Fred VanVleet by Erik Drost (CC BY 2.0)

Fred VanVleet by Erik Drost (CC BY 2.0)


Process Failures: What the Raptors Losing Fred VanVleet Teaches About Bill C-18

Evan Scrimshaw, who writes an engaging Substack primarily focused on Canadian politics, posted an interesting piece over the holiday weekend that linked the Toronto Raptors failure to resign guard Fred VanVleet and the reaction to Google and Facebook’s announcement that they plan to block news sharing or links as a result of Bill C-18. I liked the piece and it got me thinking about the parallels, leading to this post. Scrimshaw argues that the public commentary on both developments featured similar “I told you so’s”: those that argue the Raptors should have traded VanVleet at the trade deadline rather than risk losing him for nothing and those who now argue that Bill C-18 would invariably lead to Google and Facebook blocking news sharing or links. He makes the case that it is too early to conclude anything with respect to Bill C-18 and that the Internet companies and government are merely engaged in a very public negotiation that could well result in either or both seeking a compromise before the law takes effect.  

Scrimshaw is certainly right that royal assent is not the end of the story. The late negotiations last week suggest that both Google and the government are looking for a middle ground, but both have red lines they won’t cross. Those lines could obviously change as implementation gets closer (I think Meta is different story as even the government seems less convinced a compromise is likely). Scrimshaw indicates that the government was ready for this, though given Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez flailing response, I’m not so sure. Regardless, I think there is a more important point to be made about the loss of VanVleet and the current state of Bill C-18, namely that both are the product of similar failed processes. Reaching this point – a lost star point guard for nothing or announcements of blocked links and cancelled deals – could have been avoided and reflect badly on their respective leadership.

The Raptors’ mistakes are nicely articulated in this piece by Josh Lewenberg, who covers the team for TSN. Drawing from that piece, there are at least three that merit mention. First, the Raptors misjudged the market for VanVleet, which left them without a viable response to a massive contract offer from the Houston Rockets that they did not see coming. Second, the Raptors took the wrong lesson from past experience, in which they previously had managed to recoup some value even when losing a star player. Third, the Raptors engaged in disastrous risk analysis, opening the door to losing a player without any return rather than pre-emptively pursuing a less-risky alternative.

I think the same three mistakes apply to the government’s inept approach on Bill C-18. First, it badly misjudged the market for news links on Internet platforms. Even as Facebook repeatedly emphasized the limited economic value of news links on the platform (three percent of user feeds and highly substitutable), the government appeared convinced it would still be open to paying $50-100 million for those links. The same seems true for Google, who is focused on its platform that is built on links and a global market that could lead to billions in liability if the Canadian approach became a model for others. A compromise is still possible, but if even one Internet company complies with the legislation by stopping links and cancelling deals, the government policy will at best break even or more likely still result in a net loss. With the recent Postmedia-Torstar merger proposal, Bell Media layoffs, and regulatory requests at the CRTC to reduce news spending, the sector appears to have already made up its mind and is rapidly losing faith in the bill. 

Second, the government drew the wrong lesson from the Australian experience as it convinced itself that the situation would play out in the same way with room to negotiate a late settlement (Scrimshaw hints at this too). While that might still happen, the government ignored notable differences in the legislation (Australia left itself with more flexibility to negotiate a settlement than does Bill C-18), the economic circumstances (Facebook was flush with cash during the Australia fight, while it has laid off tens of thousands in recent months), the value of news (news has been steadily de-emphasized on Facebook in the years since it reached its deals in Australia), and the global environment (Australia was largely alone, while the Canadian bill comes at a time when the issue is playing out in multiple jurisdictions including the U.S., where a U.S. senator is cheering it on). In other words, simply thinking history would repeat itself was a major error that failed to identify important distinctions between the two countries that could well lead to different outcomes. If Australia proves to be the example of how the system can work, Canada may become the model no one will want to emulate.

