Honourable senators, before we were stopped for time, I was talking about the importance of updating the rules to reflect the reality of the internet, an open platform that offers choice and free speech within the bounds of the law and the need to protect that.
Colleagues, are we still so insecure about our cultural identity that we need to forfeit our right to free expression and diversity of opinion in exchange for some government-defined, politically acceptable Canadian content? Let’s celebrate Canadian talent, creativity and success in the international marketplace and on the global stage. Shouldn’t we be modernizing the Broadcasting Act to empower Canadian content creators, whether or not they produce a predetermined kind of Canadian content? Imagine if we asked Canadian actors to star only in films shot on Canadian soil, or movies featuring only Mounties, maple syrup or mountains. Shouldn’t we ask Canadians if they even want the internet to be regulated in this way? I think it’s clear from the response to Bill C-10 what their answer is — a resounding, “No, thank you.”
Most young Canadians get their news and entertainment online. It’s even a career choice for some. Most people want to be free to choose what they watch, and free to say what they want. Yes, let’s make big tech algorithms more transparent, not just more Canadian, whatever that might mean, but let’s not stifle free speech in the process. There is a clear solution to the issue of Canadian cultural producers not getting their fair share of revenue from big tech — just tax them for it and pass it on.
Let me reiterate, if this bill becomes law it will change what internet content looks like and, no doubt, what you post. This is about who gets to decide and define what Canadian online content means and what will and won’t be pushed onto your screens, because if some content goes up, other content goes down. That is not regulation, it is censorship.
Our colleague and CSG leader, Scott Tannas, used an old western saying to describe what the Senate’s response to the government’s disrespectful attitude toward this place is: “Your bad planning is not my emergency.” We do have time. Let’s do this right, consult, seek consensus and make changes that support creative Canadians. I ask the government to go back to the drawing board and present us with well-considered legislation. Then let us properly study a better Bill C-10 and other related bills.
It is our job to employ sober second thought. However, the track record of the government accepting Senate amendments is poor. We receive far too many bills that do not just need amendment, they actually need a rethink and a rewrite before they ever come to us. Bills must respect the Charter, not leave it to the courts to do the heavy lifting that the government should do before they even present legislation. It’s lazy, but more importantly, it usurps our rights and responsibilities as parliamentarians.
The late Liberal MP Reg Alcock was perhaps the canary in the coal mine on this, warning that politicians are always wary of the internet’s impact. He said:
Information technology changes the balance of power. It changed the balance of power in society, and it changed the power balance in Ottawa — and Ottawa is all about power. . . . What you can’t change, you desperately try to control. . . .
That is what these bills are all about: control.
Please, honourable senators, reconsider. This is a reckless approach. Just think of the consequences when it is someone else’s turn in power, when those you don’t agree with are the ones making the judgment call.
Honourable senators, as Bill C-10’s sponsor, Senator Dawson, said last week, we have to update the Broadcasting Act and it hasn’t been done for 30 years, making this review long overdue.
We have before us a rare opportunity to improve the Broadcasting Act and how it impacts Canadians. I have three specific concerns, and I intend to move amendments to the bill on the following items:
One is to prevent the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation — the CBC — from cancelling local dinnertime TV newscasts without authority or approval under the penalty of a $2 million-per-day fine; the second is to disallow sponsored content on the CBC, and; three is to increase transparency at the CBC to ensure there is no gender pay gap among on-air staff.
Honourable senators, the first amendment will correct a situation that developed at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, when the CBC cancelled many local dinnertime newscasts in direct violation of their broadcasting licence agreement. Under the CBC’s licence granted by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission — the CRTC — the public broadcaster committed to at least seven hours of local programming per week, the only exceptions being special sporting events or statutory holidays. Moreover, the CRTC noted that the CBC cannot reduce the level of local programming under seven hours without the commission’s approval following a public process. The CBC simply ignored these requirements and cancelled local evening television news shows with no public consultation and no approval from the CRTC.
