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The CRTC said it would leave podcasts alone. Turns out that was a myth

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From the MacDonald-Laurier Institute

This article originally appeared in the Hub.

By Peter Menzies, October 4, 2023

It’s clear the regulator is about to draw podcasts into its warm embrace.

The CRTC has backtracked on its promise to leave podcasts alone.

On May 12, the federal regulator stated in its “Myths and Facts” release that concerns it would regulate content such as podcasts were a “myth” and the “fact” of the matter was that “a person who creates audio or video content or creates a podcast, is not a broadcaster under” the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11).

That “fact” didn’t live long. It expired September 29 when, in its first decisions since being granted authority over the internet, the CRTC changed lanes.

While it was careful to state that podcasters themselves don’t have to register with the Commission, the web-based platforms that make podcasts available must do so. Indeed, podcasters may not be broadcasters, but very much as predicted by the legislation’s critics, the CRTC has found ways to bring them into scope anyway.

It decided that podcasts constitute “programs under the Broadcasting Act, given that they are comprised of sounds intended to inform, enlighten or entertain.”

The regulator’s decision further explains that while podcasters may not be broadcasters, the transmission of podcasts over the internet most definitely “constitutes broadcasting” which makes those entities that platform podcasts into cable companies.

So while the CRTC concedes that while “the Broadcasting Act does not give the Commission a mandate to regulate creators of programs” it nevertheless makes clear that its powers do cover “those services that are involved in the broadcasting of programs, which are referred to as broadcasting undertakings.”

Is your head spinning yet?

The legal contortions continue throughout the decision, but the clear takeaway, the bottom line, is that, while it keeps insisting it doesn’t intend to regulate the content of podcasts, it is very concerned about the content of podcasts and if it can’t legally regulate them, it’ll make sure someone else does it for them.

Paragraph 223 of its decision makes it clear the CRTC is about to draw podcasts into its warm embrace.

Without information about online undertakings that transmit or retransmit podcasts, it would be more difficult for the Commission to ensure the achievement of the objectives of … the Broadcasting Act, which relate to, among other things, providing a reasonable opportunity for the public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern, and (that) the programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting system should be varied and comprehensive, providing a balance of information, enlightenment and entertainment for people of all ages, interests and tastes.

In other words, what the CRTC denounced as “myth” in the spring has become a “fact” in the fall. It has kicked open the door to the regulation of online content, if not directly then by proxy through the platforms that deliver the work of podcasters to their audiences.

It is a bureaucratic master stroke.

Here’s what will follow.

The list of intervenors presenting at the CRTC’s public hearing coming up in late November indicates the panel of commissioners will hear from a number of groups that will explain the extent to which they are under-represented and funded. So, a possible outcome of this will be that services that carry podcasts will have to fund podcasters who, on their own, haven’t been able to find an audience.

Just as likely is that platforms will be regulated to ensure podcasts designated by the CRTC are given priority visibility/discoverability online over undesignated podcasts through the manipulation of algorithms. These are likely to be podcasts by Indigenous, BIPOC and LGBTQ2S creators.

As erstwhile CRTC Chair Ian Scott told the Senate committee studying Bill C-11 in 2022:

Instead of saying, and the Act precludes this, we will make changes to your algorithms as many European countries are contemplating doing, instead, we will say this is the outcome we want. We want Canadians to find Canadian music. How best to do it? How will you do it? I don’t want to manipulate your algorithm. I want you to manipulate it to produce a particular outcome. And then we will have hearings to decide what are the best ways and explore it.

This was reinforced in an exchange Scott had with Senator Pamela Wallin, who suggested proponents of the bill were parsing their words and that:

You won’t manipulate the algorithms; you will make the platforms do it. That is regulation by another name. You’re regulating either directly and explicitly or indirectly, but you are regulating content.

To which Mr. Scott replied: “you’re right.”

The CRTC has now confirmed what it denied mere months ago when it was parroting then-Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s talking points.

It will make sure podcasts and any other internet content it can capture is regulated.

