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Conservatives accuse Liberals of caving to big tech in online news deal with Google

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OTTAWA -

Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge spoke to a House committee this morning, fresh from finally ending Canada's standoff with Google over the Online News Act, where the Opposition criticized her for caving to big tech.

St-Onge called the agreement announced Wednesday a "historic development" that gives a win to both the federal government and the local news publishers the law is meant to support.

That's despite the fact Google has only agreed to spend a maximum of $100 million a year compensating Canadian news outlets for the use of their content, a figure it was offering up before the law was passed in June.

It's also a far cry from the $172 million that initial government calculations would've demanded.

Conservative Heritage critic Rachael Thomas says all of Google's demands were met and accused the Liberals of negotiating on the company's terms ultimately giving them full control.

Thomas says the deal doesn't address the power imbalance between big tech and the news industry that the government said it would fix with the Online News Act.

She said it's another example of the tech industry colluding with government and she believes it will damage the Canadian news landscape.

The legislation, which is to take effect next month, requires companies like Google and Meta to reach compensation deals with news publishers for content that generates revenue on their platforms.

Meta, which operates Facebook and Instagram, has steadfastly refused to negotiate, opting instead to block its Canadian users from accessing news content.

The law is designed to compensate broadcasters and newspapers, including French-language and Indigenous news organizations, with the total sum for each depending on the number of full-time journalists they have on staff.

"We have found a path forward to answer Google's questions about the process and the act. Google wanted certainty about the amount of compensation it would have to pay to Canadian news outlets," St-Onge said Wednesday.

"Canada reserves the right to reopen our regulations if there are better agreements struck elsewhere in the world."

Google's president of global affairs, Kent Walker, thanked St-Onge for "acknowledging our concerns and deeply engaging in a series of productive meetings about how they might be addressed."

Google says there will be immediate changes to existing deals it has with publishers in Canada under its Google News Showcase agreements, which were part of a $1-billion global investment.

The company said Wednesday it will review its ongoing investments in Canada when the final regulations are published.

Google wouldn't say how much it is already paying publishers under existing contracts, saying such agreements are confidential commercial arrangements.

Companies that fall under the Online News Act must have total global revenue of $1 billion or more in a calendar year, "operate in a search engine or social-media market distributing and providing access to news content in Canada" and have 20 million or more Canadian average monthly unique visitors or average monthly active users.

For now, Google and Meta are the only companies that meet those criteria.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2023.

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