The Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications started its Bill C-11 pre-study yesterday just hours before the the bill passed third reading in the House of Commons. The bill quickly moved to first reading in the Senate, though at this stage it would appear that there will be just one more hearing involving departmental and CRTC officials before the summer recess. The House vote was widely expected as the government received support from the NDP on several occasions to limit debate. The Bloc and Green MP Elizabeth May also supported the bill, while it was opposed by the Conservatives and Green MP Mike Morrice.
I was pleased to appear before the Senate committee together with former CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein as part of its first panel of the day. The questions and answers touched on a wide range of issues including discoverability and public support for the sector. My opening remarks are posted and embedded below:
The review of the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11) heads to committee next week as the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage plans to devote roughly 20 hours to hearing over the next two weeks. I have received an invitation and may appear as soon as next week. While the House of Commons committee study is just getting underway, the Senate has been debating the possibility of conducting a “pre-study” of the bill at its own committee. Pre-studies are somewhat unusual since they are conducted before the bill has formally been referred to the committee or, in the case of the Senate, even passed the House of Commons. In fact, Bill C-10, the predecessor to Bill C-11, started with a pre-study which ultimately undermined the overall committee study that many believed was inadequate.
The Senate Bill C-10 debate wrapped up yesterday with several speeches and a vote to send the bill to committee for further study. Given that the Senate declined to approve summer hearings for the bill, the earliest possible time for the study to begin is the week of September 20th. If there is a late summer/early fall election as most observers expect, Bill C-10 will die. Without an election, Bill C-10 will be back for Senate hearings in the fall with many Senators emphasizing the need for a comprehensive study that features the myriad of perspectives that were excluded from the failed House review.
While the debate in the Senate was marked by consistent calls for more study (my recap of day one,day two), the final debate was punctuated by a powerful speech from Senator David Adams Richards. One of Canada’s leading authors, Senator Richards has won the Governor General’s Award for both fiction and non-fiction, the Giller Prize, and is a member of the Order of Canada. Senator Richards, appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau to the Senate in 2017, warns against government or cultural decision makers and the parallels to Bill C-10:
Last week, I appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs as part of its study on the impact and utilization of culture and arts in foreign policy and diplomacy. I was asked to consider the impact of Canadian copyright in foreign diplomacy, leading to an interesting and engaging discussion that touched on everything from the changes to the IP provisions in the TPP to the legality of streaming services. My opening remarks, which emphasized the potential for Canada to engage in copyright diplomacy by serving as model for other countries, is posted below.
The trial of Senator Mike Duffy featured several notable revelations last week about the inner workings of the Prime Minister’s Office. One of the most important was found in a 2013 memo written by former chief of staff Nigel Wright that focuses on the control exerted by the PMO over the Senate. While the Senate is nominally an independent body of “sober second thought”, the memo highlights how the PMO expects Senate leadership to follow directions from the Prime Minister and to avoid developing policy positions without advance consultations and approval.
For anyone who has followed Senate committee reviews of legislative proposals, the Wright memo is not particularly surprising. This past spring, a Senate committee review of Bill C-51, the controversial anti-terrorism legislation, heard from experts such as the Privacy Commissioner of Canada about much-needed reforms. Yet once it was time to vote, the committee left the bill unchanged, lending an air of theatre to the entire process.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that assuming that policy control over Senate committee remains a priority, a recent batch of Senate reports provides new insights into future Conservative policies. Weeks before the election call, Senate committees began releasing long-awaited reports on a wide range of issues including national security, digital commerce, and the future of the CBC. In fact, more Senate committee reports were released in June and July (15 in total) than in the previous 18 months combined.