In the case of Prince Edward Island, where we have a high percentage of the population identifying as seniors and some of the worst internet connections in the country, this was a significant problem for the distribution of required information on how Prince Edward Islanders should deal with the pandemic. Local radio and newspapers helped provide information, but “CBC Compass” is the only locally produced news cast in the province. The public has a right to expect that their public broadcaster will keep them informed at all times, but especially during an emergency like the pandemic. But in a time of crisis, Prince Edward Islanders were abandoned by CBC television as a direct result of a decision made at CBC headquarters in Toronto.
When Islanders complained about this, we discovered that, notwithstanding CBC’s promised commitments in order to have their broadcasting licence renewed and the conditions imposed on the CBC by the CRTC, neither were able to prevent CBC from doing whatever they wanted with no penalty whatsoever. In other words, the CRTC had no mechanism to force the CBC to honour the conditions under which the CBC obtained its broadcasting licence.
Honourable senators, here is the situation: The CBC applies to the CRTC for their broadcasting licence, the CRTC holds public meetings and thousands of well-intentioned Canadians submit suggestions to improve the CBC during this process. The CBC makes all kinds of commitments on what they will and will not do, and the CRTC, based upon the hearings, applies conditions to the awarding of their licence. But, colleagues, it’s all a charade. The CRTC has to award the broadcasting licence to the CBC. They cannot not award it. Section 24(2) of the Broadcasting Act states that the commission may not suspend or revoke the CBC’s broadcasting licence “. . . except on application of or with the consent of the Corporation.” In other words, the CRTC can only cancel the CBC’s licence if the CBC agrees to have it cancelled. And the CBC faces absolutely no penalty from the CRTC when they do not live up to either their commitments or the conditions imposed upon them by the CRTC.
My first amendment will apply a penalty to the CBC if they don’t keep their promise made to Canadians and the CRTC. For every day the CBC is in violation of their agreement to seek “Commission approval following a public process” prior to any change in their licence agreement, they will be fined $2 million a day for every day they are in violation of their licence, and that money will be payable to publicly funded libraries in the affected areas.
Colleagues, my second amendment is to ban sponsored content on the CBC. Sponsored content is advertising disguised as news. For a host of reasons that are self-evident in terms of the integrity of the CBC, the national broadcaster, which receives over $1.2 billion in yearly subsidies from the Government of Canada, should be leaving this promoted advertising revenue to private media companies.
Finally, colleagues, my third amendment is required to ensure that there is no gender pay gap among on-air staff at the CBC. It follows up on Recommendation 6 from the 2015 report of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, which stated:
CBC/Radio-Canada be more transparent in its operations, specifically with regard to the disclosure of financial information, procurement and contracts, and salaries; and it must make such disclosures easily accessible to the public.
For years, the CBC resisted any disclosure of salaries and has used language very similar to that of the British Broadcasting Corporation when they were presented with a similar recommendation. A spokesperson for the CBC stated in 2014 that, “In the competitive environment in which we operate, that information is not public.”
A BBC spokesperson in 2016 stated, in regard to salary information:
The BBC operates in a competitive market and this will not make it easier for the BBC to retain the talent the public love.
Of course, after the BBC was forced to publish the salaries of those earning more than £150,000, that publication exposed a massive gender gap. One of the women working at the BBC was quoted as saying:
In 2017 just before the BBC published pay over £150,000, I was called unexpectedly offered an immediate pay rise. It became apparent that for nearly three years I had been sitting next to a man doing an identical job who was being paid tens of thousands of pounds more. . . .
A second woman stated:
I am an award-winning broadcaster with more than 20 years’ experience. In 2014, I was offered a contract to present a flagship arts programme. Two men with no broadcasting experience who had also been given trial shifts presenting the programme during the search for a new presenter were paid 25% more per programme. Then I found out that the existing male presenter was being paid 50% more than me per programme. . . .
The CBC did start to disclose some information, but it did not match the transparency of the BBC. The BBC names the individual, the program the individual works on and the salary to within £5,000. The CBC discloses nowhere near that level of information and only reports the number of individuals within a $50,000 salary band, combined with an average for that band.
