OTTAWA – Bill C-18, an act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada, was the focus of discussion in the House of Commons on May 13. The Bill is intended to protect news media who currently have their work pilfered by online platforms such as Google and Facebook without proper compensation.
Chris Bittle, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and MP for St. Catharines, started his speech with a statement he hoped all MPs agreed on.
“There is no real democracy without a free and independent press,” said Bittle. “A bankrupt press is not a free press. To play its fundamental role, the press needs revenue. This principle is at the core of Bill C-18, and it is at the core of our approach to supporting strong and independent journalism. What we are seeing now, more than ever, is just how important that is.”
He pointed out that the way Canadians get their news has changed.
“Many of us get our news through Google or Facebook, which is okay,” said Bittle. “There is nothing wrong with that, but the problem is that digital media platforms do not compensate media when they use their content. Advertising dollars have left Canadian media.”
He stated that in 2020, online advertising revenues in Canada were close to $10 billion, with Meta and Google taking 80 percent.
“This is especially hurting Canadian media that rely on advertising to pay their journalists,” said Bittle. “Between 2008 and 2021, 450 news outlets closed across Canada. … Since the start of the pandemic, 64 news outlets have closed. This is a crisis.”
He noted that no local media and journalists hold officials to account in many regions.
“The very foundations of our government are eroding,” said Bittle. “All this is at a time when disinformation is on the rise. Canadians need credible, independent and reliable information.”
He listed some of the solutions the federal government has been implementing to address the issues news outlets are facing.
“We created the Canadian journalism labour tax credit,” said Bittle. “This has kept many outlets afloat: many more would have gone bankrupt during the pandemic, leaving many communities without local journalistic coverage.”
They created a tax credit for subscriptions and donations to media and increased funding to the Canada periodical fund with an additional $40 million in the 2022 budget.
The local journalism initiative program has allowed many communities to maintain local coverage.
“These are all important steps, but we know there is more work to do,” he said. “That is why we need tech giants to do their part, and that is why we need Bill C-18.”
Bittle said the compensation tech giants would provide Canadian media through Bill C-18 would be a giant step in ensuring independent journalism in Canada. Which he said is essential for democracy.
“That is what Bill C-18 would do,” he said. “Tech giants would fairly compensate Canadian journalists when they use their content. That is it: no more, no less.”
Bittle said it is a market-based solution with minimal government intervention, and he was “sure my Conservative colleagues will be very happy. They believe in the free market and independent journalism, and I cannot think of anything in this bill that they would not like.”
Bill C-18 ensures eligible news businesses are compensated for their content by digital platforms through negotiated deals.
“The bill incentivizes parties to reach commercial agreements on their own,” he said.
It is based on the Australian model, but Bittle said it is more transparent.
“Public and transparent criteria would determine which platform is included and has to negotiate with Canadian media,” he said. “Every step of the way, we would ensure that the government stays as far away as possible from this process.”
Bittle pointed out that the next part of this speech was necessary because the bill is also vital to smaller local media.
“Eligible media may collectively bargain if they wish,” he said. “This would allow smaller media outlets that did not have the resources to single-handedly negotiate with tech giants to still receive fair compensation.”
A step further on transparency, the bill states that every deal would be disclosed.
“Canadians would know which news organizations have deals with every platform,” said Bittle.
For the deals to be acceptable, they need to satisfy six criteria.
First, they provide fair compensation for news content.
Second, they ensure that an appropriate portion of the compensation will be used to produce local, regional and national news content.
Third, they do not undermine freedom of expression and journalistic integrity.
Fourth, they contribute to the sustainability of the news market.
Fifth, they ensure that many independent local news businesses benefit from the deals.
Sixth, they involve a range of news outlets that reflect the diversity of the Canadian news marketplace.
The bill contains a set of criteria that may exempt digital platforms from further negotiations.
“This is essential to encourage voluntary commercial agreements to minimize government involvement further.,” said Bittle. “To be exempt, digital platforms would have to show that they sufficiently contribute to the Canadian digital news marketplace by reaching fair commercial agreements, that they have an appropriate portion of compensation used to support local and independent news, and that the agreements are inclusive and made with a diversity of news businesses representing a diversity of Canadian interests and identities, and that the agreements support innovative business models.”
He added that this bill would ensure that small businesses also receive fair compensation as criteria for the exemption.
“This bill would limit government involvement and protect the independence of media from both government and commercial interference because now, more than ever, Canadians need strong and independent journalism,” said Bittle.
He cited that when a similar bill came out in Australia, Facebook, or Meta, attempted to fight with the Australian government and threatened to pull all of the country’s news sources from Facebook.
“It thought it would turn the Australian people against their government, but it turned them against Facebook, which backed down,” said Bittle. “Australia created a model that works. The tech giants have negotiated fair deals with Australian media outlets, including Australian Crown corporations. Journalism there is now stronger, and Australian democracy is now stronger. It worked in Australia, and it will work in Canada.”
