September 3, 2022
Today the Globe & Mail’s Andrew Coyne penned another condemnation of the federal Liberals’ media legislation.
It’s mostly a repeat of a column he wrote in April opposing federal wage subsidies for news journalism, Bills C-11 (the Netflix Bill), C-18 (the FaceGoogle Bill), and the expected Online Harms Bill. At the time, I responded. No need to cover that ground again.
But in his most recent column Coyne ups the ante by calling for the abolition “of CanCon,” anything resembling state assistance to media, and getting rid of the CRTC altogether.
As for the CBC (where he has a regular gig on the news show At Issue), he’s fuzzy on that although in a January column he favoured “refunding” the public broadcaster by which he means reducing it, to what he doesn’t say.
The occasion of writing the same columns again is his accurate observation that the Fall session of Parliament will see a “confrontation” over competing visions of state assistance to Canadian media. The much demonized Netflix Bill will be in the Senate and the slightly less vilified FaceGoogle Bill will be in the Commons Heritage Committee.
More to the point, Pierre Poilievre will be the newly minted leader of the Conservative Party and will refocus his attacks on media legislation in the House.
Coyne’s column appears to be a manifesto looking for a political champion. A similar appeal to Conservatives was published by Peter Menzies in late August.
The O’Toole Conservatives’ 2021 election platform supported very modest versions of Bills C-11 and C-18. And while Poilievre is categorically opposed to C-11 he made comments at a campaign stop in British Columbia that implied he wanted to amend Bill C-18, not kill it.
The third rail that no Conservative wants to touch is the strong support in Québec —relative to English Canada—for state assistance to the media (although a Nanos poll last May suggests media legislation has public support across the country).
For example O’Toole’s 2021 platform promised to defund CBC News, greatly reduce CBC English TV, but leave Radio-Canada and CBC North untouched.
Menzies pokes at this taboo, perhaps tongue in cheek it’s hard to tell, by recommending Conservatives repeal Bill C-11 but write a cheque to French language film production to satisfy Québec.
Another voice in the recent debate is Independent Senator Paula Simons who hails from Edmonton. She sits on the Senate Committee that will review C-11 later this month.
A former journalist, Simons wrote a blog post lamenting the misinformation about C-11 that is being exploited by unnamed politicians.
Speaking of the FaceGoogle Bill, south of the border Senator Amy Klobuchar has rallied bipartisan support for an American version of C-18, in matching House (HR 1735) and Senate (S 673) versions.
One interesting difference in the US copycat of pay-for-news legislation pioneered in 2021 by Australia: the biggest media like the New York Times and the Washington Post would be excluded, perhaps calculated to mollify Republicans. Fox News already has a global deal with Google and Facebook.
Commentators don’t expect the Bill to reach the Senate floor prior to the 2022 midterm elections.
One of our great successes in Canadian political drama is the regulatory dogfight over Internet broadband and Wireless price competition.
There was a shocker on Friday afternoon: re-seller Distributel (200,000 customers in Ontario) announced it has sold its business to Bell Canada. That follows a similar Bell acquisition of the Quebec-based re-seller EBox (80,000 customers).
That leaves TekSavvy on its own as the largest re-seller (270,000 in Ontario) and tormenter-in-chief of big telco.
Competition and pricing issues are very political —the Rogers-Shaw deal being the most prominent example— and federal politicians continue to dance on hot coals whenever mergers and acquisitions are in the news.
To whit, Industry Minister François-Phillipe Champagne’s twitter response to the Distributel announcement:
The Competition Bureau will undoubtedly take an interest in this file.
It will be interesting to see if Bell’s acquisitions of Distributel and EBox have a competitive impact on prices, in either direction.