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Report on Business ‘If you benefit, you contribute:’ Heritage Minister expects digital giants to contribute to Cancon

While a panel is still considering its recommendations for modernizing Canada’s broadcast legislation, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has signalled an intention to regulate digital streaming for the first time – if the Liberal government is re-elected this fall.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr. Rodriguez wrote that the government intends to ensure that all players in the Canadian broadcasting system, “including the web giants,” are responsible for contributing to the broadcasting system. That includes providing “meaningful levels of Canadian content” on their services, promoting that content and making it easier to find, and contributing to the creation of Cancon.

The statement was a response to questions from reporters about a tweet by the minister last week, thanking a panel currently reviewing the Broadcasting Act for their work and saying that “we’ll require web giants to create Canadian content + promote it on their platforms.”

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Mr. Rodriguez declined requests for an interview on Friday and on Monday, and press secretary Simon Ross declined to specify whether the minister meant that digital services should contribute financially, such as through spending level requirements of the kind currently enforced for TV broadcasters in Canada. The panel reviewing the Broadcasting Act will have to determine the form that a contribution takes, Mr. Ross said.

However, the statement is a signal to the panel on the direction the current government wants to take. The panel was appointed in June, 2018, to review the laws governing both the broadcast and telecommunications sectors, and released a report last week detailing recommendations put forward during months of consultations on the issue. The group will make their recommendations to the government by January.

The coming federal election will determine who hears those recommendations and decides what to do with them. Broadcast policy is overseen by the Department of Canadian Heritage, while telecom falls under Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Both industries are regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Mr. Rodriguez intends to repeat the points he made in the statement through the course of the campaign, Mr. Ross said, which also included a commitment to give the CRTC more “modern tools" to regulate a broadcasting sector that has moved beyond traditional television.

The minister’s statement Tuesday seems to align with recommendations the panel heard from the CBC as well as the three largest private broadcasters – BCE Inc., which owns CTV and other channels under its Bell Media division; Rogers Communications Inc., which owns City and other channels under Rogers Media; and Corus Entertainment Inc., which owns the Global network as well as a number of specialty channels. All of their submissions asked that the government impose regulations on digital streaming services – either through a legislative change or through a policy directive – to contribute in some way to the system.

Meanwhile, services such as Netflix have argued they already invest in making shows in Canada and do not need to be regulated. Mr. Rodriguez also referred in the statement to creating “a level playing field” for competition, echoing a phrase used frequently by the broadcasters in the course of the review.

“Our end goal is clear: if you benefit, you contribute,” Mr. Rodriguez wrote.

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