Digital Issues Deserve a Spot in Election Campaign

With a federal election now set for October 14th, the coming weeks will be dominated by political debate as each party seeks to make their case to voters across the country. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the election mode marks an important role reversal – after months of Canadians working to gain the attention of their elected officials, those same politicians will be knocking on doors, making phone calls, and participating in all-candidates meetings in an effort to seek them out.

The 2008 election therefore presents an exceptional opportunity to raise the profile of digital issues.  Not only do these policies touch on so-called core concerns such as the economy, the environment, education, and health care, but they also resonate with younger Canadians, who could help swing the balance of power in many ridings. In the United States election, both Barack Obama and John McCain have unveiled detailed digital policy positions.  Canadian leaders have yet to promote their policies, but there are at least five worth watching and asking about.

1.    Spectrum surplus – The recent wireless spectrum auction generated over $4 billion for the federal government, nearly triple initial estimates.  The Conservatives committed in the 2008 budget to allocate the funds to debt reduction. The Liberals, meanwhile, focused on the opportunity to use the surplus revenues to kick-start long delayed plans to provide high-speed Internet access to all Canadians.  Where do the parties stand on the use of the spectrum proceeds and on universal broadband access from coast to coast to coast?

2.    Wireless competition – The sorry state of the Canadian wireless marketplace has been well documented in recent months with high profile incidents involving text message charges and high data pricing.  New competitors are slated to debut in late 2009, yet Canadians continue to face high prices and limited choice.  Are the political parties content with the status quo?  If not, would they consider additional measures such as the removal of foreign ownership restrictions or new openness requirements in the next spectrum auction?

3.    Net neutrality – Network neutrality emerged as a major issue this year with a political rally on Parliament Hill, the introduction of a Private Member's bill, and a heated regulatory battle between Bell and independent Internet service providers at the CRTC.  The same is true in the U.S., where the Federal Communications Commission (the CRTC's counterpart) ordered cable giant Comcast to abide by net neutrality principles.  Where do Canada's political parties stand on net neutrality?  If the CRTC concludes that it does not possess the regulatory power to address the issue, would they be prepared to introduce legislative reforms?

4.    Copyright – Few issues generated as much attention this summer as copyright with some Members of Parliament acknowledging that the controversial Bill C-61 was one of the most discussed constituent concerns.  With the bill now dead, each party should be asked to articulate its plan for the future.  Would the Conservatives reintroduce the bill unchanged?  Would the Liberals scrap the bill and hold public consultations as several of their MPs have suggested?  Would the NDP continue its strong opposition to the C-61 approach?

5.    Privacy reform – Over the past year, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics held hearings on potential reforms to both PIPEDA (the private sector privacy law) and the Privacy Act (the public sector privacy law).  These reform initiatives – including a recommendation to implement long-awaited mandatory security breach disclosure legislation – have now stalled with the election call.  None of the political parties have staked out a clear position on privacy legislation. This election campaign provides an opportunity to put the issue, along with other digital concerns, squarely on the policy agenda.


  1. Quebec
    CONFIRMED: Quebec’s mass media doesn’t care about digital issues.

    When Duceppe tried to mention the discussions he had with Harper about copyrights, one of the journalists told him they didn’t cared about that and to talk about real issues. This is a sad era indeed when journalists decide ahead of time their headlines, before the interview is even done.

  2. DMCA
    thats cause that reporter works for hollywood

  3. Just a suggestion
    What I’ve been hearing is that the Govt is so pissed by the personal attacks on Prentice and Harper that if they go get back, C-61 will look like a tea party by the time they’ve finished with it. So, here’s the suggestion – keep this discussion sensible, realistic, acknowledge there are decent people who disagree with you, and keep to the issues, not the personalities. Remember the Conservatives likely will win and if they have a majority or even an increased minority, people who crossed them are toast

  4. woot
    goto and see what happens when you bring it up, the neo con movement will get on you about solutions or ideas.

    be forewarned they dont want you speaking of this cause its REALLY why they caled the election to prevent 4 by elections they’d not win and this law gettign smacked/

  5. ya really
    get your self invited to the CANADIAN POLITICS SECTION see how i have been harrased

