Guilbeault Gone: Pablo Rodriguez Takes Over as Heritage Minister

Trudeau unveiled his cabinet today. Steven Guilbeault is out and Pablo Rodriguez is in as Heritage Minister.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has finally unveiled his new cabinet. The big headline that came out of this is that Steven Guilbeault is no longer Heritage Minister. That role will now be taken over by Pablo Rodriguez. Meanwhile, François-Philippe Champagne keeps his role as Innovation Minister.

Steven Guilbeault’s handling of his portfolio is probably best described as a trainwreck. He was the front of the Liberals war on the open Internet, pushing speech regulation, Internet censorship, and link taxes. After pushing Bill C-10 (speech regulation), Guilbeault did an interview with the CBC with both sides seemingly attempting to smooth over criticism that Bill C-10 will make life far more difficult for smaller players on social media (it most certainly would have).

After the interview was over, there were calls for the minister to be fired. This was because the interview literally consisted of one question: If the controversy is about the removal of Section 4.1, why not just put it back and end the controversy? The minister spent the whole interview evading the question and even going on to different topics. By the end of the interview, even the CBC interviewer was seemingly perplexed. Of course, the CBC has long been a supporter of the Liberal party on the messaging front, so they attempted to spin this as an answer of how the exemption was “not necessary” and left it at that. Of course, despite the CBCs best efforts, the damage was already done (and entirely self-inflicted).

So, after effectively punching himself in the face during the interview, Guilbeaut then conducted another interview with CTV. The goal was seemingly similar in that he wanted to send the message that Bill C-10 did not regulate user generated content. Part way through the interview, he ended up admitting that Bill C-10 regulates user generated content. The interviewer then went to the next obvious question in line and asked what the threshold is for popularity when it comes to regulating content. That’s when the dodging of questions continued. Somehow, he managed to outdo himself and create an even bigger disaster on his hands (which was an accomplishment, really).

After the interview, the ministry released a statement walking back those comments, saying that the bill doesn’t regulate user generated content. For observers, by that point in time, the question wasn’t “will this minister be able to salvage the situation?”, but rather, “just how much more ridiculous is this situation going to be?”

Well, there were efforts to silence debate in government about Bill C-10, the suspicious white washing of his Wikipedia page, the gag orders on debate, the efforts to “introduce” the legislation to the senate before the House voted on the legislation (a move senators called “insulting”) and all this ultimately leading to the demise of the legislation when Canada headed into an election despite Trudeau stepping in and trying to salvage the situation himself. Really, the only thing missing was Guilbeault stepping up to the microphone after and saying, “the Aristocrats!”

That’s really only a taste of what he was up to in his portfolio. We’ll spare you the hilarious details and just say that it only goes downhill from there.

In some respects, it’s somewhat amazing that Trudeau looked at this comically bad performance and decided that he deserved a promotion for that. Many consider the move to the Environment Minister portfolio as a promotion given that many consider this a key priority for the Prime Minister. We can safely say that environmentalists better hope that the direction he ultimately chooses is the right one. This is because if he doesn’t, then criticism lobbed at him will probably be considered personal attacks and the debate never becomes productive after. Many jumped on the fact that he was an environmental activist before becoming the minister, so there might be hope yet. Still, if I was an environmentalist who happened to know all of that, I’d be, understandably, nervous.

Still, out with the old, in with the new.

We were able to see part of the press conference via CBC with the new cabinet taking questions from the press. Surprisingly, there were a number of questions aimed at the Heritage Minister. It was best described as a mixed bag.

On the one hand, Pablo Rodriguez said that he will be consulting with respect to the online harms proposal. This indicates a very different tone from the past where the online harms proposal was basically a “my way or the highway” “consultation”. So, this suggests a signal that he is aware of which direction the consultation went (something that was otherwise seemingly destined to be ignored).

On the other hand, he was asked about the Broadcast Act reform. He seemed very clear that he envisioned that broadcasters and online producers must abide by the same rules. that would definitely indicate that he is very much interested in speech regulation. This is because traditional broadcasts and the Internet are not at all similar. He repeated the talking point about a “level playing field” between tech giants and Canadian producers. Obviously, this is not a good sign from the get go on that front.

Of course, when the CBC coverage ended of that particular part of the conference, they quickly changed channels and spoke at length about other portfolio’s, not even talking about the Heritage Ministry. It’s not really surprising because media outlets know that the less coverage they give to this particular issue, the better. This is simply because they stand to gain a lot out of it. For instance, for speech regulation, if the Canadian version of YouTube is being mandated to push their content because it’s considered “Canadian”, that’s a lot of added money in their pockets. After all, the CBC themselves have a track record of seemingly stumping for the Trudeau position on the speech regulation front.

To be fair, the CBC is far from alone in having their neutrality on topics like this questioned. On the link tax front, we’ve seen credibility get completely self-mutilated on iPolitics and the Toronto Star. What we saw was a near industry-wide propaganda campaign on that story.

Now, the Industry Minister really didn’t quite grab the same kind of headlines as Guilbeault did. Instead, that side of things wound up being a hands off approach where whatever the Heritage Minister says goes. That marked a clear departure from the previous Minister who, before leaving, championed network neutrality and spoke out on tech related issues. It gave observers hope that there would be a much more healthy debate on issues such as privacy and technology. As a result, there was even hope that we’ll have badly needed privacy reform on top of it all. Since Champagne took over, all that hope faded with his hands off approach. It almost looks like we’ll see more of the same since that portfolio didn’t change hands this time around.

University law professor, Michael Geist, seemed to have a more positive response to these changes:

.@pablorodriguez back as Heritage Minister (was Heritage Minister in 2019). It’s a good choice – experienced politician who may be better able to communicate and find more balanced policies related to the Internet and copyright.

.@FP_Champagne returns as the Innovation, Science and Industry minister. Was not active on digital files in the few months as he served as the minister earlier this year. Hopefully that changes now with emphasis on privacy, Internet issues.

So, what will be interesting to see is if the more positive outcome (which we all hope will happen) will come to fruition. It doesn’t necessarily mesh with the Liberal party platform which vowed link taxes, online harms legislation, and the speech regulation bill within the first 100 days of government (Part 1, Part 2), but we’ll have to wait and see what the ultimate direction is. To take these debates into a positive direction would require a complete 180 on the government. That’s a hard thing to see happening.

We can hold out hope that the worst of these debates is over with this portfolio change, but the proof will ultimately lie in the actions they ultimately take.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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