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Online Streaming Bill

Bill to Amend--Motion to Authorize Transport and Communications Committee to Study Subject Matter--Debate Continued

May 19, 2022

Hon. Raymonde Saint-Germain [ + ]

Honourable senators, I must admit that I wondered whether I should rise to speak today after seeing that this debate was merely a stalling tactic. However, I think it is important to explain to Canadians why a pre-study of this bill is a good idea in this context.

My speech will focus on the principle of the pre-study and why it is important to our work on this bill.

I was rather taken aback by some of the objections that were raised yesterday in debate. While the Senate prides itself, and rightly so, on taking more time than the House of Commons to study bills and on giving Canadians more hours and more opportunities to make their voices heard, testify in committee and share their expertise with us as we provide sober second thought, here we are spending hours debating whether it is a good idea to conduct a pre-study on a complex bill, particularly one that has been the subject of misinformation.

Although, historically speaking, most of the pre-studies conducted by the Senate committees over the past 30 years have focused on omnibus bills, including budget bills, 42% of them were on non-budgetary issues.

I will soon come back to the pre-studies, but first I want to say how surprised I was yesterday at some of the questions that were put to the Government Representative in the Senate, Senator Gold, about introducing government bills in the Senate. I am talking about “S” bills, including Bill S-8, which we just studied.

The question asked yesterday by my esteemed colleague, Senator Carignan, is as follows, and I quote:

 . . . the job of the Senate and of senators is not to provide sober second thought to measures introduced by public servants, but to properly study bills passed in the House of Commons . . . .

Does this mean that the Senate should no longer directly study government bills, as it has done on several occasions? Yes, I am puzzled, honourable senators.

In the second session of the Forty-first Parliament, as the Conservative government’s representative in the Senate, Senator Carignan introduced six of these government bills, as he himself can attest. I have a list of those bills. Was he going against the role of the Senate at the time? The answer is obvious.

Allow me to get back to the pre-studies. I also noted that during the second session of the Forty-first Parliament — a session that lasted less than 20 months — the Senate conducted 10 pre-studies, just 4 of which were on budget bills. We must therefore conclude that the majority of these pre-studies, or 6 out of 10 of them, were on non-budget bills. I have a list of those, too. If something is good for one government, isn’t it good for another?

Honourable senators, although we should learn from our institution’s past, we must not be limited by it. The Senate is the master of its own destiny. I think that pre-studies are a worthwhile use of our time and resources, because they allow us to review complex government bills more efficiently and to better organize our own parliamentary business during key periods, for example, before we adjourn for the summer.

I know there are concerns that Bill C-11 will be amended before it is introduced in the Senate which, in the view of some colleagues, would make these pre-studies a waste of the Senate’s and its committees’ time. However, I do not come to the same conclusion.

I believe, on the contrary, that the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications would be able to ensure that it receives key witnesses who can share their expertise on the substance and underlying principles of this bill, which will not be changed by future amendments.

These pre-studies could highlight the major policy proposals and issues associated with those complex bills, both this bill as well as Bill C-13. This would allow us to be ready and to act efficiently at the appropriate time.

It should also be noted that a pre-study does not preclude a study. It will be up to the committee members to make these recommendations and/or observations to the Senate following the conclusion of their work and changes made to the bill. Additionally, a pre-study in one or two committees does not prevent the many other committees of the Senate from proceeding with substantive studies and inquiries.

Pre-studies are a way to better organize our work in a timely manner. This is also an efficient way to prevent the use of time allocation measures — if we are efficiently organized, there will be no logic for any government to use this tool. If it were to be used in spite of our efforts, then it would be up to us to govern ourselves accordingly.

Some colleagues will also argue that these pre-studies are not necessary, as we are not on the eve of an election or at the end of a parliamentary session. However, this should not prevent us from being proactive.

Bill C-11 is a government priority. It was in the government electoral platform, as we know, and has been in the other place since the last Parliament.

In its current form, Bill C-11 was introduced in the House four months ago. In its previous form, Bill C-11, then Bill C-10, had even passed third reading in the House of Commons and was sent to us at the very end of the Second Session of the Forty-third Parliament. We are, therefore, fulfilling our role by being adequately prepared when Bill C-11 arrives in this chamber. I believe that the most effective way to do it is through prior study in committee.