He remarked that the Conservatives have been very vocal on the committee.
“Talking about the Shaw-Rogers merger and its impact on local news,” said Bittle. “We have had some very good discussion on that. Because there is a potential impact on a number of local television stations and local news across the country, I hope that concern goes broader. The merger is an excellent discussion, a discussion worth having, but this is the elephant in the room in terms of ad revenues that have left, ad revenues that are going away from local news organizations and going to massive American companies, the dominant digital players.
He observed the consequences of misinformation and disinformation online.
“To see the safety of the hon. leader of the NDP threatened because individuals who have now become subsumed in the disinformation that social media has to offer are horrific. It was frightening to watch, and it was disappointing to see. No member of this place should have to go through that,” said Bittle. “He handled it with poise, and I tip my hat to him, but none of us should be placed in that position.”
“I have just a simple question for the parliamentary secretary about the discussion around spreading misinformation and disinformation,” said Conservative MP for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB Garnett Genuis. “Is “spreading misinformation” simply a fancy way of saying “telling a lie”? Does it mean the same thing as telling a lie, or does it mean something different?”
Bittle said he was not sure what Genuis was getting at.
“Misinformation and disinformation are endemic on social media platforms,” he said. “It is much broader than telling a lie, and I do not know that I can encompass that in a very brief answer to the hon. member. I think he knows that, and I think he knows that we are having difficulty as a society acknowledging what is truthful.”
“We could look at what has happened on COVID-19 and the anti-vax movement,” said Bittle. “We could look at climate change and see the misinformation and disinformation when there is scientific consensus on those issues. There is no check against it, seemingly, on Meta, Twitter, Google and other companies, so we will rely more heavily on local journalism and national journalism, the media in general, to ensure that Canadians have access to accurate information.”
Bloc MP for Joliette, QC, Gabriel Ste-Marie, said the bill has been long-awaited.
“In this case, it is about levelling the playing field so that the print media can thrive in a media landscape dominated by the omnipresence of new technology,” he said. “Does the parliamentary secretary think this bill will enable the print media to thrive in today’s context?”
Biddle said there is a need to start levelling the playing field, and he thought the bill was an excellent start.
“It is time to ensure more transparency,” he said. “It is time to ensure that smaller entities will be able to get a fair deal as well.”
Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands Mark Gerretsen referenced a news outlet in his riding.
“It is called the Kingstonist,” he said. “It just came online, probably within the last 10-12 years, and over the years, it has gradually built a larger and larger base of followers. The only way it generates income right now is if people subscribe to the service or if people end up on its website, where it can generate money from ad revenue.”
However, Gerretsen said that most people who look at its news content see it on Facebook or Google. It is at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to distributing its material.
“I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could comment on how he thinks this bill would help an organization like the Kingstonist in my riding?” he asked.
Bittle said news outlets like the Kingstonist are fundamental to democratic institutions and that people need media showing up at municipal council meetings to hold elected officials to account.
“Organizations like (this) will benefit across the country to ensure that they have the ad revenue and that dominant digital players are not syphoning off the vast majority of ad revenue, which they have been doing and which is the centre of the crisis we find ourselves in,” he said.
NDP MP for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC, Lisa Marie Barron, said that her riding sees the impacts of many larger web giants using local news to the disadvantage of local news outlets.
“We are seeing news outlets in Nanaimo—Ladysmith closing down, and many of the news outlets, such as Nanaimo News Bulletin, The Discourse and Nanaimo News Now, are struggling to keep up with the large web giants,” she said. “They are set up for failure,”
Bittle reminded Barron that he had mentioned several programs that have been initiated to help media.
“There is only so much the government can do,” he said. “We need to find a more market-based solution to this problem. At its centre are dominant digital players syphoning off the vast majority of the ad revenue.”
He said that the bill would allow smaller media outlets to bargain collectively to ensure that they get a fair deal.
Green MP for Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC Elizabeth May said she was focusing less on what Bill C-18 proposes to do.
“Neither Bill C-11 nor Bill C-18 gets to what is now being called by our security experts “IMVE,” ideologically motivated violent extremism, which is spread through social media content,” she said.
May recommended all members of parliament read an opinion piece, “Regulate the System, Not the Speech,” written by Beverley McLachlin, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and Taylor Owen, the director of the Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy at McGill University.
“We are not addressing the root problem here,” she said. “It is a dangerous area, and people want to back away from this nexus between free speech and protecting people from violent extremism. The solution I would put to the hon. member is to treat these new tech online sources, or whatever we want to call them, not as platforms but as publishers. That is what they are … We have a vast amount of common-law jurisprudence on what to do with publishing false things.”
May told Bittle that Bill C-18 and Bill C-11 do not address the threat to Canadian democracy in online disinformation.
