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Monte Solberg: Conservatives need a strong climate agenda. Conservation is a key issue they can lead on

Commentary
Parks Canada aquatic specialist Shelley Humphries working on the project to reintroduce the native cutthroat trout at Hidden Lake in Banff National Park near Lake Louise on Friday, Sept 1, 2022. Todd Korol/The Canadian Press.

I wish Parliament would occasionally meet on the “commons” (the common grazing lands) to make decisions as farmers and villagers did a thousand years ago, debating while listening to the birds and as shepherds gathered the flock. The outdoors could only make MPs more agreeable. They’d more readily appreciate that their food, water, clothing, housing, energy, and the air we breathe originates in nature and the land, not Walmart or the local gas station. Conservatives might recall their ancient connection to the land and transcendent responsibility to be “stewards” of a rich inheritance.

The name “conservative” should make it clear. Russell Kirk, author of, The Conservative Mind, Burke to Eliot, wrote in 1971 that “nothing is more conservative than conservation.” But, if the connection between conservation and conservatism still isn’t obvious, I’ll make my case.

First, a political argument. Valuing nature finds its greatest expression in rural areas, the conservative heartland. Conservative farmers and ranchers have long worked with conservation organizations, made up largely of conservative-leaning anglers and hunters, to preserve ecologically valuable lands. Conservation tax breaks and, more recently, direct payments have made it possible for landowners to continue farming and ranching while also conserving on what have become known as “working landscapes.” This decades-long relationship has succeeded in conserving millions of hectares of the best habitat in Canada.

Prime Minister Harper, who was no spendthrift, paid conservation organizations a high compliment in 2014 by entrusting them to drive a $252 million government of Canada commitment to preserving ecologically sensitive lands. He said that to achieve that “Canadians should become willingly and eagerly a community of stewards.” Conservative legislators today should build on this rich legacy. President Reagan said in his 1984 State of the Union address that “Preservation of the environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge. It is common sense.” It is also a powerful animating force in society.

Even before Sir John. A. Macdonald established Banff as our first national park in 1885, Canadians revered our natural inheritance. It is a dominant theme in our history, literature, and art, central in our national symbols, and core to our national identity. But we don’t just admire nature, we need it. It is the mind-altering drug that pulls us out of our smartphones and out of our own heads to look on in wonder at towering trees, an endless prairie sky, the crashing ocean, or our majestic mountains.

We need the solitude of nature so much that we spend thousands of dollars to go in large crowds to see it. Banff alone attracts as many as five million people a year. Nature tourism is a multi-billion-dollar business. There are votes in catering to anyone whose heart quickens when a moose enters the yard, or a fox runs across the campground. Conservation is the everyman approach to environmentalism. Conservatives should accept Harper’s challenge and encourage Canadians to become a “community of stewards.”

Then there is that bracing “c” word, climate. Natural gas exports to replace coal, carbon capture, utilization, and storage, harnessing technology, and rolling out more nuclear energy are all needed to mitigate climate change, but they are long-term, and they aren’t enough. A vigorous approach to conservation would be an immediate and significant help.

There is a lot of carbon in a tree. A significant portion—11 percent, according to the UN Environment Programme—of the world’s annual GHG emissions come from deforestation and degradation. Canada’s forest lands footprint has been stable for the last 30-plus years, but before that we were anything but good stewards. On the Prairies we pulled down vast stands of aspen and poplar trees while draining 70 percent of our wetlands and ploughing up 80 percent of our native grasslands, all massive stores of carbon. Urban centres across southern Canada have cut down millions of hectares of trees and drained wetlands to make way for office towers, parking lots, and suburbs. We need places to live and work but we were often reckless in how and where we built.

Protecting what is left and restoring at least some of what we lost will cut GHGs while avoiding the release of future emissions, but that’s not all. It will also provide habitat protection for wildlife, mitigate drought and floods, filter and clean our air and water, and protect pollinators and food production, all while providing recreation opportunities and giving us a mental break from the chaos of modern life.

This aligns well with farming’s new emphasis on soil conservation via regenerative agriculture, an approach that encourages practices that restore soil health, such as zero-tillage, planting cover crops, and less intense application of herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers. This saves money for farmers and, as the soil grows healthier, it stores significantly more carbon.

Best of all is that everyone can be a conservation steward, and conservation doesn’t carry the risk inherent in some climate projects. Nature’s technology works every time. Photosynthesis has been sequestering carbon in the soil since plants first appeared on land. As Lincoln said, “What is conservatism? Is it not the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?” Conservation is a proven best practice and a political winner. Conservatives should embrace conservation as a foundational plank in tackling Canada’s modern environmental challenges.

Peter Menzies: Say goodbye to Netflix, Canada? Why the Online Streaming Act might just run them (and other international streamers) out of the country

Commentary
A television remote control shows buttons to access streaming services Netflix and Amazon Prime, in a photo illustration made in Toronto, March 22, 2024. Giordano Ciampini/The Canadian Press.