Another argument in favour of these pre-studies is very simple. We currently have the time and resources to conduct them. We have few government bills on the legislative agenda, and the two committees targeted by these motions — this current motion and the one regarding Bill C-13 — have no government business on their agendas. So why delay this work?

In my opinion, there is no reason to do so, and Canadians would be right to blame us for a gross dereliction of our responsibility if we do not pre-study Bill C-11 and Bill C-13.

Colleagues, let us get our act together and let us act responsibly. We are spending time and energy in a debate that would be way more relevant if it was on the substance of this bill. Let’s not waste our time bickering but rather use it wisely. Thank you, meegwetch.

Would Senator Saint-Germain take a question?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Of course, former leader of the government in the Senate.

You went over the bills the government introduced in the Senate, but did you also realize that, during this session, the Senate is studying more bills at first reading than at second reading? Right now, we have more bills up for pre-study than we do for an objective second reading. Did you add up those numbers?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Thank you for the question, Senator Carignan.

I think our pre-studies are done with just as much care. Let me point out that we have been in a pandemic for over two years now. That has to have influenced government legislation, the work of the House of Commons and our own chamber’s work. I feel that these pandemic times are exceptional and make it hard to compare anything to how both houses of Parliament have operated in normal times over the past few decades.

Aren’t you worried the exception might become the rule?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]


Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ + ]

Senator Saint-Germain, yesterday our colleague Senator Carignan suggested it’s not the job of the Senate to provide sober second thought on measures introduced by public servants but to properly study bills passed in the House of Commons. I’m wondering if you’re aware that under Senator Carignan’s leadership as then deputy leader with our colleague Senator Martin moved a government motion to pre-study the former Bill C-23, known as the Fair Elections Act, on April 1, 2014, and subsequently gave notice of time allocation on the same day, limiting debate on even the need for a pre-study.

On that same day during Question Period, Senator Carignan was asked about the pre-study of Bill C-23, to which he responded:

As I often say, further study is further study, and having the opportunity to study a bill at the same time as the House of Commons does not mean we cannot fulfill our role of sober second thought after the bill passes in the House of Commons and is sent to us in the Senate. It is better to make as many improvements as we can. If we have the opportunity to study this bill twice, so much the better.

Therefore, Senator Saint-Germain, do you share this view that Senate pre-studies can allow the Senate to engage in proper study and debate and complement the work of the elected House of Commons?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Gold, for the question. I just consulted my list of the pre-studies, tabled then by the government, and I see Bill C-23. My chart is in French, so I will read in French.

The bill in question, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, was a non-budgetary bill. I see that the bill was introduced by MP Pierre Poilievre and was the subject of a pre-study by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on April 8, 2014, and passed in the House of Commons on May 13, 2014.

This gives me the opportunity again to make this comment. Why is it good under a specific Parliament, a specific government, and not good under another government? I think that we have to ask this question, and I reiterate that pre-studies on complex bills are relevant, so I don’t blame the previous Conservative government at all. However, what I do not agree with is the inconsistency in the consideration of the relevance of pre-studies and even of the tabling of government bills in the Senate, when so relevant. It’s not always relevant. It does not need to become the new normal. I do agree with this, and I agree with Senator Carignan to that end; but obviously, during the current context, from my standpoint, there is no doubt that Bill C-11 and even Bill C-13 deserve pre-studies.

Hon. Denise Batters [ + ]

Senator Saint-Germain, I was on the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs when we did that pre-study of the Fair Elections Act and I wonder if you were aware of the fact that when we did that pre‑study, it was quite a bit more advanced in the House of Commons than this particular bill is at this point in the House of Commons, and because of our pre-study in the Senate, we were able to make substantive changes to that bill by consensus at the Senate Legal Committee, suggest them to the government, and the government actually took our advice on that and made the changes to the bill. They were then able to incorporate those changes at the House of Commons and then send the bill to the Senate.

That is actually the ideal way that a pre-study would work, have it be advanced to a certain objective in the House of Commons, come to the Senate for a pre-study, have some definite work done so we can do our proper sober second thought, and then have the government take our advice, unlike some other matters where we had the Trudeau government not take our substantive pre-study advice we have given on bills in the last five years.

