as time ran out, so it wasn’t really elaborated on.

About 47 minutes in, NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh was asked about spending and taxing the likes of Amazon was specifically mentioned. The question asked that since Jeff Bezos is in the US, it may be difficult to recoup money in taxes. Singh replies by saying that other countries have looked into taxing the web giants. Further, he said that it isn’t fair that large tech giants have an unfair advantage when they pay so little in taxes while operating in Canada. So, he proposed that Canada tax the web giants in a way that makes them pay their fair share so the government can invest in people.

An hour and 29 minutes in, Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole, was asked about cultural investments. The person asking the question mentions how the Conservative platform suggests adding a tax to large web giants. O’Toole responded by saying that there needs to be a level playing field while supporting freedom of expression. O’Toole was then pressed on whether or not there would be a quota on web giants. O’Toole replied that he wants to help content creators and artists.

An hour and 34 minutes in, Liberal Leader, Justin Trudeau, was asked about how he promised to tax web giants and even put it in a bill. However, that bill didn’t pass because he called an election. He was then asked if he was serious about the issue. Trudeau responded by saying that he is ensuring that giants like Netflix are investing in Quebec. He then mentions that governments from around the world are getting together to figure out how to properly tax the web giants.

Trudeau then went on to say that the Liberals pushed forward Bill C-10, but the Conservatives stopped it. He then says that he will be there for artists.

As long time readers will recognize, Bill C-10 is not really some piece of legislation written to “help artists”. In fact, it does quite the opposite because it is actually a speech regulation bill. Artists and creators would actually suffer if they are trying to make an impact online. He is correct in saying that the Conservatives put a stop to it, though it’s actually a very good thing that the legislation was stopped dead in its tracks. Large media giant’s already have so many advantages over smaller producers. Do they really need to have social media tilted in their favour so much too, robbing smaller creators an outlet to reach audiences?

An hour and 51 minutes into the debate, O’Toole was asked about his idea of taking a harder line on China. O’Toole responded partly by noting that other countries oppose Huawei while Canada is the only 5 eyes country that supports Huawei.


Overall, I’d say that the French debate seemed to be a bit more informative. Unfortunately, for those who have an interest in anything digital related, all they got was a few passing mentions as part of other debates. So, while the quality of the debate was better, it still largely missed some very big issues on technology.

So, we’ve gone through the English debate, the TVA wasn’t available for us to examine, and we’ve gone through the platforms. Where does this leave us?

The theme we noticed throughout it all is that there is an increasing disinterest in protecting user rights. The debates largely compounded this by, at best, offering a few passing mentions to a few issues already present in the respective party platforms. Without the benefits of reading the eye bleedingly long platforms, you get a sense that parties are seemingly supportive of taxing the large tech giants, but little else as far as the debates are concerned. If anything, you are much better off reading the platforms to get a sense of where the different parties stand on different issues.

For example, right to repair laws are something that has garnered surprisingly warm interest in the platforms. Of course, you never even got a mention out of the debates which could have been a great way of elaborating on how such a needed law would be implemented.

There is a problem with all of this: politicians will be caring about digital issues once the election is over. Liberals made it clear that they are essentially declaring war on the Internet once the election is over. In fact, they were bold enough to essentially say that they will blow the brains out of the free and open Internet within 100 days of their mandate in their platform. Aspects of that war are going to be supported by the NDP, Green, Bloc, and Conservatives depending on the prong we’re talking about. So, it’s not as though this is an issue that is going to simply be forgotten about.

The problem is that Canadians are effectively robbed of having a say in this in the election. With no parties essentially on side with digital rights, their vote will not be given a chance to say one way or another on these issues in the first place. If you support digital rights and no party supports digital rights, does it really matter what you do with your vote? A vote for any party means that you support this war on the Internet in some form or another. Not voting means you are OK with who is in power. Spoiling your ballot really is the same thing as not voting at all with the only exception of giving you a warm fuzzy feeling that you somehow stuck it to the system even though it basically wastes a poll workers time for about 5 seconds or so at best.

The election day for Canadians is September 20th. Advance polls are already open. The choices are far from clear. It’s obvious Canadians deserved to talk about these issues and have their say. It’s fair to say that Canadians were largely denied this. Sure, the Liberals can say that they have launched an online consultation for the online harms proposal (which we responded to), but the overwhelming consensus is that the Liberals have no interest in hearing what Canadians have to say if they oppose the Liberals approach.

At this stage, it’s a fair assessment that Canadians should be extremely concerned about the future of freedom of expression and innovation. The trajectory Canada is on at this stage is just plain bad. The thing to remember is that putting a stop to this this election was never on the ballot and never could have been decided on in the first place.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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