For example, while we know that BBC “Today” presenter Nick Robinson earns between £295,000 and £299,000, we only know that five on-air CBC staff earn over $300,000, with an average salary of $342,518, but we don’t know who they are.
Does a gender gap exist for CBC on-air staff? We don’t know, but reaching the same transparency level as the BBC will address this issue.
What this final amendment will do is require the CBC to match the BBC standard and disclose any salary; and, since we don’t want to ask anyone to do anything we won’t do ourselves, they will be asked to disclose any salary over $160,000 per year, which is currently what senators earn.
Colleagues, I seek your support for these amendments and thank you for listening.
Senator Downe, in your research, have you determined whether this is still the case at the CBC: When asked to provide information that could be evidence of discrepancies in salaries, is that information withheld because of the argument that has long been used, which is that it might undermine the independence of the journalists, so that information has to remain private? The rules seem quite uncertain.
It is obvious that the CBC discloses the salary ranges of some off-air talent, such as the president and various vice-presidents, so that it is easy to identify them. However, on-air is a complete unknown. For example, we don’t know if the people who have taken over the political talk shows in Ottawa are earning more or less than what Don Newman earned for years when he did this. I think this is something we should know, and we should try to meet the standard of the BBC.
Senator Downe, I don’t doubt that you have a point, and I’m very sympathetic to the issue of gender discrimination in employee pay scales, regardless of whether they are with the CBC or the federal government. I’m just wondering how you can place your amendment within the context of Bill C-10. I think of it as being largely out of scope.
Of course, as you know, senator, the name of the bill is “Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts,” so it would certainly be in order. Since this is the first time in 30 years that we’ve had a chance to assess the Broadcasting Act, it’s an opportunity to clear up what might be a problem — or we might find out after the disclosure that there is no problem, but let the light shine in.
Senator Downe, I have some sympathy with your argument. I remember back to my early days working as an associate producer with the CBC. All of the associate producers were young women, as I was then, and we all compared our salaries and went to our boss to demand more money. He looked down at us and told us that it had not been ladylike — those were his words — and that we had not been good ladies to compare the salary information.
The Broadcasting Act is a broad regulatory framework that provides general guidance to the CRTC. The specificity you’re requiring, whether it is to look at CBC pay scales or the CBC’s mandate, is not part of the Broadcasting Act. It seems to me that if we were going to add these sorts of amendments, we would have to completely rewrite the act to encompass many other things about the CBC. At what point did you think we would make these amendments?
We will have the committee hearings, obviously, and we’ll have a discussion about all these things. As the sponsor of the bill indicated, the issue here is that it has been over 30 years since we’ve looked at the Broadcasting Act.
Let me go to my first amendment. Prince Edward Islanders found out that the CBC cancelled the local dinnertime news at the beginning of the pandemic when Canadians didn’t know what to do; they were coming home and didn’t know if they had to put their green pepper through the laundry machine to be safe. The CBC went off the air, in total violation of their broadcasting licence, in total violation of the commitments they made to the CRTC, and the only recourse, we found out, was that there was none. I’m sure many of us have read Joseph Heller’s book and we all enjoyed it, but the Catch-22 here was that you couldn’t fix it. They give the licence, they hold the hearing and so on. These problems have to be addressed.
Sponsored content is another problem. The CBC, in my opinion, needs some guidance from parliamentarians on how they’re conducting their affairs. They should not be in the business of sponsored content. They should not be in the business of going in violation of their broadcasting licence. In the time of a crisis, when we needed it the most, they walked away from Prince Edward Islanders. It is totally unacceptable.
And the third point, since I was doing the first two, is we may as well address whether there is or is not a gender imbalance at CBC and fix that at the same time, and I think we can do all of that during these hearings.
