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Canadian YouTubers don’t need the government’s help, committee hears

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The government’s online streaming legislation will negatively impact Canadian new media content creators that are already successful without government intervention, argued prominent Canadian YouTuber and columnist J.J. McCullough at a committee hearing in Ottawa on Wednesday.

“I think the great thing about YouTube and new media is that it allows Canadians to create the kind of content they want, for a market they believe exists,” said McCullough. “They sink or swim based on the popularity of that.”

McCullough compared the government promoting Canadian content to protect it from foreign influences to the rhetoric of authoritarian regimes, arguing that a democratic country like Canada implementing such measures could be copied by those same authoritarian governments.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather questioned the comparison, pointing out that critics don’t usually get a platform, like a committee hearing, to criticize government legislation in authoritarian regimes. In a brief back-and-forth, McCullough responded by criticizing the federal government’s intention to decide what content should be promoted to Canadians.

The committee gathered to hear witness testimony on the bill, which is intended to amend the Broadcasting Act to compel companies like Netflix and YouTube to promote Canadian content, pay into the Canada Media Fund or face stiff financial penalties for failing to do so. YouTube could be forced to recalibrate its algorithms in favour of Canadian content for Canadian users.

Speaking for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), John Lawford said that extending financial support requirements for streaming services like Amazon, and popular social media platforms, is supported by Canadians. However, Lawson called for amendments, stating Bill C-11 goes too far by allowing the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to set financial obligations for all distributors.

Lawson said he supported an exemption for undertakings falling beneath a revenue threshold of $150 million. Furthermore, Lawson cautioned against aggressively promoting Canadian content.

“Consumers naturally resist the insertion of CanCon into automated plays, or algorithmic suggestions, of platforms such as YouTube,” said Lawson. “Digital-first creators are concerned that such discoverability tools will backfire.”

Maria Boltman, director of FRIENDS (formerly Friends of Canadian Broadcasting), said she supports the bill, although she considers it imperfect. Without action, Boltman said foreign tech giants would decide both how Canadian stories are told, and who tells them. Boltman also said those companies don’t pay a fair amount into Canada’s cultural structures and systems.

“With the adoption of Bill C-11, we as a country will finally send a long-overdue notice to these foreign tech giants that their rent is due,” said Boltman. “But we cannot stop there, Bill C-11 must prioritize Canadian ownership and control of our broadcasting system, as well as the content created to serve it.”

Towards the end of the committee’s time, McCullough highlighted the advantages enjoyed by Canadian YouTube content creators, compared to the bureaucracy of traditional media broadcasting, whose representatives made up most of the witness panel.

“I wish we could just erect a big wall between old media and new media,” said McCullough. “They’ve got all these requirements for CanCon that they have to navigate, it just seems like such a stressful, painful word.”

‘I don’t think people recognize the importance of policy’: Donner Prize nominees are a cross-section of Canadian policy problems

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Public policy sounds to most ears like an abstraction. It is research papers, abstruse language, and wonky discussions.

To André Picard, the Globe and Mail’s health care columnist and Donner Prize nominee, it is the scaffolding around our lives.

“I don’t think people recognize the importance of policy in their daily lives, how it affects how they get care and don’t get care. So, to me, it’s all about that. It’s about what does this mean to the public? How do systems matter to people?” said Picard, in a recent interview on the Hub Dialogues podcast.

“I’m kind of obsessed with systems, about administration, things that people don’t really pay attention to even though they’re really important,” he said.

Picard’s book, Neglected No More: The Urgent Need to Improve the Lives of Canada’s Elders in the Wake of a Pandemic, is one of five books shortlisted for the Donner Prize, which will be presented at a gala dinner in Toronto on Tuesday evening.

The other nominees are former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, for his book on value and values; Dan Breznitz, for his book on innovation policy; Stephanie Carvin, for her book on threats to Canada’s national security; and Carol Ann Hilton, for her book on Indigenous leadership, participation, and contribution to the Canadian economy.

Carvin appeared on the Hub Dialogues podcast this week and explained why her book calls for a complete reassessment of threats to Canada’s security.

“I think when we have new and scary situations, we [reassess] out of fear; we do so in a reactionary kind of way. And that’s something else that I’m trying to warn against, which is that we need to ground our responses, strangely enough, in empathy. This may seem counterintuitive because maybe we don’t think of CSIS as the most empathetic organization, and there are many historical reasons for that, but really, from a policy response, this is what we need,” said Carvin, who also said she was excited to see her book on the shortlist for the prize.

“You know honestly, they say it’s an honour to be nominated, and I really mean that. I’m up against some crazy, amazing competition, some just brilliant authors, and just to even see my name out there is like winning the prize itself,” said Carvin.

In a year that featured the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a reckoning about Canadian residential schools, and sluggish economic growth, the shortlist represents a cross-section of the country’s ongoing policy problems.

“I’m especially pleased with this year’s shortlisted books, which cover timely and critical topics—innovation, equitable economic growth, Indigenous economy, national security, and the crisis in elder care,” said David Dodge, who chairs the jury that will choose the winner.

The shortlisted books were published in 2021 and the winner receives a $50,000 prize, while the other nominees each receive $7,500.

Previous winners have included Donald J. Savoie in 2015 for his book about what government excels at and what it should leave to the private sector and Jeffrey Simpson in 2012 for his book on Canadian health care.

The prize has been awarded for more than 20 years and often highlights lesser-known authors who “make an original and meaningful contribution to policy discourse.”

The Donner Canadian Foundation was established in 1950 by businessman and philanthropist William H. Donner, as means of “encouraging private initiative, independence, and individual responsibility” in Canada, contributing more than $150 million to more than 2,500 projects across the country.