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Senator Batters, I’m aware that this bill is one of the 10 bills that were pre-studied under the Conservative governments in less than 20 months, and I see that this bill is related to the Elections Act. It’s interesting that the sober second thought of the non-elected parliamentarians served the elected chamber. That is an interesting exception because on such bills normally I would say the expertise and the specific context of the members of Parliament are really definitive, so I think the Conservative government made a very good decision. I congratulate you and all the other members on the Legal Committee then because you obviously did great work, and I’m glad that even the current Liberal government recognized this, so thank you.

Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond [ + ]

Senator Saint-Germain, would you take a question?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Yes, senator.

Senator Dalphond [ + ]

Thank you so much for this very useful information. I understand from your previous exchanges, including the one with Senator Batters, that in some cases, a pre‑study has yielded very interesting results for the subsequent study of the bill, in two ways.

In some cases, the message sent by the pre-study has resulted in amendments to the bill in the House of Commons. One case that comes to mind is the example given by Senator Batters.

In the case of medical assistance in dying not so long ago, that is, about a year and a half or two years ago, the Senate committee conducted a pre-study of Bill C-7 that did not deal with the substance of the technical details of the clauses, but rather the broad principles and thrusts of the legislative expansion.

Following the pre-study, the committee tabled a lengthy report in the Senate, which subsequently studied the bill thoroughly, drawing on the lessons learned from the committee’s pre-study. The Senate then proposed no fewer than five or six amendments, several of which were adopted by the House of Commons.

A pre-study does not mean that there will not be an in-depth study later. I understand that the government may see pre-studies as a way to speed up the subsequent study, but there is no incompatibility between a pre-study and a later substantive study that is enriched by the first.

I also understand, from what Senator Batters was saying, that the pre-study sometimes even helps enrich the debate in the other place, so pre-studies can have a positive impact.

Is that what I am to understand from the exchange between you and Senator Batters?

Senator Saint-Germain [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Dalphond, for providing the answer in your question. I would add, as I indicated in my speech, that a pre-study does not preclude or replace a study if one is necessary.

Often the pre-study is on substantive issues and complex bills. You gave the very important example of medical assistance in dying. Canadians had different points of view, all of them justified, on a moral issue that was often the subject of disinformation and that deserved clarification that went beyond partisanship.

The answer is yes. A pre-study allows for in-depth discussions on principles and substantive issues and helps enrich a later study.

Hon. Donna Dasko [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on the motion before us, which would authorize the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications to conduct a pre-study of Bill C-11. My comments today are brief.

Bill C-11, sometimes called the online streaming act, is a substantial bill that will essentially take the regulatory framework we now have over broadcasting and apply it to online undertakings. Numerous stakeholders and interests are involved, including cultural producers and creators, the legacy broadcasters in television and radio, online streamers, social media platforms and many others.

Many of us will remember this bill’s predecessor, Bill C-10. That bill was referred to the House Committee on Canadian Heritage for pre-study on February 1 and for regular study on February 19 of last year. That committee held 30 meetings before returning the bill to the House for third reading in mid-June.

Over those four months, that committee heard from numerous witnesses and proposed many amendments. The process involved significant debate of the issues but was contentious, messy and overly political. Indeed, significant changes to the bill were introduced late in that process at clause-by-clause consideration. Unfortunately, it was too late to call any witnesses representing the interests that would be materially affected by those changes.

That bill then made its way to our chamber, completed second reading and was referred to our Senate Committee on Transport and Communications on June 29 of last year. My Independent Senators Group colleagues on the committee and I were willing to work over last summer to examine the bill in committee in response to the expressed urgency in passing this bill, but that offer was not taken up. As a result, the Senate conducted no committee work on that bill, which died on the Order Paper when the election was called. Its successor, Bill C-11, has now completed second reading and has just been referred to committee in the other place. That committee held two meetings this week but has not yet taken up Bill C-11.

We have on the table a motion to send this bill to Senate committee for a pre-study. I have serious concerns about this. In my view, a pre-study is not a substitute for proper Senate study of a bill. Over the last few weeks, Senate committees have been engaged in pre-studies on a number of bills, including Bill S-6 and Bill C-19.

