Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says it is “important” that the Liberal government’s online-streaming bill moves through Parliament quickly, shrugging off the Conservatives’ accusations that the legislation is being rushed through committee in an “undemocratic” way.
The House of Commons heritage committee sat into the early hours of Wednesday morning voting on dozens of amendments to Bill C-11, known as the Online Streaming Act. The legislation aims to bring streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Spotify under some of the rules that apply to traditional broadcasters, including a requirement to contribute to the creation of Canadian content.
Artists who rely on programs supporting Canadian content believe the bill is urgently needed, but critics argue it poses fundamental risks to freedom of choice on the internet and will upend emerging business models for online entrepreneurs.
The marathon meeting took place days after a majority of members of Parliament approved a motion to end committee debate on the bill. The rare procedural move forced quick votes on amendments at Tuesday night’s committee meeting, which means many of the proposed changes were not read into the public record for people watching online. MPs on the committee would have received the wording of the amendments in private before voting.
Conservative heritage critic John Nater said in a statement Wednesday that the government’s “undemocratic and irresponsible” fast-tracking of the bill meant “vital” amendments were not given proper consideration at committee.
“There is absolutely no justification for a bill of this magnitude to be rammed through so hastily and with such little study,” Mr. Nater said.
A committee report detailing dozens of amendments was made public late Wednesday afternoon. Many of the changes appear to be aimed at ensuring the legislation supports racialized communities and Canadians from diverse ethnocultural backgrounds. There are also references to ensuring support for official languages and persons with disabilities.
The full impact of the changes was not immediately clear, as it will take some time for policy experts and interested groups to review the new wording.
Mr. Rodriguez said Wednesday he’d like to see the bill passed into law as soon as possible. The House will likely vote to send the bill to the Senate in the next few days, but Mr. Rodriguez has said he does not expect the Senate to rubber stamp the bill. Some senators had expressed concern that the government was signalling a desire for the chamber to quickly approve the legislation once it arrives from the House.
“I’ve been meeting with Senators individually and in groups. I think they understand the importance of acting quickly,” Mr. Rodriguez said in French. “There are real consequences for the cultural sector.”
Mr. Rodriguez’s press secretary, Laura Scaffidi, said the committee heard from more than 70 witnesses over more than 21 hours of study, noting the government voted for at least one amendment from each opposition party.
Speaking to reporters on the Hill Wednesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh repeatedly declined to say why his party allowed the committee to vote on amendments that had not been made public.
It is unusual for the House to pass a motion that restricts debate time in a committee. Mr. Rodriguez has said the government needed to intervene because Conservative MPs who oppose the bill spent days filibustering the hearings to prevent the legislation from moving forward.
Blayne Haggart, an associate professor of political science at Brock University, said that while filibustering is a “legitimate political tactic,” the Liberals had to do something to prevent a never-ending debate over C-11. He said that while the bill could be improved, especially in regards to requirements that ensure Canadian content can be found on streaming platforms, he criticized the Conservatives’ likening of the bill’s proposals to policies of authoritarian regimes.
“Justin Trudeau is not an authoritarian guy who’s going to take away democracy and freedom. It’s just absurd to compare Canada to North Korea or other authoritarian countries,” Mr. Haggart said.
With support from three of the four main political parties in the House – the Liberals, Bloc Québécois and NDP – he said the bill should pass “relatively soon.”
However, Mr. Rodriguez has said the government won’t press the Senate to rush the bill into law before the summer recess, which is scheduled to start June 23. The Senate transport and communications committee was scheduled to meet Wednesday night to discuss an agenda for a preliminary study of the bill.
YouTube and Spotify have warned that C-11 could backfire for Canadian artists and creators if users don’t consume the content the services would have to promote. Streaming services have also called for changes to existing Canadian content rules. For instance, Netflix said titles produced or solely financed by the company wouldn’t qualify under the rules, even if Canadians hold most or all of the creative roles.
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