Third, the government’s risk analysis has been disastrous at every step. It started with adopting the riskiest available legislative model premised on mandated payments for links even when there were other less controversial options to support the media (taxing big tech, mandated support for a fund model). During the legislative process, it actively excluded contrary voices, considered blocking Facebook from even appearing as a witness during the study of the bill, and went out of its way to criticize the tech companies and their concerns. At the very end of the process, it amended the law by establishing a six month deadline for the bill to take effect, thereby decreasing the time available to find a compromise. The approaches only expanded the divide and made a compromise more difficult to achieve. 

Any reasonable risk analysis accounts for the downside if things go wrong, but the government appears to have ignored those risks altogether. If the future of many Canadian news outlets did not hang in the balance, perhaps the approach could be justified. That the government chose to ignore warnings from smaller media outlets of the existential risks in the event of a standoff is unconscionable regardless of the final outcome of Bill C-18. Indeed, much like the Raptors, who now face the prospect of a series of bad roster choices in light of their miscalculation, the government finds itself without many good options on Bill C-18 and a media policy that may be about to foul out.


  1. Rather, what Facebook and Google risk losing when they turn off the tap: people will find other, and better, sources of news. Look at what Musk, another Big Tech Bro, has done to Twitter and its advertising revenue.

    The tide is turning. The US Congress is watching closely, and bills are being presented. The free ride is over. Peopl ewill look back and marvel they got away with it for so long. Lik emany other things, the real world is taking a long time to catch up with the Wild West that is the Internet.

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    • Give it up … you’re hatred for Americans and Big Tech disqualifies your opinion.

      • No apostrophe on your, bro.

        • Sure … so, we can get a, you’re a “Tech Bro”, “MAGA Yahoo” OR the grammar police.

          Who sounds like a MAGA yahoo now lol

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    • Re Twitter losing money as s result of Elon Musk, you are correct. However if you and your apparent compatriots (or possibly even employers) at DCN are going to be dependent upon getting money from Google and Meta then you’ve not learned a lesson from the downfall of Twitter (and to a lesser extent Facebook). The lesson here is that you need to fix your own business model so that you are able to fund yourself through your own means rather than depending on government largess, either through direct subsidies or government mandated transfers from those companies.

      Conrad Black had a piece in the National Post the other day (he was one of the guys would was involved in creating Post Media) advocating for the Nordstar and TorStar merger. One of his points was that a big part of the financial difficulties that the news media organizations, at least those two, is bad financial management at the corporate level; it means that they need to pull a fair amount of money from the individual papers in order to finance the loans, etc, resulting from those poor decisions. Assuming he is correct, this means that the news media could in fact be making money, however the parent company is draining so much of that cash that they don’t leave enough for the core mission of the news media subsidiaries. This would mean that the whole point of trying to get money from Meta and Google isn’t to support news media but rather to assist in dealing with the parent companies poor decision making. If this is the case, what would stop the parent company from draining those monies as well, leaving the news media subsidiaries in the same predicament?

      A better approach would be a means which would dedicate the funding to news media and its production, such as contributions to a fund. This has the bonus of DIRECTLY addressing the stated concerns of DCN and giving predictability for Google and Meta.

      • I wouldn’t trust Lord Felon Black to be correct about anything except what helps his self-interest. Bad financial management may have played a part but you cannot use that reason for the decimation of an entire industry (not only in Canada). If you look at the stats, newspaper advertising revenue has cratered –,newspaper%20companies.%20This%20is%20down%2025%25%20from%202019. – mainly hoovered up by digital intermediaries like Google and Facebook.

        • But that is the fault of Google and Facebook, to the point that they should subsidise the antiquated and failing business models propping them up for how long?

          The news business was the monopoly on advertising at one point. It was their game to lose and lose they did.

          Google and Facebook saw bold new enterprises and markets to sell advertising on and the news industry failed to recognize them and move to them first. So Google and Facebook “hoovered up them” alright. But that is not their “fault”.