I have been part of some of these deliberations, and I offer some of my observations about this process. First, the participants have been excellent. The committee chairs have done an excellent job. The witnesses have made solid arguments regarding the bills on the table, staff have worked hard and senators have asked pertinent questions.

However, in my view, the process has been unsatisfactory. Typically, government witnesses present the bill and take questions, followed by other witnesses who offer a critique of the bill or propose changes to it. In some cases, their suggestions for change cannot be adequately assessed. We want to know: Are they practical changes? Do they fit with the goals of the bill? Are they doable? Are they good ideas? These questions come up after the witnesses testify, but often these questions remain unanswered in this process; that is what I have observed. Often there are time limitations to this process, and that is one of the reasons why some of these questions cannot be addressed, but in other cases, proposed changes from witnesses that do seem desirable cannot become amendments to this bill, because this is not possible with our pre-studies.

My concern with Bill C-11 is that I fear we will be doomed to this inadequate process and its shortcomings and that we will not conduct the proper investigation we need on Bill C-11, and we have no assurances that a regular committee study would follow from our pre-study. With Bill C-11, the ideal process, in my view, would be for us to take into account all the learnings from the House of Commons committee, their proceedings and their report, and build from there.

Let’s look at their witnesses, the issues arising from their work and the arguments that have been made, and let’s go forward from there. Of course, amendments may result from their process as well, which a pre-study here would not have and, therefore, could not consider. We wouldn’t have them in a timely fashion, and therefore, we couldn’t consider them. Remember Bill C-10, and how that bill was significantly changed very late in their process.

Honourable senators, during the pandemic over the past couple of years, the number of our Senate sittings was cut back dramatically, our scrutiny of legislation was reduced, with minimal review of so much legislation, and our committee work was curtailed. I look forward to returning to a better and more thorough process as we go forward.

In the end, colleagues, when it comes to Bill C-11, I am looking for assurances that a regular committee review process will take place. Even if a pre-study is undertaken, we should and must commit to this. If committees are indeed the masters of their fates, as we learned yesterday, I will be seeking the views of committee colleagues over the next several days for their commitment to a fulsome process.

But there is more than just that. We also need assurances that the committee will have the time it needs to do its work. When I hear about the urgent need to pass a bill, I can’t help but wonder whether we will really have the time to review a bill. If we keep hearing about the urgent need, it most certainly raises questions about whether we will be given the time.

Honourable senators, let’s do this properly. Thank you very much.

Senator Gold [ + ]

Would the senator take a question?

Senator Dasko [ + ]


Senator Gold [ + ]

Thank you.

I do want to remind colleagues that in my speech, as in that of Senator Saint-Germain, we made it clear that this does not preclude all stages of inquiry, which the Senate will decide upon.

But, senator, during the debates in this chamber on Bill C-10, there was much criticism of the proposed legislation and, dare I say, much misinformation. All of that aside, I’m confused as to why initiating a pre-study on Bill C-11, proposed legislation that purports to address the criticism of the previous iteration — Bill C-10 — is somehow unacceptable. The major complaint we have heard — even in your remarks, colleague, which I appreciate, so thank you — is the lack of time that we have to do our work properly.

The motion here is offering time, and it’s offering time free of any reporting deadlines and any procedural constraints.

So whether we receive the bill on day one or in week two after a pre-study has begun, we will be ahead of the game. That doesn’t prevent us from doing our work, including all the stages thereafter once we do receive the bill. So what am I missing?

Senator Dasko [ + ]

Thank you, Senator Gold. My view of this process is that I feel it’s a lesser process. From what I have observed, it doesn’t feel like it’s a thorough process; it seems to be truncated, in my observation. It also doesn’t allow us to make amendments.

So from what I have observed, I feel that it’s lacking.

I know you have given some assurances of time, but at the same time, senator, yesterday, you did talk about the absolute need and the pressures coming from various communities. I understand there is pressure. I live in Toronto, and the cultural community in Toronto is very supportive of this bill. They want this to go forward.