Bittle said May is correct about social media being an unsafe place.
“I was threatened yesterday when I spoke about a shooting in my riding,” he said. “This is the type of thing that Canadians find themselves in. It becomes a much less safe place than it has ever been, with the promise of the Internet, as it rose in the 1990s, that it would be this wonderful place. However, it is not a safe place, and it is even less so for women and persons of colour.”
So he said the government is consulting on online safety.
“We hope to have legislation soon, but the consultations are ongoing,” said Bittle. “It is fundamental.”
Conservative MP for Perth—Wellington, John Nater, pointed out that Bittle spoke a lot about the online tech giants gobbling up advertising revenue and leaving small local newspapers without the same access to income.
“If I would have had a chance to ask the parliamentary secretary a question, I would have asked him why he spent $13,000 on Facebook advertising rather than investing that in his local newspaper, the St. Catharines Standard,” he said.
Nater began by acknowledging that Canada’s news environment has changed significantly in 10 to 20 years.
“The Internet has changed how we do business,” he said. “It has brought many changes to all aspects of our lives, our communities and how businesses operate. As these changes and disruptions have happened in the digital marketplace, they have impacted the media industry and the traditional print media industry.”
He said advertising dollars spent in Canada are now spent more and more online.
“As these dollars move online, a smaller and smaller number of dollars are being spent on traditional advertising and print advertising, which have been used to sustain the news industry for years and decades,” said Nater. “Many of the newsrooms that are now operating with one or two journalists at one point operated with a dozen. … Still, other newsrooms have closed entirely. When these newsrooms close, they leave in their wake news deserts in which parts of the community, or in some cases entire communities, are left without access to reliable local news sources.”
He noted these closures have particularly hurt small towns and rural communities and pointed out that Canadians rely on local news to inform their lives and help inform their decision-making at the local, regional and national levels.
Nater quoted George Mason, one of America’s founding fathers.
“He said, ‘the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.'”
“That quotation is as true now as then,” said Nater. “The freedom and ability of the press to fairly, impartially and honestly report the news to citizens of this country are absolutely essential.”
He pointed out that in his press conference after introducing the bill, the Minister of Canadian Heritage conceded that a significant number of news providers had closed their doors in recent years during the government’s time in office.
“This is not only unfortunate; it is weakening our communities,” said Nater.
He declared the value local newspapers, radio stations and television have when they cover municipal councils, charitable events and fundraisers, community festivals, fall fairs, local sports teams, crime, fires, floods and violence.
As Nater drives across the 3,500 square kilometres of Perth—Wellington, he listens to his car radio’s preset stations.
“I want to be clear that I use my radio in my car,” he said. “I do not use Spotify, and I do not use satellite radio. I prefer traditional radio when I am driving, and I listen to it as I drive across my riding and from there to Ottawa … It allows me to hear what is going on in my communities in Perth—Wellington and those across the country.”
As Nater drives through Perth and Wellington counties, he listens to The River, a non-profit entity out of Mount Forest, Ontario, or a number of the Blackburn radio stations present throughout southwestern Ontario, given the essential services and news that they provide.
“One of the Blackburn stations is AM920 out of Wingham,” he said. “I fondly remember as a child listening to AM 920 and being shushed by my mother every time the “in memoriam” part came on because we certainly did not want to miss that.”
In North Perth, he tunes to The Ranch.
“Unfortunately, as I mentioned, many local news providers have closed in the past number of years, hurting communities across Canada, including those in Perth—Wellington,” said Nater. “In Perth County, many of my constituents were shocked in 2017 when the major media giants abruptly shut down both the St. Marys Journal Argus and Stratford Gazette. The closure of the St. Marys Journal Argus was especially difficult because, after 154 years as a newspaper serving the community, it was unexpectedly shut down in one single day without even the opportunity to deliver a final edition to the town’s faithful readers.
He noted that the St. Marys Independent continues to publish.
“Today’s debate is not the first time the issue of struggling local news providers has been raised,” said Nater. “In fact, at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, we have undertaken a study of the Rogers-Shaw deal and the impact that it will have on local news … Setting aside for a moment the CRTC’s decision on the Rogers-Shaw deal, there is no question that the decisions made by the CRTC and other entities will have an impact on local news. The question is whether the CRTC has the capacity or the competency to make decisions that will improve the media landscape in Canada.”
He acknowledged in the last election, there was a consensus among the different platforms that something should be done to help local news and journalism, noting the Conservative platform, under the former leader, Erin O’Toole, promised to introduce a digital media royalty framework to ensure Canadian media outlets are fairly compensated for the content shared by online platforms. It would have adopted an approach incorporating jurisdictions like Australia and France’s practices, including a robust arbitration process. The creation of an intellectual property right for article extracts shared on a social media platform to ensure that smaller media outlets are included, and the government won’t be able to pick and choose who has access to the royalty framework.
