Last night’s election results have left many online speculating about the future of digital policies in Canada. I think it is hard to project precisely what will happen – we don’t even know for certain whether Tony Clement and James Moore will remain in their portfolios or move elsewhere (there are a fair number of open cabinet positions which could mean changes). Assuming they stay the course, however, the Conservative positions on digital policies are strong in a number of areas.
For example, a majority may pave the way for opening up the Canadian telecom market, which would be a welcome change. The Conservatives have focused consistently on improving Canadian competition and opening the market is the right place to start to address both Internet access (including UBB) and wireless services. The Conservatives have a chance to jump on some other issues such as following through on the digital economy strategy and ending the Election Act rules that resulted in the Twitter ban last night. They are also solidly against a number of really bad proposals – an iPod tax, new regulation of Internet video providers such as Netflix – and their majority government should put an end to those issues for the foreseeable future.
On copyright and privacy, it is more of a mixed bag.
The copyright bill is – as I described at its introduction last June – flawed but fixable. I realize that it may be reintroduced unchanged (the Wikileaks cables are not encouraging), but with the strength of a majority, there is also the strength to modify some of the provisions including the digital lock rules. Clement spoke regularly about the willingness to consider amendments and the Conservative MPs on the Bill C-32 committee were very strong. If the U.S. has exceptions for unlocking DVDs and a full fair use provision, surely Canada can too.
The Conservatives are a good news, bad news story on privacy. A fairly good privacy bill died on the order paper that will hopefully be reintroduced as it included mandatory security breach notification requirements. There will be a PIPEDA review this year and the prospect of tougher penalties for privacy violations is certainly possible. Much more troubling is the lawful access package which raises major civil liberties concerns and could be placed on the fast track.
As for the opposition, the NDP has been the most outspoken on issues such as UBB and net neutrality. Charlie Angus will now be joined by many new MPs – Andrew Cash and Peggy Nash both come immediately to mind – who have experience on copyright and other issues. The end of the Bloc is great news on digital files as it was the Bloc, more than any other party, that promoted ISP levies, iPod levies, and a range of other new copyright fees. The Liberals put forward some good positions on digital issues and some proponents such as Marc Garneau survived last night (Dan McTeague, who seemed to speak more for CRIA than any MP from any party, and Pablo Rodriguez, did not).
While there will undoubtedly be wins and losses, the majority offers the opportunity to move away from years of policies driven by politics where little actually becomes law to one driven by policy that results in true legal reform. Given the last seven years of minority Liberal and Conservative governments that achieved so little on digital policies, the chance to get something done probably represents the biggest change of all.