          But now that they have those market shakers should subsidize the lazy, mis-managed antiquated business models because they were quick to move and innovate (and “hoover”)?

          Again, the automobile industry should have subsidized the horse-and-buggy industry, right? For how long?

          • They “lost” because the Tech bros figured out a technological and entirelylegal way to siphon off into their own pockets advertising formerly deliberately placed with the news media in question. You guys love to throw around “antiquated business models” the same language as film and book piratesm who claim making and selling stuff is an “antiquated business model” now that they’ve figured out a technological way for millions of people around the world to enjoy the fruits of other people’s labour for free. I am, as you have fugured out, fed up with all the BS.

          • The news business did not consist of a few companies so your definition of “monopoly” is not exactly the standard one. Google and Facebook also deliberately lied to advertisers about their ad reach (they deny this; cases are in court).

            I’m also a bit leery of describing something that’s deemed fundamental to a functioning democracy as just another business. It seems Rodriguez and the government listened too closely to people like Fed Up whose arguments cross into fairy-tale land instead of following the Australian model and carrying the big stick of possible antitrust investigations. Tomorrow’s news conference will be interesting – will they have a solid move-forward plan or will it be the same hot air?

      • Delusional to call the current moves in Australia, Canada and now the US to stop the pimping of news content by Google and Facebook “government largesse”. Your comments on this site indicate that you are a true blue free marketeer. Government regulation is not government largesse. Without government regulation your food would not be inspected, your water would be unsafe (remember Walkerton, there have been others since). The Internet has got away with being unregulated for far too long. On the one hand Big Tech is simply faster moving than government bureaucracy. They also claim to be in principle, and in practice are to a degree, beyond and above sovereign nations and their ability to regulate commerce which affects the lives of their citizens and industries. Google and Facebook are helping kill Canadian journalism – obviously other factors are also at work, many also related to the Internet in other ways – but the outright pimping of content they don’t create is too egregous to go unchallenged, and governments are finding ways to do so.Geist is an Internet libertarian, which is like any other kind of libertarian. A menace to public well-being.

        • How is providing free referrals to businesses such that they can try to monetize those referrals ever “pimping”?

          And no, Google and Facebook are not helping kill Canadian journalism. Pablo is doing that quite well himself. Facebook had/has over a dozen deals with news publishers where it pays them for news. Pablo’s fuck-up of a bill is going to kill all of those deals.

          I am sure the same goes for Google.

          So Pablo, through his meddling has actually made things worse for journalism in Canada, not better.

          He may in fact have put the final nail in the coffin. I hope he enjoys that legacy.

          • The BS continues. For “free referrals” read: Rather than people going to you directly and you getting the benefit of advertising dollars, now they go through a middleman who contributes nothing to the product – a pimp – and the middleman gets the advertising dollars. It is, again, the same language and “logic” as the pirate saying “whaddaya mean stealing? I just made a copy. It’s not like stealing your car. Youy still have the original. It’s just that a million people now have free copies. We’re advertising your film for you, you have an antiquated business model”.

    • Yes, people will find other, and maybe better, sources of news.
      But not necessarily in the way you think.

      The BBC, Reuters, NYT, Associated Press and many others have Canadian correspondents and carry their own original Canadian news coverage. Those looking to Google and Meta for news about Canada will simply be pointed to these non-Canadian sources.

      And indeed, some may find the quality of foreign coverage of Canadian news a step up from the domestic product.

      Yes other countries are watching. Witnessing the Canadian experiment in taxing web-links crash and burn will indeed offer a warning to others. The lesson is coming, I’m just sorry that Canada has to be the country in which this was needlessly fought.

      • Indeed. Google and Facebook’s reaction here is not due to the potential liability in Canada (alone) (of just news links).

        Google and Facebook understand the precedent that accepting the C-18 terms will set globally, and they also understand that it won’t stop at news links.

        Google and Facebook here, are standing up for the principle of the Internet — the freedom to post links without liability.