“While we did not get to draft this legislation, it is our duty as Her Majesty’s loyal opposition to review the legislation introduced by the Liberal government and provide the comments that our citizens and constituents require of us,” said Nater. “Let me say very clearly that Canada’s Conservatives believe that news providers should be fairly compensated for the use of their content. That said, we do have questions about this particular piece of legislation. As I explained earlier, local news providers are struggling. This begs the obvious question as to whether Bill C-18 will help the newspapers and radio stations in communities like Perth—Wellington, Sarnia—Lambton, Elgin—Middlesex—London, and other rural communities and small towns across our country.”
He referenced a column from the Toronto Star that indicated that the Australian model on which this legislation is based might be leaving out small and medium-sized businesses. The article states, “But while major publishers and networks in Australia had struck deals with Facebook and Google, some smaller, independent outlets were finding themselves shut out from making deals of their own.”
“There are other questions that remain unanswered with this bill as well, such as why the CRTC was selected as the regulatory body to enforce and oversee the act when the CRTC does not have a history or experience in regulating online platforms,” said Nater. “It has also been more than 16 months since the CRTC held hearings about the licence renewal for the CBC licences. If the CRTC cannot make a decision within 16 months on what I would assume to be a fairly routine renewal, how in the world can it have the capacity and competency to do anything that is asked of it?”
He asked whether the $8.5 million earmarked in the 2022 budget for the bureaucracy necessary to administer Bill C-18 will be greater than or less than its revenues.
“We have a number of other questions, including how the code of conduct will be developed and whether it will be tabled in Parliament,” said Nater. “We have questions about what undue preference will be considered within the bill. Will non-Canadian news providers be able to benefit from the Canadian system? Why has the government not tabled a charter statement on this bill? Why was a public broadcaster included when it already received other entities? “
He moved that the motion be amended to read that Bill C-18 be “not now read a second time but that the Order be discharged, the Bill withdrawn and the subject matter thereof referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.”
Deputy Speaker d’Entremont said the amendment was in order and moved the conversation to questions and comments.
“I am glad to hear the member listens to radio in his riding,” said Gerretsen. “I would encourage him to download the iHeart radio app to continue to listen to those radio stations when he is in Ottawa, as I listen to Reid and Ben every morning, who are on Move 98.3 in Kingston.”
He said he is thinking of small news outlets.
“I referenced the Kingstonist, which is is one in my riding.” He said. “I know there is the Stratford Times in his riding. These are small news organizations that do not have the ability to compete against the distributive networks of Facebook and Google, and they need support.”
Gerretsen said the bill creates the framework for discussions between big content distributors and smaller independent organizations.
“I am wondering if the member can comment on why he wants to reject the bill and send the content to committee through his amendment, as opposed to moving forward on this so we can put together a good framework to allow these discussions to happen so that the Stratford Times can benefit,” he said.
“The member asked why we would send this bill to committee and have the subject matter reviewed by the committee,” said Nater. “It is exactly for the question he asked so that we can hear from the small community newspapers. What we are hearing now from Australia is that they are not able to access the benefits of the Australian model.”
There is mention in the bill that the rules of the Competition Act would be set aside to allow for collective bargaining.
“We have no clarification on how that works, so we want this to go to committee,” he said.
“Bill C-18 sets out, in black and white, the rules that the various media players must follow to ensure much healthier competition and quality content for everyone,” said Bloc MP for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC, Sylvie Bérubé. “It is no secret that small media outlets are in immediate need of financial assistance from the government. What does my colleague think about that?”
“We know full well that newspapers and media outlets are in trouble,” said Nater. “More and more advertising space is being bought from the web giants, including Facebook, Meta and Google. This is a concern for all Canadians who see the value of their local media or local newspaper … The government needs to do something, and I think it is a good idea.”
He said the bill needed to be referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to be studied.
“I was listening to the speech from the member, and it was perplexing to hear him suggest that the bill should be withdrawn and the heritage committee should study the matter,” said NDP MP for Vancouver East, Jenny Kwan. “If this bill passes second reading, it would be referred to committee, where we would be able to call witnesses and ask questions pertaining to the bill. It is perplexing to me that he would want to effectively kill the bill with his amendment. The NDP supports this notion and has been calling for the government to equalize the web giants with small, local media outlets. This bill is a good start.”
She asked why Nater wanted to kill the bill if he genuinely wanted to have a discussion about it and have witnesses presented on this issue?
Nater said he thinks the Conservatives’ preference would have been to draft their piece of legislation.
“The next best scenario is this type of amendment,” he said. “As the member ought to know, as she has been in the House a long time, very few amendments are acceptable at second reading debate.”
The amendment Nater suggested is permissible.
