One of Canada’s most successful YouTubers has warned that the government’s online streaming bill could slash her company’s worldwide earnings as well as those of other Canadians making their living from posting on digital platforms.
Morghan Fortier, creator of Super Simple Songs, a preschool YouTube channel with around 30 million subscribers worldwide, accused the government of wanting to “sacrifice” the global reach of Canadian companies “for the sake of more regulation.”
“Bill C-11 poses a danger not only to my company, but to thousands of Canadian content creators,” she told the Senate transport and communications committee.
On Wednesday, political tensions escalated over the bill. Conservative Heritage critic John Nater spoke out in the House of Commons about a senior Liberal MP’s alleged intimidation of Digital First executive director Scott Benzie, before he appeared at that evening’s Senate committee.
The Globe and Mail reported on Wednesday that Chris Bittle, the Heritage Minister’s parliamentary secretary, has asked the lobbying commissioner to investigate Digital First Canada for failing to immediately disclose around $100,000 in funding from YouTube and TikTok.
Mr. Nater raised a point of order on the floor of the House and asked the Speaker to look into whether disclosing the complaint on the eve of Mr. Benzie’s testimony to a Senate committee amounted to contempt of Parliament.
The chair of the committee, Senator Leo Housakos, asked Mr. Benzie at the committee if he had felt intimidated, silenced or bullied during the “parliamentary process.”
The senator said he was concerned that the attack on Digital First – which advocates for YouTubers and others who post videos on platforms – had come from the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Heritage and asked Mr. Benzie to “elaborate” on “disturbing” details.
Mr. Benzie, an outspoken critic of Bill C-11, said he had been criticized while giving evidence before the Commons Heritage committee.
“I was attacked, and not just me. Digital creators were attacked in a way we have never seen before,” he said. Some digital creators, he said, had declined to come forward to give evidence to parliamentary committees because of such treatment.
Before appearing before senators, Mr. Benzie disclosed that Digital First had received funding from YouTube, TikTok and Henry’s, the camera store.
He told the committee that he thought the bill, which will impose a duty on platforms to promote Canadian content, “creates an approach where some creators get promoted over others.”
“The promotion of one means a demotion of the other. In seeking to promote Canadian content, this will actually pit one kind of Canadian creator against another,” Mr. Benzie said.
Mr. Benzie presented a letter to the Senate committee from 30 digital creators raising concerns about the bill, which seeks to modernize Canada’s broadcast laws and extends them to platforms including YouTube, TikTok, Netflix and Spotify.
In his letter to Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Belanger, Mr. Bittle asked for a probe into Digital First’s links with the platforms. He said in his letter that during one of Mr. Benzie’s appearances before the Commons Heritage committee, he had not told MPs that Digital First had received funding from YouTube and TikTok.
The letter, asking for a probe, was also signed by a Liberal member of the Commons Heritage committee, Lisa Hepfner.
However, Anthony Housefather, another Liberal member of the committee, did not agree to sign Mr. Bittle’s letter. The commissioner’s office confirmed it has received the complaint but did not say whether an investigation has been launched.
Asked about the Conservative Heritage critic’s point of order by The Globe, Mr. Bittle said: “I am not sure I can intimidate the largest tech companies in the world.
“Canadians expect transparency from this process and this is a genuine complaint to an officer of Parliament,” he added.
As reported by The Globe on Wednesday, Mr. Benzie said he had been told by the Lobbying Commissioner’s office that he had complied with the rules on disclosing Digital First’s funding.
Ms. Fortier, the successful YouTuber, told the Senate committee that last year her company earned about $370,000 from views of her videos in Canada, but had paid $3.1-million in Canadian taxes.
“That’s because we’re taxed on our global revenue, and like most digital content creators, the majority of our views and revenue come from outside of Canada,” she said.
She warned that if other countries copied Canada’s bill and imposed duties on platforms to promote videos made at home, downgrading Canadian videos, it would “be a huge economic blunder on the part of the government.”
Oorbee Roy, a skateboarder who makes a living posting skateboarding videos mainly on TikTok, also warned that the bill could hurt her worldwide following.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has always insisted that the bill would not cover user generated content, such as cat videos, or force platforms to alter their algorithms.