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, 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.
Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.