Canada inching towards passing a bill that prioritizes “Canadian content” on social media

March 30, 2023 • 10:15 am

I’m not especially down on Canada these days, even though yesterday I criticized their frequent equation of indigenous knowledge with modern science. But then I read the article below on The Free Press, which describes a new bill—one likely to pass—that prioritizes Canadian content coming from big, commercial social-media sites like YouTube and Amazon.  I’m not sure why the government is doing this, and no proponents of the bill would explain to reporter Rupa Subramanya the rationale, but it must have something to do with preserving Canadian “culture” and protecting existing Canadian media from competition.

It’s also a form of censorship, since someone has to decide exactly what “Canadian content” is. Perhaps our many readers from up north can explain more. The article blames this bill—and a related one that requires platforms like Facebook to pay Canadian news organizations for any of their content used (in America we have a doctrine of “fair usage” that stipulates how much you can use)—on Justin Trudeau, characterized as “a man who has, again and again, shown contempt for those who do not share his worldview.” Well, I’m not touching that statement, as I am abysmally (and sadly) ignorant of Canadian politics. All I can do is comment on what this story reports, assuming it’s accurate:

Click below to read:

This link gives you a precis of what the bill, call the “Online Streaming Act”, says. More on that in a second.

Here’s Subramanya’s summary of what the bill says:

Canada’s Online Streaming Act, or Bill C-11—which is now being debated in Parliament and would make online streaming services prioritize Canadian content the same way Canada’s television and radio stations are regulated. . . .

Canada’s Liberals insist the point of Bill C-11 is simply to update the 1991 Broadcasting Act, which regulates broadcasting of telecommunications in the country. The goal of the bill, according to a Ministry of Canadian Heritage statement, is to bring “online broadcasters under similar rules and regulations as our traditional broadcasters.”

In other words, streaming services and social media, like traditional television and radio stations, would have to ensure that at least 35 percent of the content they publish is Canadian content—or, in Canadian government speak, “Cancon.”

That means that if you log onto, say, YouTube or Amazon in Canada, you’d see a lot more “Canadian content” than you would if you logged on south of the US/Canadian border.  Yet the U.S. doesn’t mandate “American content”, and it seems that any sort of mandate like this abrogates freedom of these companies to broadcast the content they want.


The bill is inching toward a final vote in the Canadian Senate as soon as next month. It’s expected to pass. If it does, YouTube CEO Neal Mohan said in an October blog post, the same creators the government says it wants to help will, in fact, be hurt.

Bill C-11, Mohan explained, would mean “that when viewers come to the YouTube homepage, they’re served content that a Canadian Government regulator has prioritized, rather than content they are interested in.”

That doesn’t bode well for creators, he said.

Here’s an explanation of the bill’s aims from the Canadian government site:

What are we trying to accomplish?

Once implemented, this Bill is expected to:

  • Create more opportunities for Canadian producers, directors, writers, actors, and musicians to create high quality audio and audiovisual content.
  • Make it easier for Canadian audiences to access Canadian and Indigenous stories.
  • Create one, fair set of rules for all comparable broadcasters—online or on traditional media—such as, requiring those who benefit from Canadian arts and culture to invest in it.
  • Make our diverse Canadian voices, music, and stories heard across Canada and globally through a variety of services.
  • Create a more inclusive broadcasting system that is reflective of Canadian society and that serves Canadians from all walks of life.

It apears to be like a national DEI provision, increasing the diversity of what one can access online by boosting Canadian content. In other words, it’s trying to “create a media that looks more like us.”

The explanation below of why this bill would hurt Canadian artists or creators like Justin Bieber doesn’t completely make sense to me, but I’m addled with insomnia:

. . . . users often give a thumbs-down to content that the algorithm steers them toward and that they don’t want to watch—and that leads the Search and Discovery systems at YouTube to limit visibility of that content. “[G]lobally,” Mohan said in his post, “Canadian creators will have a harder time breaking through and connecting with the niche audiences who would actually love their content.” (According to Mohan, more than 90 percent of the “watch time” on content produced by Canadian YouTubers comes from outside Canada.)

