The Centre for International Governance Innovation, the well-respected independent think tank based in Waterloo, has posted the first part of an exceptional new series on innovation. From the introduction from Rohinton Medhora to several pieces on innovation and trade (Kahin, Haggart, Ciuriak, and Van Harten), the series promises to provide politicians and policy makers with valuable insights to support the government’s focus on innovation. I was delighted to participate in the project with a piece titled How Trolls are Stifling Innovators, Gamers and Netflix Junkies.
The contribution, which is accompanied by a video on the impact of copyright and fair use on innovation, identifies several areas of copyright reform that are closely linked to innovation policy. These include copyright flexibilities such as fair use, the need to prevent IP and copyright misuse, and the harms associated with restrictive digital lock rules. The article starts by noting that the Supreme Court of Canada highlighted the link between copyright and innovation in the 2002 Theberge decision:
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Yesterday’s federal budget included plans to amend the law to ensure that GST/HST is applicable to ride sharing services such as Uber. The budget states that the government will:
Amend the definition of a taxi business under the Excise Tax Act to level the playing field and ensure that ride-sharing businesses are subject to the same GST/HST rules as taxis.
This change should not be particularly controversial. No one likes paying taxes, but equal application of sales taxes ensures appropriate revenue collection and a level-playing field for all businesses in the sector. As I noted in an earlier post, I expect that this is a first step toward extending requirements to collect and remit sales taxes on foreign digital services such as Netflix and Spotify. Applying sales taxes to all foreign digital services is complicated – there needs to be thresholds implemented to ensure that administrative costs do not outweigh revenues collected – but Uber is well established in Canada with many local jurisdictions establishing a regulatory framework for the service.
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The release of today’s federal budget is expected to include a significant emphasis on innovation, with the government revealing how it plans to spend (or re-allocate) hundreds of millions of dollars that is intended to support innovation. Canada’s dismal innovation record needs attention, but spending our way to a more innovative economy is unlikely to yield the desired results. While Navdeep Bains, the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister, has talked for months about the importance of innovation, Toronto Star columnist Paul Wells today delivers a cutting but accurate assessment of those efforts:
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The Canadian government has prioritized innovation as a marquee policy issue. There are signals that Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains will use the upcoming budget to overhaul the myriad of innovation funding and support programs that have cost billions of dollars with only a limited return on investment. There is no reason to doubt the commitment to innovation, but a national strategy must involve more than changes to how the government doles out cash incentives.
Yet when presented with the opportunity to address a core component of any serious innovation strategy – the communications sector that provides the foundation for the digital economy – Mr. Bains last week took a look at a market that the Competition Bureau found suffers from coordinated behaviour among the three dominant providers and simply whiffed. The decision to approve the merger of BCE and Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS) with only minor tinkering seems certain to increase wireless pricing for Manitoba residents and eliminate one of the few competitive bright spots in Canada.
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The Canadian chapter of the International Institute of Communications held their annual conference in Ottawa this week, headlined on Thursday by back-to-back appearances from Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly (in a question and answer session with Jennifer Ditchburn) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.
Both ministers spoke primarily about their key policy initiative, namely digital cancon (Joly) and innovation (Bains). Joly’s cancon discussion again emphasized the benefits of exports and foreign investment, but she also indicated that all policies are still on the table, including an ISP tax and efforts to bring Internet companies such as Netflix “into the system.” Joly was followed by Bains, who used his speech to sketch out the foundation of his forthcoming innovation strategy. His focus included universal, affordable Internet access and telecom competition (which raises real doubts about whether the government will approve Bell’s proposed purchase of MTS).
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