        When that freedom is broken, as C-18 proposes, the Internet (well the World-Wide-Web — which is the Internet for most people) simply breaks and ceases to be. The free flow of information stops as everybody tries to “cash in” on links and nobody then wants to post them.

        • I would add that when people lose things that they are accustomed to having for free, there is usually a rebellion. They don’t know if it’s right or wrong, they are losing a “free” thing.

          C-18 is a BAD bill and when it comes to bear and Canadian constituents find out what they are going to lose, this may be the end of this government.

          Did I get my grammar right “Fed Up”?

  2. Of course it’s a fantasy, one unbelievably swallowed whole by Geist, that Facebook is in serious economic difficulties just because it has “laid off thousands”. Companies do this to maintain their bottom line; workers are expendable costs. That a university professor accept this argument – Facebook is broke, it needs the advertising revenue, it won’t give in! – and then retail it with a straight face is shameless. Like the election deniers down south, he can’t believe the stuff he peddles. It’s just a talking point for the gullible, to justify one’s own machinations.

    • A company doesn’t need to be broke or even struggling to shed a non-money making (which would be turning into a liability-generating) business practice.

      Whether Facebook is broke, needs cash or is flush doesn’t matter. Links to news makes FB no money but at least doesn’t cost any, so they’ve let it ride. But now that the government is turning it from cost/revenue neutral into an uncapped liability, of course they are going to shed it, no matter what their financial position is.

      Google will too, hopefully. They seem to have taken that position even after the failed 11th hour negotiations seems to have failed.

      This bill needs to be scrapped entirely. It’s entirely wrong and a complete failure.
      There is no viable rescue model for it. Pablo needs to finally admit that he’s totally shit the bed on this one and resign, but only after completely scrapping this bill. He made the mess, he should clean it up. And then go back to doing whatever he was doing before becoming a politician. Assuming he was not a complete failure at that also.

      • What do you mean these companies are not making money on their news services? Of course they are. That’s the whole point. It’s advertising dollars, advertisers tying their advertising dollars to news content that these companies don’t create, only pimp. The creators want that money. It’s only fair.

        You all say “they’ll just dump the news linking service if it’s not profitable”, but that’s not what’s happening here. First of all, what they make is pure profit, they have minimal expenses for the service they provide. They don’t *make* anything.

        They’re threatening to cut off their nose to spite their face. If you won’t let us keep all the money we currently make for doing nothing, we’ll stop doing it and we won’t make any moey at all. Oh, you think they’ll do that? Do you say to your boss: If you don’t give me a 20% raise instead of the 2% you’re offering, I’ll quit? Only if you have another source of income lined up. Your boss knows that. That’s why they caved in Australia. Now they’re afraid, because Canada is not Australia. We’re the 51st state, and they’re suddenly much more worried, and putting up a tough-guy front.

        • There’s your misunderstanding. You think Google and FB are cutting off their nose to spite their face by not linking to news in Canada.

          Neither of them make any money from those links to news sites. It’s the news organization that they are so graciously and free-of-charge referring traffic to that make all of the money from those links through advertising on the news site and potentially subscriptions. Why should Google and FB pay the news organizations to bring them business?

          Does a taxi driver have to pay a restaurant to bring their fares to it? Of course they don’t. The restaurant is happy to have the taxi drop people off there.

          But I am wasting my time here. You clearly are a Pablo and Bill C-18 shill. Although with all of the parties that C-18 is hurting and nobody really getting anything out of C-18, I’m not sure who other than Pablo you might be shilling for. The news organizations have quickly figured out that C-18 is not going to help them and in fact hurt them as all of the existing deals they have are going down the toilet with C-18.

          • You don’t have a clue. If the news media are making all the money, what’s this all about? And not even the decency to acknowledge, now that I’ve enlightened you, that Pablo R. is an admirable person after you pissed all over him.