Honourable senators, when I look at expansive, complex and controversial legislation like Bill C-10, I try to keep the problem that the legislation is trying to solve firmly in my focus. In this case, this seemingly simple objective proved challenging, so I went back to the genesis of the bill, which was the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review announced in Budget 2017. It had the task of examining issues such as telecommunications, content creation, net neutrality and cultural diversity in the digital age, and how to strengthen the future of Canadian media and content creation. The purpose was to examine the existing legislative framework and tools in the context of the digital age and identify changes needed to support the Government of Canada in meeting these objectives.
That 2017 announcement spawned the Yale commission, as we all know, its report in 2020 and, subsequently, this legislation. So the problem that Bill C-10 is intended to solve is to define the legislative framework of tools that will strengthen the future of Canadian media and content creation in this rapidly digitizing world, and in a country with tremendous cultural diversity.
I want to begin with a few general observations about regulation in Canada and reflect on how the CRTC’s actions and statements provide insight as to how they view competition. I will then discuss the regulatory platforms upon which the objectives of Bill C-10 rest, and finish with some questions I hope the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications will consider.
According to the OECD’s Indicators of Product Market Regulation, which is an economy-wide measure of the degree to which regulations promote or inhibit competition, Canada is thirty-fifth out of 38 OECD member countries, ahead of only Turkey, Colombia and Costa Rica. Indeed, Canada ranks last in this 2018 OECD report as it relates to the regulatory burden associated with business operations, a measure that considers retail price controls, public procurement, and command and control regulations.
In a country that already is one of the most overregulated in the world, we should be streamlining, not expanding, regulatory regimes. We cannot afford more regulatory complexity, duplication, confusion and control. Simply, overly complex and burdensome regulation limits investment in innovation, which is much needed to stimulate the creation of highly skilled jobs, deliver better services to consumers at lower costs and fuel the success of our exporters.
One particular statement made by the sponsor when introducing Bill C-10 got my attention. It was that Bill C-10:
. . .would expand the legislative and regulatory regime to include online broadcasters by confirming that the CRTC has regulatory jurisdiction and authority over these services.
My question is: How can we possibly achieve this goal, which is to strengthen the future of Canadian online media and content creation in a rapidly digitizing world where borders are increasingly digitally porous without first focusing on our foundational privacy and competition laws? Updating our privacy and competition laws will better empower Canadians and our economy in this digital era. They are the platform and the foundation upon which Bill C-10 must be built if it’s to achieve its purpose. Otherwise, an increasingly complex web of regulatory burdens will create countless unintended consequences and continue to diminish our ability to compete, not strengthen it.
I also find the pace of reform troubling, and especially in the context of Bill C-10. Our many regulators have been slow to respond to the global market realities that have disadvantaged Canadian businesses and consumers. I strongly doubt that these regulators will become more responsive as we increase regulatory burdens and complexities.
In a globally competitive world, Canada continues to sit at the crossroads as it relates to the role of government in sectors where technology, business models, customer needs, habits and expectations are all changing at an ever-increasing pace. I increasingly worry that we continue to sit at this crossroads while many of our regulators, including the CRTC, seem to continue to underestimate the speed and strength of global market forces and competition. And for those who think that we’ve already seen a lot of change and we needn’t be too worried, I recall the words of BTO: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
If we were to compete in this rapidly digitizing world, we need to build competitive marketplaces. These marketplaces empower consumers and drive businesses to become more innovative and productive, improve product quality and decrease prices. One way for regulators to not increase competitiveness is to mandate private companies toward the services they are to deliver or how they should invest.
In this light, past and current announcements made by the CRTC provide insight into the thinking that may have guided at least some of the development of Bill C-10. Specifically, a recent CRTC statement observed that Canadians want to have better access to affordable wireless services for their cellphones and other mobile devices. Now, that’s a CRTC statement that would garner the support of virtually every Canadian, but it was the next bit that was troubling. The CRTC stated:
We are therefore expecting Bell, Rogers, Telus and SaskTel to offer and promote low-cost and occasional-use plans. . . .
The CRTC went on to state that these providers are expected to offer these plans by July 14, 2021, and the CRTC also specified the expected levels of service and the maximum prices. Colleagues, this provides evidence as to why we lead the OECD in the imposition of command-and-control regulations, which are counter to productivity growth.