“It will provide the subject matter to go to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to make suggestions and make a report back to the House of Commons,” he said. “The Government of Canada can then use that advice, use the suggestions of all parties and listen to witnesses, of which we are developing a massive list of people who want input on this bill. Their views are both positive and negative, and they have clear ideas for suggestions to improve, change or rewrite the bill entirely.”
Conservative MP for Sarnia—Lambton Marilyn Gladu said she has concerns about Bill C-18.
“Especially when we heard the parliamentary secretary talk about how there would be no discrimination,” she said. “In every other media policy that the government has brought, there has been discrimination along the political spectrum and, as the member correctly pointed out, small and medium-sized news outlets.”
“I want to talk on a different point she raised on where the government puts its priorities and where other members put their priorities,” said Nater.
He said Kwan spent $17,000 on Facebook ads.
“The member for Vancouver East is talking about levelling the playing field between major web giants and local newspapers, but the member herself spent $17,000,” said Nater. “As parliamentarians, we need to look ourselves in the eye and decide what we want to do to promote, and whether government advertising should be focused on traditional local media rather than major web giants.”
After taking time to discuss other matters debate returned to Bill C-18 at 12:25.
Bloc MP for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC, Sébastien Lemire, said there is still much work to protect privacy on major digital platforms.
“This bill may be the third bill on that subject,” he said. “Groups advocating for the protection of marginalized people and victims of fraud are very active, and their expectations are high.”
“I am pleased to finally see a bill compensating news businesses when their content is lifted, in other words, stolen,” said Lemire. “Unfortunately, this new bill, largely inspired by the Australian model, faces a rocky path. Still, I must say that it is high time we put an end to the cannibalization and dismantling of our traditional media, particularly in the regions … that are far from major centres, such as Abitibi‑Témiscamingue, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the Lower St. Lawrence and the north shore, maintaining regional and local news services is quite challenging.”
He pointed out that it is hard to cover local news properly in such vast territories.
“Imagine how long it takes journalists to travel around, especially when alone,” said Lemire. “The reality is that local media are not covering all of the news anymore … What is most alarming is that the lack of local news and feedback will hurt society as a whole. Knowing what is going on in the community is a fundamental part of democracy.”
He said the government has failed to impose regulations for far too long.
“If it thought that web giants … would regulate themselves and be sensitive to our small communities, it was wrong,” said Lemire. “No matter what the web giants may say or do, their actions are motivated by greed, a bit like the oil companies, who care only about making a profit for their shareholders.
He encouraged passing the bill quickly.
“Why should ordinary people care about the passage of this bill?” Lemire asked. “They should care because it affects them. We first need to realize that journalists make an invaluable contribution. Day after day, they do a tremendous job even though they do not always have proper funding. Their future is uncertain and, for them, every day counts.”
He said that web giants are profiting handsomely and unfairly off all the people who write the news.
“They are shamelessly exploiting the news,” said Lemire. “We need to take matters into our own hands because playtime is over. Web giants do not have the same journalistic rigour. To maintain a healthy environment with various opinions and the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, we must allow professional journalists to continue to do their work.”
He remarked that Facebook and Google would not send a reporter to ask Rouyn-Noranda municipal authorities about construction delays for an aquatic facility. They leave that to the Rouyn-Noranda paper, Le Citoyen.
“In Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Radio-Canada is the one that gets the local MP on air for an interview to keep him accountable and let people know what he is doing,” said Lemire. “The media crisis hit print media in Abitibi-Témiscamingue hard. As recently as 2017, our paper, Le Citoyen, still had 15 or so reporters covering our territory. The local weekly has just five of them left, and the content has been affected too.”
The 60-page papers that used to be on every doorstep have thinned to 20. The Témiscamingue paper, Le Reflet, stopped printing paper editions because of the drop in ad revenue, and the Énergie radio station cut two positions.
“Its newsroom now has just two reporters covering Abitibi—Témiscamingue,” he said.
A few years ago, two reporters were permanently based at RCM of Abitibi-Ouest. Now there is just one. That might not seem like a big deal, but it means that a lot of what goes on in the 3,415 square kilometres and 21 municipalities that make up the RCM just does not get covered.
“Losing one reporter position might not seem like a big deal, but it is a monumental loss for small communities in Quebec,” said Lemire. “One less member of the media means articles and investigative reports do not get written … Voices are not heard. … That is why Bill C-18 is important.”
He said the bill could help local media keep and perhaps even hire journalists, who can then ask politicians questions and report on the work done in the House of Commons.
“This is called accountability for all politicians,” said Lemire. “I also welcome the fact that, with Bill C‑18, the government wants to leave room for independence and transparency in the agreements. Once this is done, Google (Alphabet), Apple, Facebook (Meta), Amazon, and Microsoft will have to file the various agreements with the CRTC.”
