OTTAWA -- Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault is calling for MPs to support Canadian creators and “quickly” pass Bill C-10, as he sought to defend the legislation’s aims amid concerns about the implications the Broadcasting Act changes would have for everyday users of social media.

Testifying at the House of Commons Heritage Committee—which is studying Bill C-10 but had put the clause-by-clause review on pause in an effort to gain clarity from the minister and other experts amid ongoing mixed messaging—Guilbeault said several times that the bill is meant to go after platforms, not people.

“I hope the committee will resume its work, and quickly move Bill C-10 back to the House of Commons,” he said.

“The goal is not to regulate content generated by users, such as videos of our children, friends and colleagues. It never was, and it never will be,” offered minister Guilbeault in French, noting that in his view, while some people may feel that any type of regulation for web giants is too much, the majority of Canadians support the idea.

“Our broadcasters, our production sector, and the culture sector as a whole are counting on this new legislative tool to continue to flourish on digital platforms… The bill is about restoring a balance that the arrival of the web giants has skewed very seriously in their own favor at the expense of local people and businesses,” said the minister in French, going on to suggest that without the changes currently proposed certain platforms could “get away with just about anything.”

Through Bill C-10, the government is seeking to make changes aimed at ensuring major social media platforms and streaming services such as Netflix, Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube, and Spotify promote and pay their fair share towards Canadian artists and are held to similar standards as regular broadcasters.

The bill has been embroiled in controversy after the Liberals removed and refused to reinstate an exemption from the bill that protected individuals’ online content from its proposed Broadcasting Act, prompting the free speech concerns.

The government continues to point to a separate regulation exemption for individual users that remains intact, and subsequent amendments have sought to specify scope of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) new powers under Bill C-10.

Though, the discoverability aspect of those regulatory powers means that the CRTC could play a role in putting guidelines in place around what platforms’ algorithms could suggest users watch or listen to next on social media or streaming platforms, which free speech advocates continue to say will have implications for the content Canadians are seeing.

Despite the wording of the bill, in an interview on CTV’s Question Period that aired on Sunday, Guilbeault suggested that under Bill C-10, the CRTC could have powers related to the discoverability of online content for people whose channels have “millions of viewers,” are “generating a lot of money on social media,” and are “acting like broadcasters.”

This suggestion was walked back and clarified by his office by Monday morning, confirming that the regulatory powers would be focused on the platforms and not those who upload content to them.

Ahead of the controversy sparking off, the bill had the backing of opposition MPs, particularly the NDP and Bloc Quebecois, but on Friday NDP MP and Canadian heritage critic Heather McPherson made her frustrations clear.

“I have to express my disappointment in the way that you've managed the creation and the communications around this legislation. I for one, am looking forward to continuing to work as hard as we can to get this legislation fixed, to get this legislation through this committee… But I think a lot of it unfortunately does have to fall with you minister, with all due respect,” she said. “Your mishandling of the bill has put all of us on this committee in a very difficult position… If we don't get this right, the legislation will be challenged in court, and it will not be applied for years which will put all of our cultural sector at a real disadvantage.”

In response, Guilbeault pointed to the “long list” of stakeholders who represent Canada’s creators and cultural industries, including writers and musicians, who support Bill C-10 as it stands. He did not offer suggestions on how he intends to rectify the persisting concerns among Canadians, whether founded or perceived.

Later in the meeting, under questioning from Conservative MP and digital government critic Rachael Harder, Guilbeault was unable to say with certainty whether certain examples of movies were considered Canadian content.

“Minister, you keep talking about wanting to protect Canadian content and further Canadian culture, but yet I just listed two films: Ultimate Gretzky and Canadian Bacon which should be classified as Canadian content. They're not. And minister you're not even able to identify that, so what confidence should Canadians have in your ability to legislate this?” asked Harder.

In response, he suggested that if opposition parties see issues with the bill, that’s what the clause-by-clause legislative amendment process is for.

The committee is now facing a time crunch, with four scheduled sitting weeks left in the parliamentary calendar to pass any bills before the prospect of a summer or fall election resulting in the session being ended and any unpassed bills dying.

McPherson asked Guilbeault whether he will commit to giving the committee the time it needs to get Bill C-10 right and ensuring it passes before an election is called. The minister said the Liberals do not want an election.

The committee had also called for Justice Minister David Lametti to testify, but he declined that invitation and sent departmental officials on his behalf. On Thursday, the federal Justice Department issued a revised look at whether the amendment made to the bill infringed on Canadians' rights.

The department stated that in its view, the amendments to Bill C-10 would not restrict the freedom of expression of social media users under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

This didn’t satisfy some MPs on the committee, with opposition MPs still pushing to have Lametti appear.