The following remarks were prepared by MLI Senior Fellow Peter Menzies for a presentation made before the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications’ study of Bill C-11.
The full video of those proceedings, including Menzies’ remarks, is available here. Please check remarks against delivery.
By Peter Menzies, October 21, 2022
The development of the Internet has caused a good deal of disruption to a number of enterprises, while at the same time allowing for a great many others to flourish. That is the story of progress. That is the story of change. This isn’t the first time it’s happened and it won’t be the last.
In the case of Canada’s film and television production industry, it has created an unprecedented period of prosperity – roughly 80% growth in a decade. Not only that but tens of thousands of Canadians can now make a living via YouTube and other online platforms which give them unfettered access to global audiences.
Bill C-11 puts that prosperity at risk.
At a time when Canada needs forward-looking legislation that will equip it to succeed in the 21st Century, Bill C-11 looks backwards to something called the Broadcasting Act managed by something called a radio-television commission.
At a time when Canada needs to inspire innovation and adaptation to have its creative and other industries flourish, Bill C-11 seeks to stuff the infinite opportunities of the internet into an Act designed for a world of limited resources and scarce opportunity.
In doing so, it is creating uncertainty. And uncertainty depresses investment. And less investment means fewer jobs and opportunities for Canadians.
Bill C-11 seems to be inspired by a desire to assist those whose business models are having difficulty adjusting to the Internet age. That’s an understandable desire. But to the extent this overly-broad legislation will assist those groups, it will do so at the expense of those who have adapted and succeeded.
As time is brief, I will focus on three points.
The first is that I urge you to amend Bill C-11 to make it absolutely clear that under no circumstances will the CRTC have jurisdiction over user-generated content either directly or through platforms that depend upon it. I can’t say I’ve been able to read every submission but as near as I can tell, only the Quebec music industry strongly favours it. If the government wishes to provide additional support to francophone music producers, it needs to look for less invasive ways to do it.
I think you would do the majority of creators and citizens of Canada a favour by rejecting this bill and asking the government to work on a 21st century approach to communications. But, with respect, I don’t think the Senate is strong enough to do that. What you could do, though – and this is my second point – is further amend this Bill to ensure it only applies to streaming companies with annual Canadian revenue of $150 million or more.
Not only will this simplify the original intention of the legislation – to “get money from web giants” – it will minimize the volume of lengthy CRTC processes involved, lessen uncertainty, reduce risk of stalled or stranded investment and allow for a speedier flow of money to those to whom the government wishes money to flow.
Significantly, t will allow those creators whose goal is to operate freely in a market-based entrepreneurial environment to continue their success and innovation. In other words, if the government wants money from web giants, just go get money from web giants. If it wants to protect certain groups from change, go ahead and try. But not at the expense of those who are thriving through innovation and adaptation.
Narrowing scope will also limit interference with Canadians’ freedom to choose what they watch and listen to through unnecessary discoverability provisions to within the walls of major streaming apps.
Lastly, pay no heed to those who admit that issues before you exist but are best settled by the CRTC. They are not.
Contentious matters will bog down in years of regulator haggling, court actions and cabinet appeals. Most recently, as we have seen, cabinet ordered the CRTC to review its licensing decision for CBC/SRC. Just to give some context, the last time the CRTC renewed CBC’s license was in 2013. Since 2018, the license was repeatedly renewed administratively until a hearing was held in January 2021. It took the CRTC 18 months to post a decision. Sixteen groups then appealed that decision to cabinet. So now, the CBC is unlikely to get certainty on its conditions
of license until 2023 – ten years after it was last licensed. 10 years. And that is for a CBC license which, compared with what C-11 puts before the CRTC, is a walk in the park.
There are also issues regarding the inherent advantages enjoyed by those experienced in navigating the regulatory system and speak the language of the CRTC over those who will be regulatory rookies.
So I urge you to act now and, for the sake of all involved, narrow the scope of this legislation before it’s too late.
Peter Menzies is a Senior Fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a former newspaper executive, and past vice chair of the CRTC.