Peter Menzies is a Senior Fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a former newspaper executive, and past vice chair of the CRTC.

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Business

Taxpayers Federation calls for transparency on World Cup costs

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From the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Author: Carson Binda 

“Toronto taxpayers can’t afford to pay for soccer games that are almost a hundred million dollars over budget already”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is calling on Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim to release updated cost estimates for the FIFA World Cup games scheduled for 2026. The CTF is also warning Toronto taxpayers that FIFA bills are spiralling in that city.

“Vancouver taxpayers deserve accountability when hundreds of millions are on the line,” said Carson Binda, British Columbia Director for the CTF. “Costs have ballooned in Toronto and Vancouver needs to be honest with its taxpayers about how much the soccer games are going to cost.”

Recent financial estimates have blown past the initial budget in Toronto. In 2022, Toronto expected the total cost of hosting world cup games would be $290 million. That number has now ballooned by 31 per cent to $380 million.

“Toronto taxpayers can’t afford to pay for soccer games that are almost a hundred million dollars over budget already,” Binda said. “That’s unacceptable when taxpayers are getting clobbered with higher taxes.”

Currently, the cost to host seven games in Vancouver is up to $260 million, however the provincial and municipal governments have consistently failed to produce updated cost estimates.

“What are Premier David Eby and Mayor Ken Sim hiding?” Binda said. “They need to stop hiding the numbers and tell taxpayers how much these soccer games are going to cost us.”

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Economy

Canada’s struggling private sector—a tale of two cities

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From the Fraser Institute

By Jason Clemens and Joel Emes

” the private sector must generate the income used to pay for government bureaucrats and government programs. When commercial centres have lower median employment incomes than capital cities, the private sector may be in real distress. “

According to almost every indicator including economic growth, business investment, entrepreneurship, and the employment and unemployment rates, Canada’s private sector is struggling.

A novel way to think about the sorry state of the private sector is to compare income levels in “commercial” cities (basically, cities with little to no provincial or federal government activity and largely characterized by private business activity) with income levels in capital cities, which are dominated by government.

Since the beginning of COVID (February 2020) to June 2023, government-sector job growth in Canada was 11.8 per cent compared to just 3.3 per cent for the private sector (including the self-employed). Put differently, the government sector is booming while the private sector is anemic.

The marked growth in employment in the government sector compared to the private sector is also important because of the wage premiums paid in the government. A 2023 study using data from Statistics Canada for 2021 (the latest year of available data at the time), found that—after controlling for factors such as sex, age, marital status, education, tenure, industry, occupation and location—government workers (federal, provincial and local) enjoyed an 8.5 per cent wage premium over their private-sector counterparts. And this wage gap does not include the more generous pensions typically enjoyed by government workers, their earlier retirement, and lower rates of job loss (i.e. greater job security).

According to a separate recent study, five of the 10 provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec and New Brunswick) have a distinct commercial centre other than the capital city, and in all five provinces in 2019 (pre-pandemic) the median employment income in the capital city exceeded that of the commercial centre, sometimes by a wide margin. For example, the median employment income in Quebec City was $41,290 compared to $36,660 in Montreal. (The study used median income instead of average income to control for the effect of a small percentage of very high-income earners that can influence the average income for a city.)

Remember, the private sector must generate the income used to pay for government bureaucrats and government programs. When commercial centres have lower median employment incomes than capital cities, the private sector may be in real distress.

Equally as telling is the comparison with the United States. Twenty-three U.S. states have a capital that’s distinct from their main commercial centre, but among that group, only five (North Dakota, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and Kentucky) had capital cities that clearly had higher levels of median employment income compared to the main commercial centre in the state. This is not to say the U.S. doesn’t have similar problems in its private sector, but its commercial centres generate higher median employment incomes than the capital cities in their states, indicating a potentially better functioning private sector within the state.

Many indicators in Canada are flashing red alerts regarding the health of the economy. The comparative strength of our capital cities compared to commercial centres in generating employment income is yet another sign that more attention and policy reforms are needed to reinvigorate our private sector, which ultimately pays for the government sector.

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