The Broadcasting Act blunder series wraps up after a month of posts, two op-eds, and a podcast with a short summary of the case against Bill C-10. Notwithstanding some of the rhetoric, the debate is not whether the cultural sector should be supported (it should) or whether foreign Internet streaming services should contribute to the Canadian economy (they should). Rather, the issue is whether Bill C-10 is the best way to accomplish those policy goals.
Having spent a month dissecting the bill, it will come as no surprise that I believe the bill is deeply flawed. My concerns involve six main issues: Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s inaccurate descriptions of the bill and its impact, the negative effects on longstanding Canadian broadcast policy, the extensive regulatory approach, the uncertainty that comes from leaving key issues to the CRTC or a secretive policy direction, the questionable data underlying the policy, and its outlier approach compared to peer countries.
The Broadcasting Act blunder series has featured several posts raising concerns that Bill C-10 is likely to increase costs for consumers and decrease choice as some services block the Canadian market altogether. Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has regularly cited the situation in Europe as evidence that the concerns are unfounded. For example, he told the House of Commons that “European Union has adopted new rules on streamers resulting in increased investment, jobs, choice of content and ability to assert one’s own cultural sovereignty” and told the media that the European Union has had a requirement since 2018 that 30% of Internet streaming services content must be European content without resulting in higher fees.
Guilbeault’s comparison of Bill C-10 to the situation in Europe is misleading at best.
The Broadcasting Act Blunder, Day 18: The USMCA Trade Threat That Could Lead to Billions in Retaliatory Tariffs
The Broadcasting Act blunder series has made several references to the risk of a trade challenge over provisions found in Bill C-10. This post unpacks the trade issue and explains why the bill could result in billions of dollars in retaliatory tariffs against Canada. The starting point for the trade issue is to recognize that Canada negotiated the continuation of the cultural exemption in the Canada-US-Mexico Trade Agreement (CUSMA or USMCA). This was viewed as an important policy objective for the government, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisting that “defending that cultural exemption is something fundamental to Canadians.” The exemption means that commitments such as equal treatment for U.S., Mexican and Canadian companies may be limited within the cultural sector.
Yet the cultural exemption did not come without a cost.
The Broadcasting Act blunder series has emphasized the uncertainty associated with Bill C-10, highlighting how the bill removes foundational broadcast policies such as Canadian broadcast ownership requirements and leaves many specifics to the CRTC to sort out in a future hearing. In fact, even as Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault claims that the bill establishes economic thresholds, excludes news services, or result in a billion dollars in new funding, the reality is that the bill does not specify any of these things. Rather, Guilbeault is presumably assuming that the Commission will decide to do so. If all of this uncertainty were not enough, Guilbeault has promised another layer of uncertainty, committing to release a policy direction to the CRTC should the bill become law.
The Broadcasting Act Blunder, Day 16: Mandated Payments and a Reality Check on Guilbeault’s Billion Dollar Claim
The Broadcasting Act blunder series has identified many of the negative consequences stemming from Bill C-10: the beginning of the end of Canadian broadcast ownership requirements, downgrading the role of Canadians in their own productions, risks to Canadian intellectual property ownership, trade retaliation by the U.S., potential capture of news sites and smaller streaming services, and less consumer choice as services work to avoid the costly Canadian regulatory requirements. Yet for some these costs will still be worth it since their singular goal is to mandate that foreign streaming services contribute funding toward Canadian film and television production. Indeed, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has made this the centrepiece of his “get money from web giants” strategy claiming that this will result in a billion dollars a year by 2023 in new funding. As this post documents, those claims massively exaggerate the likely funding impact.