Road To Nowhere by Smoky Dan CC BY-NC 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6rHeYZ

Road To Nowhere by Smoky Dan CC BY-NC 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6rHeYZ

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Road to Nowhere: Parliament Breaks For the Summer With Little Accomplished on Digital Policy

The House of Commons adjourned for the summer yesterday with most committees and House debate on hold until mid-September. The government talked up its accomplishments, but on the digital policy front there was little to promote. The government’s most controversial digital-related bills including online harms (Bill C-63) and privacy and AI regulation (Bill C-27) barely moved during the session, a function of badly bloated legislation that create at least as many problems as they solve. With an election a little more than a year away, the clock is ticking and many legislative proposals will be hard pressed to become law.

Where do things stand on the key pieces of legislation?

While there were no specific digital policy bills enacted over the past ten months, the government is moving ahead with its digital services tax that could take effect within days and will likely draw the ire of the U.S. government, the big companies facing a larger tax bill, and the smaller ones dreading increased costs that are either passed along to consumers or which render them less competitive. The implementation of Bills C-11 and C-18 also drew attention with the CRTC establishing mandated payments for Internet streamers that will increase consumer prices and the government trying to salvage the online news miscalculation (news links have been missing from Facebook and Instagram for nearly a year) with a Google deal that is now mired in controversy over who will administer the resulting funds.

The session in September started with committee hearings on Bill C-27, the privacy and AI bill. Those hearings ran for months, followed by weeks of clause-by-clause review of the bill. The process is painfully slow with the committee still reviewing the privacy portion of the bill and the AI regulation aspects yet to come. Assuming that takes much of the fall, the Senate would have to race through its own set of hearings in 2025 in order for the bill to become law. That outcome is at best a coin toss at this stage.

The same is true for Bill C-63, the Online Harms Act. Justice Minister Arif Virani overplayed his hand on that bill, messing up legislation involving the responsibility of Internet platforms that received decent reviews by adding Criminal Code and Human Rights Act provisions that have been roundly criticized. In fact, all opposition parties have indicated they would like to see the bill split in two. With only limited debate at second reading in the House of Commons thus far, the bill won’t make it to committee until October at the earliest. Given the need for extensive committee hearings, the chances that the bill gets through committee, the House, and then the Senate have diminished considerably.

While the clock may run out on C-27 and C-63, Bill S-210, the mandated age verification bill, is almost surely headed for a vote in the fall. The bill did not receive a proper review at committee and was reported back to the House without any (much needed) amendments. Since the bill has already passed the Senate, it is only a couple of votes away from becoming law. The government will oppose the legislation, the Conservatives inexplicably support, and the remaining question is whether one of the Bloc or NDP will reverse their prior positions and vote against an obviously flawed age verification plan that would have significant implications for streaming services, search, and social media. Another bill that made some progress is Bill C-26, a cyber-security bill that has raised privacy security, and affordability concerns. The bill was introduced two years ago, but just now cleared the House. Senate hearings will presumably start in the fall and there is sufficient time for a full review and vote.

Needless to say, this is not an impressive record as digital policy has consistently been marked by lobbyist-driven policies or approaches that suggest little understanding of the issues and broader market. Federal policy is not the only game in town: the provinces have introduced their own legislation or policy initiatives (BC on social media, Ontario on cybersecurity and AI) and the courts remain active, notably including the recent copyright fair dealing ruling and a wide range of privacy cases. While last year’s session closed with a high profile battle over online news, this year’s session ends with bills running out of time and yet another battle – this time with the U.S. over taxation – about ready to take centre stage.

3 Comments

  1. Greg Samuel says:

    Isn’t the online content that bill c63 wants to control already against the law? Why can’t this content be removed now. Was there no mechanism? I’m sure this was already covered, but…

    • Based on my cursory reading of the bill, it is. But that has never stopped Parliament from introducing bills which make something that is illegal under the Criminal Code prohibited via another mechanism.

      We are now at the point in the Canadian election cycle where what happens in Parliament is more performance art than legislating. By that I mean that bills are crafted with a couple of things in it with the idea of trying to set up the other parties for the upcoming election. For instance, If the Conservatives vote against the bill because of the human rights and Criminal Code of Canada provisions, the LPC will say during the election that the Conservatives are against protecting our children from online harms. Thing is that if the opposition is successful in having the bill split then the LPC would lose that attack mode on the Conservatives during the election.

      Unfortunately the news media tends to provide a fairly shallow analysis of bills; in the case of the TV news a lot of the problem (I suspect) is related to the idea that a long story on something goes to 90 seconds, which is not much more than a headline. Print journalism can do better if they choose to, but the limits on the number of words in the article, combined with the “if it bleeds it leads” mentality, also leads to a relatively shallow analysis. There is also the issue of so many people operating in an echo chamber; they don’t want their opinions challenged. This happens across the political spectrum.

  2. William Thompson says:

    Please accept my sincere gratitude for the author’s dedication to research and their ability to distill complex concepts into Slope Run a comprehensive and accessible format, allowing readers to grasp the intricacies of the subject matter.

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