Get our FREE newsletter.
Join now!

Bill C-10 is unpopular but barely anyone knows about it: Poll

News

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to polling on the government’s Bill C-10, which would require online services to promote the creation of Canadian content.

The bad news for the government is that most of the people who have heard of the bill disapprove of it.

The good news, then, is that barely anyone is aware of the controversial bill now winding through Parliament.

Fewer than three in 10 Canadians have even heard of the bill and that number rises to four in 10 among Conservative Party supporters, according to a poll by Public Square and Maru/Blue of 1,508 Canadians on the weekend of April 30, 2021.

A whopping 72 per cent of Canadians are either vaguely aware of the bill or have no knowledge of it at all. Forty percent of Canadians fall into the latter category, having never heard of the bill.

Of those Canadians who are aware of the bill, 11 percent are very supportive of it and 20 percent are somewhat supportive. Fifteen percent are somewhat unsupportive of Bill C-10 and 38 percent are very unsupportive. Ten percent are unsure.

On Monday, MPs on the heritage committee voted to send the bill to the justice minister for a second charter review amid concern about its effect on free speech. And a series of confusing statements in interviews by Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has added to the growing discontent with the bill.

On the weekend, Guilbeault said the CRTC may regulate YouTube accounts with a large following for CanCon requirements, before backtracking the following day. Recent changes to the bill removed an exemption for social media accounts, causing a new round of backlash and fear that the government would be cracking down on the internet activity of individual Canadians.

“It will ensure all Canadians communicating on the internet will do so under the guise of the state,” said Peter Menzies, a former vice-chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications, at a panel discussion about Bill C-10 hosted by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute on Tuesday.

“There is no crisis in the Canadian cultural industry and the government doesn’t seem to understand what it is doing,” said Menzies.

Menzies dryly noted that the government is trying to put the internet under the auspices of the CRTC, emphasizing the words “television” and radio” in the name, and joked that “they are referring to this as modernization.”

Other panelists worried about capricious enforcement under the proposed new regime. Radio host Jamil Jivani urged left-leaning people to consider that one day a government they don’t like — maybe even someone like former U.S. President Donald Trump — could be holding these powers.

“There’s a lot of reasons to hold big tech accountable,” said Jivani. “And if you want to hold these companies accountable, there are much better ideas than what the Trudeau Liberals have put forward.”

Jivani said that given the lack of any meaningful ideas from the government to crack down on big tech, he could only conclude that Bill C-10 is a powergrab.

With some interpretations of the bill suggesting the algorithms that run sites like Twitter and YouTube would have to be quietly tweaked for compliance, it could lead to “shadowbans” of popular and controversial commentators, said Jen Gerson, an Albertan journalist and editor at The Line.

“If you’re an average Canadian looking on YouTube, these really popular commentators would just never show up for you. That’s where we’re getting into a dangerous space where the regulator is putting its thumb on what people can access,” said Gerson.

The removal of the social media exemption has kicked off a debate on free expression and, on that issue, Canadians overwhelmingly support free speech.

Asked to choose between free expression for individuals and promoting Canadian content on social media platforms, 73 percent of Canadians choose free expression.

The polling questionnaire was designed by Public Square Research in partnership with Maru/Blue. The research involved an online survey of 1,508 Canadians from the Maru Voice panel and the survey was fielded on the weekend of April 30, 2021.

Hub Explainer: Why the government’s plan to cut the deficit may be too optimistic

News

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered a stimulus-heavy budget last month that focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, post-pandemic recovery, energy transition and reduction of economic inequality.

The budget commits to $101.4 billion in spending, with marquee items including a commitment of $30 billion over the next five years for a national child care program, an extension of pandemic supports and incentives for the development of zero-emissions energy technology.

Canadians can expect a $354 billion deficit this year but the government projects that the red ink will soon taper off to slightly less eye-popping figures through a combination of restrained spending and economic growth.

“Growth is coming,” Freeland says in the document’s foreword. “We can afford this ambitious budget because the spending we propose today is responsible and sustainable.”

The government’s growth agenda has already come under serious scrutiny, but are the spending projections realistic about the amount of red ink Canadian’s can expect in the future?

How is the economy doing?

The budget projects economic growth of 5.8 percent in 2021, 4.0 percent in 2022, and then levelling off to about 2.0 per cent in 2023-25. There are two key takeaways from this.

First, the budget anticipates that real GDP will reach its pre-pandemic levels over the course of 2021. This raises a fundamental question of whether $100 billion in stimulus spending over three years is even necessary.

Second, the budget anticipates that Canada’s economy will return to about 2 percent growth for 2023-25, which it describes as “reflecting a return to trend long-run growth rates.” That means, by the government’s own projections, the country’s growth will be sluggish over the long run.

Will the government get deficits – and the debt – under control?

The budget projects the deficit to fall from $354.2 billion in 2020-21 to $154.7 billion in the current year and continue falling steadily thereafter. But even by 2025-26, it still projects deficits as high as $30 billion. This is higher than the deficits the government was running prior to the pandemic, even if program spending conforms to the projections.

The net effect will be a significant increase in the federal debt. It stood at $634.4 billion in 2015-16. It is now $1.1 trillion and projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2025-26. In short, the government will have more than doubled the federal debt over a 10-year period.

Crucially, the likelihood of program spending remaining within the government’s projections seems far-fetched. It would require a degree of spending control that we have not seen since 2014-15.

Why the spending numbers might be too optimistic

Annual program spending grew, on average, by 6.4 percent in the first five years of the Trudeau government. It spiked in 2020-21 due to the pandemic and is projected to significantly fluctuate in the subsequent two years as pandemic-related relief is gradually wound down and new stimulus measures are enacted.

Spending is then projected to settle down to more conventional year-over-year changes beginning in 2023-24. The government is projecting that program spending will grow by 2.6 percent that year and an average of 2.8 percent between 2023-24 and 2025-26.

There may be reasons to doubt that the government will sustain annual program spending growth below 3 percent over this period. It would effectively amount to a more than 50-percent cut in year-over-year spending growth relative to pre-pandemic levels. How the government intends to exercise such fiscal restraint after increasing spending by nearly 40 percent in its first five years is largely unexplained.

If the past is prologue, there’s a good probability that average spending growth will amount to something closer to 6.4 percent than 2.8 percent. The result would be to put considerable pressure on the budget deficit.

One example: Program spending is projected to grow by 2.6 percent from $428.7 billion to $439.7 billion between 2022-23 and 2023-24. If it were to grow by 6.4 percent instead, it would go from $428.7 billion to $456.1 billion and the deficit would go from $51 billion to $67.4 billion.

The outcome would potentially be longer and larger deficits than is currently projected. The real story here, then, may not be about how the deficit is shrinking but rather that the medium-term risk is more to the downside than to the upside.