The Canadian government has prioritized innovation as a marquee policy issue. There are signals that Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains will use the upcoming budget to overhaul the myriad of innovation funding and support programs that have cost billions of dollars with only a limited return on investment. There is no reason to doubt the commitment to innovation, but a national strategy must involve more than changes to how the government doles out cash incentives.
Yet when presented with the opportunity to address a core component of any serious innovation strategy – the communications sector that provides the foundation for the digital economy – Mr. Bains last week took a look at a market that the Competition Bureau found suffers from coordinated behaviour among the three dominant providers and simply whiffed. The decision to approve the merger of BCE and Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS) with only minor tinkering seems certain to increase wireless pricing for Manitoba residents and eliminate one of the few competitive bright spots in Canada.
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The third part of my critique of The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age, the Public Policy Forum’s report on the future of media, has taken longer than anticipated. In the interim, there have been some excellent posts on the report, including those from Andrew Potter, Dwayne Winseck, and Marc Edge. The first two parts of my review focused on the copyright and CBC/open licensing recommendations. This post discusses the report’s most significant financial recommendation: reforms to the Income Tax Act that would be designed to increase or capture digital advertising costs with Google and Facebook accompanied by a scheme to create a fund to support Canadian media. The recommendation is similar – though not identical – to one floated by communications law veterans Peter Miller and David Keeble in a report commissioned by the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting (FCB).
At the heart of both reports is the recommendation that advertising purchased on foreign Internet-based media should not be tax deductible. The reports offer a tempting vision for those seeking a simple solution to the struggles of Canadian media organizations. Both posit that much of the problem lies largely with the dominance of Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market. According to the FCB report:
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The National Post has a story today on a research note written by Maher Yaghi, a telecom analyst, warning about the “regulatory risks” of the CRTC’s review of the wireless code. The article focuses on a single analyst, but there is a long tradition in Canada of the industry saying one thing to the regulator and another to the business community (see, for example, Bell’s position on investing in fibre networks) so the comments likely reflect industry concerns. What regulatory risks might arise from changes to the wireless code?
Yaghi cites two concerns that lay plain why the industry has been fighting potential changes. The issue is not, as some would have you believe, increased regulatory costs. Rather, the fear is that changes would create better informed consumers who would seek cheaper pricing and be freer to take advantage of marketplace competition.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets U.S. President Donald Trump today with trade issues sure to be a key part of the agenda. With the TPP now dead and NAFTA headed to renegotiation, the arrival of a Trump administration has had a dramatic impact on Canadian trade policy. Last November, I wrote a piece in the Globe and Mail arguing that Canada’s trade negotiation strategy needed to focus more on the how of trade negotiations than the who:
the how of negotiation may be more important than the who. The public backlash against trade deals points to a process that leaves many feeling excluded and to terms that are presented publicly for the first time as final. The real opportunity for Ottawa is not just to explore new trade partners but to challenge some of the long-standing assumptions about such deals in order to foster greater public confidence in the outcome.
The column continued by suggesting that the government “ensure that the same emphasis on transparency and public consultation that is emblematic of domestic policy development is mirrored in the trade file.”
Last week, the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade issued a report on free trade agreements, which it described as “a tool for economic prosperity.”
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Last night I appeared on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin to discuss privacy issues in light of the Trump Executive Order that eliminates Privacy Act protections for non-U.S. citizens or permanent residents. A video of the discussion is embedded below.
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