[FURTHER UPDATE, Sunday: The proposal I describe here was adopted by the Liberal convention with no debate and no amendment on Saturday. Convention organizers, and the tiny fraction of Liberal convention attendees who sat through the policy discussions, were quite confused about where they were in their own process, but the list of adopted policies is now posted and this one’s on it. Excellent work, everyone. - pw]
[I’ve UPDATED this post with some further thoughts, at the bottom. - pw]
Just a short note from me this morning. The Liberal Party of Canada is gathered this weekend for their biennial policy convention. Now as everyone knows, policy resolutions at party conventions in Canada aren’t binding on… anything, really. They’re just a chance for the rank-and-file membership to build pillow forts in the basement. But it’s always wise to check in on the kids, just in case they’re getting up to some mischief.
Because some of these resolutions, if they were implemented, would make trouble.
Here on the 2023 Liberal convention’s “Open Policy Process” page are links to “Top 20 Resolutions” and “Fast-Tracked Resolutions.” The latter go straight to the plenary floor, the former go through a smaller preliminary debate and, if they pass, then on to the plenary. These things move fast because, in most cases, Liberals are paying only listless attention to the discussions. Policy is for New Democrats. Well, I mean, it used to be.
But sometimes words have meaning, so this morning I’m passing on one of the Top 20 Resolutions, from pages 12 and 13 of that book. This one comes to us from the British Columbia wing of the party.
It’s in two screenshots simply because it spreads across two pages. This is the entire resolution.
BC Liberals want “on-line information services” held “accountable for the veracity of material published on their platforms” by “the Government.” The Government would, in turn, “limit publication only to material whose sources can be traced.”
This resolution has no meaning unless it means I would be required to clear my posts through the federal government, before publication, so the “traceability” of my sources could be verified. I don’t suppose this clearance process would take too much more time than getting a passport or a response to an access-to-information request. Probably only a few months, at first. Per article.
After publication, “the Government” would hold me accountable for the veracity of my material, presumably through some new mechanism beyond existing libel law.
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I’m not sure what “the Government” — I’m tickled by the way it’s capitalized, like Big Brother — would have made of this post, in which I quote an unnamed senior government official who was parked in front of reporters by “the Government” on the condition that he or she or they not be named. But by the plain meaning of this resolution, I would not have to wonder for long because that post would have been passed or cleared by the Government’s censors before publication, and I’m out of recourse if that process simply took longer than I might like.
I’m pretty sure I know exactly what a “Government” constrained by this resolution would make of this post, in which I revealed that Chrystia Freeland was a candidate for the position of NATO Secretary General. My sources for this are unnamed in the article, and I’m not telling you or any “Government” who they are, and if constrained by this resolution I believe “the Government” would be authorized to forbid publication of that story. So you’d have to learn the news a few months later in the New York Times. Unless, by virtue of its existence as an “on-line information service” readable in Canada, the Times would be forced to pre-clear its articles for censorship too.
I talk to people, and based on 30 years’ experience, I decide whether to pass on what I hear to you. I frequently interpose myself between my sources and you, so my sources can speak more freely. This resolution, if adopted as policy by “the Government,” would send me straight to court or out of business.
Of course the authors of this resolution intend it to apply only to bad people. They should be invited to explain how such distinctions would be drawn. I have acquaintances at Google and Youtube who have been utterly aghast at the repercussions of new laws regarding online discourse. I didn’t write much about that. Now it’s personal.
I predicted six years ago that this would happen. The prediction required no insight. It is impossible for any government to subsidize journalism without deciding, at some early point, to exercise its prerogatives as an owner.
Withdraw this resolution or defeat it. Or confirm everyone’s suspicions. Enjoy your convention, Liberals.
UPDATE, 12:10 pm EDT: Some of the comments, and some of the online chatter I’ve seen, is from people who say this resolution is meant to target “disinformation” or “shitposting” and that upstanding citizens like myself would of course be exempt.
Great. Draft the language of a law that would draw such a distinction and show it to me. If you don’t it’s because you can’t. And if you can’t now, a government wouldn’t be able to later.
In the headline I said this resolution “targets” me, but of course it’s meant to target Ezra Levant and Canada Proud. I don’t like Ezra Levant and I’m not often impressed by Canada Proud, but the only way to target them without targeting me is to write a formal banned-publication list, and I would oppose that too.
The definition of “shitposters” tends to slip around. For the last month, it’s pretty clear that much of Trudeau-supporting Twitter, including some former senior government staffers, believe it absolutely includes the Globe and Mail and at least one television network. I know many Trudeau supporters believe it includes me; they tend to gather on Twitter after the Friday Power & Politics panel to cluck about my latest sins and misdeeds.
I don’t really expect this sort of silliness to find its way into party policy, much less into law. But then, I didn’t expect C-11 and C-18 either. I half-expected this government to wreck televised election-campaign leaders’ debates, perhaps beyond any hope of repair, when it set out to “fix” them, but I hoped it would listen to reason. It didn’t, and it has wrecked leaders’ debates. I’m afraid this crew hasn’t done much to earn benefit of the doubt.
A couple of points of information. Just to clarify.
1. Some genius emailed me directly and said, C'mon, Paul, the BC Liberal Party are loons, you can't blame the federal Liberals for anything they do. So, just in case anyone else needs the civic lesson: This resolution comes from the British Columbia wing of the federal Liberal Party, not from the provincial party that no longer calls itself Liberal.
2. I've seen a couple of tweets that showed a misunderstanding of details of this post, which is fair because I wrote it quickly and it's all a bit arcane. First, this is not one of the "fast-tracked resolutions" that go straight to the convention plenary; this is one of the "Top 20 resolutions" that take the scenic route, through a preliminary workshop and then, if they pass, continue to plenary. Second, the resolution wouldn't require that sources be in government. It would require that they "can be traced," though as far as I can tell they could be any kind of source.
An interesting and scary read.
It is the elitist attitude permeating through the Liberal party which is the scariest. They are good, others with opposing viewpoints are bad. Thus, the good folks must disempower the bad folks. They do not see themselves as the authoritarian government they are becoming.