The Bloc Québécois is offering to work with the Liberals to shut down debate on Bill C-10, the government’s controversial plan to bring streaming giants such as Netflix under Canada’s existing broadcasting rules, in an effort to pass the legislation into law before the summer recess.
Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet announced the plan Sunday evening on the popular French-language talk show Tout le monde en parle, during a panel discussion with Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. The three parties are broadly supportive of the bill and much of the discussion was spent criticizing the Conservative Party for opposing the bill over free-speech concerns.
“It’s exceptional, but if the government agrees, we are prepared to launch a process of time allocation and rapid adoption so that Quebec’s cultural sector and the Canadian cultural sector can have this bill adopted before the end of the session,” Mr. Blanchet said.
The Bloc Leader said his party has only supported such a procedural move on one other occasion in the current Parliament. He proposed a two-week deadline for wrapping up debate on the bill. It was not clear if this included time for the Canadian heritage committee to complete its review of the bill.
Mr. Guilbeault reacted favourably to Mr. Blanchet’s proposal. In a minority Parliament, the Liberals require the support of at least one of the three main opposition parties to win votes on bills and procedural motions.
The program host, Guy A. Lepage, said the show invited Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, but he declined.
Reaction to the bill has been far more positive in Quebec than in English Canada, where several former broadcasting regulators and academics have been vocal critics of the bill as a threat to free speech online. In contrast, the parties in Quebec’s National Assembly recently adopted a unanimous motion in support of Bill C-10.
That tone dominated Sunday night’s episode, with Mr. Lepage expressing at one point that he has “a serious concern” that the bill may not become law by the time Parliament rises for summer and it could die on the order paper if there is a late-summer federal election.
Conservative MP and heritage critic Alain Rayes said he should have been invited on the show to express the reasons why many people oppose the bill. Mr. Rayes said he jumped off his chair while watching on television when the Bloc proposed to shut down debate.
“The central element of the debate is free expression,” he said in an interview. “It’s nuts. … I couldn’t believe it.”
The government says the bill will only require online platforms to contribute to funds that support Canadian creators and to ensure Canadian content is promoted on their platforms. Critics fear that expanding the role of Canada’s broadcasting regulator to include the internet will stifle free speech, particularly on social media.
The Canadian heritage committee is hearing from additional witnesses this week as part of a pause in wrapping up its line-by-line review of the bill. Justice Minister David Lametti and Mr. Guilbeault will appear before the committee on Tuesday and take questions.
On Monday, the committee heard from three witnesses who generally support the bill – University of Montreal law professor Pierre Trudel, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel chair Janet Yale and Canadian Independent Music Association president Andrew Cash.
The committee also heard from University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, who has been a prominent and vociferous critic of the bill.
Prior to his appearance, Mr. Geist shared an open letter from Canadian internet and technical professionals to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, approved by 20 individuals and five organizations. The letter called on the Prime Minister “to stop harming the internet, the freedoms and aspiration of every individual in this country, and our knowledge economy through overreaching regulatory policies … that will have significant, yet unintended consequences on the free and open internet in Canada.”
Bloc MP Martin Champoux, who sits on the heritage committee, said the time allocation is important because the Conservatives have obstructed the study of Bill C-10 during the past few weeks.
“We think it’s time to act,” he said, adding that concerns over freedom of speech have now been put to rest by hearing from experts and a recent Charter review. “This is a tool that we’re willing to use in this particular case,” he said.
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