The lack of progress on the Canadian digital economy strategy has been a source of frustration for many as the still-unreleased strategy has been largely missing in action. Late last year I dubbed it the government’s Penske File, a reference to the Seinfeld episode involving a non-existent work project. While Canada is still without a comprehensive strategy, elements have begun to emerge in recent weeks.
On the legislative and policy front, Bill C-11 has passed the committee stage and seems likely to race toward royal assent by the summer, last week’s unveiling of the telecom policy (including policies on the forthcoming spectrum auction and foreign ownership) puts to rest a major issue associated with the digital economy strategy, the CRTC recently published its final anti-spam regulations with Industry Canada expected to follow with theirs shortly, the open government initiative has been making considerable progress, and Government House Leader Peter Van Loan told the House of Commons on Thursday that Bill C-12 (the PIPEDA reform bill) may finally move forward next week.
Industry Minister Christian Paradis yesterday took another positive step by convening a federal – provincial ministerial meeting on the digital economy.
The meeting focused on issues such as broadband access, technology adoption in small and medium sized businesses, and digital skills. While it is easy to dismiss such meetings are mere politicking, the provincial role in a national digital economy strategy has been badly neglected. In addition to the potential for provinces to work on broadband access issues, many digital economy legal and policy issues may fall under provincial jurisdiction.
This is obviously the case for e-commerce consumer protection issues (note the growing number of provincial initiatives on consumer protection on wireless services), but may also involve privacy, spam, and even para-copyright such as digital locks. As I noted earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent ruling that plans to create a single securities regulator are unconstitutional has major implications for the digital economy strategy. Federal privacy law may now be particularly vulnerable to challenge since it relies on the same trade and commerce provision that was used in the securities regulator case. Anti-spam regulations may also be at risk and there has been open speculation that Bill C-11’s digital lock rules are unconstitutional since they move too far away from conventional copyright law (a federal power) by encroaching into provincial jurisdiction over property and civil rights. In short, there is no digital economy strategy without provincial involvement. Yesterday’s meeting may be a step in the right direction with growing indications that the neglected file is at long last attracting some attention.