Third Reading of Bill C-18, Online News Act, as amended

By: The Hon. Andrew Cardozo

Share this post:

Hon. Andrew Cardozo: Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise to say a few words on Bill C-18. We heard from a number of Canadians on this, and I listened to the many speeches that we have heard along the way, especially today. My comments will be brief and in three parts. I will speak first about the purpose of the bill, then about the role of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, in overseeing the bill and then about the larger context.

The purpose of Bill C-18 is to rebalance the power dynamics in the digital news marketplace in order to ensure that Canadian media and journalists are fairly and equitably compensated. The bill creates a new legislative and regulatory framework. It also expands the mandate and powers of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC.

The bill rebalances the power dynamics in the digital news marketplace in order to ensure fair compensation for Canadian media outlets and journalists. It creates a new legislative regulatory framework to enable digital news intermediaries, such as Google and Facebook, to negotiate agreements. This is the core of the bill: negotiating agreements with Canadian media to authorize them to disseminate Canadian media content on their platforms.

The bill also creatively sets up a process that enables smaller media outlets to bargain collectively. It gives the CRTC responsibility to make the necessary regulations, as well as a code of conduct to govern bargaining between digital news intermediaries and news businesses in relation to content. It also mandates the CRTC to determine whether agreements are outside of the bargaining process — meeting the conditions for exemptions.

Here are a few comments about the CRTC in relation to this bill. I have addressed in the chamber — a couple of times — the general role of the CRTC in relation to this bill, and I don’t want to be repetitive, but I’d like to summarize a couple of points that are made in criticism of the CRTC, and share with you my perspectives, given my experience with that agency.

The CRTC is an arm’s-length agency that oversees or implements several acts, and does so rather diligently — sometimes standing up to the cabinet and the Governor-in-Council when they disagree with them. While commissioners are always appointed by the federal cabinet, the process of selecting commissioners is open and transparent, and people have to apply. Once they are appointed, they have to avoid interaction with ministers and parliamentarians, and must do so quite diligently.

I should tell you this: When I was appointed, the riot act on this matter was read to me by the director of appointments. There were a few MPs — that I knew from different parties — whom I didn’t see for six years. At the end of those six years, I came out and met them, and found that their children had grown up, while they had become older and greyer, and it was like being in jail for six years. There were a lot of people who I had no contact with whatsoever for those six years.

It has been said that the CRTC can designate parties on a whim. Well, let me tell you, the CRTC does not and cannot do whim. It is incapable of doing whim, and that is by design. When I was there, I had a colleague who tried very hard to have a commission rule on certain issues from the bench. He tried throughout his time there, but was not successful. The process is always thoughtful, and they don’t do things at the drop of a hat — for better or for worse. The CRTC always does extensive consultations before finalizing its regulations through a process that often has two rounds of negotiations.

Lastly, the CRTC, in my view, is well equipped to take on this responsibility, as it does regulate broadcasting, which includes broadcasting news. Therefore, it will be expanding its purview by looking at print news and online news, and, in that sense, those are things that the CRTC has to learn, but they certainly have their base in place.

Let me address the larger context briefly: Here we are in the historic spring of 2023 — it needs a name. I recall the Arab Spring, but I think the artificial intelligence, or AI, spring of 2023 is a really interesting time. This is the time when AI has taken over the online world, and possibly taken over the whole world. The world has changed with the arrival of ChatGPT and other generative AI. In the context of the rapidly growing polarization in Canadian society and societies elsewhere, this kind of bill becomes all the more important.

Are we defending failing media or dinosaur media with this bill? Maybe we are, or maybe we’re not. But if we are, we need to do everything we can to save the free, balanced and legitimate media that is generally balanced and edited — rather than only having all of our news be reduced to individualized social media, which we know is increasingly biased, myopic and unreliable.

There are, as mentioned, many new and developing online media that carry many of the same good values — such as being balanced and edited — as the traditional media, but they are generally small and struggling. Until such time that they are strong enough to have the same broad, edited and balanced nature, I think it is important that we do what we can to help the traditional media. The online world often drives Canadians into silos rather than brings people together to create Canadian discussion, dialogue and debate that is fair and respectful.

While the web giants are threatening consequences in this collision of democratically elected governments versus multilateral corporations, it is vital that democracy stands firm. The web giants, in fact, make the point very well as to why we need this bill. This is about our harmonious democratic society slipping away into a Wild West of disintegration of our society.

For these reasons, I strongly believe that we need to do whatever we can to save and grow traditional media: print, broadcast and online. This is one step along the way in helping a free and fair media, and in securing our democracy, which is more fragile than it has been in many decades.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I see that Senator Housakos has a question. Senator Cardozo, will you take a question?

Senator Cardozo: We are short on time. I will answer one quick question. It’s always a compliment when I receive a Housakos question.

Hon. Leo Housakos: I appreciate that — I’m glad you find it such. It’s a simple question.

The government says that they are so committed to helping print media, as well as diverse local and regional media. Can you explain to me why the government spends about $140 million a year in media buy-in for all of their government agencies, and why do they spend a maximum of about 2% to 2.5% on ethnic and local media, while the rest of the budget goes toward the giant broadcasters in Canada?

Senator Cardozo: I don’t make those budgets, but I don’t disagree with you at all. I think what we’re trying to do here is help this media.

One of the things that you and I asked a number of people — who appeared before us in committee — is what is going to happen to the small media, ethnic media and so forth. One of the things that gave me the most assurance was our witnesses from Australia, who said that, in fact, the small media got disproportionately more resources than the big media, and that gives me some assurance. It’s certainly an issue that we will follow, and I think it’s an important issue that was addressed extensively in our hearings. Thank you.

Share this post: