Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne has worked hard to fashion himself as a future party leader based on boundless energy to sell Canada the world. Indeed, Champagne’s oft-repeated stories of cold calls that resulted in investments by companies such as Volkswagen and Moderna paint a picture of a minister jetting around the world in support of the Canadian economy. Unfortunately, Champagne’s record is also one of a minister less interested in what is actually happening at home. His privacy legislation has languished for months and he has been entirely missing on digital policy, where fishing expeditions such as the one involving Bill C-18 are likely to make companies reticent about entering the Canadian market. This morning there was another lasting and damaging development as the approval of Rogers-Shaw merger (or more accurately the approval of the transfer of licences that pave the way for the merger) will mean that Champagne will have presided over the destruction of the competitive communications market with both another major merger and the sudden disappearance of many independent providers.
The Dongle Budget: What Prioritizing a Common Cell Phone Charging Port Says About Canadian Digital Policy
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland released the government’s 2023 budget yesterday with a raft of new spending initiatives and subsidies for “clean tech” to match developments in the United States. Budgets have become policy mapping documents where the government identifies its priorities for the coming year, often accompanied by plans to incorporate them into the Budget Implementation Act, where they are virtually guaranteed to pass with limited Parliamentary overview and debate. I’ll identify some of the most notable developments below, but want to focus on a commitment to establish a standard charging port in Canada which I think is emblematic of a government that has increasingly lost the plot on digital policy.
The Latest Bill C-11 Debate: Sacrificing Freedom of Expression for Quebec Culture Lobby Support
The Bill C-11 debate continued for hours in the House of Commons yesterday with a dispiriting discussion featuring MPs from all sides ignoring or exaggerating the implications of the bill. The debate often seemed to gravitate to two polar opposites: either the bill is China or North Korea-style censorship or it has no implications for freedom of expression and the regulation of user content. Both are false. To the claims of censorship, Bill C-11 is not China, Russia or Nazi Germany. As I’ve stated many times, it does not limit the ability to speak, but could impact the ability to be heard. That raises important implications for freedom of expression but it does not turn Canada into China. To the claims that user content regulation is excluded from the bill, Section 4.1(2)(b) and 4.2.2 clearly scope such content into the bill, an interpretation that has been confirmed by dozens of experts and the former Chair of the CRTC. Liberal and NDP MP claims to the contrary should be regarded as disinformation, a deliberate attempt to spread false information. Indeed, the Senate proposed a fix. The government rejected it. That was supposed to be the focus of the debate, yet Liberal MPs such as Kevin Lamoureux falsely claimed that there is no there there.
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 161: Canadian Chamber of Commerce President Perrin Beatty on Why the Government’s Bill C-18 Motion Establishes a Dangerous, Undemocratic Precedent
Bill C-18, the online news bill whose foundation is mandated payments for links, has unsurprisingly sparked reaction from Google and Facebook that raises the possibility of stopping linking to Canadian news. In an act of obvious retribution, the government responded to the companies response with a motion from Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage Chris Bittle that demanded a wide range of internal and external documents dating back years and even looped in the private correspondence of companies, NGOs, journalists and potentially of thousands of Canadians. At committee, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather introduced a motion that removed some of the most problematic elements, but still left in place what is best described as a fishing expedition.
Perrin Beatty is a former Cabinet Minister under Prime Ministers Clark and Mulroney, was named President of the CBC by Jean Chretien, and is now the President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. His members are split in their views of Bill C-18, but not on the motion at Heritage committee. He joins the Law Bytes podcast to discuss the concerns with the motion and the dangerous precedent it sets.
The Biden Visit to Canada: Why Digital Policy is Emerging as a Serious Trade Tension
The U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Ottawa this week has begun to place the spotlight on the mounting tensions over digital policy. For months, Canadian officials have not only been dismissive of the issue, but – as this week’s fishing expedition into Google and Facebook demonstrates – have not shied away from making the issue front and centre. I have been posting about trade-related risks with Canadian digital policy for months, noting that the risks are real and could result in billions in retaliatory tariffs that hits some of Canada’s most sensitive sectors. Indeed, this issue has been raised at every major meeting between senior trade officials for the past year. Is retaliation likely to happen? Certainly not immediately, but the longer the issues fester, the greater the impediment to advancing Canadian trade priorities. As Scottie Greenwood notes, “these are top-of-mind issues. They are not a small obscure issue.”