I have a question: How will the government support creators in a post-pandemic world? Previously the government had supported the creator economy through Canadian broadcasting regulations which promoted Canadian content—art, music, movies, and television produced in Canada. But is this still the case in 2021 with the explosion of the internet and user-generated content? Given this explosion, what is Canadian content, exactly? Is it the Canadian travel vlogger? Or is it the Canadian influencer who moved to Los Angeles for career opportunities? Ottawa thinks it has the solution to supporting these creators: Bill C-10.
Bill C-10, from a birds-eye view, is a new package of reforms designed to modernize the Broadcasting Act. In theory, this is a good thing, considering that the Canadian broadcasting regulations were established in the 1970’s. But why am I bringing up philosophical questions about Canadian content and a piece of legislation that people have just now come across, or more likely, have never heard of? Because I believe that Ottawa misunderstands how the creator economy works and why subjecting user-generated content to regulations meant for broadcasting is a massive mistake.
What exactly does this bill do? Bill C-10 intends to subject social media platforms to the same rules that regulate Canadian television. The goal, in theory, is to ensure that Canadian creators will be supported on large streaming platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, etc. However, the main controversy from previous drafts of the bill was that user-generated content would have been subject to Canadian Radio and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) regulations, meaning all content posted by individuals on social media platforms must meet CRTC standards and practices. These standards mandate that 50-60 percent of the content on Canadian airwaves must be Canadian. To qualify as Canadian, the content must meet the following standards:
- the producer must be Canadian and is responsible for monitoring and making decisions pertaining to the program;
- the production earns a minimum of 6 out of 10 points based on the key creative functions that are performed by Canadians;
- at least one of either the director or screenwriter positions and at least one of the two lead performers must be Canadian;
- a minimum of 75% of program expenses and 75% of post-production expenses are paid for services provided by Canadians or Canadian companies.
One might argue that this concern is overblown and that there is no possible way for the government to monitor every post created by content creators. This might be true, but it does leave the door open to abuse on the part of government, giving it the power to police speech and freedom of expression online, by removing content that did not meet government standards. Fortunately, this section was removed and replaced with a requirement that large platforms such as YouTube must promote “Canadian” content and pay into CanCon, a fund designed to support Canadian content creators.
If CRTC guidelines won’t be applied to individual Canadian content creators, there’s no issue, right? I would argue that there still is, and it boils down to global competitiveness. I’m not talking about traditional metrics of soft or hard power. I’m talking about the freedom of internet access for consumers. In international relations terms, you might think of this as freedom of the seas. Essentially, making the Canadian internet look different from the rest of the world is an ill-advised idea. What the government is overlooking is that we no longer live in a world where controlling content is acceptable to consumers, and there are ways to get around content blocking and government restrictions. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) come to mind as the best example of these methods. After a modest fee is paid with the click of a button, you can make your computer or phone appear to be based anywhere in the world. So, there is very little, in practice, which stops an internet user in any Canadian province or territory from coast to coast to coast from getting around Ottawa’s efforts to make the internet in the image of the Canadian cultural industry.
However, there is one further issue with how this bill was drafted: a lack of wide-spread democratic engagement with the public concerning this bill. In essence, we are seeing yet another example of a very Canadian process: small stakeholder groups receiving access to the policymaking process, with negative implications for Canadian democracy as a whole.
So far, I have spent this article criticizing the federal governments policy decisions without offering a solution to supporting creatives while allowing greater public access to policy development. It could be argued that if the wider public had been involved in the process, solutions outside of CanCon would have been suggested. As an example, helping establish or bolstering home-grown platforms for a mix of Canadian and international content. While this has been tried before, there was an opportunity to support initiatives that fit the realities of Canadian pricing for goods and services, especially compared to American counterparts. Instead, legislation was developed that will harm consumer choice, and potentially drive consumers to circumvent this bill. This is easy to do and already happens for other purposes. What does this mean? In the long run, Canadian content creators may lose out on revenue due to this bill, thus not only hurting their livelihoods but diminishing their creative abilities as well. Additionally, long-standing issues of democratic engagement will persist in the policymaking process, which will harm democratic legitimacy of laws passed in all Canadian capitals, given the calls for more direct democracy in Canada.
 At the time of writing, Bill C-10 has been referred to the Canadian senate, which may result in potential changes to the proposed Act.
Brady Kroeker is an MPA candidate with experience in the post-secondary disability sector as Saskatchewan director for a national disability non-profit organization. Through this work, he has been involved on several advocacy efforts, such as consultations with the federal civil service on the Canada Emergency Student Benefit. Most recently, he is participating in the Access and Equity Services policy revision group at the University of Saskatchewan.