In June 2017, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage committee recommended implementing tax on Internet services in a report on media. Within minutes, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the proposal at a press conference in Montreal. Trudeau’s answer – which literally came as committee chair Hedy Fry was holding a press conference on the report – was unequivocal: No. The government was not going to raise costs of Internet services with an ISP tax. The committee recommendation was minutes old and the government wasted absolutely no time in killing the proposal.
Last week, the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel proposed a far broader regulatory vision for the Internet. Indeed, it is difficult to give the full breadth of this plan its due. I will be posting this week on some of the most harmful aspects of the plan, including regulating media organizations around the world with penalties in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for failing to obtain licences, regulating streaming companies despite their massive investment in Canada, regulating everything from app stores to operating systems, creating liability for harmful content that violates Canada’s commitments in the USMCA, undermining net neutrality, and increasing the costs of Internet-based services for Canadian consumers.
Over the weekend, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault was asked about the proposal. In particular, he was asked about the proposal to licence foreign news sites (the example used was Breitbart but it could just as easily have been the New York Times, BBC, CNN, Fox or MSNBC). The answer should have been easy: no.
Instead of “no”, Minister Guilbeault’s response was that it was “no big deal.”
As I noted last week, the panel’s vision is to create a Canadian regulatory framework that knows no physical boundaries – the CRTC empowered to apply its power to any site or service anywhere in the world used by Canadians – and with few limitations as the regulator would dive deeply into mandated payments, what content is displayed, what news can be trusted, and what Canadians view or download. That is a big deal. It would mean establishing the most extensive speech regulation Canada has ever seen on the demonstrably false premise that doing so will level the playing field, support Canadian stories, or save a production sector that is thriving in the internet age.
The Minister cannot downplay the extreme and inappropriate recommendations on media regulation in the report. The Minister cannot avoid taking a position by stating that these are just panel recommendations and not government policy. There is only one answer to the BTLR’s extreme recommendations and it is an easy one. No.