Months after its introduction, it is fair to say that Bill C-10, the broadcasting reform bill, has not been the government’s finest performance. Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has made claims about the economic benefits that his own department is unable to support, made inaccurate statements about the inclusion of economic thresholds and news in the bill in the House of Commons, and misleadingly compared his plans to the policies in Europe.
From a substantive perspective, even supporters have acknowledged that the bill eliminates the policy objective of Canadian ownership of the broadcasting system (Canadian Heritage officials have offered easily debunked talking points about the issue), drops the prioritization of Canadian performers, fails to address concerns about intellectual property ownership, and punts so many issues to the CRTC that it will take years for any new money to enter the system. If that were not enough, there is the failed process, including fast-tracking the bill to committee before completing second reading and the prospect of a constitutional challenge. Not to be forgotten is the astonishing secrecy: decreased Parliamentary oversight of policy directions and the need for MPs to demand access to basic documents such as costing estimates and draft policy directions that were withheld by Guilbeault and his department.
The lack of transparency associated with the policy direction has been a concern for months given that the bill is short on details. Back in December, I wrote about the missing policy direction:
The degree of uncertainty is staggering with the government alternately claiming a firm position on issues that are actually left to the CRTC or leaving important issues open for future determination. The net effect is that the policy direction functions as the missing half of Bill C-10, potentially covering issued not included in the bill or supplementing provisions woefully lacking in detail.
It turns out I was wrong. Yesterday, the government released the draft policy direction to the Heritage Committee and it is not the missing half of Bill C-10. In fact, it isn’t much of anything at all. The draft was approved last summer, yet it barely provides any further detail on how the law is to be interpreted or applied. There are no firm thresholds, no rules on intellectual property, no exclusion of news, and nothing on Canadian ownership. In fact, even the powerpoint slide on the policy the government provided when the bill was released was misleading. In short, the promised guidance isn’t there. Instead, the government throws everything at the CRTC, setting up the Commission to establish the payment requirements, registration rules, and just about anything else associated with the law, much of which it wants completed within nine months.
Anyone who has done anything involving the CRTC knows this is a completely unrealistic time frame. But Guilbeault and the government clearly aren’t interested in actual results. The amateurish release of the bill, the steady stream of blunders, and the absence of details all speak to a Minister and department that want a George W. Bush-like “Mission Accomplished” moment and then to quickly move onto the other issues, leaving the CRTC to clean up the mess. The opposition parties know this bill hurts consumers, competition, and the little money it might generate for creators years from now requires eliminating Canada from Canadian broadcast policy. It is time to take stand and demand a re-write.