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Google denied accusations in a Commons committee Thursday that it had engaged in “astroturfing” campaigns to lobby against federal bills by paying individuals and other organizations to oppose them.

Kent Walker, Google’s president of global affairs, faced questions from MPs on the heritage committee about lobbying over Ottawa’s online news bill, which would force Google to pay news publishers for reusing their work.

The Google executive renewed the tech giant’s warning that it could restrict searches for news if Bill C-18 becomes law without changes.

Speaking by video link from California, Mr. Walker said the tech giant had yet to reach a “final decision as to what business actions we might have to take” if C-18 passes unchanged.

Earlier this year, the tech giant restricted more than one million Canadians from accessing news through its search bar in tests as a potential response to the bill.

Richard Gingras, Google’s vice-president of news, who also appeared in front of the committee, warned: “If C-18 is passed in its current form, it may affect our ability to provide products and services that Canadians use and enjoy every day.”

The Google executives told MPs the tech giant has problems with the current wording of the bill and would prefer to pay into an independently governed fund to support Canada’s news industry, rather than compensating news groups for posts and links.

But Liberal Chris Bittle, the heritage minister’s parliamentary secretary, accused Google and other tech platforms of engaging in “questionable lobbying practices.” He asked Mr. Walker to provide a list of “names and of entities and individuals that you’re currently paying directly or in kind to advocate against Canadian legislation.”

Mr. Bittle also inquired if Mr. Walker had heard of the term “astroturfing,” which is defined as an organized activity intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising grassroots movement.

Mr. Walker said he wanted to “stress that we do not make payments to third parties, to astroturf, make payments to YouTube creators to lobby on our behalf.”

“They were efforts to allow a variety of stakeholders who have their own concerns about legislation to have a seat at the table to have a voice in the parliamentary conversation,” he said.

Digital First founder Scott Benzie told the heritage committee last year that it had received funding from YouTube, which is owned by Google, and TikTok. Digital First represents creators posting content on platforms such as YouTube, and Mr. Benzie has voiced their concerns about the potential impact of an online streaming bill, C-11.

Mr. Benzie has said the lobbying commissioner has told him he has correctly complied with lobbying rules.

The online streaming bill is in the Senate and is expected to become law within weeks.

The MPs questioned Mr. Walker and Mr. Gingras about the five weeks of tests restricting access to news it conducted earlier this year as a potential response to Bill C-18.

Mr. Gingras said that around 1.1 million IP addresses – which could have been used by more than one Canadian – had been affected.

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Liberal MP Anthony Housefather asked the Google executives if they felt “contrite” about the tests, which had made so many Canadians unhappy.

“I don’t feel any contrition about the actions we’ve taken,” Mr. Gingras said. “If I were to look back at my own activities over the last two years, I’d simply say I wish I were better at convincing key stakeholders in the government and in the parliament that there was a better way of approaching the problem.”

He said the online news bill would make Canada “the first country in the world to put a price on free links to web pages. Putting a price on links, as C-18 does, will naturally cause any company to reconsider how they use them.”

Mr. Gingras said news accounted for fewer than 2 per cent of searches.

He warned that if the bill passes in its current form, the tech giant may be forced to reconsider the future of Google News, which directs readers to news sites by providing links to articles’ headlines or “a short snippet of text.”

“Google News costs us millions to operate, yet it delivers zero revenue,” said Mr. Gingras. “If we must pay publishers simply for linking to their sites, making us lose money with every click, it would be reasonable for us, or any business, to reconsider why we would continue to do so.”

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

Meanwhile, digital media company BuzzFeed announced on Thursday that it is closing BuzzFeed News and laying off a large number of staff.