Justin Trudeau’s new heritage minister has a chance to reset the Liberal government’s controversial plans to regulate social media and internet giants. The question is whether he will take it.
Trudeau tapped veteran MP and cabinet minister Pablo Rodriguez to lead the heritage portfolio Tuesday, part of a wider reset of his cabinet after September’s general election.
The heritage file has presented surprising political risks for Trudeau’s ministers. Melanie Joly ran into trouble over a deal with Netflix that saw the streaming giant promise a $500-million investment in Canadian content, but did not subject the company to Canadian sales taxes.
More recently, rookie minister Steven Guilbeault introduced Bill C-10, a poorly received attempt to modernize broadcasting rules to reflect the new internet-driven landscape.
The legislation was meant to bring internet content under broadcasting rules, in recognition that Canadians consume media differently in the internet age than when the Broadcasting Act was last reformed in 1991.
But it became a political lightning rod after the Liberals removed protections for user-generated content, which critics argued would subject Canadians’ social media accounts to CRTC regulations. And it wasn’t just opposition parties that were critical of the bill; it was widely panned by civil society organizations and academics.
Rodriguez, who served as Trudeau’s House leader in the last Parliament, is a longtime Quebec MP and seen as a steady hand in the Liberals’ front bench. He also remains Trudeau’s Quebec lieutenant in cabinet.
That responsibility could play a role in C-10’s fate. While the legislation was widely criticized, it was politically popular in Quebec, where C-10’s stated purpose of making Canadian content more “discoverable” on streaming platforms was well received.
“The number one thing we would love to hear from (Rodriguez) is that he’s listening and that he wants to deeper understand where things went wrong last time (with C-10),” said Laura Tribe, the executive director of Open Media, an online advocacy group.
Tribe called C-10 a “crude calculation” to score political points in the lead up to September’s federal election, and said that she’s hopeful Rodriguez will be receptive to the criticism levelled by civil society groups against the legislation.
“The election’s over,” Tribe said. “I hope we can kind of get back to what does the entire country need, not looking riding-by-riding, and we can actually feed into some of these more nuanced conversations to try and understand what the potential ripple effects of these policies are, and mitigate them upfront.”
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