The CRTC will be responsible for confirming that the following conditions are met: the agreements include fair compensation; part of that compensation is used to produce local, regional and national news content; the agreements guarantee freedom of expression; they contribute to the vitality of the Canadian news marketplace; they support independent local news, and they reflect Canadian diversity and hopefully Quebec’s cultural and linguistic diversity.
In the eligibility criteria for news businesses, only those designated as qualified Canadian journalism organizations under subsection 248(1) of the Income Tax Act will be able to receive compensation when their news content is lifted.
“Non-Canadian businesses that meet criteria similar to qualified Canadian journalism organizations will also be eligible,” said Lemire. “The requirement to employ two journalists is another obstacle for some of the more remote communities in Quebec.”
Some hyper-local media outlets rely on just one person to produce all the news.
“These media outlets would not be eligible for this program as it currently stands,” he said. “This is an obstacle to developing our local media outlets, which are capable of being nimble and proactive.”
Lemire drew attention to the fact that regional and community media will not see a difference or any apparent improvement in their economic condition.
“News Media Canada, the voice of Canada’s news media industry, has already stated that it would like us to review the eligibility criteria so that daily papers employing only one journalist are entitled to receive their share of the pie,” he said. “This is a more accurate reflection of the reality of the media in remote areas such as Abitibi—Témiscamingue.”
Lemire said the Bloc Québécois would vote in favour of this bill.
“We had been waiting for Bill C‑18 and the bill to amend the Broadcasting Act, Bill C-11, for several years,” he said. “When I read Bill C‑18, we still did not know how media industry groups would receive it. We are continuing our discussions, and we will certainly have ideas about how to improve Bill C‑18.”
As in Australia, Lemire noted that it is expected that web giants will step up their efforts to influence parliamentarians and the media.
“I note that the government has been sensitive to the smaller players by allowing them to band together however they choose to negotiate, a provision that has been well received,” he said. “In Canada, the CRTC will manage the program. The money will go toward journalism, not the shareholders of a news company. I like that.”
Lemire said local news expresses the colour and culture of a community’s language.
“It addresses issues that get residents thinking and even taking the often-necessary action to deal with issues that will affect their quality of life,” he said. “Overall, the local news serves as a watchdog for the government and businesses. It also serves as the people’s watchdog in their dealings with those entities. … The local news is who we are.”
Lemire suggested that the government will have to provide immediate financial aid for small media outlets struggling to survive because the measures in Bill C‑18 will take another few months. The media will not see one cent for at least a year.
“One possible solution would be for Ottawa to ensure that its ads are placed in these local media outlets struggling to bring in significant revenue,” he said.
Facebook and Google take in 80 percent of all online ad spending, and about $193 million of their Canadian revenue is derived from content created by journalists.
“That is the kind of money our news agencies could expect to get back in compensation,” said Lemire. “Our work is far from over since the government has chosen to take small steps and will continue to do so. My Bloc Québécois colleagues have been keeping a close eye on this, and we are pleased to see that this bill includes the many proposals we made or included in our election platform.”
Nater said he believes that the Conservative Party has the same concerns as the Bloc Québécois about small businesses such as small community newspapers, which do not have the same resources as large businesses that have already signed agreements with Facebook and Google.
“I would like my colleague to tell us more about these small businesses, these small community newspapers, which work very hard for our communities and democracy,” he said.
“Frankly, local and regional media are the key to democracy’s survival,” he said. “We know that, in this era of misinformation, it is essential to be able to count on them.”
Lemire said he invests time with local media because he knows the sector is fragile.
“Just today, I gave a 20-minute interview to CHUN-FM, which is something I do every week,” he said.
He also participates in a program called Un café avec votre député, or “Coffee with Your MP”, on MédiAT.
Gerretsen said Bill C-18 is similar to Bill C-11.
“We know that these are very important pieces of legislation that need to be implemented into law as expeditiously as possible to protect, with respect to Bill C-11, Canadian culture, and Bill C-18, smaller organizations and news outlets,” he said.
He asked Lemire to comment on the importance of ensuring it gets done and on the amendment that the Conservatives brought forward.
“They brought forward an amendment that would basically strip out this entire bill and send the issue to committee,” said Gerretsen. “Is that not what we are doing right now? Are we not debating this at second reading to send it to committee anyway?”
Lemire repeated that the government is choosing to take small steps, pointing out that social media platforms have existed for almost 20 years, and no meaningful action has been taken by the federal government yet.
“It just stood back while our regional newsrooms were losing revenue to American or international companies,” he said. “That is the problem. I think there is rather a broad consensus to act quickly on Bill C‑18, unlike what happened last year, when the government did not take action, and we lost two years because of an election and a lack of vision from the government, which was slow to respond to these issues.”
He said he applauded the bill and encouraged quick action.
NDP MP for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC, Alexandre Boulerice, completely agreed with Lemire.
