Bill C-11 entered what may be its final phase yesterday with a near split screen: at the Prime Time conference held at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa was Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez telling an industry audience that he would reject any Senate amendments that have an impact, stating “there are amendments that have zero impact on the bill and other that may have some and we will not accept them.” The clear signal was that despite heralding the Senate study of the bill as one of the most extensive ever, he will reject any of their findings that might actually make changes. Meanwhile, across the street, the Senate was in its final third reading debate of Bill C-11, closing the day by passing the bill with 26 amendments that include a change that scopes out user content but leaves professional music intact, consistent with the government’s stated objectives.
Yesterday’s interview between Rodriguez and the excellent Vassy Kapelos was first time the Minister has faced an extended interview on the bill with a tough journalist who raised the right questions. Rodriguez had few answers beyond tired, largely discredited talking points. When pressed on concerns from the production sector about a provision in the bill that treats Canadian and foreign streamers differently (a provision that is largely driven by Canada’s trade obligations), he suggested that the industry should be happy that it is getting something and later implausibly hinted that he could direct the CRTC to address the issue (he plainly cannot use a policy directive to violate CUSMA). When the user content regulations concerns were raised, he went back to denying what the former CRTC chair, multiple independent senators, and thousands of creators have concluded, namely that prior to the Senate amendment the bill would open the door to regulating user content.
But worse than the tired talking points, the Rodriguez interview was simply dripping with hypocrisy:
- How else to explain how a minister could congratulate Senators for an extensive study of a bill that brought out over a hundred witnesses, including indigenous voices who were excluded in the House, but then promise to reject anything that improves the bill?
- How else to explain claims of openness to change, but then likely reject the work of independent Senators who crafted compromise language consistent with the minister’s own stated objectives?
- How else to explain his insistence that he supports creators when his office has intimidated indigenous creators and the concerns of thousands are summarily dismissed as misinformation?
- How else to explain the determination to ignore the words of Senator David Adams Richards, an acclaimed author appointed to the Senate by his own government?
- How else to explain that if he is correct that Bill C-11 does not include user content regulation, then the Simons/Miville-Duchêne amendment does not change anything and it should fall into his category of amendments with zero impact and receive approval?
Bill C-11 now heads back to the House of Commons, where Canadians will await the government’s response to the changes. If it follows through on Rodriguez’s statement that any changes that have an impact on the bill will be rejected and the NDP or Bloc support the approach, it will be up to the Senate to stand its ground and reaffirm the changes it just overwhelmingly supported. For the Senate to simply accept a blanket rejection would be to admit that genuine efforts to improve legislation are just theatre, leaving stakeholders and Senators looking like chumps in the face of government gaslighting with little interest in good governance and improving its demonstrably flawed legislation.