A “time allocation” motion seeking to limit the study of Bill C-10, a controversial bill critics see as the government’s attempt to restrict freedom of expression, was adopted in the House of Commons on June 7.
In a 181–147 vote, the minority Liberals with the backing of the Bloc Quebecois reduced the study of Bill C-10 by the Commons heritage committee to no more than “five further hours.”
Several MPs criticized the Liberal’s use of the time allocation motion invoked under Standing Order 78(3), which has been used only three times since 1996 and never for such a short period.
Conservative MP Rachael Harder said during debate on June 4 that because the motion allocated fewer than 10 hours, “it is not consistent with the usual practice of the House and must therefore be ruled out of order.”
Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell said it was an attempt by the government “to muzzle parliamentarians.”
“The government is using its power to interfere directly in the work of committees, although it keeps saying the opposite,” Deltell said in Parliament on June 8.
“The fact that some opposition parties are okay with this is beyond comprehension.”
Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault defended the motion, saying “time allocation motions remain exceptional measures that we use in exceptional circumstances,” and accused the Conservatives of stalling the bill during committee meetings.
“During the first four Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage meetings where Bill C-10 was being studied, the committee made it through 79 amendments. In the 11 subsequent meetings, when the Conservative Party began filibustering, the committee was only able to review and vote on seven amendments,” Guilbeault said on June 7.
“If the committee can resume its initial pace, there is ample time to get through all of the amendments still before it.”
Bill C-10 was introduced by Guilbeault on Nov. 3, 2020, with the aim of bringing internet content providers under the regulation of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The legislation aims to regulate YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms, as well as require streaming giants such as Netflix to make financial contributions to support Canadian content.
The bill became more controversial on April 26 after the Liberals removed a section that exempted user-generated content from regulation. Critics said the amendment would infringe freedom of speech as content posted on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook would be subjected to federal regulation.
On May 6, the Liberals proposed another amendment, which was adopted by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. It limits the CRTC’s power over user-generated content to only mandating the social media platforms to implement rules on “discoverability” of Canadian content—that is, to make them recommend content from Canadian creators to users.
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, has a 20-part blog post series on his website examining many of the concerns around Bill C-10, including issues such as “over-broad regulation and discoverability requirements that would only garner public attention many months later.”
He was also highly critical of the Liberal motion to limit debate on the bill, calling it a gag order.
“While the bill is in dire need of fixing, what occurred yesterday was far worse than a blunder. It was a betrayal. A betrayal of the government’s commitment to ‘strengthen Parliamentary committees so that they can better scrutinize legislation.’ A betrayal of the promise to do things differently from previous governments. A betrayal of Canada’s values as a Parliamentary democracy,” he posted on June 8.
Green Party MP Elizabeth May said using the time allocation motion to impose a committee to “report back more quickly than it is normally able to do” sets a bad precedent that could have long-term negative effects.
“This kind of motion on time allocation will do real damage to this place, not just today, not just tomorrow, but in the coming years, when we will find this used more and more to whip committees into shape,” she said in the House on June 7.