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Protect Local Media and Canadian Content

On December 10, 2020 I gave a speech on Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. Below is the transcript of my speech:

Madam Speaker, it is an honour and privilege to speak today on this important update to the Canadian Broadcasting Act. It has been 29 years since there has been an update to this legislation and it is long overdue.

I graduated from the Algonquin College broadcasting program the same year that the Broadcasting Act was last updated in 1991 and I have seen many changes in the field since that time. I am a big supporter of Canadian content rules. It is important to have platforms and spaces where diverse voices and stories can be shared. I have seen first-hand how the CanCon system has benefited Canadians.

During the 1990s I worked at Video In Studios, which is now called VIVO Media Arts. It is an artist-run centre that provides access to equipment and training to video artists and media producers. I trained a lot of people in the new digital technology of that time. Many of those people did not see themselves reflected in the mainstream content being produced: indigenous people, people with diverse abilities, people of colour, street-involved youth and members of the LGBTQ++ community. Many of these people I trained went on to develop careers in the broadcasting industry and utilized CanCon rules to bring their unique stories and perspectives to Canadian audiences.

In the late 1990s, I worked with Dana Claxton, a renowned first nations artist. Her sister Kim Soo Goodtrack was a teacher who had written a children's book called The ABC’s of Our Spiritual Connection, which threads together first nations’ spiritual beliefs from across North America. Kim had an idea for a TV show, and together with Dana and their brother Don, I co-produced the pilot for Wakanheja. It was the first preschool show on a brand-new Canadian network, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, APTN. We made 64 episodes of that series before going on to create 39 episodes of a pre-teen show for APTN called Art Zone. While these shows were targeted to an audience of children and youth, the cultural sharing and stories provided an education for people of all ages. This programming would not have been possible without CanCon rules.

Funding formulas are essential to ensure a diversity of content. If it was left solely to the market we would have nothing but Disney-style caricatures of indigenous culture and many uniquely Canadian stories would never be produced for film and television.

This bill is an effort to catch up with the new media reality that has been unfolding for the last two decades. In 2007, I uploaded my first video to YouTube. It was footage I shot of three Sûreté du Québec undercover police officers trying to provoke an attack on their own riot squad at a protest in Montebello, Quebec. We pulled the masks off their faces and when they were mock-arrested by their fellow officers we noticed that all of their boots matched those of the riot squad. The YouTube video went viral and became an international news story. YouTube has evolved into one of the most influential players in the media landscape and we have barely begun grappling with the implications of that.

One thing that Canadians really want to see is the Internet giants, Facebook, Google and Amazon, paying their fair share of taxes for the business that they do in this country. They should be paying not just the GST and HST on the advertising they sell in this market but corporate taxes on the income they generate from Canadians. One key thing that this bill does is create a new category of broadcasting under the act, the "online undertaking". This would ensure that the online streaming giants such as Amazon and Netflix are covered under the act. This would help to level the playing field. These multinational companies selling their services in Canada should be required to carry Canadian content and/or help to pay for the creation of Canadian content.

The health of our news media is another area of great concern, particularly local news outlets. Local news outlets cannot compete on a level playing field with companies like Facebook and Google. We need local media and the stories they cover in our communities. Their content is shared on social media platforms that sell advertising beside that content, but none of that revenue is shared with them. Our local media outlets are held to journalistic standards, but the social media platforms are not. This is another glaring omission.

Social media platforms are publishers who generate enormous profits from content, content which is often racist, homophobic, misogynist and misleading. Social media companies should be required to uphold the same standards as traditional broadcasters. The absence of these standards and the expectations of voluntary self-regulation has brought us to a place where social media is negatively impacting our mental health, creating deepening divisions in society and having a corrosive effect on democracy.

We must take steps to ensure the survival of local media outlets in a media landscape where the playing field will never be level. Taxing social media companies on the revenues they generate in Canada and directing a portion of those funds to support local media production would be one way of doing so.

The Broadcasting Act should not limit the definition of broadcasting, but should leave it to the CRTC to determine what should be regulated. As we have seen in the last few decades, the media landscape continues to shift and the CRTC needs to be able regulate emerging types of media dissemination. The CRTC should not just have the option to regulate Internet giants, it must be mandated to do so. The penalties for violations by these Internet giants also need to be substantial, so it is not just viewed as the cost of doing business.

There are concerns about the removal of the paragraph that reads in part, “the Canadian broadcasting system shall be effectively owned and controlled by Canadians.” I understand the government is trying to bring the multinational Internet giants under the act, but we also need to ensure our existing broadcasting system is not opened up to foreign ownership.

As I emphasized earlier, the requirements for Canadian content are important. There are a lot of American productions shot in Canada using Canadian talent, but these are not Canadian stories.

I know we cannot expect Disney+ to create Canadian content based on Canadian stories, but it should be required to help fund Canadian content based on the amount of content it streams into the Canadian market.

Spotify does not create content, but it could be required to identify Canadian content on its streaming platforms and it should also have to contribute to CanCon based on the amount of business it does in our country.

Canadians need to be able to find Canadian content on these large streaming platforms. Companies like Netflix, Amazon and Spotify should provide the means for users to easily find Canadian content.

The Broadcasting Act must continue to protect the unique linguistic characteristics of Canada. We need to ensure that broadcasters create content in both official languages. Original French language content should not be sidelined by English language programs that have voice-over translations that are then passed off as French language content.

Bill C-10 proposes to replace the current conditions of licence with “conditions of service” to prohibit the appeal of any conditions of service to the cabinet. The public must have the right to appeal a CRTC decision that it considers unfair. While every decision of the CRTC should not necessarily be up for appeal, the process for appealing to cabinet should be retained in the act.

To summarize, this bill introduces changes to the Broadcasting Act that I am happy to see, but there are changes to the act that leave many stakeholders concerned. Some of the issues can be fixed with amendments. Some of the issues I have raised can only be addressed through regulation. Some can only be addressed through additional legislation, including proper taxation of multinational digital media giants.

I will be voting for the bill at second reading and I look forward to hearing what the witnesses have to say in the committee process.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to wish the you, Madam Speaker, the House of Commons staff, my hon. colleagues in the House of Commons, my constituents and all Canadians a happy and healthy holiday season.

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