But when June comes — and it’s just around the corner — we always get this feeling of pressure to pass bills. I fear that we have this pre-study coming down the track along with the end of June coming, and they end up colliding with each other. Then we end up getting pressure to pass a bill.

In this case, I worry we will be in a process that doesn’t allow us to examine it the way I feel it should be examined, especially given the uncertainties in the other place and what they will do, as well as what sorts of amendments and changes they may come up with. The last time this happened, it was really rather a mess. You might remember from last year what happened in their committee and all of the amendments. They were rejected by their Speaker and they had to go back. It truly was a mess.

That is where I am coming from with my concerns. This is coming along this track and the end of June is there; we know what June is like. You yourself have said that there is an urgency to get this bill passed because of the various stakeholders and so on who are involved. So this all leaves me just a little bit suspicious.

That’s where I’m coming from. Thank you.

Senator Gold [ + ]

I will ask a supplementary question.

As all senators know, by definition, pre-studies do not allow for amendments. That’s in the nature of a pre-study. But, senator, given that there is no reporting deadline on this, that it is not a truncated process and that the pre-study can continue even after the bill is received — whenever it is received — is it not the case that, suspicions and calendar aside, the representative of the government has stood in this place and said on many occasions outside of this that I understand and respect the importance of the Senate doing its job properly?

This is a motion to expand the time that we have to get acquainted with the changes that Bill C-11 is introducing to Bill C-10 such that when we do receive the bill, the committee is even better prepared to engage in the study that it will undertake. And again, the Senate will determine what stages the bill will go through. The committee will determine how long it needs to study it and so on.

Would you acknowledge, suspicions notwithstanding, that what is before us is, in fact, a reasonable approach in order for the Senate to tackle an important issue of public policy?

Senator Dasko [ + ]

Senator Gold, I appreciate your comments very much. Thank you for reiterating the issues around time. That’s very important for our considerations.

To go back to the comment that you made yesterday and that I put into my comments today with regard to Senate committees being the masters of their fates, I intend over the next week or so to be in contact with my colleagues on that committee to do a poll, so to speak, of their views with respect to the importance of making sure that we have what I would call the real process of review through the study. That is what I intend to do. Then, hopefully, we can be satisfied that we’re going to get what I would hope that we would have, which is fulsome review. I thank you for your comments. They are much appreciated.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Senator Dasko, we have two more senators who wish to ask you questions, and you are out of time. Are you requesting five more minutes to answer questions?

Senator Dasko [ + ]


The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Is permission granted?

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition) [ + ]

I will take a page out of Senator Dalphond’s way of asking questions and, clearly, Senator Gold’s way of asking questions, which is of putting forward statements rather than questions. So let me do that as well, Senator Dasko. Thank you very much for your speech.

If we pass this particular motion, it will be passed, in all likelihood, not before Tuesday of next week, which is May 31. Clearly, the very first time that the Transport and Communications Committee would possibly be able to meet, just to organize, would be June 1, which is their slot for their committees. That leaves us exactly four meetings, if we go to the very end of June.

I think you said that, in this iteration of Bill C-10, there have been 30 committee meetings in the other place. Now the Leader of the Government is asking us to do a pre-study and try to rush this through. He says he has no reporting deadline. Clearly, there should be no reporting deadline, because there won’t be time for a pre-study, a regular study or anything without us not doing our proper due diligence that this bill will clearly deserve. We have no indication of when it is coming here.

So I would suggest — I’m doing this the way your colleague did, Senator Gagné. I’m just encouraging her to agree with me. Would you agree, Senator Dasko, that there is simply no adequate time to do proper service or proper justice to this bill?

Senator Dasko [ + ]

Yes, I think if we all look at the calendar, we would come to this conclusion. I thank Senator Gold for his comments.

With respect to there being no time limit on this, obviously this would seem to take us well into another season, whether that be summer. I don’t know if we’re trying to sit then, I doubt it, but probably into September. I mean, that seems to be logical, yes. That would seem to be a logical time frame for looking at this bill.

I’m pretty sure that we need much more than the number of meetings you just referenced, four meetings. I’m quite sure that our committee needs more time than that to look at this bill. Thank you.

Hon. Leo Housakos [ + ]

Honourable senators, I would like to thank Senator Dasko for her comments. I ask a question, because I’m looking for somebody to answer the question.

