The government’s Speech from the Throne was billed in advance as a “consumers-first” agenda with Industry Minister James Moore talking up initiatives such as tackling wireless roaming fees and the unbundling of cable television packages over the weekend. Yet it turns out the consumers-first agenda is pretty thin: the roaming fee issue may be limited to domestic roaming (an issue that is invisible to many wireless customers), the unbundling will be useful for some though not all television subscribers, and promising enhanced broadband in rural communities is a far cry from committing to universal broadband access for all Canadians by 2015 (other issues such as the anti-digital economy measure of banning extra fees for paper bills is hardly worth mentioning and an airline passenger bill of rights wasn’t mentioned).
Perhaps the real intended focus is a celebration-first agenda as the speech emphasizes that “Canada’s Confederation is worth celebrating.” The government therefore commits to marking the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences, to celebrating the 200th birthdays of Sir George-Ã‰tienne Cartier and Sir John A. Macdonald, the centennial of the first world war, and the 75th anniversary of the second world war.
Of course, the real focus of the speech isn’t birthday celebrations or consumers. From a digital issues perspective, it is what the speech doesn’t say that is important:
- It doesn’t say the government will advance long-overdue privacy reforms for both the private sector and the government.
- It doesn’t say the government will address the myriad of shortcomings with the access-to-information system.
- It doesn’t say Canada will sign and enact the Marrakesh Treaty on the Visually Impaired, the world’s first copyright user rights treaty.
- It doesn’t say the government will fix the woeful oversight and review of Canada’s surveillance activities.
- It doesn’t say that lawful access won’t return (in fact it hints that it might).
- It doesn’t say that the remaining foreign investment restrictions for telecom and broadcast will be removed.
- It doesn’t say that it plans to increase the term of patent protection, thereby adding billions to health care costs (even though that is precisely what it plans to do as part of the Canada – EU Trade Agreement).
- It doesn’t say that it may undo the same copyright reforms it just finished enacting and promoting (which it may be required to do as part of the Trans Pacific Partnership)
The television bundling and roaming fee issues are good as far as they go, but to suggest that this legislative agenda puts consumers first is to ignore a myriad of crucial issues that are absent from one of the longest throne speeches in recent years.