In an earlier but related news release, CRTC chair and CEO Ian Scott was quoted as saying:
While there are encouraging signs that prices are trending downwards, we need to accelerate competition and more affordable options for Canadians.
We will never strengthen the future of Canadian media and content creation in the context of this rapidly digitizing and increasingly competitive world by issuing what are effectively decrees. For that reason alone, I’m not a fan of the CRTC determining changes to our competition laws by default.
Colleagues, so far I have observed that Canada already has a weighty regulatory burden and that the CRTC does not look at competition in a way that is supported by competition law across the OECD and other peer countries. I contrast the approach Canada has taken with the ones taken by Australia, the U.K. and the EU. Each of these jurisdictions has chosen to ensure that their primary regulators — their privacy and competition regulators — had the authority, capacity and resources necessary to engage effectively in all markets faced with digital disruption. They employed a whole-of-government approach and did not let the platform regulations become fragmented.
These jurisdictions have recognized that the creation, collection and maintenance of consumer data can drive unprecedented levels of innovation and generate tremendous benefits for both consumers and businesses. However, without proper privacy and competition controls, harms emerge at an increasing pace.
Today, digital platforms are threatening the very existence of traditional media, as we all know. The reason why is a consequence of current market realities. Let’s say you have a great product and you are looking to advertise. Why pay a broadcaster to advertise to a mass audience when a digital platform can precisely deliver that same ad to the exact profile of buyer who is already looking for the kind of solution your product delivers? No wonder the value of mass media advertising has plummeted, taking our newsrooms with it.
How can broadcasters possibly remain viable when the digital platforms have free access to data that gives them a powerful content distribution advantage? How can they remain viable when they have none of the regulatory guardrails that the broadcasters must adhere to? Our current legislative and regulatory process has taken more than a decade to respond to this pressing market reality. That’s far too slow. We’ve got to become more agile. One way to become more agile is to keep intensely focused on the outcomes that our regulations must achieve and not create overlapping regulatory levers. This need for greater agility is yet another reason why I believe Bill C-10 cannot achieve its intended outcomes without being built on top of updated competition and privacy legislation.
Here I’m going to quote our current Commissioner of Competition, Matthew Boswell:
He said that competition fosters economic growth by empowering individuals and pushing businesses:
. . . to make the best use of their resources, and innovate by developing new ways of doing business and winning customers.
And he said that, “Competition not only drives productivity, it also improves our global competitiveness and our standard of living.”
To date, many big tech players have taken full advantage of weak privacy protections and competition laws. Big tech are data vacuums, and we’re at the wrong end. This provides them with a staggeringly unfair competitive advantage. Don’t take my word for it; take Mark Zuckerberg’s word for it when, as a 21-year-old CEO of The Facebook, as it was called then, clearly stated in a famous 2005 interview that the platform was specifically designed to cause people to share information that they probably otherwise would not. That situation continues today.
I hope that you understand why I believe that our success and strength in the Canadian media and content creation and distribution is dependent on our updating the privacy legislation that will allow consumers to regain control over their data and on strengthening the competition laws that create a level playing field.
As I wrap up, I respectfully ask that our colleagues in the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications consider three questions as they work to identify and question each of the witnesses intended to help in their critical review of this legislation.
First, how do we ensure that Bill C-10 will strengthen the future of Canadian media and content creation without conflicting and competing with expected and urgently needed updates to our privacy and competition laws?
Second, how do we ensure that we empower the private sector with an agile regulatory framework that embraces global market realities, empowering and enabling content creators, broadcasters and media companies to innovate and become and remain globally competitive?
Third, how do we ensure that the resulting regulatory framework and tools ultimately incentivize the creation of content and assets that generate recurring revenue? Recurring revenue is a foundational source of wealth and prosperity. If we just focus on jobs and incomes, and not the ownership of the assets we create, our media and content creators will never generate the recurring, low-cost revenue that is the foundation of wealth creation, especially in the digital era. We have heard a lot about the complexities here from our previous speakers just this evening.