This is an important issue, Bill C-11. It is something that has not been addressed by successive governments now in over 25 years. Why is this suddenly considered in the public interest? Why is it that this has not been presented to us by this government in the last seven years? The last time we heard about it, other than what we’re going through right now, was the end of last May, early June. We were sort of forced to push this through as quickly as possible.

I agree that this is an important issue. We all agree that it requires a robust, thorough debate and review. What would be the public interest urgency to get this done in a matter of two or three weeks, come hell or high water?

Senator Dasko [ + ]

Thank you, senator. I am not the person to answer questions about the timing of the bill. I think you should address your questions to the Government Representative. Maybe you’ll get some good answer there.

Let me put you on notice, senator, that I will be contacting you to discuss this issue with you in the coming days, so, thank you very much, and you will be getting a call from me. Thank you.

Hon. Julie Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

My speech will show that, at the same committee, two members of the Independent Senators Group have different positions. No, I have not been “whipped,” as you would say, Senator Plett. I rise to speak in favour of Motion No. 42 and to support a pre-study of Bill C-11 by the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, of which I am the deputy chair.

The online streaming act is crucial for the future of broadcasting in a world where more and more cultural products are moving to the digital realm and where listening and viewing habits are changing at breakneck speed. For Quebecers and francophones across the country, the main concern with regard to this bill is how much space French-language music and film will be able to occupy in the online streaming arena. I should mention that in Quebec, French-language music is still protected by quotas of approximately 30% that apply to radio, but with the migration to Spotify, YouTube and other platforms, no more than 8% of the songs being streamed are in French.

Therefore, this is an important bill, but it is also complex because it involves many stakeholders.

But let’s get back to the motion before us, which is about a pre-study of the bill.

Since my arrival in the Senate, the complaint I hear most often is that we do not have enough time to study bills in depth. I have experienced this myself, of course. I find it very frustrating. The calendar, the bottleneck at the end of sessions, parliamentary tactics — many factors conspire to reduce the time we have to carefully study legislation.

In his question, Senator Plett said that we only had five sessions in four weeks to do this possible pre-study if we vote for it, but in fact if we had passed that motion on Tuesday, when it was presented, we would have had one and a half extra weeks. So by debating this particular motion, we are once again losing time, and I am once again frustrated.

This context is precisely why I believe a pre-study of Bill C-11 would be particularly useful.

I see two main reasons. The first is that a pre-study would give us more time to hear from key witnesses, experts from various persuasions, affected groups and so on; in short, to understand the fundamental tenets of this important bill.

I would like to cite our honourable colleague Senator Patterson who, in February 2019, supported the pre-study of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages, in these words:

. . . I rise briefly today to speak in support of this motion calling for a pre-study of Bill C-91 . . . . This is a bill that is vitally important to get right. With this ever-increasing slough of legislation we all know about, we need the time to do our jobs. A pre-study is a responsible way of taking advantage of the time available to the Aboriginal Peoples Committee at this moment.

I could not agree more.

I know that some of my colleagues are worried about wasting their time studying a bill that could be substantially amended by the House of Commons. I understand these concerns and I share them in part for the more technical aspects of this bill.

But on the substantive issues — on the main orientations and the political foundations of this bill — the questions and positions are well known, and they will not change.

In my opinion, the Transport and Communications Committee could benefit from a pre-study to learn about other models of cultural promotion around the world and to hear and understand the political and ideological visions that will inevitably clash over Bill C-11.

I also think that members of the committee — myself very much included — would also benefit from certain educational presentations on the technological aspects of contemporary platforms, very basic, user-friendly presentations, in some case. This kind of presentation seems to me particularly appropriate for a pre-study, and if I can make a joke, appropriate for our age group.

The second reason why a pre-study seems useful is that it should have no impact on the duration of the formal study of Bill C-11 as it will be adopted by the other place. We retain control over our future agenda. Although the government may want us to pass its bill quickly — and that is evident — it will be up to us at that time to resist the pressure if we feel that we do not have the time to do our job properly. There is no election or prorogation in sight. Bill C-11 will not die if we continue to study after June. If anything, a pre-study will give us more time to study the bill and understand its context, not less.

