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Moore’s Mission: Put the Canadian Digital Economy Back on Track

One of the headliners behind last week’s federal government cabinet shuffle was the shift of James Moore, formerly the Minister of Canadian Heritage, to Industry Canada. The Minister of Industry position holds the promise of having a significant impact on the Canadian economy, as the department is responsible for everything from competition policy to foreign investment reviews to telecommunications regulation.

Christian Paradis, now the former Industry minister, never seemed particularly interested or engaged in the portfolio. He disappeared on legislative initiatives (Moore assumed the lead over a copyright bill that was technically Paradis’ responsibility and his privacy bill never left the starting gate), allowed regulations to languish (the anti-spam regulations are years overdue), and failed to articulate an overarching vision for key sectors such as the digital economy.

While inaction might have few consequences in a smaller department, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the policy failures at Industry slowly began to accumulate and emerged as a mounting problem for the broader economy. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s Office appears to have assumed control over the telecom file earlier this year, emphasizing the need for greater competition and consumer rights in a series of moves designed to welcome foreign giants such as Verizon to Canada. 

Moore undeniably brings better communications skills, more energy, and experience with several of the portfolio’s most contentious issues, generating great expectations for future actions. What might Canadians expect from Industry Minister Moore?

The reality is that the policies on the most critical issues are likely already established, with Moore mandated to implement and more effectively communicate the government position. 

For example, government policy to use every tool at its disposal to increase telecom competition by encouraging the emergence of a fourth wireless player is by now well-established. While prior efforts have failed to generate robust competition, a successful new foreign entrant, completion of a spectrum auction, and implementation of the CRTC consumer wireless code should lay the foundation for positive change that might gradually result in more competitive consumer telecom choices.

The government’s short-term intellectual property policies are also largely set. Once the House of Commons resumes in the fall, the government will likely reintroduce its anti-counterfeiting legislation, with Moore once again defending a copyright bill that bears the unmistakable imprint of U.S. pressure. Should Canada conclude the trade agreement with the European Union, he will also have the unenviable task of selling reforms to Canadian patent rules that will add billions of dollars to annual health care costs.

While telecom and intellectual property may be set, there are a host of other issues that Moore can use to leave his mark on the portfolio. For example, privacy has been attracting mounting attention in recent months as security breaches and reports of widespread surveillance leave many Canadians wondering whether the current rules provide adequate protection.

Moore has several opportunities to address those concerns, including implementing the overdue anti-spam regulations, tabling an updated privacy reform bill, and providing advice on the appointment of a new privacy commissioner when the term of the current commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, concludes later this year.

Moore might also venture back to Canadian Heritage matters by examining some of the core economic issues that overlap with culture concerns. These include the removal of foreign investment restrictions in the broadcasting sector, an overhaul of the Copyright Board of Canada, and battles over potential regulation of Internet video providers.

All of these issues fall within the broader “digital economy” umbrella, raising the question of whether Moore will bring forward the long-delayed digital economy strategy. Given that it has been years since the government consulted on the strategy, he may choose to drop the issue altogether, choosing to focus on his government’s legislative, regulatory, and policy achievements, rather than on what it has failed to accomplish.

7 Comments

  1. This government has been a mixed bag when it comes to consumer rights, though some recent decisions have been positive. On the business side, you could even say they have been uncharacteristically combative with industry. Yet where is this all going?

    What Minister Moore needs is vision and a comprehensive plan for Canada’s digital future. One that addresses not only consumer protection but progressive polices for healthy competition, investment and development of our digital sector.

    Of course to do so he needs to listen to all stakeholders, creators and consumers alike … perhaps even the “radical extremists” :D

  2. I think the real reason the government is avoiding putting a digital strategy down on paper is that it would force them to follow it to some degree. The lack of a digital strategy gives them all the latitude they want to manipulate public policy on the fly. The lack of a digital strategy is bad for consumers and business but it is good for the Conservatives as they work to manufacture the next consumer populist issue they can use to attract voters.

  3. ..
    So what Harper “Might” have finally put some one in to do something. Stalled for the businesses and we are supposed to believe he cares for us? This Harper-government I don’t believe it, till I see it happen. Even then the over all has been favoring the corporate world and now it’s the typical to buy votes.

  4. James Van Leeuwen says:

    Strategy? From this Government?
    I won’t be holding my breath Michael. I think it is far more likely that Moore will drop the issue.

    This is a reactionary government, whose vision for Canada’s future looks like more of its past.

    Their driving ambition is to protect and strengthen our economic status quo, not disrupt it and make it relevant to the 21st century.

    The economy ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.

    The depressing reality is that this economic agenda more or less reflects the interests of most Canadians who vote, and presumably a lot of other Canadians who can’t be bothered to vote.

    It’s how the Conservatives won their tenuous majority government, and they have defied anyone to come up with an alternative political agenda that would lead to a majority government. They aren’t about to risk their majority on outside-the-box economic policies, which is what we need to get our digital economy back on the rails.

    For the time being, we’ll be limited to advancing the digital economy by way of our extractive industries and other traditional wealth generating sectors, where suitable leadership is very thin on the ground.

    In other words, we will continue to fall behind.

    The only real hope I have is that we’ll see much stronger leadership emerging from Canada’s community/municipal sector, like this example set by Olds, Alberta:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2013/07/17/technology-gigabit-internet-olds.html?cmp=rss

    i-CANADA is an emerging forum for community leaders interested in taking similar initiative:

    http://icanada.nu

    I sit on i-CANADA’s Advisory Board, and the initiative needs a lot more active participation from community leaders everywhere in Canada. I hope you don’t mind me making this plug.

  5. Just Sayin’ Mr. Moore ..
    While your government is working on consumer issues try this … http://torrentfreak.com/finland-writes-history-with-crowdsourced-copyright-law-130722/

    And don’t forget the “ban unfair clauses in recording contracts” part for the creators.


  6. Start with fixing copyrights. A copy right can’t be removed by being sold/or transfered through contract but can only be leased and limit them to 25 years. Also only a natural person can own a copyright not a corporation.

  7. Neil McEvoy says:

    Canada scoring D for Declining
    Well Michael it’s been six months now, but still nothing.

    Let’s be honest, James nails it exactly right – We could wait another six years and it still won’t appear, they simply just don’t give a shit about anything except oil.

    We will need to produce it ourselves, see Digital-Economy.ca

    Neil.