The Liberal government says it will not press the Senate to rush the Online Streaming Act into law before the summer recess, even though it moved Friday to shut down debate on the bill in the House of Commons.
In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said the government does not expect the Senate to rubber stamp the bill after it receives final approval in the Commons.
“I’ve been meeting with and listening to senators for months, and they want a full study of the bill. I totally respect their role to do this important work with the time they need to get it done,” he said.
Senators have been sending strong signals in recent days that they would resist any requests to quickly pass the legislation, meaning the government’s push to fast-track approval of the bill was set to hit a wall in the Red Chamber.
MPs spent most of the day Friday debating a government motion in the Commons that would invoke a rare procedural move. If passed, it will result in ending committee debate on the bill, forcing quick votes on any amendments and scheduling a tight timeline for a final, third reading, vote to send the legislation to the Senate.
Conservative MPs denounced the motion as a “shameful abuse” of parliamentary process.
Mr. Rodriguez said it was needed because Conservative MPs were filibustering the bill and were not engaging in good faith.
For more than two weeks, the Commons heritage committee has held a flurry of meetings as Liberal MPs pushed for timelines that suggested a desire to have the bill approved by the House before the summer recess, which is scheduled to start on June 23.
The legislation aims to bring streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Spotify under some of the rules that apply to traditional broadcasters, including a requirement to contribute to the creation of Canadian content.
Artists who rely on programs supporting Canadian content say the bill is urgently needed, but critics say it poses fundamental risks to freedom of choice on the internet and will upend emerging business models for online entrepreneurs.
Google has mounted a heavy lobbying campaign against the bill and many popular YouTubers have urged their followers to speak out, saying it puts their businesses at risk.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met privately with Google chief executive Sundar Pichai on Thursday in Los Angeles, where he was attending the Summit of the Americas. Mr. Trudeau said in a statement that they discussed “the importance of protecting democracy through vibrant and diverse media online.”
The bill is supported in the House by the Bloc Québécois and the NDP.
In the Senate however, where most senators sit as independents, there was heated debate over a recent motion to hold a preliminary study of the bill. The motion was approved in a close 36 to 31 vote on May 31, with some Trudeau-appointed independent senators siding with their Conservative counterparts. No such hearings have yet been scheduled.
Conservative Senator Leo Housakos, who chairs the transport and communications committee that will study the bill, said it is clear that many senators oppose being rushed.
“It is very, very unlikely that this bill can get through the Senate in the two or three remaining weeks before the summer recess,” he said in an interview Friday. “The bill is too contentious. Too many stakeholders want to be heard by Parliament. And the Senate should take its role of sober second thought very seriously.”
Mr. Housakos said the government representative in the Senate has proposed that the Senate committee should sit nearly every day, a suggestion that he says undermines their assertions that the government is not directing the Senate to pass the bill before summer.
“Clearly, the government is putting pressure on their Trudeau-appointed senators to ram this bill through the Senate as quickly as possible. I don’t believe there’s an appetite for that,” he said.
Senator Marc Gold, the government representative in the Senate, said in a statement Friday that it was unfortunate the Senate committee has not yet held any hearings. Mr. Gold indicated he does not expect the bill will become law by summer.
“It is my hope that the Senate can achieve some genuine progress on Bill C-11 before the summer adjournment,” he said.
Alberta Independent Senator Paula Simons was among the Trudeau appointees who voted against a prestudy of C-11. She said she is simultaneously frustrated that the bill hasn’t passed sooner and “at peace” with the idea of giving it the attention it deserves in the Senate this fall.
“Our function is to study this bill, not to put a little whipped cream and a cherry on the top of it,” said Ms. Simons. “The combination of filibustering and time allocation meant that lots of good important voices didn’t get heard.”
YouTube and Spotify have said C-11 could backfire for Canadian artists and creators if users don’t view or listen to the content the services would have to promote. This would tell the algorithms the content isn’t relevant to users, meaning Canadian creators could be demoted in search results around the world.
Streaming services also called for changes to existing Canadian content rules. For instance, Netflix said titles produced or solely financed by the company wouldn’t qualify under the rules, even if Canadians hold most or all of the creative roles.
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