I am confident that we have all the tools necessary to resist the pressure to pass this bill quickly once the pre-study is completed. I know that, for some of us, pre-studies should only be accepted in very few circumstances because the Senate is a legislative body, not an advisory one. According to this logic, it should therefore intervene after the House of Commons, and not concurrently.

With respect, I do not find this principle very convincing in this case. A pre-study of Bill C-11 would simply allow us to perform our legislative work with more expertise and a better understanding of the complex issues and technology underlying this bill. Nothing prevents us now, or later, from taking all the time necessary and using the full powers of the Senate to debate and improve the bill as we see fit.

Pre-studies were rare traditionally, but times can change. Right now, the Senate is studying Bill S-5, an important piece of legislation before the other place. I support this initiative, and I can certainly confirm that this has not diminished the quality of our work. Many amendments are being considered, as we saw this morning.

In any case, I don’t think we should be prisoners of tradition. The risk seems especially high for the Senate, an institution that some consider outdated. For all these reasons, I think we should be flexible and seize the opportunity of a pre-study when it offers us a chance to have more time and expertise to perform our legislative duties. I believe this is what a pre-study of Bill C-11 would allow us to do.

Thank you.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

Would Senator Miville-Dechêne take a question?

Senator Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

Of course.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

The tradition of the institution here when it comes to pre-studies has always been to pre-study bills when there is public consensus for a bill or when there is a consensus from the other place that a bill needs to be passed in a timely fashion because of public interest.

At this particular juncture, in the case of this bill, it is controversial and without consensus. There is no stakeholder consensus. It is not responding to some kind of timely urgency, clearly, because successive governments have not tackled this particular issue now in more than two decades. More fundamentally, wouldn’t you agree, senator, that our role is one of sober second thought and not to simultaneously engage in what will invariably be a very acrimonious debate and discussion on this issue in the other place? As we see, the committee in the other place has not even started their deliberations yet.

Wouldn’t it be prudent to allow for the political pressure cooker on the other side to do its due diligence while we engage in our sober second thought? Nothing in your speech has indicated that there is public urgency for this to be done in two weeks, a month, or even the fall for that matter. What I hear from many people is that it requires robust and thorough review. Wouldn’t you agree, senator?

Senator Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

No, I wouldn’t agree. You seem to think that the current process, in which a bill spends time in the House of Commons before coming to the Senate, is a flawless process that works very well.

However, last year’s study of Bill C-10 highlighted the flaws in our traditional process. Two out of the four months we had were literally wasted on filibustering. That was around half of our time. I was one of the people who was waiting and who thought that the Senate would conduct a pre-study, which would have helped us better understand all of the issues related to the bill, but that is not what happened.

The system we have is not perfect. We can try something new, as is the case with Bill S-5. I don’t think that there is an overwhelming consensus on that bill. In that case, we started studying the bill in the Senate. Unlike you, I find it quite helpful to start working on bills, because we can get an idea of others’ opinions in the early stages of the process.

I understand that conducting a pre-study at the same time as a bill is being studied in the House of Commons is not quite in line with our role as a chamber of sober second thought. However, I don’t see how that would diminish our role or prevent us from doing our job well. On the contrary, I think that we get a better understanding of a bill if we spend time on a pre-study and then study it. It makes perfect sense.

Hon. Renée Dupuis [ + ]

Would Senator Miville-Dechêne take a question?

Senator Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

Certainly, Senator Dupuis.

Senator Dupuis [ + ]

I was wondering if a pre-study would be a good opportunity for the committee to conduct what I would call an “educational” exercise. This is a fairly complex bill, with technical and technological aspects that the general public may have trouble deciphering. Even for us senators, it can be difficult to follow. Wouldn’t this be a good opportunity to do some educating? Wouldn’t a pre-study also be an opportunity to hold the government accountable for the choices it has made in this bill?

Senator Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

Of course. We could bring in technology experts to teach us about algorithms, how to prioritize certain options and what kinds of things to do or not do. In this case, the government said it was not using algorithms. Why? Are there other ways to influence content availability so that users can see Canadian content? These are very complex issues that my son understands a lot better than I do because he is a big fan of Spotify. I am not.

