Members of Parliament spent more than two hours on Wednesday debating Bill C-37, Canada' s proposed do-not-hesitate-to-call list. The debate makes for a depressing read – Canada' s elected officials each trip over themselves in self-congratulation as they render the list ever more useless.
For those new to the issue, the government introduced do-not-call legislation late last year. Hearings before a parliamentary committee gutted the bill with new exceptions for polling companies, charities, political parties, and businesses with "pre-existing" business relationships (defined to include prior business transaction in the previous 18 months or a mere inquiry over the previous six months).
After this week' s debate, it is clear that the bill is going to be even worse. The MPs tried to add another exception, this one for Canadian newspapers, who would be entitled to freely solicit for new subscribers. The reason for this exception? According to one MP "it is about literacy and freedom of speech. Newspapers contribute to the democratic dialogue in Canada. In fact, section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including the freedom of the press."
As for the other exceptions, the MPs justified each (presumably with a straight face):
- the exception for political parties "allows for freedom of speech and for get out the vote campaigns"
- the exception for charities is needed otherwise "they would have been condemned to die"
- the exception for polling companies is needed because an effective do not call list could lead to "unrepresentative samples of the Canadian public created by unreliable survey results"
- the prior business relationship is needed for organizations "in order to survive."
What is particularly galling about the debate is the obvious inconsistency of the MPs. As they rush to congratulate one another for a job well done, they all acknowledge that their constituents overwhelmingly want a do-not-call list (one study found that 97 percent of Canadians find the calls irritating) and that Canadians should have a right to privacy. They also maintain that the do-not-call list benefits the telemarketing industry. Notes one MP:
Left unanswered is why all these exceptions are needed if calling people who do not want to be called is a waste of time. One would have thought that charities, political parties, polling companies, newspapers, and businesses don' t want to waste their time.
The reality, of course, is that they don’t want to waste their time. They want to waste ours.