The minister charged with modernizing Canada’s broadcast and telecommunications law says if the government is to adopt recommendations laid out by an expert panel, licensing enforcement likely won’t be applied the same way for small media groups as it will be for global tech giants.
One of the report’s proposals, drafted by former telecommunications executive Janet Yale, specifically suggests requiring all companies that deliver "audio, audiovisual, and alphanumeric news content" to Canadians be regulated by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) or another body, through a licence or registration.
"If you’re a distributor of content in Canada and obviously if you’re a very small media organization the requirement probably wouldn’t be the same if you’re Facebook, or Google. There would have to be some proportionality embedded into this," said Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault in an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday.
He said the government will take time to carefully consider the 97 guidelines set out by the expert panel, most of which suggest handing over more powers to the CRTC.
Among those recommendations is a requirement for streaming companies to contribute to the production of Canadian content by applying a levy or requiring they allocate a portion of revenue to the cause. The tax model has been popularly coined as the "Netflix Tax," but Guilbeault says the two concepts are different.
"It’s about fairness. Companies are paying GST in Canada and there’s no reason that some of the wealthiest companies in the world who are operating on Canadian soil shouldn’t pay," said Guilbeault.
"They’re investing a lot of money in Canada right now. We’re asking them to dedicate part of that money to specific Canadian cultural content. We’re not asking them to do more."
Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, told CTVNews.ca the report is "candidly extreme" and has no "physical boundaries."
He said the goal of generating more Canadian content remains unclear, given the record success the Canadian film and television sector has seen in recent years.
"The industry is enjoying massive success, so the question then shifts a bit to OK; we want to ensure there are Canadian stories. Part of the problem with that argument is the last two years have also been record years for Canadian certified content," said Geist.
Beyond that, he said the panel does not address what it means to be Canadian.
"We have a system for it, but the system, I think many would acknowledge, is really bad at it," said Geist. "Netflix can never under the current definition create Canadian content, because we require the producer to be Canadian"
Instead of rejigging the current model, Geist says the panel has instead pitched a "massive and costly" overhaul of the system.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who holds the title of shadow minister for industry and economic development, shares this perspective and voiced her concerns in a statement following the release of the report.
In a subsequent interview with CTVNews.ca, Rempel Garner said, "The report seeks to add further layers of bureaucracy, on a system that needs to be disrupted writ-large."
She added that the recommendations don’t go far enough in protecting Canadians against the misuse of personal data by companies like Facebook or Twitter or how to navigate Canada’s emerging 5G network.
Another of the panel’s submissions she contends with is the notion that the CRTC would identify news sites that are "accurate, trusted, and reliable" to enhance the "diversity of voices."
"It’s very paternalizing and also very frightening to think that the government would try to impose or say that’s the role of the government to control. That puts us in league with countries that control the media," said Rempel Garner.
Both Rempel Garner and Geist question whether a bill reflecting the panel’s proposals would hold up against a constitutional challenge.
"It’s not the sort of thing we’d expect to see in Canada, to be honest," Geist said.