Colleagues, global market forces and consumer behaviour are the final arbiters in the digital era, not regulators. Increased regulation does not result in increased competition; it results in the opposite. It creates increased barriers for the disruptive new entrants who can deliver dramatically improved services and greater value. It prevents them from ever getting a toehold in the market.
I’m with Senator Simons and other speakers; after a flurry of last-minute amendments and all the misunderstanding and misinformation, this bill is in desperate need of a thorough Senate study and revision. I hope that you consider the three questions that I have asked as you select and question witnesses. Let’s stay focused on creating the conditions that will increasingly empower Canadian creativity, culture and competitiveness into an evermore digital and disruptive future.
Colleagues, I rise today to talk about how important it is for the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, of which I am a member, to meet as soon as possible to conduct a serious study of Bill C-10 with its more than 100 amendments. It is essential that we thoroughly study the positive and negative effects of these amendments. Since this is an important bill that is highly anticipated by the cultural sector, I hope that our committee will be able to sit before Parliament resumes this fall and speed up the process.
I spent most of my life working for the public broadcaster, CBC/Radio-Canada, which is the very embodiment of the broadcasting policy on Canadian content, or CanCon, especially in terms of French-language content. You won’t be surprised to hear that I believe in the importance of public policies that reinforce francophone, Quebec and Canadian content in TV programming and all other forms of artistic expression. I worked as a journalist, and I know that the only reason there are francophone journalists stationed around the world is that Radio-Canada is subsidized. It’s the only francophone television channel in the country that provides that kind of international coverage from our own perspective.
Because Quebecers represent the only predominantly francophone society in North America, there’s a broad consensus in the province that Quebec culture in all its forms must be supported by the state. It is a matter of survival because the French language and culture go hand in hand. Just recently, the Quebec minister of culture and communications encouraged all public agencies to promote French music on their phone lines because people sometimes hear English music when they’re put on hold.
It is even more important for francophones in minority communities in Canada to see their realities reflected in the music and audio-visual programs they enjoy. When I became a senator and a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, I realized that our broadcasting policies are more contentious outside of Quebec. One of my colleagues even felt that the only criterion that should be met should be related to what content the public wants to see on television, whether it is an American station or something else. He believed that hardly anyone cares about the CBC any more and so it wasn’t worth preserving.
These are the extremes that are at the heart of the debate on Bill C-10 because the bill requires online streaming services, such as Netflix and Disney, to meet Canadian content requirements, which will be determined in stages by the CRTC. The companies affected called for adjustments, but overall, they were fairly receptive to the first incarnation of the bill because of the flexibility it offered. After all, Europe has already paved the way by imposing local production quotas of 30%. I think that the argument expressed in this chamber to the effect that taxing foreign broadcasters is enough to increase Canadian production is simplistic because Canadian production also needs visibility. We therefore need the restrictions imposed on Canadian and foreign broadcasters to be more fair.
Things became more complicated with the amendments aimed at extending the CRTC’s jurisdiction to platforms like YouTube and even Facebook. Does this put Canadians’ freedom of expression at risk? I don’t think so. The government has imposed rather strict criteria on Canadian broadcasters regarding CanCon, its place in programming and the percentage of French-language songs on the radio, but we didn’t think that constituted an infringement of freedom of expression. This same freedom of expression argument is also being overused when it comes to reducing children’s access to pornographic sites. I heard Senator Housakos take offence earlier to the bill that Minister Guilbeault is preparing, which seeks to remove child sexual exploitation videos from the internet. Is removing illegal videos from the internet really a violation of freedom of expression? In my opinion, after years of laissez-faire, we need to find balanced solutions to regulate, not censor, the internet.
I want to take a moment to focus on a point that seems crucial to me, specifically discoverability. I became interested in this issue when I was working as a diplomat at UNESCO and we were involved in drafting the digital guidelines to implement the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which is a highly influential convention in Quebec. As far back as 2017, UNESCO was calling on states to ensure the visibility and discoverability of national and local cultural content and encouraging private operators to be more transparent in their algorithms. Canada is a signatory to that convention. Since then, the web giants have certainly not done anything on their own initiative to make their powerful algorithms transparent.
