Earlier this month, the CRTC issued the first three of what may become at least nine public consultations on Bill C-11. As I lamented in a post on the consultations, “with short timelines, no resources or support mechanisms for new groups and entities interested in participating, and the absence of the policy direction, this is not a serious attempt to fully engage in Canadians.” A wide range of Canadian cultural, consumer, and independent groups have now escalated the issue by formally asking the CRTC to extend its submission period to late July rather than the current June deadlines. The request, which comes from groups that have both supported and criticized Bill C-11, should be a no-brainer given the absurdly short deadlines that severely limit the ability of many groups to effectively participate in the Bill C-11 consultation process.
The extension request points to three concerns:
- The interconnectedness of the 2023-138, -139 and -140 proceedings requires parties to develop a coherent framework for all three proceedings,
- The current deadlines provide inadequate time for parties to consult and to undertake necessary research, thereby weakening the record of these proceedings, and
- The absence of the policy direction from Cabinet creates uncertainty as to the recommendations that parties may reasonably make.
Each of these issues alone should be sufficient to extend the CRTC’s unnecessarily short timelines which simply do not allow public interest groups from across the policy spectrum to participate effectively in the Bill C-11 process. This runs directly counter CRTC Chair Vicky Eatrides statement earlier this month on her professed desire for broad participation:
We encourage everyone to participate in these consultations and to share your ideas so that, together, we can design the broadcasting system of the future.
Former Chair Ian Scott was confronted with a comparable issue in 2018, when consumer groups requested an extension in the deadline for the creation of a consumer Internet code. When Scott refused, the groups boycotted the process. The 2018 CRTC decision left a stain on Scott’s leadership that was never fully erased as doubts about the fairness toward consumer groups under his mandate persisted for years. While there is no realistic option to boycott the Bill C-11 consultations, Eatrides faces a similar test. Creating an uneven playing field for public participation by refusing the deadline extension request would signal that the new CRTC is the same as the old one, lacking in independence, beholden to legacy lobby interests, and uninterested in broad public participation.