Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre pledged Thursday to repeal the online streaming bill if he wins the next federal election, calling it a “censorship” law that will curb freedom of expression on the internet.
But Liberal MPs accused the Conservatives of spreading misinformation, saying they were making false claims to help their fundraising efforts.
Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen said in the Commons during the bill’s final stages that a Tory fundraising e-mail saying the bill is about censorship has a “big ‘donate now’ button.”
Bill C-11 would update Canada’s broadcast laws to cover streaming platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube. Under the new rules, those platforms would have to promote and support Canadian creative work, including songs, TV programs and films.
Mr. Poilievre weighed in on the debate Thursday, arguing the bill breaches section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on freedom of expression, including freedom of media of communication.
“2(b), or not 2(b)? That is the question. And Conservatives have an answer: We will repeal this anti-speech censorship law and restore freedom of expression on the internet right across Canada,” he said.
MPs were debating a government motion on amendments tabled by the Senate, several of which the Heritage Minister did not accept.
The Opposition Leader said the government is giving the broadcasting regulator power over what content appears on the internet, saying it would operate through the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission.
Mr. Poilievre called the CRTC “a large woke government agency that will manipulate algorithms to promote so-called Canadian content.”
“What will change is that instead of having algorithms that give people things they want to see, there will be algorithms that give people the things that government wants them to see,” he said.
Once the bill becomes law, the CRTC will have powers to regulate the streaming platforms and ensure they promote “Canadian content” as with traditional broadcasters.
But Mr. Poilievre argued this means the government wants to influence what people watch on streaming platforms.
“Inherent in this bill is the same old elitist mentality of the ruling class, that they know better: If Canadians are left to their own devices they will consume the wrong kind of culture,” he said.
NDP MP Peter Julian, a member of the Commons heritage committee which scrutinized the bill, accused Tories of spreading “disinformation” and being on a “wacky tangent that is unbelievable.”
He said Conservatives who stood up in the House and claimed that Bill C-11 “would mean that people can actually be followed by the government on their cellphones” had not read the bill.
Kevin Lamoureux, parliamentary secretary to the Government House Leader, said there is a “select group of Conservatives who are espousing false information with respect to the content of Bill C-11, or they are at least supporting the misinformation that is being spread in our communities.”
He said the bill, which modernizes the broadcasting act, is about putting streaming platforms “on a level playing field” with traditional broadcasters.
“It is, in essence, saying that in the digital world, the big companies such as Crave, YouTube, Spotify or Netflix, need to be put on the same playing field as CBC, CTV and others,” he said.
Lisa Hepfner, a Liberal member of the Commons heritage committee, said it was about “seeing Canadian artists and creators succeed, and be supported and appreciated right here at home.”
“Bill C-11 ensures that big players like YouTube and TikTok start contributing to the system, like our traditional broadcasters have been doing for decades now,” she said.
Pablo Rodriguez, the Heritage Minister, told The Globe and Mail: “It’s unfortunate that Conservative MPs continue repeating tech giants’ talking points.”