Heritage Minister defends Bill C-11 to standing committee

Minister Pablo Rodriguez reiterated that the Online Streaming Act will regulate platforms, not users, with the Department of Canadian Heritage revealing that the bill may generate $1 billion annually for the creative sector.

M inister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez directly addressed ongoing concerns about user-generated content regulations in Bill C-11, appearing before the Standing Committee of Canadian Heritage on Monday (June 6).

“C-11 is about the obligations of platforms, not users,” said Rodriguez (pictured), reiterating points made by Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) chair and CEO Ian Scott last week that the Commission does not “dictate content.”  The bill, also known as the Online Streaming Act, was tabled in February to modernize the Broadcasting Act and bring digital giants, including streaming platforms, into the regulatory system.

“The government has been extremely clear that we have no intention of regulating what people post online, as some have claimed, and while I think we have made this clear in C-11… I’m open to improving it,” said Rodriguez.

Critics of the bill have stated that the wording of the bill is too broad, opening up the possibility of content on YouTube, TikTok and Facebook to be regulated. They have requested section 4.2, which outlines guidelines for certain programs on social media platforms to fall under regulatory scope, be removed, or to set Canadian revenue threshold of at least $150 million to meet that requirement.

Rodriguez said the bill has a “flexible and collaborative” approach based on various business models of platforms that will fall under regulation.

The minister was questioned on the Liberal government’s policy directive to the CRTC, which he said he will draft once the bill has received royal assent. He stated that the Commission will hold public hearings with the cultural sector, which will be taken into consideration alongside the policy directive, before it sets its regulations under the updated Broadcasting Act.

There was heated conversation between Rodriguez and Conservative MP Rachael Thomas over section 4.2. One of three stipulations for regulation by the CRTC is “the extent to which a program…directly or indirectly generates revenues,” as written in the bill. Thomas repeatedly asked what the revenue threshold would be, with Rodriguez responding that the CRTC will draft the regulations on the specific criteria.

“I don’t think anything that I say will have you support the bill,” said Rodriguez to Thomas after the MP for Lethbridge, Alta., continued to ask about revenue thresholds. “You said ‘this bill needs to die a thousand deaths,’ so what’s the point? You don’t want this bill to pass anyway.”

Rodriguez later emphasized that the inclusion of platforms such as TikTok and YouTube is due to the role they play in distributing commercial content, including music and audiovisual programs, which is why it must be captured in the bill.

The committee also discussed the Department of Canadian Heritage’s estimate that the bill will annually generate $1 billion in additional support to the Canadian creative sector. The figure is higher than the estimated $830 million when Bill C-10 was tabled in 2020, due to an increase in subscribers for platforms such as Netflix and Disney Plus, according to Rodriguez.

In a later witness testimony, Thomas Owen Ripley, associate assistant deputy minister for Canadian Heritage, stated roughly over $900 million would be part of programming expenditures for Canadian content. He stated that Canadian broadcasters are currently spending below $3 billion on domestic programs per year.

The timeline for when the standing committee will finish its review of Bill C-11 remains unclear. Liberal MP Chris Bittle introduced a motion during the witness testimony of the Department of Canadian Heritage for the clause-by-clause review to begin no later than June 8.

An amendment to the motion was proposed by Thomas to pause review of C-11 to study a financial audit of an out-of-court settlement with Hockey Canada and the Canadian Hockey League regarding an alleged sexual assault by junior hockey players, followed by a sub-amendment proposed by New Democratic Party MP Peter Julian to hold the clause-by-clause review before the audit study. The meeting was adjourned before the standing committee could complete a vote on the motion and its amendments.