As anyone watching the House of Commons this week knows, it is Small Business Week. Each day, Liberal MPs have stood in the House to proclaim their support for small business. The speeches are supplemented by tweets, such as this one by Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez. The professed admiration for small business came to mind last night during a spectacular Senate hearing on Bill C-11 featuring Jennifer Valentyne, Stewart Reynolds (aka Brittlestar), and Darcy Michael. The three witnesses, who were bursting with energy and confidence, came with simple message: fix Bill C-11 by keeping the government and CRTC away from the platform algorithms. It is a message that Rodriguez has ignored for months, despite the fact that these are precisely the creators one would think the Minister of Canadian Heritage would want to support.
The panel provided a reminder that these are more than just supremely talented creators who have parlayed Internet platforms and global audiences into great success, however. They are also small businesses. Working alone, with a partner, or a small team, each is a small business that generates employment, brings new revenues into Canada, and – to use Rodriguez’s language – bring dynamism and ingenuity.
The government has been lulled into thinking it is a great supporter of small business, pointing to programs such as the $4 billion Digital Adoption Program. But support for small business isn’t just about spending money. It also requires a supportive legal environment. On that front, every week is “small business weak” so long as the government seeks to enact Bills C-11 and C-18.
In this case of Bill C-11, hundreds of small business Canadian creators have practically begged the government to fix a bill they are convinced will hurt their businesses. The response from Rodriguez has been to gaslight them by denying something that the overwhelming majority of witnesses and experts warn is a real issue that could cause grave harm.
Bill C-18, the Online News Act, is just as bad. It literally excludes small business from benefiting from the system by blocking small business media outlets that do not regularly employ two journalists. Moreover, as noted yesterday, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that the majority of funds that could be generated by the bill will go to the biggest broadcasters such as Bell, Rogers, and CBC. After the big print media companies such as Postmedia and Torstar get their share, it is readily apparent that there will be little left for small business. The net effect is clear: Canadian Heritage policies undermine claims that the government is supporting small business, who are at best an after-thought for the department and at worst victims of misguided policies that could lead to lost opportunities and revenues.