We could definitely play an educational role, and those experts would be available to the Senate. Our meetings are public. At a time when culture is virtual and efforts to protect culture tie into the virtual world, it is very important to understand what we are doing.

I think you are right about how the general public, myself included for sure, does not thoroughly grasp all these concepts. Would it be a bad thing to do a pre-study? Absolutely not. The more we know, the better we are and the better our decisions are.

Hon. René Cormier [ + ]

Would the senator agree to take a question?

Senator Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

Of course, Senator Cormier.

Senator Cormier [ + ]

My question will be brief. Do you agree that although there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on this bill in Parliament, there is a rather significant consensus in Canada’s cultural sector, as we heard during the culture summit? Artists are calling for this bill to be studied as soon as possible, since it will have an impact on their quality of life and the discoverability of their work.

Senator Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

Certainly, and I have heard them as well. I didn’t attend the same summit you did, but of course, since we know that music and other cultural products are so central to francophone minority culture, it should be obvious that this issue is important.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Your time is up, senator. Senator Housakos would like to ask you a question. Would you like to ask for another five minutes?

Senator Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

Yes. May I have another five minutes, with leave of the chamber?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Is leave granted? Please continue.

Senator Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

The cultural sector wants to see a speedy resolution. Let’s face it, the government has made some mistakes.

Following the 2015 election, the government had a really hard time understanding and admitting that this area needed some attention, and the Liberals said they would make deals and resolve the issue amicably. However, the Trudeau government did fall behind on this, and that is on them.

However, from the moment Bill C-10 was introduced, it was hotly debated, but there was also a lot of filibustering. A lot of time was wasted. Obviously, the more time passes, the more listening habits tend to crystallize and the more young people ask themselves why they should listen to French-language music, because they think Spotify is a good tool. As I often say, the user is not free to choose. What is presented to this francophone user is English-language content, so it becomes a vicious circle and we end up listening to music in English, because that’s what we’re fed. The same is true of YouTube.

Senator Housakos [ + ]

Senator Miville-Dechêne, do you agree with me that if passage of this bill were delayed, it would have nothing to do with the parliamentary process and more to do with the fact that it is not a priority for this government?

I have another question. If I follow your reasoning for conducting a pre-study of Bill C-11, can we use the same reasoning to conduct pre-studies of all government bills from the other place? If not, what’s the difference, and what makes Bill C-11 more urgent than other bills, so much so that we need to conduct a pre-study right away, three or four weeks before the end of the parliamentary session?

Senator Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

First of all, your internet connection is not very good so I missed some of what you said. Putting that aside, there is no one specific moment when we need to conduct a study or pre-study. You keep repeating that the session is ending in four weeks.

I have to admit that I find it absolutely unbelievable to start hearing from senators in May that we no longer have time to do things. I must say that this is not in keeping with my former experience as a journalist, where we used all the time at our disposal to get things done. I know that politics is different, and I am aware of that, but it’s quite concerning when I hear, “No can do, we’re out of time.” We are discussing the fact that we have no time left, instead of doing what needs to be done. That is just absurd.

I am not saying that we need to do a pre-study on everything. As Senator Saint-Germain stated, we are not quite back to normal. We don’t have enough time in committee. I’m sure this has an impact on the pace of our work. I am convinced that we should probably conduct pre-studies for bills that are more important, more complex and, in this case, controversial. It’s obvious that there will be more controversy.

My stance on this is pretty firm, but I understand that you don’t agree with me, Senator Housakos. We can debate this in our committee and try to bring in good witnesses to answer our questions.

Would you take a question, senator?

Senator Miville-Dechêne [ + ]


In your previous life, did you ever experience translation problems that meant that you could only meet once a week instead of twice and could therefore only do half of your job?

Senator Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

That’s exactly why I’m saying that in this case, if we want to do a pre-study, it would be urgent to get on it instead of just talking about it. If we continue to discuss this and vote next week, we’re losing out on 10 potential days of work.

No, I’ve never experienced that problem before, and I probably shouldn’t have compared journalism to politics. I just wanted to highlight this idea of using all of the time available to get things done, instead of simply talking about deadlines and saying that we don’t have enough time.

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