Google, Amazon, Netflix mount lobby crusade on Trudeau Liberals
Amazon had 99 registered contacts with the government last year, Google had 37
U.S. tech giants including Google, Amazon and Microsoft have held more than 100 separate meetings with influential members of Canada's Liberal government over the past 12 months, Radio-Canada has learned.
Some critics say those meetings raise ethical issues in light of the government's controversial agreement with Netflix.
Radio-Canada, the French-language arm of CBC, pored over the federal lobby registry and found Amazon had 99 registered communications with decision-makers, while Google had 37, including one with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his two closest collaborators: chief of staff Katie Telford and principal secretary Gerald Butts. Microsoft, Netflix and Facebook also had meetings with federal officials.
(In some cases, two or more entries in the registry can refer to the same meeting.)
Some of the companies showed interest in intellectual property, arts and culture, immigration and broadcasting, according to their lobbying profiles.
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"We are heading towards a total and brutal deregulation that worries everyone," MP Pierre Nantel, the NDP's heritage critic, said in an interview in French.
The Canadian government hasn't hidden the fact that it would like the American e-commerce giant Amazon to set up its second head office in Canada.
Trudeau even sent a letter to Jeff Bezos, the company's CEO. During an armchair discussion last week on artificial intelligence, Trudeau mentioned he was reading The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.
Amazon has said it's "seeking to influence policy direction related to cloud based services."
'Hint of favouritism or privilege'
The Seattle-based company also met with the ministers of industry, small business and employment, the chief of staff of the ministers of heritage and international trade, and a political adviser to Trudeau.
"It's a yellow light here," says René Villemure, founder of the Quebec Institute for Applied Ethics, a group dedicated to the ethical management of organizations.
"It leaves a hint of favouritism or privilege."
Villemure flagged issues with the five meetings Google lobbyists had with Canada Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly and the six with her chief of staff, Leslie Church, who used to work for the search engine.
Google has shown interest in Canada's Copyright Act.
Church was Google Canada's director of communications and public affairs from June 2012 to December 2015, according to her LinkedIn page.
Meanwhile, representatives of Netflix, which recently pledged $500 million to fund Canadian productions over five years and build a permanent production presence in Canada, had 16 registered communications in eight meetings with Canadian decision-makers.
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In comparison, the ADISQ, Quebec's association for the recording, concert and video industries, met with Joly once; the Quebec association of media production had two meetings with members from the Prime Minister's Office — including one after the cultural policy announcement; and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists wasn't involved in any meetings.
The Netflix deal was strongly criticized in Quebec's artistic and political circles.
Critics of the agreement have suggested Netflix is gaining an edge over homegrown companies, since the government's strategy doesn't require the company to pay corporate tax or remit sales tax on its Canadian subscriptions.
"The minister [Joly] turned a deaf ear," said Nantel. "She has met digital giants often, too often."
Conservative MP Gérard Deltell echoed those sentiments.
"The minister already had her idea," he told Radio-Canada
Joly told reporters Tuesday that digital platforms are part of Canada's new reality, so it is normal that she would meet with their respresentitives to make sure that Canadian culture is shared on those platforms.
She added that she has had more meetings with members of the artistic community than with these U.S. firms.
Representatives from Microsoft have also had access to Ottawa's most influential decision-makers. They met Trudeau on two occasions, once alone and once surrounded by Butts, Telford and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
In total, Microsoft has had 35 registered communications. Company representatives also met with the ministers of immigration, innovation, defence and justice.
Microsoft has flagged e-commerce and intellectual property, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act and the North American Free Trade Agreement on its lobbying profile.
Under the heading of executives and employees whose lobbying activities represent 20 per cent or more of their duties, Microsoft lists a former employee of Trudeau's.
Marlene Floyd, Microsoft's national director of corporate affairs, worked from May 2013 to October 2015 as director of operations and outreach in the office of the leader of the Liberal Party.
"In this case, it's a green light," said Villemure. "It is reasonable to believe that the 35 meetings are related to several issues, which is not the case for Netflix. "
The social networking site Facebook announced earlier this month that it's opening an artificial intelligence research laboratory in Montreal. But it has only registered one meeting organized by AA Access Partnership and Corinne Charette, assistant to the deputy minister of innovation.
Other companies like Apple and Spotify did not have registered lobbyists.
When it comes to Canadian media companies, Bell Canada had 69 registered communications over the last year, Shaw had 51 and Rogers had 38. Corus had 24 registered communications and Québecor had seven.
- This story has been edited from a previous version that referred to "meetings" between lobbyists and government officials. In fact, the numbers refer to registered communications with the government listed in the federal lobbying registry. In some cases, two or more entries in the registry could apply to the same meeting.Oct 31, 2017 1:42 PM ET
With files from Radio-Canada's Philippe-Vincent Foisy