“My colleague emphasized how important local media is to democracy,” he said. “Maybe he could tell us about the Laval region, where there was virtually no local media. Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt took advantage of that situation to bend the rules for years.”
“That is the key right there,” said Lemire. “Journalists are democracy watchdogs, and many elected representatives do not like interacting with journalists. They are afraid of them.”
He mentioned other scandals, such as the sponsorship scandal and the WE scandal journalists worked very hard to uncover.
“I see this in the House,” said Lemire. “Ultimately, if we want to pressure the government to change things, we will need help from journalists and the platform they have … Fortunately, or unfortunately, meaningful changes in our Parliament are often the result of ideas from journalists.”
“There are so many examples showing that journalists help move our society forward,” he said. “Our society needs journalists, and I thank them for their work.”
Bloc MP for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC, Sylvie Bérubé, asked Lemire to comment on how Bill C-18 needs to be improved and amended?
Lemire listed a few suggestions to improve the bill.
“First, we must ensure that Canadian broadcasters are not prevented from accessing and broadcasting foreign content,” he said. “Second, we must create measures to encourage partnerships between Canadian broadcasters and foreign content owners.”
The third suggestion was to ensure that the news aggregators, such as Google News Showcase or Apple News, offer non-discriminatory access and fair remuneration.
“We must also work towards bringing Canadian ad revenues back to Canadian and Quebec ecosystems,” said Lemire. “Having a local outlook is very important … but I would like to take advantage of my colleague’s question to mention the importance of properly reporting international news. That, too, is part of safeguarding our democracy; it affects how we look at things. We must avoid fake news, which we have far too much of in our society.”
“As an MP, one of my priorities is to tackle the increase in heinous crimes attributable to social media,” said May. “That is not included in Bill C-11 or Bill C-18, but the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP and other organizations have reported a significant increase in crimes motivated by hate, racism and other unacceptable things.”
She said she hoped Lemire also had some ideas about reducing this threat to society and culture.
Lemire agreed with May.
“That is why I started my speech by speaking about the reality of hate speech and its consequences for people’s dignity,” he said. “It is also why I am saying that this bill does not go far enough, that it is incomplete. We hope that something very tangible will be presented. For the time being, we are not completely satisfied. We will try again with the next bill.”
NDP MP for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC, Alexandre Boulerice, said Bill C-18 is the kind of bill that makes the NDP say, “finally.”
“Finally, the government is doing something about this issue.,” he said. “Unfortunately, as is too often the case with the Liberals, we had to push them for years before they agreed to do the right thing. We saw it with the broadcasting bill, the official languages bill and with dental care and pharmacare, which are coming. We also saw it with the anti-scab bill, which is part of our agreement and is supposed to be introduced next year.”
Boulerice said taking this approach to shore up this fundamental pillar of democracy—local, regional and national media—is right.
“Unfortunately, that observation was made several years ago,” he said. “Indeed, this crisis has existed for years now; newsrooms are closing, and jobs have been lost, which has real consequences.”
Democracy does not work without this fourth power, without this counter-power, this check and balance that is independent professional media.
“I will come back to the idea of what is a media outlet, what is a reporter, what is a journalist and what is real journalism versus propaganda or disinformation,” said Boulerice. “This is so important.”
It has been said that there are three main pillars of power in Canadian society: the executive, the legislative and the judicial.
“However, without the counter-power of journalistic work, there is no real democracy,” he said.
Boulerice said web giants prey on journalistic work.
“They are simultaneously voracious and greedy,” he said. “They are parasitic, in the sense that they will scoop up news and feed it to the news aggregators on their websites … They literally steal real journalism, real articles and real news, and they put it on their websites. When people click, web giants cash in and do not pay for that. They are essentially stealing other people’s work … without offering any financial compensation whatsoever.”
Bill C‑18 tackles the problem and offers a solution, but Boulerice qualified his statement by saying it is not perfect or even as good as possible.
“It can be improved, but it is worth exploring,” he said. “It is important that we, as parliamentarians, address this issue. It is important that we consider these concerns and look at what we can do to improve things to keep this check and balance, this counter-power, in our democracy here in Quebec, here in Canada.”
“We need to protect the employees, the workers who are experts at reporting the news, digging into things, poking around, asking questions, contradicting us and sometimes even putting pressure on the government, opposition parties and all elected representatives. That is exactly as it should be, and it has to stay that way.”
Boulerice stated that local and regional news is absolutely fundamental.
“For years, Laval did not have a real newsroom, a real media outlet capable of covering municipal politics,” he said. “Laval is not far enough away from Montreal to have its own media ecosystem, newsroom, or weekly newspapers. On the other hand, Laval is not close enough to Montreal for Montreal media to be truly interested. As such, for years, Laval’s municipal politics were not covered.”
