The Liberal government strategy of multiple gag orders and a “super motion” to limit debate bore fruit last night as Bill C-10 received House of Commons approval at 1:30 am. The Parliamentary process took hours as the government passed multiple motions to cut short debate, re-inserted amendments that had been previously ruled null and void, and rejected a last-ditch attempt to restore the Section 4.1 safeguards for user generated content. The debate included obvious errors from Liberal MPs who were presumably chosen to defend the bill. For example, Julie Dabrusin, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, said that Section 2.1 in Bill C-10 “specifically excludes content uploaded by users.” Only it doesn’t as Dabrusin should know given that 2.1 covers users not content and she was the MP who introduced the amendment at committee to remove Section 4.1, which was the provision that excluded content uploaded by users.
Given the public support from the Bloc for cutting short debate, the outcome last night was never really in doubt. Perhaps the most interesting vote of the night came with a motion from Conservative MP Alain Rayes, which once again called for the re-insertion of Section 4.1. While the motion was defeated with the support of Liberal, NDP, and Bloc MPs, there were several notable exceptions. Liberal MPs Nate-Erskine Smith and Wayne Long both abstained and former Justice Minister (and now independent MP) Jody Wilson-Raybould voted in favour of the motion. The report stage was limited to one hour of debate, which meant that the 23 amendments were again subject to no real debate or discussion. Once the bill passed the report stage, it was on to third and final reading, which was limited to 15 minutes of debate per party. The vote followed just before 1:30 am with the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc once again supporting Bill C-10. Wilson-Raybould joined with the Conservatives in voting against it [full vote by MP here].
The bill now heads to the Senate, where based on reports, it is unlikely to get very far. Senator Dennis Dawson, a former Liberal MP and currently a member of the Progressive Senator Group, says there is a “zero-per-cent chance” the Senate will approve it by the end of this week when it breaks for the summer. Moreover, Conservative Senator Leo Housakos said “there doesn’t seem to be any momentum to pass this and rubber-stamp this without thorough review.” The likely committee for any review would be the Senate Transport and Communications Committee, which does not have any further meetings scheduled. Indeed, notwithstanding claims to the contrary from Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, it has been increasingly clear for several weeks that this was the likely outcome with the government limiting debate, overruling its own committee chair, and using every available procedural maneuver to get the bill passed in the House of Commons only to find a few days left in the Senate calendar with no time for hearings.
Given the woefully inadequate Canadian Heritage committee hearings with the exclusion of digital-first Canadian creators, technology companies, consumer groups, and numerous independent experts as well as the passage of amendments without debate, discussion or experts, Bill C-10 desperately needs a comprehensive review. If Parliament resumes in the fall, there will be an opportunity for that review in the Senate. If, as most expect, there is an election, Bill C-10 will die, providing a much-needed opportunity to start from scratch by developing forward-looking, balanced legislation that supports the creative sector, safeguards freedom of expression, and recognizes the risks of over-broad regulations overseen by the CRTC.