General + Regulatory + Telecom + Media NewsBill C-11 could become law next week with Senate sign-off

Bill C-11 could become law next week with Senate sign-off

As Bill C-11 sat on the doorstep of passing third and final reading in the Senate, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez – who introduced the Online Streaming Act a year ago to the day on Feb. 2, 2022 – told a packed audience at the Canadian Media Producers Association’s annual Prime Time conference in Ottawa on Thursday that he expected the bill could return with amendments to the House of Commons, where it passed last June and which could become law by next week.

Should that happen, Rodriguez said it would be a “game-changer” and that he hoped it would provide “a level playing field – to support you guys, to help you do what you do best, which is make us think, laugh, cry sometimes,” as well as “supporting our independent industry, our actors, our creators.”

The comments came hours before the Senate passed the bill, which now makes its way to the House for votes. Rodriguez suggested that the government would support any or all amendments as long as none of them “weaken” the objective for a “modern bill” that recognizes that “we’ve changed the way we look at things.”

Bill C-11 is the second attempt by the federal Liberal government to modernize the Broadcasting Act and recognize digital media, which Rodriguez’s predecessor, Steven Guilbeault, tried to do with Bill C-10 in November 2020. It empowers the CRTC to force foreign platform contributions to the Canadian content ecosystem.

The legislation has not been subjected to any significant amendments since 1991, when “we would listen to music on a Sony Walkman and go to Blockbuster and rent movies,” Rodriguez said.

Getting C-11 through the Senate was far from straightforward. Senators made 26 amendments to 12 clauses of the 56-page bill following an exhaustive review conducted by the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, the longest study ever conducted by a Senate committee, according to the interim clerk of the upper chamber, Gérald Lafrenière.

Pablo Rodriguez

Vassy Kapelos, who interviewed Rodriguez, raised concern about one amendment that could collide with the government’s commitment to leveling the playing field. Critics, she said, believe the amendment would create “two different standards, where foreign streamers would be permitted to use fewer Canadian creators than Canadian broadcasters.”

In its current form, Bill C-11 states that “each Canadian broadcasting undertaking shall employ and make maximum use, and in no case less than predominant use, of Canadian creative and other human resources in the creation, production and presentation of programming, unless the nature of the service provided by the undertaking, such as specialized content or format or the use of languages other than French and English, renders that use impracticable, in which case the undertaking shall make the greatest practicable use of those resources.”

Meanwhile, “each foreign online undertaking shall make the greatest practicable use of Canadian creative and other human resources, and shall contribute in an equitable manner to strongly support the creation, production and presentation of Canadian programming, taking into account the linguistic duality of the market they serve.”

However, the Heritage minister said that the pending law would take foreign streamers and social media platforms from having “zero obligation to a lot of obligation.”

“Is this bill perfect? No. But it’s a helluva good deal, which means there were a lot of concessions and at the end, will bring a lot to the industry, a lot to independent producers, a lot to Canadian content,” he said, noting that he also faced the reality that the Liberals lead a minority government.

Rodriguez also suggested that he could direct the CRTC to bolster the obligations on foreign streamers.

“We’re looking at options,” he said.

Rodriguez also responded to concerns raised by foreign streaming giants YouTube and TikTok, whose executives last year warned senators that bill C-11’s focus on prioritizing Canadian content could erode online viewers’ choice for content and the ability of Canadian digital creators to have their content seen.

“The bill is about streamers contributing to Canadian culture. The bill is about the platforms,” said the minister, who rejected any motion that the CRTC would police the internet for content.

He explained that once the bill receives royal assent, his department will send directives to the CRTC, following which there will be a period of public consultation that in turn will result in regulations.

“They’re not going to be judging the content of social media users,” said Rodriguez of the CRTC. “That wouldn’t make any sense for anybody.”

The minister said that the CRTC will, however, review the definition of Canadian content.

Kapelos also asked him about the cross-border implications of C-11 after senior Democrat and Republican members on the U.S. Senate’s finance committee recently expressed concern that the bill would mandate preferential treatment for Canadian content and deprive American creators of the North American market access they were promised under the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement – an issue also expressed to be raised when U.S. President Joe Biden visits Canada next month.

“I’m not worried because we think it’s compliant with our trade obligations – and we did work with our trade experts throughout the process,” responded Rodriguez, who added that some U.S. lawmakers are interested in pursuing similar legislation modelled after Bill C-11.

Subscribe Now – Free!

Broadcast Dialogue has been required reading in the Canadian broadcast media for 30 years. When you subscribe, you join a community of connected professionals from media and broadcast related sectors from across the country.

The Weekly Briefing from Broadcast Dialogue is delivered exclusively to subscribers by email every Thursday. It’s your link to critical industry news, timely people moves, and excellent career advancement opportunities.

Let’s get started right now.

* indicates required


Chris Guly
Chris Guly
Christopher Guly is an Ottawa-based journalist and member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

The Weekly Briefing - Subscribe Now – Free!

It’s your link to critical industry news, timely people moves, and excellent career advancement opportunities.

Events / Conferences