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Speaker slaps down Liberal-led attempt to rush through changes to Bill C-10

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The federal government’s efforts to push through its controversial Broadcasting Act Bill C-10 in the final days of the sitting may have been dealt a setback by the Speaker of the House of Commons Tuesday, when he slapped down a series of last-minute amendments.

Late last week the Canadian Heritage Committee, which has been studying Bill C-10 for months, moved to shut down its line-by-line study of the bill, and in the process rapidly passed a series of amendments before MPs on the committee had time to discuss them.

In his ruling, Speaker Anthony Rota found that the committee “exceeded its authority” by passing the amendments after the House-imposed time limit on further work by the committee had expired.

As a result, he’s ordered that all but one of the changes passed after their deadline be struck from the version of the bill currently before the House. The one amendment Rota has let stand was connected to a previously-adopted change to the wording of the legislation.

While the Liberal minority did have Bloc Quebecois and NDP backing in moving the bill’s study to completion, both opposition MPs and critics of the bill have raised concerns with the way the nearly three dozen amendments were handled, saying little could be known about the changes made given the they were moved through without being fully disclosed or debated.

“I proposed to extend the deadline so more work could be done. I voted against closing debate and I even put forward a motion asking the committee to debate the bill through the summer months so we could get this work done. All the parties voted against that. In the end, the Liberals closed the committee debate and we were forced to vote on amendments without even discussing them. It is not my idea of good government,” said NDP MP and committee member Heather McPherson in the House on Monday.

The Speaker’s ruling came in response to a challenge to the admissibility of the amendments, raised by Conservative MP Blake Richards on Monday.

Reacting to the ruling, Conservative MP and committee member Alain Rayes noted that the Liberals were backed by the Bloc and NDP in moving ahead the amendments at committee despite their time being up, and said it’s “just the latest example of how the Liberals have completely botched this bill.”

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

When the Liberals removed protections for user-generated content originally written into the bill, it prompted outrage over the prospect of everyday users being subject to CRTC regulations, which the government has denied. Changes were also made by the committee to enact freedom of expression protections.

On Monday, the minister responsible for Bill C-10, Steven Guilbeault, moved a closure motion to limit further report stage debate in the House to one hour, and restricting how many MPs could speak to Bill C-10 at third reading.

Described by the government as one of their priority bills to pass before the House adjourns on June 23, it remains to be seen whether the Liberals will now look to re-introduce the nullified amendments in the final hours or proceed with the bill without them.

In making the case for why the bill needs to be passed expeditiously, Guilbeault reflected on the challenges it faced -- some prompted by confusing and contradictory comments he made, and others by mischaracterizations of Bill C-10’s scope by the Conservatives -- but said that ultimately the cultural community wants to see the legislation become law.

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