Online Streaming Act debated in Commons before going to Committee

February 17, 2022

The Liberals’ Online Streaming Act C-11 passed second reading in the House of Commons on February 16th, setting the stage for the expected political drama of Heritage Committee proceedings in the coming weeks.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez took to the floor of the House to speak about the importance of cultural sovereignty and kept his messaging on the content of the Bill simple.

The revisions to the Broadcasting Act, he said, are to compel the mostly American streamers serving the Canadian market to platform their fair share of Canadian programming or else contribute cash to the Canada Media Fund. 

As for social media uploads, Rodriguez’s sound byte “platforms are in, users are out” was shorthand for saying that the regulation of upload-based streamers like YouTube would be restricted to professional rather than amateur videos and music. 

While the Minister has yet to spell it out, presumably the “regulation” of professional content  —-does he mean “significantly monetized”?—- is relevant to the streaming platform’s in-kind or in-cash contribution to Canadian programming and also to its obligation to bring that content to the audience’s attention through “discoverability” functions that do not include algorithms (which are expressly excluded under the section 9(8) of C-11).

No fire-breather, Conservative Heritage critic John Nater struck a moderate pose in reply. He cited the Conservative election platform’s commitment to regulate “large” American streamers “like Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime” but left the demarcation point between large and not-large unspecified.

As expected most of Nater’s comments were directed at section 4.2 of C-11 which states the general principle of distinguishing professional from amateur social media uploads. He served notice the Conservatives don’t think it’s clear enough and are opposed to leaving the fine print for the CRTC or federal cabinet to fill in after the Bill passes.

Nater also seems to think the Bill contemplates regulating the streaming platforms’ discoverability algorithms, but they are explicitly excluded (leading NDP MP Alexander Boulerice to ask how the discoverability of a platform’s Canadian programming was going to be tracked if not by algorithm design).

Nater also said the Conservatives want the definition of Canadian content changed “to ensure that real Canadian stories are captured within CanCon rules,” a criticism of the long standing “point-system” that  measures Canadian content by counting heads of leading creative staff (directors, writers, and actors) rather than a film’s intrinsic Canadian expression (for more on this, have a read of George Carothers’ 2020 study).

When asked by other MPs whether the House could expect a repeat of last year’s filibuster of C-10, Nater responded with a sober “I will work constructively with my colleagues” and “we will table reasonable amendments.”

We’ll soon see.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre took the occasion of Second Reading (before his Heritage Critic Nater had a chance to get on this feet) to tell the House that Liberals have “abused the freedoms of Canadians. Why should Canadians now trust that same abusive government with the power to censor what Canadians see and say online?” 

During last year’s Bill C-10 proceedings, the Tories fundraised off that kind of messaging and parachuted Alberta MP Rachael Harder Thomas into the Heritage Committee to lead a filibuster. 

There are no scheduled dates for the Heritage Committee but after next week’s short break Parliament is in session for 12 out of 17 weeks to the end of June.

Published by

Howard Law

I am retired staff of Unifor, the union representing 300,000 Canadians in twenty different sectors of the economy, including 10,000 journalists and media workers. As the former Director of the Media Sector and as an unapologetic cultural nationalist, I have an abiding passion for public policy in Canadian media.

5 thoughts on “Online Streaming Act debated in Commons before going to Committee”

    1. Discoverability means enhancing the likelihood that audiences will find content. The on-demand nature of online streaming does not replicate the “appointment viewing” of linear television in which the CRTC promotes Canadian content by requiring a minimum exhibition of Canadian news, sports and entertainment during the prime time. The substitute for “discoverability” in the streaming world can be key word searches (“Canadian”), privileged page display, or recommendations pushed to the viewer based on the streamer’s algorithm-driven analysis of your viewing habits or, in the case of Canadian content, more CanCon. As you know, the use of algorithms is at the centre of every streamers’ viewer recommendations, whether it’s Netflix, YouTube, Facebook etc. Opponents of Bill C-10 suggested it was nefarious for the CRTC to have the power to order streamers to include CanCon as part of those recommendations. The Liberals removed that CRTC power in the rebooted C-11.


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