Bottom line: had Bill C-11 been the law of the land back in early 2007, Justin Bieber would probably have encountered more Canadian viewers who didn’t want to watch him, many would have given him a thumbs-down, and YouTube would have limited the number of viewers who ultimately saw him.

Why do they argue that Bieber would be less popular with Canadians than with other people? And even if YouTube did limit his viewers based on “likes”, wouldn’t the new bill actually help Bieber since YouTube content would now be more Canadian than before? (Bieber presumably counts as “Canadian content”.)

But this is that’s why I think this bill is fundamentally misguided:  it tilts the freedom of Internet providers towards Canadian content, which must be at least 35% of the total content, and of course there’s going to be a “Canada censor” who decides what constitutes “Canadian content”.

A bit more about the bill, which makes it clear that it’s meant in part to shield Canadian media from market forces:

As it turns out, Conservative senator Leo Housakos told me, it’s not Canadian creators who need a boost—it’s Canada’s sclerotic legacy media. Bill C-11, he said, is meant to protect the likes of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and conglomerates like Bell Media and Quebecor, all of which can be counted on to toe the Liberal Party line.

That certainly seems to be what the bill’s boosters are indicating. In an April 2022 post, Valerie Creighton, president of the Canada Media Fund, created by Canada’s Ministry of Heritage, appeared to agree with Housakos about the need for shielding legacy media from market forces. Creighton seemed to echo Pablo Rodriguez, who had noted a few weeks earlier that 450 Canadian media outlets had closed over the previous 13 years.

“The entry of the streamers and platforms into the Canadian market has resulted in aggressive competitive pressure on the Canadian broadcast and distribution system,” Creighton said in her post. “Our companies cannot compete with the deep financial resources and wide distribution these platforms offer.”

A few more critics are quoted at the end:

This unwillingness to engage with the opposition—to take part in the messy, cantankerous democratic process, to make room for more voices, to entertain more ideas and arguments and counterarguments—has left many old-fashioned Canadian Liberals dismayed.

In a January 31 speech invoking the Roman thinker Cicero and the Soviet writer Vasily Grossman, Liberal senator and award-winning author David Richards lashed out at Bill C-11: “We have lately become a land of scapegoaters and finger pointers, offering accusations and shame while believing we are a woke society. . . . what George Orwell says we must resist is a prison of self-censorship. This bill goes a long way to construct such a prison.”

Margaret Atwood, the acclaimed author of The Handmaid’s Taletweeted her support of Richards’ speech: “Needs a listen.”

Pattie Mallette was similarly put off by the government trying to steer its citizens, the people who were supposedly in charge, in the “correct” direction. Referring to Bill C-11, she said: “I feel like it’s almost an insult. It’s like Canadians don’t make good enough content for people to see, so we have to create a handicap to make sure that people are seeing your content.”

If this bill is characterized correctly, I find it censorious and, indeed, a form of “cultural appropriation”—preventing foreign cultures from intruding too strongly into Canada’s culture.

Weigh in below, especially if you’re from Canada.

27 thoughts on “Canada inching towards passing a bill that prioritizes “Canadian content” on social media

  1. The critics are probably correct: the bill seems to be designed to force online platforms to distribute stories by Canadian legacy media companies (and pay them for those stories). CBC News does produce some great stuff. But they also produce dreadful nonsense. Why would social media companies want to pay for this?

  2. If Canadian content creators can’t compete, does restricting competition hurt the Canadian consumer. The question seems to be what content the algorithm is suppressing in favor of Canadian content? It’s one thing to promote Robin Thicke and demote Miley Cyrus. What if it’s promote Robin Thicke and suppress Bill Maher? There are no more slippery slopes on censorship, just precipices. Should the government of Canada have this power, the exercise of which will undoubtedly be opaque, both the from the natural tendency of bureaucrats to avoid scrutiny and from the largely hidden operation of AI? Probably not.

    1. The interests of the Canadian consumer are absolutely irrelevant. It’s to benefit the Liberal Party’s friends in media companies and in China.

    2. CanCon laws were never about suppressing American (or other foreign) content. It’s always been about helping to promoting Canadian content first. American music is still played on our radios, even though Canadian music must occupy 40%.of airplay.

