Ian Scott to the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications
June 22, 2022
Ian Scott, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
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Thank you, Mister Chair, for inviting us to appear before your Committee today.
With me today are:
- Scott Hutton, Chief of Consumer, Research and Communications
- Sheehan Carter, Director General of Strategic Policy, and
- Rachelle Frenette, General Counsel and Deputy Executive Director of Legal Services.
We are pleased to speak about the need for Bill C-11.
Honourable Senators, the modernization of Canada’s Broadcasting Act is long overdue. Created in the early 1990s, the Act is a product of its time. Although it served its purpose well for many years, it did not foresee the technological and societal change that has occurred since its inception.
New legislation must recognize the reality that audio and audiovisual content is increasingly being distributed and consumed over the Internet. A framework must be created to allow industry players to succeed in this new environment, and to harness opportunities for Canadians.
Bill C-11 proposes new tools that can help to ensure that Canadian stories and music can be enjoyed by audiences in Canada and across the globe. It would also allow the CRTC to respond quicker than ever before to changing market conditions.
In our view, Bill C-11 does three important things.
First, it builds on the existing Broadcasting Act to clarify the CRTC’s jurisdiction regarding online broadcasters. It would give the CRTC new regulatory powers to deal with online broadcasting services, including non-Canadian ones. These powers include giving us the ability to obtain data from online broadcasters.
Second, it would give us a flexible approach to regulation. The current Broadcasting Act does not specify how traditional players in the Canadian broadcasting system must contribute to the Act’s policy objectives. That is left to the CRTC’s discretion. Bill C-11 would allow us to make similar determinations regarding online broadcasters and put in place the regulatory frameworks to support those goals.
Finally, it would modernize the CRTC’s enforcement powers. Although the Telecommunications Act allows us to impose administrative monetary penalties to address non-compliance, no such provisions exist in the Broadcasting Act.
Honourable members, Bill C-11 is not without its critics. But the point missed by many of those who speak against it is that this Bill addresses those pressures that are inherent in our broadcasting system today.
Bill C-11 will enable the creation of a new regulatory framework for the broadcasting industry that addresses those pressures and which, critically, will enable the system to better achieve public-policy objectives. That means more Canadian stories will be told. It means greater domestic and global success for Canadian productions and artists. And it means more choice for consumers.
There is one misconception about this Bill that I would like to address today. Some have suggested that Bill C-11 would give the CRTC regulatory power over user-generated online content.
We take a different view. The Bill draws a bright line between the users of social media and the platforms themselves. The powers granted to the CRTC under the proposed legislation would require us to, for example, ensure social media platforms support the development of Canadian programs, and make content discoverable and accessible to persons with disabilities. They would not, however, extend to regulating individual users.
All this said, Bill C-11 is not a perfect document.
With the utmost respect for the legislation’s drafters, we do have some concerns as the administrative tribunal that will be tasked with implementing the Bill. As drafted, it could create unintended consequences.
Let me draw your attention to three issues in particular.
The first pertains to English and French linguistic minority communities. The Bill would require the CRTC, when we make decisions that could adversely affect these groups, to afford them special procedural rights that are not accorded to other parties.
Although we have always worked hard to support these communities, our view is – and has always been – that no single party is more important than any other when we conduct our work. The additional steps described in this particular section of Bill C-11 run contrary to 50 years of well-established legal principles and precedent. We therefore recommend the Committee remove this provision.
Our second concern is that we have identified gaps between our powers to address certain situations in the traditional broadcasting system and similar situations in the digital environment. For instance, the CRTC currently helps resolve a variety of disputes through its mediation and arbitration services. Under Bill C-11, we would not have the same ability to support the industry in its negotiations and address imbalances in bargaining power. It would make it much more difficult to resolve complaints quickly and efficiently.
In addition, Bill C-11 would give the CRTC the ability to require that online broadcasting services offer Canadian programming services, but unlike our current powers, we would not be able to set any terms or conditions. This provision of the Broadcasting Act has served Canadians and the system as a whole very well, as evidenced by channels such as APTN and AMI-tv. In our view, the CRTC should have a similar ability to ensure that Canadian programming services are able to gain access to online streaming platforms under fair and equitable terms.
The good news is that the solution consists of simple amendments to Bill C-11, which we would be happy to provide to this Committee.
Our final concern is the requirement that would mandate the CRTC to consult with Canadians and review its regulations and orders every seven years. The suggestion is that this would make our organization more accountable to Canadians.
The CRTC is wholly supportive of the notion of accountability. Our work is always conducted in full view of the public and with its collective interest foremost in mind. Moreover, mechanisms are already in place to ensure regular reviews of our regulatory frameworks to ensure they remain relevant and appropriate.
A mandated review every seven years, however, would require the CRTC to consult with Canadians about every single decision made by the Commission. To give you a sense of the scope of that obligation, the CRTC has published more than 1,400 decisions and renewed almost 1,000 licences in the past seven years leading up to today. All of those would be subject to review under this particular provision of Bill C-11.
Reviewing each would misdirect energy, time and resources.
Should such a policy direction be required, Bill C-11 could be amended to give the government the authority to require the CRTC to review specific regulatory policies at its pleasure. But, as it is drafted now, this provision is onerous, and I strongly encourage the Committee to remove it.
Mister Chair, honourable members, thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today. Let me close by reiterating that we are largely supportive of Bill C-11 and the changes it proposes to modernize Canada’s broadcasting system. My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer your questions.
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