You have money. Our dependents want some. Give it to them.

That, in a nutshell, describes the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) initial decision stemming from its 2023 hearing—the first of many it will be holding in the years to come in order to implement the Online Streaming Act. Its initial effort to “modernize” the Broadcasting Act has not only upheld its traditional role as a vessel of wealth redistribution, it works hard to swiftly turn on the cash taps and get money into the hands of as many key voting demographics and influencers —including newsrooms—as possible in time for the 2025 election.

In doing so, it has also punted a number of awkward and vital decisions into the future, sprinkling hope among those having to pay up that they might yet get some credit for what they are already spending and keeping alive the dreams of traditional funders that they will have their financial burdens relieved down the road.

But as things stand, foreign streamers will have to pay 5 percent of their Canadian revenues into a plethora of funds to support folks the vote farmers at the CRTC are convinced can’t survive without their support.

Here’s the list and the allocations from the video streamers (minimum portions for francophone/Quebec content also apply):

  • 2 percent to the Canada Media Fund and/or direct expenditures towards certified Canadian content;
  • 1.5 percent to the Independent Local News Fund;
  • 0.5 percent to the Black Screen Office Fund, the Canadian Independent Screen Fund for BIPOC creators, and/or the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund;
  • 0.5 percent to the Certified Independent Production Funds supporting Official Language Minority Community producers and producers from diverse communities; and
  • 0.5 percent to the Indigenous Screen Office Fund.

Music/audio-only streamers will have their pockets picked like this.

  • 2 percent to FACTOR (a music/musician development fund) and Musicaction (similar);
  • 1.5 percent to a new temporary fund supporting local news production by commercial radio stations;
  • 0.5 percent to the Canadian Starmaker Fund and Fonds RadioStar;
  • 0.5 percent to the Community Radio Fund of Canada;
  • 0.35 percent to direct expenditures targeting the development of Canadian and Indigenous content and/or a variety of selected funds; and
  • 0.15 percent to the Indigenous Music Office and a new fund to support Indigenous music.

In other words, a fund for everyone! Every one of those groups—a potpourri of the self-styled needy—gets a piece of the pie.

They will be happy. According to the CRTC, this decision will put an additional $200 million into their pockets.

You might well wonder why companies such as Netflix, Spotify, and Apple should have to fund broadcast news reporters—including those employed by Bell and Rogers—as none of them produces news. No doubt the executives of those and other companies are pondering the same and calculating the global cost of compliance with such a demand. Because, as Canadians learned from the debacle of the Online News Act, “the world is watching” and whatever demands global companies concede to in one country could very well be replicated in others.

So, if they agree to fund news in Canada, why wouldn’t the U.S. expect them to do the same there? Or, hey, India? And how much would that cost?

If you were an executive at Spotify—a company whose highest net profit ever was 5 percent—and you were being asked to cough up that same amount in Canada, what would you do? Stay and pay or pack your bags?

It should be noted that there were a couple of bright spots in the decision. One is that the CRTC, having initially proposed that its regulations would apply to companies with $10 million or more in Canadian revenue, moved that number to $25 million. That will be a relief to some of the smaller streamers. But while it may lessen the risk they will flee the country, it could also discourage them from investing and growing into scope.

The CRTC also excluded revenue derived from user-generated content from its calculations which, for companies such as TikTok, is a big win.

The bad news is that, as with Spotify, streamers such as Netflix (net profit margin 18 percent) are going to have to find the 5 percent from somewhere. The apparent options are to a) reduce current investment in Canadian film and television; b) increase subscription costs to consumers, c) lay people off/reduce overhead, or d) leave the country. The CRTC decision is rather cleverly constructed to avoid the nuclear option of d)—at least until after the election—by promising in the future to perhaps give credits for money already being spent on production. And maybe a more workable definition of Canadian content. Maybe.

Nevertheless, as a source within the industry told me:

“I’m renewing my VPN subscriptions because I don’t see why Netflix, Amazon, Disney, et al. would continue operating in Canada.”

Neither do I.

In his blog, Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa described the streamers’ dilemma like this:

“The streaming companies themselves will rarely, if ever, be eligible for the money they are required to pay, creating an obvious inequity of mandated payments without benefits. In fact, their existing contributions, which notably include massive film and television production investment in Canada, are entirely ignored.”

There will have been much toasting and popping of corks among those designated to receive the loot being torn from the bottom lines of offshore streamers.

And there will be some sadness within the executive corridors of Bell, Rogers, et al. that they got no regulatory relief from their current obligations to most of the funds listed above. That’s another matter the CRTC has set aside for the future, likely because had it met Canadian companies’ requests to have their contributions reduced (Bell asked for a decrease from 30 percent of broadcast revenues to 20 percent), the net benefit the regulator could have announced to its co-dependents would have been much, much less.

The streamers haven’t called a cab to the airport yet. And I’m not sure they are even packing their bags. But there’s little doubt they’ll be making sure their passports are up to date.