Conservatives fundraise on YouTube lies

Message from the President Jerry Dias

It seems Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives just can’t pass up any opportunity to feed the party’s right-wing base and do some fundraising.

The Conservatives are standing in front of microphones and e-mailing supporters spinning a myth that the CRTC is going to police the YouTube and Facebook video uploads of everyday citizens.

If Bill C-10 – legislation updating the long-standing Canadian content obligations of commercial broadcasters for the modern era of Internet streaming – gets caught in this political crossfire, O’Toole doesn’t mind.

When money is on the table, O’Toole forgets about his pledge to move his party out of the wacky wilderness where his right-wing MPs like to play.

O’Toole’s Conservatives are pushing a story of how Bill C-10 gives the CRTC the power to muzzle freedom of expression over social media.

“That means that a government-run organization – the CRTC – would have the final say on what Canadians can and cannot post on the internet,” a Conservative email to supporters.

False. Here’s what is actually happening.

The Broadcasting Act is meant to ensure that TV companies provide Canadians with our own news, sports and entertainment programming. Living next door to an American cultural juggernaut 10 times our size and financial might, we require Canadian broadcasters and cable companies to deliver a minimum of Canadian content. For good measure, the CRTC sets standards for advertising content (the children are watching).

All of this is as Canadian as beavertails. Even former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney knew it was a good idea when his majority government revised the Act in 1991.

Bill C-10 is the Broadcasting Act adapted to today’s dominant communications technology, the Internet.

It ensures that Netflix and other foreign Internet streamers either make Canadian content, or fund others to do it through existing industry funds for local news, film and documentaries. This is all exactly what Canadian-owned broadcasters and cable companies have been required to do for decades under the Broadcasting Act.

In their own outreach, even the Conservatives agree this is needed.

“We support the original intent of the bill, which would create a level playing field between large foreign streaming services and Canadian broadcasters,” the email reads.

The original bill exempted Facebook and the Google-owned YouTube from Canadian content obligations, but not Netflix and Disney, since the content on social media platforms consists largely of third-party video uploads.

The uploads themselves, and the Canadians who contribute, were also exempted from any regulation.

The Google/Facebook exemption, however, left a loophole big enough to drive a large broadcaster through, one that needed to be closed in a bill that typically only gets updated every 30 years or so.

Social media platforms, after all, are evolving fast. YouTube already has channels and Facebook has pages belonging to sophisticated commercial parties. Some are for-profit broadcasters selling their wares to audiences on an aggregated media platform.

For the last five decades before Internet streaming we called that “cable TV.”

In response, the majority of MPs on the parliamentary Heritage Committee took the Google/Facebook exemption out of the Bill – meaning Silicon Valley may have to play by the same rules to operate in Canada as Netflix and Disney.

Meanwhile, the third party video uploads by ordinary Canadians – and the uploaders themselves – remain firmly and irrevocably exempt from regulation under C-10, subject only to anti-hate and anti-porn laws.

This is not an assault on freedom of expression, but the Conservatives are not letting that get in the way of rallying supporters – claiming, wrongly, that this is an assault on your freedom, despite the exemption for the very people the Conservatives are trying to rally.

“That means that a government-run organization – the CRTC – would have the final say on what Canadians can and cannot post on the internet,” the Conservative email to supporters reads.

Wrong, just straight-up wrong.

There is nothing in this bill that would give any branch of the government any say whatsoever over what you post on the Internet. Any suggestion otherwise is just an attempt to deceive, and plays into the right-wing conspiracy thinking that O’Toole claims to be putting in the past.

If only he would.