Senate Hearings on Bill C-11 – A Look at Hearing 15 (Second Segment)

We are continuing out special coverage of the Bill C-11 hearings. This covers the second segment of hearing 15.

We are continuing with our special coverage of the Bill C-11 hearings. This time, we are covering the 15th hearing, only the second segment this time.

For those who are curious, here is the coverage of the previous hearings:

Hearing 1 – Privacy Commissioner and Global Affairs/Justice Department
Hearing 2 – Digital rights organizations and lobby groups (1)
Hearing 3 – Lobby groups (2) and platforms (1)
Hearing 4 – Lobby groups (3) and lobby groups (4)
Hearing 5 – Lobby groups (5) and lobby groups (6)
Hearing 6 – Music Canada / platforms (2) and lobby groups (7)
Hearing 7 – Scholars/researchers (1) and digital first creators (1)
Hearing 8 – Digital first creators (2) / lobby groups (8)
Hearing 9 – Digital first creator (3) / lobby group (9) / platform (3) / Lobby group (10)
Hearing 10 – Record Label / Lobby Groups (11) and Scholars/Researchers (2)
Hearing 11 – Scholars/Researchers (3) and Lobby Groups (12)
Hearing 12 – Scholars/Researchers (3) / Digital First Creators (4)
Hearing 13 – Statistician / Lobbyist (13) / Canada Media Fund / Lobby Groups (14)
Hearing 14 – CNIB / H264 / Lobbyist (15) and Lobby Groups (16)

For the first segment of hearing 15, we heard from even more lobbyists. They had their usual talking points, but some of that debate veered into Bill C-18, Canada’s Link Tax law. This happened even to the confusion of some senators as to why that legislation was brought up, but it ultimately showed just how much of a financial windfall some of them are looking for.

As always, the video we are watching can be found on the government website. In terms of thoroughness, nothing will beat an official transcript or the video itself. Still, we are happy to provide a detailed summary and even through in some analysis while we are at it. With that, let’s take you inside this hearing.

Opening Statements

Tulsa Valin-Landry of the Provincial Council of the Communications Sector opened with his statement. He said that they support Bill C-11, but supports an amendment to the bill surrounding independent broadcasters. He said that platforms act like a steamroller to competition and don’t have any regulatory obligations. He said that Netflix and Disney+ are poised to enter the advertising market, putting further pressure on Canadian broadcasters. He calls for amending the bill to be clear and won’t be challenged in court at the first available opportunity.

Nathalie Blais of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Provincial Council of the Communications Sector of the Canadian Union of Public Employees continued. She said that to achieve this, Bill C-11 needs to be amended in several respects. First, the scope of the bill should only include foreign online undertakings into Canadian regulation, not all broadcasting undertakings as currently provided for in Section 3.1 (a). Second, the technical neutrality must be ensured. So, she calls for the CRTC to have the power to regulate all broadcast undertakings – linear and online. Additionally, she called for reform of Section 3.1 (f). She also spoke about Canadian expenditures. She also calls for a balance of power to allow the public to review any decision that’s not in line with Canadian broadcasting policy. Finally, she called for the strengthening of the accountability of the CRTC.

(If she wanted to avoid the situation of this bill being litigated in court at the first available opportunity, the above won’t prevent that potential/eventual outcome. You still need to greatly overhaul Section 4 and it doesn’t avoid an international challenge under CUSMA/USMCA via Section 19.4. Further, I’m convinced one or both methods of litigating will succeed and strike down parts of this bill. Without accounting for both of these, this is largely an exercise in moving the deck chairs while the ship sinks.)

Wojtek Gwiazda of the Radio Canada International Action Committee opened with his statement. He went into Article 46.2 of the Broadcasting Act and called for reforming it. He talked about RCI.

Questioning the Witnesses

Senator Julie Miville-Dechene started the question and answer segment. She prefaced her question by saying that she was a journalist for Radio Canada for 25 years. She asked about RCI and the CBC.

Gwiazda answered that question and they went back and forth on this topic.

Senator Rene Cormier focused on the requested amendment of 3.1 (f). He asked about staffing levels in Quebec.

Blais answered the question about staffing.

Senator Cormier asked about broadcasting.

Valin-Landry answered.

Senator Cormier asked about the CMF and funding.

Blais answered the question about financing.

Senator Cormier asked about broadcasting and dependence on the main broadcasters.

Blais answered the question, talking about an imbalance between broadcasters.

Senator Cormier asked about the audience RCI has.

Gwiazda answered, talking about audiences.

Senator Paula Simons asked about the role and whether it is up to this particular committee to fix the issues such as a bad search function or poorly designed website.

Gwiazda answered by saying that we shouldn’t view RCI as a political tool or propaganda. He said that in a period of misinformation and paywalls, it’s important to have unbiased free news. After a long story, his time elapsed.