      Popular foreign content still exists in Canada, and does very well.

  3. I think you are fundamentally correct. C-11 is intended to protect already heavily protected Montreal-centred media conglomerates from foreign competition. The secessionist party in Parliament from Quebec—yes, we have seditionists drawing a salary from the Canadian taxpayer! —endorses the bill as it will allow Quebec’s voice in the Canadian censor to compel more Quebec-based content, even if that content denigrates Canada, which it will. I don’t follow Facebook or other social media other than a few bl*gs, so I can’t speak about content producers. I still listen to CDs and broadcast radio.

    Just a note for non-Canadians. Our Senate is appointed (from faithful fundraisers and defeated or retired politicians of the governing party) not elected. It has no legitimacy except for sober second thought. It can vote to send a bill back to the Commons for proposed amendments and often does if there are Senators still alive from when their party was last in power. But it cannot kill a bill outright passed by the Commons. If the government really wants to it can ram it through the Senate, and it will. The only exception is if the government falls in the House and has to call an unplanned election.. Then everything dies on the Order Paper and would have to be re-introduced by the new Parliament. de novo, which of course might not be run by the same party. Sometimes bills that the government does not really want to become law but it passed for virtue-signaling, it arranges for Senators of its own party to stall the bill until everyone forgets about it.

  4. I can’t claim much authority here other than a) being Canadian and b) having had a program on a University radio station back in the early 2000s…

    The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has implemented minimum Canadian content requirements on television and radio broadcasters in the country since the 1970s. The wikipedia page on ‘Canadian Content’ explains it a lot more eloquently.

    I think the CRTC means well — they’re attempting to promote music/tv/film production in Canada and keep the industries and artists from being swamped by US media juggernauts. But as you say, it is indeed a move to prevent foreign cultures from intruding too much.

  5. Reminds me of the time the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) had regulations in place for Canadian artist on the radio and one time Bryan Adams wasn’t considered Canadian, or at least his music wasn’t considered Canadian content. But this time I think this will be used to push political content.

  6. This is a very good idea. The Canadian government should do the same thing for restaurants: require a 30 percent quota of dishes prepared according to authentic Canadian recipes. Oh, and also for clothing, make-up, talking points, funny stories, etc.

  7. Canada has been doing this for decades around television and radio. Even porn has to have a minimum degree of Canadian-made content. So this is nothing new.

    Personally, I view it as an industry protection tactic far more than a cultural one. If states in the US offer productions a carrot of tax incentives to film there, Canada offers a stick of fines not to.

    One can debate democracy and censorship and everything else, but in the end, from a purely financial point of view, the country has every right to attempt to see its entertainment industries and the jobs contained therein, not crumble from being sized-out by its larger neighbors.

  8. It’s good old-fashioned protectionism. The Canadian content rules for radio not only increased the play for Canadian musicians on Canadian radio stations, it also increased Canadian content in southeast Michigan stations. I don’t know if it’s because the Detroit stations also have Canadian listeners who have found musicians they like on Canadian stations. Or because conglomerates own stations on both side of the border and it’s easier and cheaper to have a few playlists arranged by music genre and play them everywhere. Or because Americans are listening to Canadian stations (they often do) and found something to like there.

    I can explain the Justin Bieber argument. When Canadians get steered to something not because they like it but because of legal requirements, they’re likely to give it thumbs down. YouTube’s algorithm weights thumbs-down votes very heavily, so Justin would have stopped being offered to non-Canadians. This argument assumes that YouTube is too stupid or too under-resourced to change its ratings-based policy to one that takes Canadian residence into account. Which might well have been true (the under-resourced part) back in the day, but not now.

  9. Speaking as a long-time admirer of Stuart McLean’s stories and of the Toronto Consort and David Greenberg and Natalie MacMaster andStan Rogers, I would not be unhappy if 35% Canadian content were also required in US broadcast outlets.

  10. From my perspective in the USA, I am extremely happy that the Canadian gov’t mandated a certain amount of Canadian content, because without it we may never have seen Canadian Corner with Bob & Doug. Take off, eh!

