Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Surely it was no coincidence that Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault chose Tuesday of all days to introduce his proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Act. While all eyes were on the U.S. election, Guilbeault unveiled brave changes that would bring music and video-streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify, into the Canadian regulatory system. The changes are only fair and long overdue, but because they will offend Internet purists and could potentially cause small increases to the cost of those services, you can be sure there will be squawking. Best not to unveil them with a fanfare, even if you can boast that they should generate $800-million in Canadian media production by 2023.

By adding the two little words “online undertaking” to its definitions, the revised act will finally acknowledge that streaming services are broadcasting – and broadcasting is regulated by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission.

The amendments give the CRTC the power to license and regulate online services where it sees fit: The government has made it clear user-generated content is not to be included but that a curated service, such as YouTube Music, would be. Meanwhile, relief for the news industry from Google’s parasitic business model is going to wait for a different bill, while Guilbeault has pointed out that it’s the finance department that will have to decide how to force Netflix to starting collecting GST in Canada.

Story continues below advertisement

It’s not clear yet how the CRTC will proceed under the proposed legislation, but the first expectation would be that the services reveal how much Canadian content they have in their catalogues and what they do to promote it: Often, the point is that it appears high up on the home page, not that it necessarily be flagged as Canadian. More important still is what the services are spending on Canadian programming. Before the pandemic, Netflix was already investing at least $100-million a year shooting in Canada but most of that activity is “service production,” U.S.-led productions that hire Canadian crews rather than actual made-in-Canada programming. The CRTC could choose between setting spending requirements for Canadian programming of the kind that Canadian broadcasters such as CTV or Global face or, less likely, it could impose direct levies on revenues of the kind paid by Rogers and Bell.

What if Netflix, Disney or Apple TV+ don’t play ball? The CRTC has been given the power to fine but you can guess there will be fights over regulation, considering that Netflix and Google (which owns YouTube) both refused to provide numbers to the CRTC during a 2014 hearing.

Nonetheless, the changes should finally start to drag the free-riding services, which raise millions in revenue in Canada but, for the most part, don’t collect GST on subscribers' bills and don’t pay corporate taxes in Canada, into a broadcasting system based on the simple notion that those who benefit from access to public airwaves or digital space should contribute to local production.

Critics from both the NDP and the Conservative Party have complained that the proposed changes are too vague and leave too many questions to the CRTC, but in truth this is how the system has always operated. With a fair amount of horse-trading, the CRTC has generally succeeded in crafting regulations that acknowledge the different circumstances and abilities of various players.

There are always commentators who argue the market will provide all the Canadian content Canadians actually want – although the state of today’s news industry suggests otherwise – and in that regard one of the government’s stresses here is revealing: In its material about the bill, the Department of Canadian Heritage notes that the act needs to be updated to recognize Canadian diversity, including LGBTQ and racialized communities, persons with disabilities, and Indigenous peoples. That’s the reverse of a market philosophy, because those groups are unlikely to be offered targeted programming unless government mandates it. To take a different but politically hot example: Go look for French-language content on Netflix. There’s very little and most of it comes from France, not Guilbeault’s home province. The notion that Netflix is going to serve Canadian diversity without some intervention seems farfetched.

Reading reaction to Guilbeault’s bill in these pages, I was struck that both Internet law specialist Michael Geist, on the one hand, and Canadian-content advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, on the other, are displeased with the proposed changes. For a much-delayed first effort on a politically tricky file, Guilbeault seems to have got the balance about right.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies