Parliamentary committee to study relationship between government and Facebook
Even as the federal Liberal government was discussing new regulations for controlling tech giants economic and cultural influence in Canada, one of them was trying to hire from the federal agency responsible for drafting the new regulation. This comes from emails obtained by the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) which obtained the correspondence through Access to Information requests.
The Liberal government had been promising new regulations for internet giants like Facebook, Amazon, Google, which have greatly changed the ‘broadcasting’ landscape and how Canadians get information, along with streaming services like Netflix and others.
A report last week from News Media Canada estimates that internet giants are harming Canadians access to news stating, “The estimated market share for Google and Facebook is over 75% of markets for digital advertising in Canada. This asymmetry in market power results in unfair terms imposed on news publishers who develop original journalism, engendering a decrease in the quantity and quality of the same and threatening the supply of the same to the Canadian people”.
Earlier this year Kevin Chan, Facebook’s Canada global director and head of public policy, emailed a top Heritage Department official asking if there were senior analysts in the department he could hire for Facebook for the public policy team. He also suggested such people would include those who would take a temporary leave to work for Facebook and could then later return to the Heritage department.
Owen Ripley, a director at Canadian Heritage, allegedly emailed back that he would be happy to circulate the offer to a few people who might be good candidates. Kevin Chan is himself a former top a senior executive in the office of the Clerk of the Privy Council and as such was an advisor to top politicians.
The advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting wrote to minister Guilbeault in October expressing their concern saying, “Mr. Ripley volunteered to help Facebook’s lobbying arm poach executives from the Public Service at precisely the time that his office was drafting legislation that would have major impacts for Facebook. Incredibly, Mr. Ripley saw no problem with Facebook’s suggestion that these staffers return to public office after a short stint at Facebook, so that they could resume regulating the company that had just paid them handsomely”.
Committee to study the matter
Today news reports say that the federal Heritage committee will study what Friends calls the seemingly “cozy’ relationship between the senior official and Facebook.
Quoted by PostMedia, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) heritage critic Heather McPherson said, “To find out that Facebook appears to have a very intimate relationship with the government’s offices is hugely problematic for us”. She said the revelation coming at a time when Heritage is co-leading the Liberal governments’ effort to create new regulations on web giants is deeply concerning, ” “To think that a head of Facebook Canada is in fact basically posting a job with the government that is meant to be regulating them. It doesn’t feel good”.
The committee will require testimony from Chan and all emails between Facebook and Heritage from when the Liberals took power in 2015. The committee’s work should begin before the committee began debate on the Liberal government’s proposed new bill to reform the Broadcasting Act tabled earlier this month. That bill gives the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) additional power to regulate international streaming companies.
The minister responded to concerns by including a statement from the Public Services and Procurement Canada website
which says, “ All public servants have a responsibility to minimize the possibility of real, apparent or potential conflict of interest between their most recent responsibilities within the federal public service and their subsequent employment outside the public service”.
On Monday the minister also said both he and the heritage department would work with the committee.
- Friends of Canadian Broadcasting: Oct 29/20: letter to minister
- PostMedia: C Nardi: Nov 17/20: Federal Heritage committee to study ‘intimate’ relationship between government officials and Facebook
- TorStar: A Boutilier: Oct 28/20: As Ottawa mulled regulations for tech giants, Facebook tried to recruit public servants.
- PostMedia: C Nardi: Oct 30/20: Group calls for end to ‘cozy’ and ‘unacceptable’ relationship between senior government officials and Facebook
- Canadian Heritage
- Goodmans LLP: Nov 6/20: Changes to Broadcasting Act will require online streamers to support the Canadian broadcasting system