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Former Chairman of the CRTC, Konrad W. von Finckenstein, pictured in 2011 at an appearance in the House of Commons, told a Senate committee that regulating Bill C-18 is beyond CRTC's current expertise.Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press

Canada’s broadcasting regulator lacks the expertise to oversee the federal government’s online news bill, says its former chair, warning C-18 could take years to implement.

Konrad von Finckenstein, former chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, says regulating the bill will be “quite a challenge” for the CRTC and it may have to hire outside expertise to help them do it.

Speaking at a Senate committee examining Bill C-18, Mr. von Finckenstein said the CRTC, which will be in charge of overseeing deals between big tech platforms and the news industry, will have to set up “a whole new structure,” and develop new skills to do its job.

“It’s not an area in which they normally deal,” he said.

He said the CRTC will probably “have to set up a new division to deal with Bill C-18 and bring in the necessary expertise.”

“They will probably also contract out a lot of it. For instance, the code of conduct,” he said.

The bill would force Google and Facebook – and other tech platforms if they become a sufficient size – to compensate news organizations for using their work.

Mr. von Finkenstein said overseeing such deals will be a “new experience” for the regulator.

“It’s not in the nature of the CRTC to supervise. They usually make decisions,” he said.

Thomas Owen Ripley, associate assistant deputy minister at the Department of Canadian Heritage, said, based on a similar compensation regime in Australia, the government estimates that Bill C-18 could raise around $215-million annually for Canada’s news industry.

He told senators that in Australia, Google paid out around two-thirds of the funds and Facebook a third.

Facebook has warned that it will remove Canadians’ access to news if the bill is passed in its current form, saying the bill would impose potentially unlimited financial liabilities.

Google has said it has not yet finalized what its response will be. But earlier this year, it restricted searches for news for around 1.1 million Canadians for five weeks in tests of potential responses to Bill C-18. It says it would prefer to support the news industry by paying into a fund.

“If one of those platforms were to decide to exit the news marketplace, the value would decrease if the bill did not apply to them because they were no longer in the business of making news available,” Mr. Ripley said in response to questions from the committee.

He said the CRTC “will act at arm’s length from government to establish and supervise a bargaining framework.”

“The bill does not regulate news media, but rather sets certain conditions for news media to be eligible to participate in a mandatory bargaining process,” he said.

Google and Facebook have already signed partnerships with some news organizations, including The Globe and Mail, to pay for the rights to use their news articles.

Mr. Ripley said if the bill does not pass, there is “no guarantee that the deals and the agreements that have been currently negotiated in the Canadian context would continue, because there is no obligation on platforms to continue to bargain in that way.”

“Over time it would be perfectly open for platforms to stop entering into those agreements with Canadian news businesses,” he said.

He said the government believes the bill “respects our international trade obligations.”

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai last year raised concerns about the bill’s impact on the U.S. tech giants with International Trade Minister Mary Ng.

Isabelle Ranger, director, services trade, at Global Affairs Canada, told senators that the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement on trade has a cultural-industries exemption, which includes magazines, newspapers and broadcasting, whether distributed in physical or digital form.

“That means that news media, whether in print or in digital form, would be covered under the exemption,” she said.

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