CRTC Chair Ian Scott appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage yesterday and Bill C-11 proved to be a popular topic of discussion. The exchanges got testy at times as Scott seemingly stepped outside of his role as an independent regulatory by regularly defending government legislation, even veering into commenting on newspapers, which clearly falls outside the CRTC’s jurisdiction. With respect to Bill C-11, most newsworthy were two comments regarding the regulation of user content and the timelines for implementing the bill if it receives royal assent.
First, Scott was asked about the regulation of user content, confirming what has been obvious for months despite denials from Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez. The following exchange with Conservative MP Rachael Thomas got Scott on the record:
Thomas: Bill C-11 does in fact leave it open to user generated content being regulated by the CRTC. I recognize that there have been arguments against this, however, Dr. Michael Geist has said “the indisputable reality is that the net result of those provisions is that user generated content is in the bill.” Jeanette Patel from Youtube Canada said “the draft law’s wording gives the broadcast regulator” – in other words you – “scope to oversee everyday videos posted for other users to watch.” Scott Benzie from Digital First Canada has also said that “while the government says the legislation will not capture digital first creators, the bill clearly does capture them.”
So all these individuals are individual users creating content. It would appear that the bill does, or could in fact, capture them, correct?
Scott: As constructed, there is a provision that would allow us to do it as required.
While Scott continued by arguing that the Commission already has equivalent regulatory powers and is not interested in regulating user content, the confirmation that Bill C-11 currently does cover user generated content should put an end to the government’s gaslighting that it does not.
Scott was also asked about how long it would take to implement Bill C-11. Canadians make recall that former Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault implausibly claimed that it would take nine months to complete the process. Not so, said Scott in an exchange with Conservative MP John Nater:
Nater: I’m curious what timeline you see from the time Bill C-11 is passed and receives royal assent to when it is fully implemented. What’s the best case scenario for the CRTC to have that fully implemented?
Scott: To say when it will be fully implemented is very difficult. I think the first stages of setting up the broad parameters – the regulatory regime, who will contribute, who is caught, how much, major definitions – those things should be done reasonably within a year. But there are many other more technical aspects – transition, licences from five year to seven years they will all need to be changed, there are a set of regulations that have to be passed that are beyond the control of the CRTC. If I had to put a number on it, I think it could be fully implemented in two years.
That’s not unreasonable, but it highlights how Guilbeault’s claims were pure fiction. Even if the bill was passed quickly (which the government is trying to do with a pre-study in the Senate that will limit hearings), it would still take until at least 2024 for the CRTC to address many of the unanswered questions in the bill. Further, the CRTC process is unlikely to be the final say in the matter as the possibility of cabinet or judicial appeals means that the system could take many more years to become operational. All the more the reason to get it right now, rather than creating a false sense that new money will be available in the short term.