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The government’s online streaming bill became law Thursday after almost 18 months of heated parliamentary debate, making platforms such as Netflix, Prime Video and Disney Plus do more to promote Canadian film and television.

The online streaming act modernizes the broadcasting law, for the first time in 32 years, bringing it into the digital age. Streaming platforms will now have a duty, alongside traditional broadcasters, to actively promote Canadian TV and film and contribute financially to their production. YouTube and Spotify will also have to promote Canadian content.

“With this legislation, we are ensuring that Canada’s incredible talent has a bigger and brighter stage online,” Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said after the bill passed.

The bill has been the subject of tense exchanges in Parliament since being introduced in November, 2021, and has faced sharp opposition from the Conservatives. Critics of the bill warned that ambiguity in the bill’s wording could lead to the regulation of people posting amateur videos on YouTube.

Explainer: Is Bill C-11 law now? Yes. What you need to know about the Online Streaming Act

C-11 was also one of the most extensively examined bills in Senate history, with nearly 140 witnesses appearing before a Senate committee in 31 public meetings.

YouTube spokeswoman Zaitoon Murji said the platform was “disappointed that the concerns of thousands of Canada’s digital creators and Canadian users were ultimately ignored.”

Scott Benzie, executive director of Digital First, which represents creators of YouTube videos, said the bill has “consumed the last two years of my life.”

He said digital-first creators who make their living from posting content on YouTube were “genuinely worried” that they are going to be regulated.

But the passing of the bill was warmly welcomed by the film and TV industry and music publishers.

Jérôme Payette, executive director of the Quebec-based professional music publishers’ association, said it was a “historic moment” and would make platforms ensure that francophone music is promoted and financially supported.

“It’s a step towards an environment in which Canadian music can really thrive,” he said.

Film producer and director Jack Blum, executive director of REEL Canada, a non-profit dedicated to the presentation of Canadian films in schools, said the legislation is a “big step forward that finally brings the Broadcasting Act in line with 21st-century realities.”

“Bottom line, it will mean more Canadian stories for Canadians, and that’s a very good thing,” he said.

Jean-François Renaud, president of the Association québécoise de l’industrie du disque, which represents the independent music industry in Quebec, said it was a “great day for the music industry” and would help promote French language tracks on streaming platforms.

A previous version of the bill did not pass through Parliament in time before the last election.

This week Conservative senators unsuccessfully tried to quash a government move to curtail debate so the bill could finally become law. In sometimes fractious scenes, late into the evening, Conservatives argued that the government’s time allocation motion did not follow the proper format, making it invalid.

Governor-General Mary Simon granted royal assent to the bill on Thursday evening, after a final vote in the Senate.

The Conservative Leader in the Senate, Don Plett, told The Globe and Mail on Thursday that his party would repeal the act if it replaced the Liberals after the next election.

“Conservatives have fought against this deeply flawed bill as far and wide as possible on behalf of the many Canadians greatly concerned with this terrible piece of legislation,” he said.

But the government’s representative in the Senate, Marc Gold, said he was “proud of the Senate’s meaningful contributions to this key piece of legislation.”

“Bill C-11 will finally usher in a new broadcasting regime fit for the 21st century and support the vitality of Canada’s cultural sector,” he said.

“Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief it’s passed,” added Senator Tony Dean, the former head of the Ontario public service, who voted for the bill.

Mr. Rodriguez is expected to issue a policy direction to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission setting out the government’s priorities within the next month. It is expected to include an instruction to modernize the official definition of a Canadian film or TV program. The minister indicated Thursday night that the policy direction would clarify that “social media content will not be captured by the act.”

Reynolds Mastin, president of the Canadian Media Producers Association, said the legislation had been “years in the making” and “contains many positive elements we can applaud.”

But he said he was looking to the minister’s policy direction to go further to level the playing field between Canadian broadcasters and foreign platforms.

He warned that the bill could have an unintended consequence of holding foreign streamers to a lower standard than Canadian broadcasters, letting them use fewer Canadians when producing Canadian programming.

The Senate had introduced a string of amendments to the bill, many of which were accepted by the government.

One amendment passed by the Senate, which was tabled by Senators Paula Simons and Julie Miville-Dechêne, clarified that the bill would not apply to people posting videos on YouTube. That amendment was rejected by the government.

Ms. Miville-Dechêne said she was “very disappointed” her amendment had not been accepted by the Heritage Minister, but voted for the bill nonetheless.

“It’s been in the Senate for 11 months. All the arguments have been heard,” she said.

She said the legislation is hugely popular in her home province of Quebec, as it aims to help promote francophone culture.

Ms. Simons, who was among 16 senators to vote against the bill, said it was “an awkward attempt to shoehorn Canadian content into an ecosystem that just doesn’t apply any more.”

Marla Boltman, executive director for FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting, said “the passing of the Online Streaming Act may be one of the most epic Canadian stories ever told.”

“While we wholeheartedly applaud the House and the Senate for the leading roles they have played in this suspense-filled drama, there is still work to be done before the credits roll on Bill C-11,” she said.

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