Canadian digital policy over the past decade has been marked by a “made-in-Canada” approach that ensures consistency with international law but reflects national values and norms. On a wide range issues – copyright rules, net neutrality, anti-spam legislation, and privacy protection among them – the federal government has carved out policies that are similar to those found elsewhere but with a more obvious emphasis on striking a balance that includes full consideration of the public interest.
My Globe and Mail opinion piece notes that as with many issues, the burning question for the Liberal government is whether the Canadian digital policy approach can survive the Donald Trump administration. Trade pressures are likely to present Canada with an enormous challenge in maintaining its traditional policy balancing act since the United States is already using tough talk to signal demands for change. This suggests that many Canadian policies will be up for negotiation, although there are some potential opportunities that reside outside of the trade talk spotlight.
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The official release of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a global trade agreement between 12 countries including Canada, the United States, and Japan, has sparked a heated public debate over the merits of the deal. Leading the opposition is Research in Motion founder Jim Balsillie, who has described the TPP as one of Canada’s worst-ever policy moves that could cost the country billions of dollars.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that as Canadians assess the 6,000 page agreement, the implications for digital policies such as copyright and privacy should command considerable attention. On those fronts, the agreement appears to be a major failure. Canadian negotiators adopted a defensive strategy by seeking to maintain existing national laws and doing little to extend Canadian policies to other countries. The result is a deal that the U.S. has rightly promoted as “Made in America.” [a video of my recent talk on this issue can be found here].
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A Liberal majority government will undoubtedly mean big things for digital policy in Canada. At the start of a new mandate, many will hope that a new party will lead to a significant change on telecom, broadcast, copyright, and privacy. With a majority mandate, there is certainly time to tackle these issues. My guess, however, is that real change will take some time. The Liberal platform did not focus on digital issues and other than the promised reforms to Bill C-51 and much-needed open government and transparency initiatives, most will have to wait.
The real action – and perhaps real change – will take place in 2017. By that time, the U.S. election will have concluded and the future of the Trans Pacific Partnership will be much clearer. Canada will surely start studying the TPP once it is finally released, but any steps toward ratification would likely depend on the U.S. position on the agreement. With Hillary Clinton currently opposed to the deal, its ratification is far from certain.
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As Canadians head to the polls, Internet and digital issues are unlikely to be top-of-mind for many voters. Each party has sprinkled its election platform with digital policies – the NDP emphasizes privacy, net neutrality and its opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Liberals focus on open government, and the Conservatives tout cyber-security – yet Internet and digital issues have played at best a minor role in the campaign. The early references to a Netflix tax or the debate over Bill C-51 have been largely lost in an election whose central issue seems primarily to be a referendum on ten years of Stephen Harper and the Conservative government.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that a review of digital and Internet law in the 2015 election campaign involves a similar assessment on the past decade of privacy, copyright and telecom policy. The Conservatives once placed a heavy emphasis on Internet-friendly approach, crafting rules that were designed to attract popular support by encouraging telecom competition, greater flexibility for copyright, and consumer privacy protection. Yet toward the end of its mandate, the government shifted priorities and in the process seemed to forget about the Internet.
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This week my regular technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) focused on the long election campaign and the prospect that digital issues might get some time in the spotlight. The column pointed to three broad themes – what comes after Bill C-51, the Trans Pacific Partnership, and a digital strategy 3.0. As part of the digital strategy discussion, I stated that questions abound, including “are new regulations over services such as Netflix on the horizon?”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed that question yesterday with a video and tweet in which he pledged that the Conservatives will never tax digital streaming services like Netflix and Youtube. Harper added that the Liberals and NDP have left the door open to a Netflix tax, but that he is 100% opposed, “always has been, always will be.” Both opposition parties quickly responded with the NDP saying they have not proposed a Netflix tax and the Liberals saying they have never supported a Netflix tax and do not support a Netflix tax.
So is this much ado about nothing?
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