November 17, 2022
If the Senate Committee’s Wednesday night hearing on the Online Streaming Bill C-11 revealed anything, it’s time for Senators to stop talking and start legislating.
By now the Senators know the Bill inside out. They know what could conceivably go wrong with the Bill, plausibly or not.
Yet the committee had CRTC Chair Ian Scott in front of them for a second time as Senators sought to pin him down on his interpretation of the most controversial elements in C-11.
Most of the questioning was about how the Commission would use its powers under section 9.1(8) which explicitly authorizes the CRTC to order YouTube or Spotify to tweak their recommendation algorithms in the name of showcasing Canadian video and music content. The clause only limits the Commission’s power to dictate the precise kind of tweak.
Scott’s answer picked up from where he left off in his previous appearance in June. He minimized the likelihood that algorithms would be entangled in regulation and emphasized all of the other discoverability measures the platforms could implement, including more financial support for artists.
Senators weren’t having Scott’s deflection, demanding a hard answer to a hard question.
What became clear is that the likelihood of tweaking recommendation algorithms hinges on whether the Commission sets consumption targets for Canadian content (particularly in the French language music market) known in CRTC vocabulary as exhibition quotas.
Scott’s comments about consumption targets confirmed his track record as a Commission chair with little affection for the few exhibition requirements remaining on linear platforms. In fact, his controversial elimination of exhibition minimums for local news and prime time CanCon on CBC television was repudiated by federal cabinet.
Senators were also hoping Scott would cast shade on the Bill’s broad regulatory scope over uploaded videos and music, in particular whether programs generate commercial revenue “directly or indirectly.”
Both Scott and CRTC General Counsel Rachelle Frenette replied —indirectly it might be added— that the Commission might exercise its well-known power under section 9(4) to narrow the regulatory scope through exemptions.
It’s now clear that more Senate questioning of witnesses is not going to provide a eureka moment and that political theatre around the Bill has become tedious. It’s time for Senators to move on to clause-by-clause consideration of amendments and, with all due respect to Parliamentarians, to put up or shut up.
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