  11. … it must have something to do with preserving Canadian “culture” …

    Canadian “culture”? Whaddya got? Hockey, poutine, Tim Horton’s donuts, the writings of Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood and … what else? Nickelback? (I kid, my Canadian friends, I kid!)

    1. Nickelback illustrates the problem with Cancon: crap bands that never fade into the obscurity they deserve, because there’s an empty quota-mandated slop-bucket that has to be filled.

    1. Sharp observation, Susan. From the dates germane to the Canadian cliches and references made by many commenters, I suspect they are remembering Canada as she was under the current Prime Minister’s father.

  12. “Culture” includes science. There are two aspects of this for researchers. First, they do the science, then they promulgate their results. Canadians are quite good at the first, but not so hot on the second. Given that the Canadian government is less generous in funding the first when compared with our southern neighbor (or as we say neighbour), anything that looks like a helping hand in the second is welcome.

  13. In support of Canadian content, I give you Ken Finkleman, the creator, writer, director, and star of “The Newsroom” (not to be confused with a later series by Aaron Sorkin). If you like dry humor, you’ll like this. Here’s the opening scene from the first episode (“We’re hoping there’s a Canadian dead”):

  14. Whenever Rocky and Bullwinkle ran into a problem, Rocky would turn to his partner and ask in his high pitched voice, “Well, what are we going to do now, Bullwinkle?” And Bullwinkle would always reply, “Move to Canada!” The moose may be on to something.

    1. I trust Bullwinkle knows that he can’t “move to Canada” just because he feels like it. He would have to be of some definite economic use to us and not likely to need free medical care from the taxpayer right off the bat.

  15. Well the Liberal Party of Canada have just shut down any further debate of this Bill in Parliament supported by the NDP
    We will have to wait now to see what happens. It’s a mess!

  16. I disagree with characterizing Bill C-11 as censorship. Any foreign media will be potentially available, but streaming services will need to be choosier about what content they give to Canadians to stream because a certain percentage of content has to be from Canada. These choices are made anyway, even in the States (there is always a finite pool), but C-11 ensures that there is a smaller pool for the non-Canadian choices. Without it, streaming services could theoretically end up offering totally Canadian-free content.

    I think Bill C-11 is needed (or some version of it), especially given Canada’s unique proximity to the American juggernaut. As was already pointed out, rules like this exist for older media forms already for the same reason: to protect Canadian industry. I would offer a second reason: to protect against cultural absorption into the US. I was born in and lived in the States for 23 years and have lived in Canada for nearly as long now, and in my personal opinion, without regulations like this Canada would lose a significant amount of its distinct culture (broadly defined).

    This mirrors other rules also in place about hiring non-Canadians in certain industries, notably, academia. I am faculty at a Canadian university, hired after I became a Canadian citizen (still a US citizen too), and I will certainly claim that Canadian universities are too often hurt by hiring too many Americans. Legally, universities must offer a faculty job to a *qualified Canadian* (or permanent resident) ahead of any non-Canadian, *even if the non-Canadian is preferred* based on “fit” or some other ad hoc criteria. As long as the Canadian is qualified as defined by the job posting, they get priority. Unfortunately, university hiring committees ignore this all the time, and higher up administration often goes along with it unless someone calls it out. Most American universities are far weaker institutions than Canadian ones in terms of institutional governance, collective agreements, and faculty autonomy. But the more Americans that Canadian universities hire, the more these things tend to be eroded since American hires rarely have any knowledge or *expectation* about how such things are supposed to function at a university in Canada.

    (P.S. I don’t comment often, so will just take the chance now to thank Jerry for continually fantastic daily content. It’s greatly appreciated!)

    1. +1 We are in a similar situation is Australia. America with its massive market and wealth produces a withering amount of cheap content. If media companies in Australia were left to their own devices they would simply buy and broadcast only American content. It’s cheap, popular and requires no investment from Australian media companies. While much of US content is very good, I have grown heartily sick of watching Americans, talking to Americans about being American all the damn time.

  17. I recommend Andrew Coyne’s article “The concept of CanCon is pure folly. That’s the problem at the heart of Bill C-11”.

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