The government might be wise to consult with all of Canada’s creators and consumers before Bill C-10 develops into an even bigger political problem, writes Peter Menzies in the Star. 

By Peter Menzies, May 17, 2021

The federal government’s clumsy legislative efforts to merge the old and new communications worlds has given all involved a chance to wonder if Bill C-10 is — as advertised — really in the best interests of Canada’s cultural communities.

I used the plural because there are a number of creative communities — those who operate within the walled regulatory system, those who embrace the entrepreneurial opportunities the Internet represents, those in film, those in television, those who stream, those who make music, etc. — and they don’t all see the world the same way. Add to that the French-language versions of all of those and there’s much more diversity out there than Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault appears to have been led to believe.

The loudest voices calling for government regulation of the Internet through Bill C-10 comes from the regulated film and television production sector.

Producers and guilds operate within a sector of the industry designed to meet regulatory goals, not market demands. Their system has at its heart the moderation of consumer preferences in the manner parents manage their children’s meals.

Business plans are designed to meet criteria dictated by funds fuelled by levies paid by cable companies and television networks through the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Those networks in turn broadcast the funded programs, typically in non prime time. And so it goes. All involved are convinced that Canadian culture cannot survive without them.

This ecosystem, while it has sustained the incomes of many creators, was recently described by lawyer Philip Palmer, one of the authors of the Broadcasting Act, as a failure. Speaking on a Macdonald-Laurier Institute panel, Palmer said that when he and his colleagues completed their work 30 years ago they assumed they had written Canada’s last Broadcasting Act because in the infinite content world they could see forming there would be no need for it.

“The government has not asked itself ‘is regulation necessary?’ ” said Palmer, now retired from the federal public service and vice chair of the Canadian branch of the Internet Society. “It has said ‘regulation is necessary’ therefore we’ve got to bring in these (Internet) people to prop up a system that is now totally outmoded technologically and philosophically.

“They have failed to . . . encourage an audience-directed policy. Instead they want to prop up a system that has failed consumers continually throughout the history of the Canadian broadcasting system. That’s the fundamental flaw (in C-10).”

While some smile wryly at the notion that forcing the Internet into a 1980s-style straitjacket could be characterized as “modernization,” Guilbeault nevertheless sees it as so and has clearly been heavily influenced by those advocating on behalf of the status quo Palmer described.

Had he not been in such a rush to please these groups, Guilbeault would have undertaken a proper public consultation that would have opened his eyes to those harnessed by this legislation — consumers enjoying their online liberty and Canadian content producers whose unfettered creativity is about to be fettered by the CRTC if Bill C-10 passes as is.

And there are a lot of them.

According to a 2019 Ryerson University study YouTube has facilitated the rise of 160,000 Canadian creators, 40,000 of whom have achieved audiences large enough to monetize their channels. Twenty-eight thousand full time equivalent jobs have been created.

The interests of these people, some of whom recently struck up the Twitter hashtag #iamccancontoo, have not formally been considered nor really has their existence been acknowledged by those lobbying on behalf of the self-appointed official Canadian Creative class.

Philosophically, these people differ from the regulated creative class in that they are — or at least have been up until now — motivated only by their art and the desire to attract audiences. A great many, without being micro-managed into it by the CRTC, are actually achieving the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. They appear to be willing to take their chances in a competitive market and some — such as Justin Beiber, Shawn Mendes, Lilly Singh, Evan Fong and Lewis Hilsenteger — have capitalized on the freedom to succeed the internet provides.

The report also noted that 65 per cent of Canadian YouTube viewers “believe that no government or other organization should determine what they watch.”

That likely means that the government might be wise to consult with all of Canada’s creators and consumers before Bill C-10 develops into an even bigger political problem.

Peter Menzies is a former CRTC vice chair and is a Senior Fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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