      • By the way, you might want to google Pablo Rodriguez and learn a little bit about him. A very interesting and honourable life story, and an exemplary public servant. I say that believing that there are very few such creatures. Certainly not Michael Geist, who is, strictly speaking, a public servant, but talks like the PR dept. of Facebook. You and I pay his salary. Pablo Rodriguez has done a lot more for his constituents and this country than you ever will, no matter who you are.

        • How dare you sneer at Pablo Rodriguez.

          Rodriguez was born on June 21, 1967, in San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina. When he was eight, Rodriguez’s family fled to Canada after their home was bombed during the Dirty War as his father was repeatedly jailed and tortured for his activism.

          Prior to entering politics, Rodriguez, who has a degree in business administration from the University of Sherbrooke, had worked for over twelve years in the fields of public affairs and management of international projects.

          Throughout his career, Rodriguez has dedicated much of his time to humanitarian causes. His work particularly focused on helping developing countries and the eradication of poverty. He was the Vice President of Oxfam Québec from 2000 to 2004.

          • And, also, a drunk driver. Just in case you were thinking of canonizing him.

          • I didn’t know that. Drunk driving is very serious, I make no excuses for it, and it should be prosecuted, no mattert who the offender.

            At the same time, while each of us is certainly free to draw our own conclusions from news reports, and without wanting to engage in PR speak, it should be noted that he was not charged with drunk driving, but rather with failure to cooperate, against which he apparently mounted a vigorous defence. There seems to be no readily available information about the outcome of that charge, suggesting it may have been dropped, and we will never know for sure whether he was over the limit. It certanly appears to be some sort of blemish on his otherwise remarkable life and career. I suggest we leave it at that for our purposes here, as it is unrelated to the question at hand.

        • Ahhh. Clearly a Pablo shill.

          It doesn’t matter who he is or where he came from, he has still shit the bed on the C-18 file, in a way that I don’t think anyone in government has shit the bed before.

          So something else he is great at. 😛

        • So someone who relies on lies, insults, bullying, and vilification is honourable? I don’t think so.

          And Google and Facebook are profiting from the news in the same way that news organizations profit, from sports, entertainment, politics and crime.

          • Lies, insults, bullying and vilification? Pablo has gone to work for google and Facebook?

          • Pablo is unqualified to work for Google or Facebook. His unhinged behavior is way beyond anything they can tolerate. They also want people who don’t continually fuck things up.

      • Thank you for your concise analysis.

      • You are very, very, very confused. If we all wore coloured team sweaters, would that help you in identifying sides?

        • To be fair, I have no idea what your ideology is other than what you accuse other people of. You look and sound like your MAGA yahoo friends?

          Did I get the grammar right 😉

  3. Fed Up: I do have a clue. I have a very good clue as I have been an Internet user and developer since before the invention of the WWW and the concept of linking. I know *exactly* how it all works.

    And I am not saying the news organizations are making all of the money. Clearly they are not. But that is not the fault of Google, FB or anyone else other than themselves, trying to cling on to antiquated business models and not adapting with the world and technology.

    I suppose you think the automobile industry owes the horse-and-buggy industry a subsidy and should still be subsidizing them to this day, yes?

    • The only possible and necessary response:

      “Neither of them make any money from those links to news sites. It’s the news organization that they are so graciously and free-of-charge referring traffic to that make all of the money from those links”.

      (“Brian”, earlier today, above.)

      • Since you seem to have no ability to think critically, let me rephrase that for you then:

        Neither of them make any money from those links to news sites. It’s the news organization that they are so graciously and free-of-charge referring traffic to that have any and all of the potential to make any money there is to be made from those links.

        If they fail to monetize that free referral that is being graciously provided to them from Google and Facebook, that is not Google or Facebook’s problem and Google and Facebook should not have to subsidize those antiquated business models for their failure to execute.

    • He’s just going to call you a “Tech Bro” or “MAGA Yahoo” … it’s his only comeback.

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  6. I can’t see the government being willing to compromise on this. Compromise involves both parties making concesssions and in general the current government seems to have been of the opinion that compromise is something that the other guy does.

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