Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge says there is no time for delay in enacting the Online Streaming Act, saying that Canada’s broadcasting system, and the people working in it, need help right away.
“Things are happening rapidly and time is of the essence,” Ms. St-Onge said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “We want to make sure that we still have creators and a system to save.”
The federal government on Tuesday published its final policy direction to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the regulator in charge of implementing the act. That direction, which lets the CRTC know how the government wants the legislation to be interpreted, includes emphasizing the need to support French programming.
The Online Streaming Act, also known as Bill C-11, modernizes Canada’s broadcasting laws and would make foreign-owned platforms such as Spotify, Netflix and YouTube promote Canadian films, music and programs and financially support their creation, including in French.
In a recent submission to the CRTC, broadcasters such as Bell Media called for it to implement urgently the Online Streaming Act, which obtained royal assent in June.
They say the current absence of regulations covering streaming services has put traditional broadcasters, which are regulated, at a competitive disadvantage, making a crisis in the industry worse.
Interested groups, including traditional broadcasters and streaming platforms, will begin giving their views on the bill in a series of CRTC hearings starting this month.
Ms. St-Onge blamed the Conservatives for delaying the bill’s passage into law by using parliamentary manoeuvres. “We’re seeing the price that all of us are paying because of the games and the obstruction that the Conservatives played in the House,” she said.
Ms. St-Onge’s policy direction asks the CRTC, where appropriate, to “minimize the regulatory burden on the Canadian broadcasting system” and make the framework, including for American streaming giants Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, flexible and adaptable. It directs the CRTC not to regulate posts by individual social-media creators or podcasts.
It tells the CRTC of the importance of “sustainable support for Canada’s entire broadcasting system” including current affairs and news, as well as local and community news.
The minister is currently in fraught negotiations with Google over C-11′s sister bill – Bill C-18, the Online News Act – which would require the tech giant to make deals with the news sector, including broadcasters, for reusing their content.
Ms. St-Onge says she remains “as positive as I was” last month about negotiations with Google.
The tech giant set out a string of criticisms of the government’s proposed regulations, which detail how the legislation would work in practice, including the lack of a cap on the amount of money Google would have to inject into Canada’s news sector.
“I’m still confident … that the language in the regulations can answer their preoccupations that they highlighted,” she said.
The minister’s policy direction on the Online Streaming Act stresses the importance of French programming and asks the CRTC to ensure that streaming platforms also “support the creation and availability of programming in French.”
It says the regulator must ensure they support work by Indigenous creators, including those working in Indigenous languages. It also asks the CRTC to make streaming platforms invest in programs made by “members of equity-seeking and ethnocultural groups, including Black or other racialized communities.”
But the policy direction stops short of ordering streaming platforms such as Spotify and Netflix to alter their algorithms to promote such content.
It says to make Canadian films, music and podcasts and other content easier for people to find in Canada, the CRTC should “minimize the need for broadcasting undertakings to make changes to their computer algorithms that impact the presentation of programs.”
Quebec’s National Assembly passed a motion last week demanding the owners of streaming platforms adapt their algorithms to make it easier to find Québécois music.
The motion, supported by Mathieu Lacombe, the province’s Minister of Culture and Communications, said Quebec’s artists are disadvantaged because streaming platforms rarely recommend francophone and local music.
During the passage of Bill C-11 through Parliament, YouTube expressed fears that the CRTC would order it to meddle with its algorithms to make Canadian content easier to find.
Conservative MPs argued the legislation would lead to the government interfering in what Canadians want to watch. They warned it would lead to censorship and the regulation of people posting videos and podcasts on social media.
Ms. St-Onge blamed the Conservatives for spreading disinformation about the bill and said its passage had been a long, “hard road” because of their opposition.
Ms. St-Onge said the Conservatives were scaremongering, and that the policy direction is “a clear answer to all the disinformation that Conservatives spread around saying that we wanted to censor people and saying that this was about controlling what users were doing online.”
“That’s not what it is at all,” she said. “So anyone who says otherwise is simply lying.”