Sign of the times by Jim Fenton (CC BY 2.0)

Sign of the times by Jim Fenton (CC BY 2.0)


Backdown or Bailout?: What Comes Next for the Government’s Epic Bill C-18 Miscalculation

Meta’s announcement this week that it has started to block news links in Canada on both Facebook and Instagram due to Bill C-18’s mandated payments for links approach has sparked a flurry of commentary and coverage. News outlets such as Le Devoir have joined the Globe and Mail in expressing doubt about the government’s approach, news coverage has examined why the Meta ad boycott hasn’t taken off (hint: the government’s own party is still launching new ads) or why the Australian experience hasn’t been replicated in Canada (hint: different law, different time). Meanwhile, the political response has been discouraging with the government pretending to forget the Conservatives’ actual vote against Bill C-18 in the House of Commons, while the Conservatives insist on calling Bill C-18 a censorship bill when it isn’t. But perhaps the most interesting response is the speculation about what comes next. I don’t think anyone really knows, but this post offers a few possibilities.

At one end of the spectrum is the prospect that the government backs down and looks for a way to diffuse what has become a massive policy blunder. Notwithstanding the tough talk, the reality is that the bill is already a failure and seems certain to cost the Canadian media sector hundreds of millions of dollars. While withdrawing the bill would restore the status quo, the political equivalent of admitting total defeat is almost surely not going to happen. The government could alternatively pursue a small amendment that would remove the trigger on the bill taking effect by the end of the year. By restoring the pre-Senate amendment approach of the bill only taking effect once the regulations are finalized, the government would better control the timing and remove the immediate urgency of finding a Bill C-18 compromise. 

If that too is politically unpalatable, the next option would be to continue to negotiate with Google on the regulations. Last month, the government made it clear that it was open to some significant changes, notably including identifying a spend requirement by the platforms, which would address cost certainty concerns. The fact that there is no deal suggests that the two sides remain apart on what that number should be, but as the deadline draws closer, a negotiated deal is always possible. Such an approach would not bring Meta back to news, but would at least bring Google on board and limit the Bill C-18 damage.

Without a compromise on either the bill’s timing or its regulations, the government would again be betting that Google is bluffing. Yet it seems far more likely that Google would follow the Meta approach and block news links in Canada. That move would cause enormous harm: hundreds of millions more lost to the sector in cancelled deals, lost links, and a bill that generates absolutely no new revenues. The Canadian public would also experience the effects of the bill more directly with search results directly affected. And Canada would find itself as a global digital outlier with restricted services on some of the world’s most popular Internet platforms.

Should that come to pass, the government would likely consider three courses of action: punishing Google, exploring additional ways to address the media challenges, and considering direct support for the media sector to alleviate the harm caused by its own bill. Punishing Google would presumably include expanding the ad boycott and encouraging Canadians to consider using alternate search engines, neither of which would move the needle in any meaningful way. It might also involve considering Competition Act action, but the government’s case is not a strong one. Google and Meta are simply abiding by the standard set in Bill C-18: if you link, you must negotiate payment, but if you do not link, there are no such legal obligations. The government could consider a sort-of “must carry” for the Internet – a “must link” requirement for news – but that heads down a dangerous path of government determining what content must be carried (or potentially blocked) online. Moreover, the government might be free to require a platform to link to certain content or to ensure that it does not discriminate against it. But it is something else entirely to require a platform to both link to content and to pay for those links. 

As for additional measures that could be implemented, supporters of the bill are proposing various alternatives, including removing the CBC from the law and creating time-limits on its applicability. Of course, the time to suggest reforms was when the law was still a bill. For example, I suggested multiple reforms when I appeared before the Senate, including making contributions to a fund to support journalism an alternative to the multiple deals that require CRTC approval. While others now back the fund model, a voluntary fund (as some have suggested) does not address the concerns with the legislation.  

The third and most worrisome course of action would be for the government to bail itself out of the Bill C-18 mess by using public money to compensate for the losses that it triggered. But a bail out for its miscalculation should be a non-starter as it would mark a huge government intervention into the media sector and result in the public directly funding media at an unprecedented level that call into question its very independence. As I’ve been saying for months, there are no winners with Bill C-18. The government – egged on by the media lobby – ignored the risks of mandated payments for links and it should not fall to the public to bail them out. Indeed, if anyone is going to pay for this miscalculation, it should be the government by fixing its mistake, not wishing it away on the public’s dime.



  1. Gorgonzola says:

    Imagine the dumbest possible response, and that’s what they’ll do. With major bonus points for any idea that is authoritarian and confrontational to Big Tech, so the government can make themselves look like tough guys. Instead of just doing what’s best for the country.

    Imagine a government that worked for the people instead of themselves.

  2. You miss a major issue:

    Yes Bill C-18 *CAN* be censorship. By promoting and funding only the news that the government wants you to see and exempting the big tech corps from the smaller players, you are funnelling money to the news that you want people to see.

    It’s soft censorship using market forces. Sneaky, but not that sneaky. Now pair that up with C-11 and suddenly you have the government picking winners and losers in the news space… for a reason.

    • Gorgonzola says:

      This is true. Even if it’s not the intention of these bills, it’s an inevitable outcome. The line between “news” and “not news” has to be drawn *somewhere*, and it’s likely that questionable sources that agree with the government are more likely to be deemed “news” than questionable sources that disagree with the government.

      And the possibility of these bills being abused for this purpose is too high to be ignored.

  3. Daniel Babin says:

    while the Conservatives insist on calling Bill C-18 a censorship bill when it isn’t. When something has the effect of negating something else on purpose THAT is the very definition of censorship. Whoever wrote this is an disengenuous liberal twit without an ounce of intelligence.

    • I hope “disingenuous liberal twit” is directed at the author of the bill and not THIS article lol.

  4. I make $100h while I’m traveling the world. Last week I worked by my laptop in Rome, Monti Carlo and finally Paris. This week I’m back in the USA. All I do are easy tasks vs04 from this one cool site. check it out,



  5. Pingback: Leftover Links 06/08/2023: India’s Laptop and Tablet Import Ban Postponed | Techrights

  6. Right? What brought about this?

  7. parmigiano reggiano says:

    As an affected citizen, what means can be used to give the government feedback on their new law?

    • I don’t really see an “official” channel that you could go through.

      No point in going through your local MP; while in theory that is how it should go, because of the way that Parliament and the parties themselves work that mechanism seems to be broken. If your MP is a Liberal or NDP they risk their nomination for the next election if they bring it up to the party brass, especially if they do it publicly. If they belong to another party the feedback will just be ignored by the government.

      No point in publishing it through the news media; they have a vested interest in, and in fact have actively promoted, C-18. At least the National Post is leaving critical comments on articles about their website; in a number of cases I’ve seen critical comments deleted or comments not allowed on causes the media is promoting.

      CRTC? Nah. They report to the government, and are appointed by the government.

      Thing is that the government was told in committee that these were possible outcomes and chose to ignore that because they also heard commentary that they liked.

  8. Pingback: OPINION: Bill C-18 hypocritical in face of taxpayer-funded news placement service – The Lunenburg Barnacle 2023

  9. Do you have an urgent need for professional retraining? Is it boring to have a budget for everything in life? bg What if I told you that you could make up to $500 a day without leaving your home? We do not care ? General gv knowledge is usually sufficient,
    more here…………

  10. I would say links, which are just addresses of web pages, are speech, and the government should not be allowed to regulate them. If you pass a law saying you can’t publish a certain type of speech without paying, why would that not class as a censorship law?

  11. Pingback: News blockade on digital platforms creates a vacuum of info on Canadian wildfires –