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`An insult to Parliament'

Fast-tracking of C-10 to hit a Senate wall

  • Calgary Herald
  • 18 Jun 2021

The Liberal government's push to speed up the passage of its controversial broadcasting bill C-10 before Parliament breaks for summer is set to hit a wall at the Senate.

There is no appetite among a majority of senators to fast-track the bill, which they believe needs further study, senators from different groups told the National Post on a background basis.

“There seems to be a broad range of concern with this bill,” Conservative senator Leo Housakos said in an interview, referring to conversations with senators from a variety of Senate caucus groups. “There doesn't seem to be any momentum to pass this and rubber-stamp this without thorough review.”

Sen. Jane Cordy, leader of the Progressive Senate Group, said in an emailed statement that she would “not expect legislation to skip” the study stage, “as it is an important part of the Senate's work.”

The bill, which updates the Broadcasting Act and sets up the CRTC to regulate online platforms like Netflix the way it does traditional broadcasters, raised alarm in late April.

That's when the government removed an exemption for user-generated content, putting Canadians' online posts on platforms like Youtube under the CRTC'S regulatory authority.

Critics said that was an attack on free speech, and that a later amendment by the government to limit the CRTC'S powers over social media content didn't alleviate those worries.

Housakos said he is concerned both about the content of the bill, and the unusual process by which it has been amended in recent weeks. “Over on the House side, the process was completely unacceptable, and it should be deplored by any Canadian,” he said.

The bill has, “along the way, for a variety of reasons, become this multi-headed monster,” he said.

Concern about free speech issues led the House of Commons heritage committee, which was studying the bill, to put its clause-by-clause amendment process on hold. After it resumed, the Bloc Québécois and Liberals voted to limit debate time at committee to make sure the bill would pass through the House of Commons before Parliament recessed for the summer.

It was first time in 20 years the government imposed time allocation on a parliamentary committee.

When the debate time expired, the committee continued to vote on dozens of amendments that were not revealed to the public at the time. The Speaker later voided those amendments and ruled the committee overstepped its authority.

The government and opposition parties have given notice they will be asking for the House to put 22 more amendments back in the bill before the final vote.

Housakos said the Liberal government, along with the NDP and the Bloc, ignored parliamentary procedures and rules. “They took the rule book of Parliament and they literally threw it in the trash can,” he said.

Camille Gagné-raynauld, a spokesperson for Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, said following the Speaker's ruling that the government remains “committed to the progress of Bill C-10, and will collaborate with all the opposition parties to have it adopted in the House and the Senate before the end of the parliamentary session.”

Housakos said it was “extremely arrogant on the part of Guilbeault's office to imply that they're just going to send this over for a proverbial rubber stamp from the Senate of Canada.

"It's insulting to the institution, it's insulting to our Parliament.”

Asked for comment Thursday about the reluctance of senators to fasttrack the bill, and about Housakos' criticism, Gagné-raynauld said the government would work to have the bill “introduced” in the Senate before the parliamentary session ends.

“We will ensure that the parliamentary process is respected, while ensuring it is done in a timely fashion,” she said.

The Liberal government has been arguing it's critical to pass the bill because it would ensure additional funding for the creative sector, which has been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guilbeault has accused those opposed to the bill of not wanting to support Canadian artists, and argued that passing the bill would mean an additional $70 million a month for Canada's “broadcasting, audiovisual, music and interactive media sectors.”

He said in a press release earlier this month that instead, those $70 million would “keep flowing into the pockets of foreign tech billionaires.”

Bill C-10 still faces more debate and votes at the House of Commons before it even makes it to the Senate, and there are only four more scheduled sitting days before the end of the parliamentary session.

Housakos said senators should hear from stakeholders that didn't appear at the House committee. For instance, social media platforms didn't appear as witnesses because at the time that study began, they were exempted from regulation.

“My concern will be to call all those stakeholders that originally didn't think it was necessary for them to go before the committee, and make sure that everyone gets a proper hearing,” Housakos said.

“I want to see how we can make this bill a better bill. And quite frankly, there's been so much controversy and concern, ultimately, the question is how can we save this bill and bring it back to what its original objective was,” he said.

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