If the Trudeau Liberals were driven by an ideology centred on torpedoing young Canadians’ economic prospects, would their policy decisions look any different? The Senate concludes hearings this week for the latest landmine thrown millennials’ and Gen Z’s way: Bill C-11, also known as the Online Streaming Act.
It may as well be called the Get A “Real” Job Act, or the Curb Canadian Influence Act –– or, better yet, the Because We Said So Act. Any of these would better reflect C-11’s potentially disastrous impacts on young creators, who are perhaps better described as ambitious entrepreneurs, as well as our country’s next generation of arts, film, media and even political stars.
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Bill C-11, which has already passed through the House of Commons, intends to amend the desperately outdated Broadcasting Act for the streaming age. This is absolutely necessary, but where the Liberals erred, as they so often do, was failing to turn broad strokes into actionable details that don’t soil the entire canvas.
Most concerning is C-11’s insistence on applying broadcast-era Canadian content (CanCon) rules to a digital age where they not only don’t make sense, but could cause harm to those they supposedly seek to protect and promote. This is either lazy legislating or reflective of being entirely out of touch with how social media and streaming actually work –– the equivalent of grandpa trying to fix his iPad by sticking an antenna on it.
On social media, the Online Streaming Act plans to influence “discoverability,” which is how platforms like YouTube and TikTok surface content to users, populate their personalized feeds and curate their homepages. The Liberals would like Canadian content to be more discoverable, which they reason will lead to more views, more engagement and more cultural influence at home and abroad.
At last week’s Senate hearings, Tim Denton, former CRTC chairman and current chairman of the Internet Society’s Canada Chapter Society, called the bill “a lazy continuation of a dumb idea” and a “powergrab over human communication across the internet that deserves our distinct disdain.”
The problem is two-fold. First, C-11 assumes social media companies can simply be directed to magically tweak their algorithms in favour of Canadians. While they can certainly force feed more Canadian content to users, the move would likely backfire. This is because the path to virality on YouTube, TikTok and others depends on watchtime and engagement.
If platforms serve content to users just because it’s Canadian and not because it’s relevant or interesting to them, they won’t click, watch it through, like, comment or share. In the eyes of algorithms, this will mark the content as low value and ultimately suppress it from reaching a wider audience outside Canada. Creators could actually see their content do worse, not better.
This is particularly harmful because the path to social media success, both in terms of cultural impact and income, largely relies on reaching global audiences. It’s simple math: there are a lot more international viewers out there than Canadian ones. Larger markets also tend to have more lucrative advertising and sponsorship deals.
Whether algorithmic meddling backfires or Canadian creators’ content is forced to become less interesting to non-Canadians, the damage is the same.
This brings us to C-11’s other major issue. It doesn’t define what qualifies as Canadian content –– a problem that already plagues the film and broadcast industries as productions that star or are written by Canadians often aren’t considered CanCon while those that train themselves to tick a rigid list of boxes are.
The question becomes even more impossibly complex online. Is Canadian content simply made by a Canadian creator? What if they’re a non-Canadian who produces their content in Canada? What if the Canadian creator travels or shoots videos abroad? What if their podcast or video editor is overseas? Does the topic have to be Canada-related? What exactly is Canadian culture?
Add to that C-11’s thematic focus on “linguistic duality” and promoting a plurality of racialized communities, ethnocultural backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds and more, and the issue muddies further. Will French-speaking creators receive disproportionate “discoverability” simply because of the language they speak? Will this in turn disadvantage them if their videos are surfaced to non-French audiences? The questions are practically endless, which is not the sign of a bill ready to pass the Senate.
Handing the government more power to decide what’s Canadian and who gets to represent Canadian ideas and culture is an obviously treacherous path that imperils the free speech of all Canadians, but especially younger generations who’ve built their voices and businesses online.
And there’s little evidence Canadian creators need the government’s help at all. There are many successful YouTubers, TikTokers and more who’ve gained massive influence and wealth inside and outside Canada’s borders. Some of our biggest, and most diverse, cultural exports got their start on social media including Justin Bieber, Lilly Singh, Gigi Gorgeous and Tesher, whose music gained a global audience via TikTok and landed him not just a Punjabi-English collab with Jason Derulo on the hit song “Jalebi Baby,” but a 2022 Juno nomination for breakthrough artist of the year.
In a recent opinion article about Bill C-11 for the Regina-Leader Post, Tesher, whose real name is Hitesh Sharma, writes, “If passed as is, it could prevent digital-first Canadian artists from achieving that same success — and joy — I felt.”
Jesse Kline: C-11 will enable Liberals to management all that you simply see and listen to on-line
Timothy Denton: Our authorities is censoring us, and with Bill C-11 it’ll get worse
“There are no gatekeepers on TikTok. If your content is good and engaging, it finds an audience,” wrote Sharma, who describes himself as a “self-taught Indian kid from Saskatchewan, with no industry connections.” Because he sings in Hindi, Punjabi and English, he benefited significantly from his music being found globally and first constructed a fan base outdoors of Canada.
Had Bill C-11 existed when Sharma started creating music on TikTok, would he nonetheless be the rising star he’s immediately? Would his content material have been Canadian sufficient? Maybe not. “Bill C-11 threatens that low-barrier path — one based on talent and audience preference, rather than government-established quotas,” he writes.
If the Senate is meant to be a verify and stability on the House of Commons, that is a prime alternative to show its significance to Canadians. Bill C-11 isn’t simply clearly flawed, it stands to actively hurt free expression and financial alternative. With Pierre Poilievre siphoning youthful help away from the left, you’d assume the very last thing Trudeau’s Liberals would need to do is to erect extra gates to their success.
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