This situation allowed the former mayor of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt since charged and convicted, to embezzle public funds and commit unspeakable fraud that he profited from personally, as did his family and friends.
“This happened because there was practically no political opposition, no media coverage, no papers strong or independent enough and no radio stations capable of focusing on how contracts were awarded or public funds managed in Laval,” said Boulerice
He also said it is essential to support reporters and resources abroad reporting on elected officials, decision-makers and economic, social and political forces internationally to keep everyone fully informed.
“We saw recently with the war in Artsakh, Armenia, exodus of the Rohingya from Myanmar, and with what is happening to the Uighurs in China,” he said. “We absolutely need to know what is happening abroad.”
“As we are speaking about journalism, what happens abroad and the accountability that I spoke about earlier, I will take advantage of the forum given to me today to condemn and denounce the murder of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh,” said Boulerice. “She was killed while reporting on an Israeli army operation, and she was wearing a helmet and bullet-proof vest with “Press” written on it. It was very clear that she was a journalist. For years, Shireen Abu Akleh was a revered star journalist who worked for Al Jazeera.”
“She was killed,” he said. “The NDP condemns this murder, and we are asking for an independent investigation to find out exactly what happened and who was responsible for this act … Yesterday, I moved a motion in the House to condemn the murder of this Palestinian journalist and to ask for an independent investigation. I am very sorry that this motion was not adopted, and I believe it was the least we could do.”
Boulerice noted that journalists are being killed in Ukraine due to the invasion by Russia.
“This regime has killed journalists and political opponents in its own country,” he said. “It is now targeting and killing journalists in Ukraine. We vehemently condemn these murders, as we should. However, when a Palestinian journalist is killed, there is radio silence.”
He emphasized that journalism is essential everywhere: Ukraine, Russia, Palestine, Israel, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, France, England, the United States, Canada and Quebec.
“It is important everywhere and for everyone,” said Boulerice. “I think it is very important to say, loudly and clearly, that the NDP wants to support a free and independent press that can do its work safely. Journalists need to be able to do their work without being targeted by a regime that attacks them and sometimes even kills them or threatens their safety.”
In Canada, 450 news media outlets closed between 2008 and 2021. In addition, 78 percent of people access the news online, often through these significant companies’ aggregators.
Only 13 percent of news companies’ revenue comes from online advertising or subscriptions, but Google and Facebook took in nearly $10 billion in revenue from Canadian online advertising in 2020. Google and Facebook account for 80 percent of the revenue.
“For years, the government stopped buying advertising in our weeklies and local or regional newspapers. Instead, it was buying advertising from Facebook and Google,” said Boulerice. “Not only did this do nothing to aid journalism, but public funds were being used to pay these large foreign companies, often American, to promote the news that the federal government wanted to promote.”
He asserted there were two ways the federal government failed to help newsrooms. It allowed them to slowly disappear because of the loss of revenue they were experiencing, and it also failed to provide direct support or assistance by buying advertising.
“The Liberal government finally listened to reason and thought it might be time to address the problem since we had lost over 450 newsrooms and hundreds of jobs,” said Boulerice. “The possibility of collective bargaining is really important to the NDP. Local or regional independent media must not be left to face the giants like Facebook, Google and others on their own. They need to be able to come together to speak with one voice and get fair deals.”
He stressed the need for the agreements to be public and transparent so that situations can be comparable.
“It is important to know exactly what the web giant paid for the use of certain content, for a given percentage, for a given quantity of articles, for each year, in a given market and with a given audience,” said Boulerice. “If that information is not available, everyone will negotiate blindly, and it will be extremely difficult. Everyone will be at a huge disadvantage.”
Nater noted the mention of the ability of news organizations to band together and collectively bargain.
“Certainly, that is a part included in the bill and changes to the Competition Act that would allow that,” he said. “We have heard commentary coming out of the Australian model from Australian organizations about small and often local organizations, such as local newspapers, that have been left out. They have not been able to negotiate deals, and they are the ones I believe many are concerned about having the opportunity to do so. It was a recent Toronto Star article that highlighted the fact that small media enterprises would not be able to negotiate these deals.”
Boulerice acknowledged some consolidated media groups have broad enough shoulders and deep enough pockets to negotiate on their own with the web giants.
“That is why the possibility of having a clear process for collective bargaining is extremely important,” he said. “I think that all these small media outlets, such as regional or local radio stations and small weekly newspapers, have to band together. My advice is that they should not try to go it alone, because they will get crushed. Collective bargaining needs to be an option, and this bill paves the way for that possibility. They need to band together, join forces, find allies and negotiate collectively. If not, they will face a brutal fight, and we all know who will win in the end.”
Deputy Speaker d’Entremont had to stop the conversation about Bill-18 so parliament could move on to consideration of Private Members’ Business.
Coverage of the Bill C-18 debate will continue when the conversation resumes.
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