Senator Leo Housakos commented that the CBC can’t afford everything. The ratings are down. The question is that with all the new platforms like Google, YouTube, and the like, Canadian artists, journalists, freelance journalists, and independent content providers are taking full advantage of this. Never before have we had as much exporting of Canadian content all over the world free of charge because of these platforms. On the contrary, these independent Canadian journalists, and they’ve had some come before this committee, are thriving. They are utilizing this, they are transforming this business and generating revenue and so on. Also, there have been spinoff effects in Canada’s tourism industry. Tourism operators are looking to these platforms and using them as a driving force to exporting Canadianness. So, why shouldn’t we be exploiting these current platforms more in order to get our desired effect of what the witness has been talking about instead of trying to legislate old methodology that just doesn’t seem to fit in today’s world?

Gwiazda responded that he’s not sure what he means by old methodology.

Senator Housakos responded that what he means is an old cable provider who is subsidizing with tax payers money and Radio Canada International (RCI) with a platform that is clearly today is not drawing eyeballs and drawing revenue and so on. Yet, we have a digital platform and broadcasters like CBC and Bell are moving towards those digital broadcasters. They spend billions, hundreds of millions, to go towards these digital platforms and digitization.

Gwiazda responded that he is saying that Senators dream a bit. Senators keep asking about how we are going to scrounge around for that money. Flip it around. With the technology we have today, with a click of a button, applications, streaming, podcasts, all of that. He put RCI on the Free Net system, so RCI was there before the World Wide Web. There are all of these possibilities of sharing Canadian reality with people. It’s all about the content. How you put it out there is dependent on where you are going. He then talked about shortwave radio. He called for a hybrid approach to say if you want to talk to people in closed societies, which is the most effective way to talk to those people?

Senator Fabian Manning went into article 46 and asked if RCI had any discussion on his proposed amendment.

Gwiazda responded that when Bill C-10 came out, he had extensive communications with advisers and the Heritage Minister’s office. They told him that they support RCI, but not prepared to move forward with it in this legislation.

Senator Manning asked if RCI would survive without this amendment being asked.

Gwiazda responded that it’s already a shadow of what it was.

Senator Pamela Wallin noted the role of RCI and noted that part of it is to provide news to Canadian’s abroad. Canadian’s now have access to hundreds of services and websites and feeds, so that’s taken care of. Another part is accessing people in censored third countries. Can there be a business model around that? This is because other avenues are being looked after.

Gwiazda disagreed with that. Reaching Canadian’s abroad was never part of their mandate. He spoke about contextualized news and how there has to be an international service like BBC international. He mentioned how CNN and others have big budgets.

Senator Wallin said that you can see a lot of those services online now. As a Canadian, you can inform yourself.

Gwiazda responded that not for Canadians.

Senator Wallin asked what it is that they do that is so unique that it needs separate funding.

Gwiazda responded that they’ve been in this new world since 1996. He said this is the problem in North America. We don’t understand the importance of a world service. After some back and forth, he wanted an international service.

Senator Wallin said that something struck her about Blais’ comment about the accountability of the CRTC. She noted that the bill would give the CRTC extraordinary powers not only over broadcasters, but the world online. The internet and the streamers that feed them. Does she have a place where the CRTC would be accountable? Does she think they will only be accountable to the Minister? To whom does she want the CRTC to be accountable to?

Blais responded that she would like to see the CRTC accountable to the House of Commons, ideally. It could also be a committee. Currently, the Minister gives very little information on the achievements in terms of broadcasting. She thinks we have to reformulate the accountability of the CRTC. Not in terms of the goals and objectives they give themselves, but what is set out in the law.

Senator Wallin said that she’s not sure what the witness is saying. Would there have to be another agency to overlook that? How would the House of Commons or a committee go to that without going to an American style of committee where we talk to these people on a weekly or monthly basis?

Blais responded that she thinks that the Senator is going a lot further than their thoughts had been on the form that this might take. What they are hoping is that the reports that are made, whatever type of reports that might be drafted, that it would be in line with the objectives achieved under 3.1 – Section 3.1 of the Act. She spoke about information for when they submit an adequate and complete report.

With that, the hearing concluded.

Concluding Thoughts

So, you really could have had a nap throughout the question and answer period. When you wake up at the end of it, you probably wouldn’t have missed much.

Blais, in her opening remarks, did rightfully bring up the threat that litigation could hit the bill at the earliest possible moment. It was unfortunate that her solutions wouldn’t really fix this issue. However, to be fair, I’m not entirely convinced that there is any real way to fix the bill to prevent litigation. Even if you managed to fix the free speech issues of Section 4.2, you still have the threat of litigation under the CUSMA/USMCA via Article 19.4. The idea of pushing for collecting money from large web giants alone would be grounds for a lawsuit and retaliatory tariffs as hinted towards by a US ambassador.

With the direction things have gotten, I don’t believe there is a way to avoid that kind of litigation with this bill as the whole point is to “get money from web giants”. So, while it is commendable for Blais to try and address this one of many elephants in the room, I don’t think there is even a way to fix this legislation so that it would be in compliance with all international trade obligations. The best you can hope for is that “big tech” doesn’t trigger those lawsuits – lawsuits they are basically destined to win.

Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot in this hearing to really work with. Probably good news for me because I’ve been getting pretty burnt out lately over all of these hearings. I could have used the nap.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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