Conservatives Criticize Liberals Over Online News Deal with Google

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The Google News homepage is displayed on an iPhone in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

In a recent development, Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge announced an agreement with Google regarding the Online News Act, sparking criticism from Conservative members who accused the Liberals of yielding to big tech’s demands. The announcement was made amidst discussions in a House committee meeting, where the minister hailed the deal as a “historic development.”

The Deal with Google

According to The Canadian Press, the agreement, announced Wednesday, involves Google agreeing to spend a maximum of $100 million annually compensating Canadian news outlets for the use of their content. This figure matches what Google had proposed before the law’s passage in June, which is significantly lower than the initial government calculation of $172 million.

Heritage Minister St-Onge described the agreement as beneficial to both the government and local news publishers. She stated, “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.”

Opposition’s Response

Conservative Heritage critic Rachael Thomas expressed dissatisfaction with the deal, asserting that it fails to address the power imbalance between big tech and the news industry. Thomas accused the Liberals of negotiating on Google’s terms, giving the company full control. “It’s another example of the tech industry colluding with government and I believe it will damage the Canadian news landscape,” she said.

Online News Act: Necessary Response to Rapidly Changing Media Landscape, Says Heritage Minister
A news website from a smart phone

The Online News Act

The legislation, set to take effect next month, mandates companies like Google and Meta to strike compensation deals with news publishers for content generating revenue on their platforms. However, Meta has chosen to block Canadian users from accessing news content rather than negotiate.

The law aims to support broadcasters and newspapers, including French-language and Indigenous news organizations, with compensation based on the number of full-time journalists employed.

Google’s Position and Future Investments

Google’s president of global affairs, Kent Walker, acknowledged the productive meetings with St-Onge, saying, “We deeply engaged in a series of productive meetings about how they might be addressed.” Google also indicated that there would be immediate changes to existing deals under its Google News Showcase agreements, part of a $1-billion global investment.

The company is set to review its ongoing investments in Canada once the final regulations are published, while the exact payments under existing contracts remain confidential.