‘Don’t despair. We will get it done’: Guilbeault attempts to reassure screen sector on C-10

BANFF Steven Guilbeault
BANFF '21: With time running out on the summer parliamentary session, and the potential of a fall election, the bill's fate remains uncertain.

With uncertainty and controversy continuing to swirl around Bill C-10, Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault on Thursday spoke virtually at the Banff World Media Festival (BANFF), telling delegates “there’s still a chance the bill could be adopted” before the end of the parliamentary session on June 23.

One year prior, Guilbeault spoke at BANFF under very different circumstances, confirming that the long-awaited bill would indeed be tabled in the fall of 2020.

At the time, that was music to the ears of the cultural sector. However, a great deal has transpired over the past 12 months – specifically the last two and a half – and making any assurances around the bill’s fate now seems to be risky business.

Bill C-10 has sparked controversy at almost every turn since clause-by-clause consideration commenced in April.

At first, the bill came under fire when the Liberals proposed to remove an amendment that would exempt content posted by Canadians to social media from CRTC oversight, prompting the Conservatives and other opponents of the bill to claim the federal government wanted to censor user-generated content – an accusation the Liberals flatly denied.

“Initially the committee was doing a really good job of going through these amendments… until one party started playing politics with C-10 and then everything came to a grinding halt,” Guilbeault said in the interview with Prem Gill, CEO of Creative BC.

Progress has been slow in the time since, prompting the Liberals to introduce a controversial motion to limit the debate time to five hours earlier this month. “At the rate things were going, the bill could still be in committee six months from now,” he lamented.

More recently, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage was accused of making law in secret as the Liberals, along with the Bloc Quebecois and NDP, introduced amendments before they had been made public. Many of those amendments were subsequently voided by the Speaker of the House on the grounds that the Heritage committee had overstepped its bounds by voting on amendments after debate time had elapsed.

All the while, the clock has continued to tick. And with the house set to rise next week, time is running out for the bill to be adopted before the summer recess, which starts June 23.

“There’s still a chance the bill could be adopted. Every day that passes, those chances are going down, obviously, but it’s still possible,” said Guilbeault, adding that he remained “confident” the bill will go to a third reading on Monday (June 21) and then be sent to the senate.

But this is where matters begin to get more complex. If time runs out on this parliamentary session, the next does not commence until Sept. 20, at which point the country could, potentially, be in the midst of a federal election – a fact Guilbeault acknowledged while also affirming his party’s commitment to getting the bill passed.

“If we’re voted in, we would quickly bring this [bill] back. We’re dedicated to make sure this happens,” he said.

Outside of the Bill C-10 discussion, which has dominated the news cycle for months, there have been more positive developments for the screen sector. Guilbeault highlighted the increased investment in the cultural sector unveiled in the 2021 federal budget. Screen-based organizations benefiting from additional funding include Telefilm, which will received an additional $105 million over three years. Meanwhile, the budget pledged an additional $60 million to the CMF over three years, and to provide $40.1 million over a three-year period to the Indigenous Screen Office.

Guilbeault called it a “historical budget overall for arts and culture in terms of the level of investment by the federal government.”

The Heritage Minister also addressed the issue of IP ownership, stressing that collaboration between government and industry is paramount to ensure Canadian companies and creators can thrive in a “frontierless world.” His comments came just a few hours removed from the release of the CMF’s Spark Courage: What We Heard report, which cited retention and monetization of Canadian IP as a key challenge for the creative sector.

“Working with the CMF and Telefilm, I think the government has a role to play in ensuring we can develop an ecosystem where our creators will continue to thrive going forward,” added Guilbeault.

He reiterated that beyond regulating digital platforms, the Liberals also intend to revisit other recommendations found in the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative (BTLR) report. “There were so many other interesting recommendations that we want to look at, and in many cases start implementing,” said Guilbeault, while also offering words of hope to the screen sector as it grapples with the possibility that C-10 may not come to fruition as planned.

“Don’t despair. We will get it done. This is just the beginning of our agenda to modernize the ecosystem,” he said.