According to researcher Véronique Guèvremont, other countries are acting on these issues, and I would like to hear more about them in committee. Germany has opted to regulate the “findability” of content by requiring platforms to publish the criteria that their algorithms use to determine how content is sorted, as well as the choices that consumers can make. Austria has made the prominence of European works on platforms a criterion. Even France and Quebec are having discussions with a view to promoting greater visibility for French-language works, and not based solely on where they come from. Contrary to what I’ve heard in this chamber, we are not the only ones having this debate.
I myself ran into difficulty with Canadian content not being discoverable on Netflix when the first Quebec film produced by Netflix became available on that platform. I couldn’t remember the title of the film, which was Jusqu’au déclin, and it wasn’t among the top recommendations, even though it was a new release. I asked Netflix’s spokespeople why this title wasn’t made more visible for Quebec and Canadian subscribers. I was told that titles are ranked according to the interest displayed by members, and that I could simply have typed in “Canada” and the title would have appeared, but that wasn’t something I was aware of.
These secret algorithms are key to Netflix’s global business model. The broadcaster claims that changing the algorithms would have a negative impact on viewership for our own films outside Canada. I have to say I’m skeptical about that. How can consumers make real choices if films are featured according to some commercial logic? That is no small thing because 47% of francophones watch mostly anglophone content on Netflix. The algorithms are in no way neutral. That’s the kind of issue we need to really dig into, understand and consider as lawmakers. Yes, there are huge Canadian success stories on platforms such as Netflix and YouTube, and they never relied on discoverability, but how many francophone songs from here never get exposure? How extensive does the legislative framework have to be? How can we make sure that targeted protectionist measures don’t stifle creativity and the variety of programming available online? How can we make sure that the bill is flexible enough to remain relevant through the inevitable technological changes to come? Is the CRTC agile enough to take on this enormous challenge?
Like many senators, I have more questions than answers about this complex issue. I therefore urge you to refer Bill C-10 to a committee as soon as possible so we can give it proper sober second though.
Thank you, Senator Miville-Dechêne. I really appreciated your comments.
I have a question about discoverability. It’s a new word for new times, and I get that. However, are you not concerned that the CRTC will become the cultural arbiter for Canada, deciding what is discoverable and what is not? Beauty, after all, lies in the eyes of the beholder, who is the consumer in this case.
You asked a good question that does not have a simple answer, senator. Certain decisions are already made in our existing broadcasting system, since broadcasters are required to broadcast a percentage of Canadian content during certain hours. It is all well and good to say that Canada can showcase itself around the world, but the United States is our neighbour. Protecting Canadian content, in both English and French, has always been considered important to helping our culture thrive and be seen by Canadians.
This bill attempts to do some things, and I think we need to study it in committee to see whether it is possible to do those things. Discoverability is one of the tools we can use to try to influence what people watch. We know that young people no longer watch Canadian content on TV. Instead, they watch Netflix and other digital platforms. The purpose of the bill is precisely to ensure that these young people have access to Canadian content. I don’t think that it’s a form of censorship. It’s more a matter of shaking things up.
At present, the platforms pick the winners and the losers. There is nothing neutral about how these algorithms are designed. The idea is to put forward what represents us, that is, our culture and the French language. That is one element I wanted to focus on in my speech. French culture in North America is an altogether different matter. I hope to be able to strike a balance.
You are right when you say that this may seem worrisome. This isn’t new to Europe, which has been giving serious consideration to these issues precisely to ensure that its own cultures can be visible on these platforms.
I have not studied that at length. From what I understand, Europe has made the most progress in this area. I believe that Germany requires transparency with respect to the algorithms and their criteria. It wants to know whether consumers can choose programming by origin with these algorithms. It is one of the countries that goes the furthest on this issue.
I know that this is being studied seriously around the world, but I don’t believe that, to date, all the measures that can be put in place have been implemented.