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.
Trudeau gov’t set to introduce another internet regulation bill this week
While the Trudeau government claims its forthcoming ‘Online Harms’ bill is being created to protect kids, Conservative Party of Canada head Pierre Poilievre said that the federal government is just looking for clever ways to enact internet censorship laws.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is introducing its “online harms” legislation this week, spurring fears that this may mean the revival of parts of a lapsed bill from 2021 which looked to target free speech by banning certain legal internet content.
The new bill, by Liberal Justice Minister Arif Virani, was posted on the House of Commons notice paper for February 26, 2024, and will soon be read in Parliament.
The Online Harms Act will modify existing laws, amending the Criminal Code as well as the Canadian Human Rights Act, in what the Trudeau Liberals claim will target certain cases of internet content removal, notably those involving child sexual abuse and pornography.
The new bill will also create an ombudsperson who will be charged with dealing with public complaints regarding online content, as well as put forth a regulatory function that will be charged with monitoring internet platform behaviors.
While the Trudeau government claims the bill is being created to protect kids, Conservative Party of Canada head Pierre Poilievre said that the federal government is looking for clever ways to enact internet censorship laws.
During a February 21 press conference, Poilievre said that Trudeau is looking to, in effect, criminalize speech he does not like.
“What does Justin Trudeau mean when he says the word ‘hate speech?’ He means speech he hates,” said Poilievre.
Virani had many times last year hinted that a new Online Harms Act bill would be forthcoming in 2024.
Of important note is that the new Online Harms Act looks to amend Canada’s Human Rights Act, to put back in place a hate speech provision, specifically, Section 13 of the Act, which the previous Conservative government under Stephen Harper had repealed in 2013.
Many fear that the new bill will be similar to the failed June 2021 bill introduced by then-Justice Minister David Lametti. Lametti had introduced Bill 36, “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act and to make related amendments to another Act (hate propaganda, hate crimes and hate speech),” which was blasted as a controversial “hate speech” law that would give police the power to “do something” about online “hate.”
It was feared that if passed, it would target bloggers and social media users for speaking their minds.
Bill C-36 included text to amend Canada’s Criminal Code and Human Rights Act to define “hatred” as “the emotion that involves detestation or vilification and that is stronger than dislike or disdain (haine).”
If passed, the bill would have theoretically allow a tribunal to judge anyone who has a complaint of online “hate” leveled against them, even if he has not committed a crime. If found guilty, the person would have been in violation of the new law and could have faced fines of up to $70,000 as well as house arrest.
Two other Trudeau bills dealing with freedom as it relates to the internet have become law, the first being Bill C-11, or the Online Streaming Act, which mandates that Canada’s broadcast regulator the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) oversee regulating online content on platforms such as YouTube and Netflix to ensure that such platforms are promoting content in accordance with a variety of its guidelines.
Trudeau’s other internet censorship law, the Online News Act, was passed by the Senate in June of last year.
The Online News Act mandated that Big Tech companies pay to publish Canadian content on their platforms. As a result, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has blocked all access to news content in Canada.
Critics of Trudeau’s recent laws, such as tech mogul Elon Musk, have said it shows that “Trudeau is trying to crush free speech in Canada.”
Canadians in three provinces will spend roughly the same on debt interest as K-12 education
From the Fraser Institute
From 2008/09 to 2023/24, the federal government is projected to have run deficits every single year, with no interruptions. This has resulted in federal net debt (total debt minus financial assets) increasing by $603.6 billion (inflation-adjusted).
For more than a decade, Canadian governments have increasingly relied on borrowed money to fund their excessive spending habits. However, as debt has continued to pile up so have the costs associated with this debt—namely interest costs. A recent study shows that in some of the largest provinces, governments now spend nearly as much or more on debt interest costs than on K-12 education.
Since the 2008/09 financial crisis, governments across Canada have fallen into the habit of utilizing debt to fund their spending habits. For example, consider the federal government.
From 2008/09 to 2023/24, the federal government is projected to have run deficits every single year, with no interruptions. This has resulted in federal net debt (total debt minus financial assets) increasing by $603.6 billion (inflation-adjusted). Conversely, from 1996/97 to 2007/08, the federal government actually lowered its net debt by $348.1 billion (inflation-adjusted). Clearly, there’s been a shift in the government’s approach towards debt accumulation.
This is not simply a federal problem, as provinces have also seen their debt burdens rise as well. Cumulatively, provincial and federal net debt has increased by $1.0 trillion (inflation-adjusted) from 2007/08 to 2023/24.
Government debt carries costs, primarily in the form of the interest payments, which represent money that doesn’t go towards paying down the actual debt amount, nor does it go towards providing government services or tax relief. And since governments must utilize tax revenues to pay interest, taxpayers are ultimately on the hook for servicing government debt.
But how much do Canadians actually pay in debt interest costs?
Using data from the most recent fiscal updates, a new study compares combined (federal and provincial) debt interest costs for residents in three of the largest provinces (Ontario, Quebec and Alberta) with what those provinces expect to spend on K-12 education in 2023/24. The study utilizes combined debt interest costs because Canadians are ultimately responsible for interest costs incurred by both the federal government and the province in which they live. The following chart summarizes the comparisons from the study.
As is clear from the chart, combined interest costs for residents in these provinces are nearly as much or more than their province expects to spend on K-12 education in 2023/24. Specifically, combined interest costs are $31.5 billion for Ontarians, which is only $3.2 billion less than the province will spend on K-12 education in 2023/24. Combined interest costs for Quebecers ($20.3 billion) will actually exceed the $19.9 billion the province will devote towards K-12 education. And combined interest costs for Albertans are only slightly lower than the $8.9 billion that will be spent on K-12 education.
In other words, taxpayers in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta are paying nearly as much or more to service federal and provincial government debt than they are paying to fund K-12 education in their province. This budget season, it’s important to remember the costs associated with growing government debt.
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