Skip to main content

Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development Mary Ng holds a joint press conference with European Executive Vice-President and Commissioner of Trade Valdis Dombrovskis in Ottawa, on Dec. 2.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

International Trade Minister Mary Ng has admitted that Canada’s online news bill raises trade issues that need to be worked through with the United States.

The draft legislation’s financial implications for American companies were broached by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai this week at a meeting with Ms. Ng.

Ms. Tai expressed concern that the draft law, known as Bill C-18, could unfairly discriminate against American tech giants. The law would make Facebook and Google compensate Canadian news outlets for publishing and linking to their work.

Global Affairs Canada released a summary of the virtual meeting, but the document did not mention that the U.S. had expressed reservations about Bill C-18. It also made no mention of the fact that the U.S. had raised concerns about Bill C-11, a draft law that would make streaming platforms such as Netflix promote Canadian films and TV programs.

At a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, Ms. Ng admitted that both bills had come up at the meeting on trade.

“Of course there are going to be issues, and today this is one of them,” she said. “And I’m confident that we will need to work through them with our trading partner.”

She added that she had “reassured the U.S. Trade Representative that Canada’s commitment to compliance with trade obligations is one we take seriously.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Ms. Tai’s office said she had “expressed concern” about “pending legislation in the Canadian Parliament that could impact digital streaming services and online news sharing and discriminate against U.S. businesses.”

Bill C-18 is designed to support Canadian media outlets, which have lost large amounts of advertising revenue to tech giants. Facebook, Google and Apple have already signed some partnership deals with news organizations in Canada, including The Globe and Mail.

Marc Dinsdale, Facebook’s head of media partnerships in Canada, said in October that the company is considering blocking Canadians’ access to news on its platform because of the financial implications of the bill.

Rachel Curran, public policy manager at Meta, Facebook’s parent company, told The Globe and Mail on Friday that the social media giant is closely watching the bill’s passage through Parliament.

“We will evaluate what makes sense for our business once we have all the facts,” she said. “But an uncapped and uncertain liability is not sustainable.”

The online news bill is currently being amended in the Commons heritage committee.

On Friday, a Conservative amendment designed to make community newspapers that employ only one journalist eligible for the payments was voted down by the Liberals and NDP.

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, a former TV journalist, said that in Alberta and Saskatchewan more than half of community newspapers may not have the two regularly employed journalists required to qualify for compensation under the bill.

He said it was “despicable” that the government had refused to back the amendment designed to help newspapers struggling to keep going on tiny budgets.

The NDP put forward an amendment, backed by the Liberals, that would make it easier for small papers to qualify by allowing one of the two journalists to be a paper’s owner or publisher.

Owen Ripley, an associate assistant deputy minister who represents the Heritage Department at the committee, admitted that many small community newspapers would not qualify for compensation, even with the NDP change to the bill.

He said the two-journalist threshold was designed to differentiate between bloggers, “citizen journalists” and news organizations.

Another NDP amendment that passed this week included community, campus and Indigenous radio stations in the list of media organizations eligible for compensation.

The wording of Bill C-18 needs a rework to protect independent journalism

Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law, said the amendment expanded the bill’s definition of what counts as an “eligible news business” to include stations that may not produce news.

Mr. Geist said expanding the bill to further favour Canadian broadcasters could raise the risk of a trade challenge from the U.S. for discriminatory treatment.

But Laura Scaffidi, a spokeswoman for Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, said the bill is compliant with the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement.