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.