  6. waste of words
    That\’s not how democracy works \”Ottawa\”! People aren\’t going to sit by and be polite to these corporate christian fundamentalist fascists and fear that they might be \”toast\”. C-61 is already the worst piece of legislation and couldn\’t be any worse out of spite! People are idiots if they vote for a party which models their techniques, values and corporate cronyism after a failing US administration which is on it\’s way out! People need to learn from history. Good riddance to Harper and the Conservatives, and welcome to parties like the NDP or the Green party, who actually care about the majority of Canadians and not the minority of the rich few! Not to mention, they actually have environmental as well as economical platforms unlike the Conservatives who are still sitting on the fence about climate change like so many christian fundamentalists because they choose to believe studies payed for by Republican oil interests who have duped christians for votes. Even the Liberal Green Shift program would drop the amount of taxes paid by Canadians by 10% and clean up the environment and put money towards alternative energy sources to help towards losing our dependance on foreign oil and the wars started becuse of it. Right wing Christian Conservatives don\’t care about any of these issues because they already think the world is a cesspool and that the \”endtimes\” are near and that they get to go to a better place anyway. What a messed up defeatest, delusional attitude that is basically so selfish as to not care about the future of their children or grandchildren. They would rather live under the motto of \”Ignorance is Bliss\” because the news today is just too depressing to watch and they would rather stay happy just listening to Christian music which just repeatedly praises God and all of his goodness! Good riddance to Harper, Prentice and all of the Conservatives! Is that what I wasn\’t supposed to say \”Ottawa\” and just be a good little lamb and watch my country turn into a Bush administration failure like the US?

  7. waste of words
    I really don’t think they care what you have to say, Jason

  8. They don’t care!

  9. Give me a break
    Ottawa wrote: “What I’ve been hearing is that the Govt is so pissed by the personal attacks on Prentice and Harper … if they go get back, C-61 will look like a tea party by the time they’ve finished with it.”

    Ha, ha. That’s rich, since neo-cons wrote the book on personal attacks. Are you trying to tell us that they can give but can’t take and that they would be so unprofessional as to seek retribution for much-deserved criticism? That would be arrogant, petty and petulant which, come to think of it, are three attributes often ascribed to neo-cons. Face it folks, they and the rest of their miserable excuse for a party are agents of big business and foreign powers and nothing more. They do not operate in the interest of Canadian citizens and deserve no less than to be unceremoniously dumped from office.

  10. Wow, calm down man
    JasonN, it sure sounds like a “right wing Christian conservative” peed in you pool sometime but please don’t paint them all with the same brush. There are extreme fundamentalists in any philosophy or movement but they usually don’t represent the majority. As you might have guessed I am a conservative Christian and I just happen to believe the teachings of Christ that we are to love our neighbors [NOT be selfish], feed the poor and marginalized [NOT make the rich richer … it is hard for a rich man to to enter the kingdom of god after all ;)] and to be stewards of the earth [Care and respect the wonder that is God’s creation].

    And for the real surprise .. I will likely vote for my local NDP candidate because he seems to care more about the needs of the people [including opposing the big business sell out of bill C-61!]. And if I was American I’d vote for Obama because they need to stop killing and start caring. If the US government spent what the Iraq war costs on alternative energy technology and infrastructure then they would be a net energy exporter and not need the war for oil in the first place. They could then spend the money on hospitals and education for the developing world, a much better change agent. Just so you don’t think I’m not a “right wing” Christian I do believe life begins at conception, but rather than banning abortions there should be real ongoing community support for and a removal of stigma against those who would make a choice for life.

    I hope JasonN that you get my point that not all Christians are “duped”, greedy and hateful; just like all Muslims are not repressive and terrorists. People who label themselves as a member of a belief system, yet do not follow the core tenets of their belief, are usually cherry-picking those tenets to justify their own self interest. So JasonN it seems that conservative Christians are capable of non-ignorant compassionate though after all 😉 Seriously, I wish you all the best and hope we can all work together to make this a better world for everyone, including our children and grandchildren.

  11. Only referring to Fundamentalists!
    I’m completely with you on all of your points Crockett. I only have a problem with the Fundies and I know that they are a major proponent of the Harper government and his mindset. I know it must be hard for you to support NDP, when they are pro-choice and you are a pro-life christian. Finding a party with the perfect platform is impossible, so we are stuck making tough choices and all having to give a little on certain issues for the greater good.

  12. The role of corporations?
    C-61 isn’t just bad for individuals, but it also stands to harm many businesses, as this Marketnews article points out.
    [ link ]
    How can we mobilize corporations to draw attention to and push for changes to C-61?

  13. REALLY???

    ssssuuuurrrreee, we obey the laws foisted upon us from above, we agree to what corporations are pushing, and we become little compliant consumers of formulaic corporate “product” (be it DRM-laden pop music or expensive cell phone plans) and let them decide how, when and what we consume online and offline.


    You don’t deserve any rights, “Ottawa”. At all.

    Representative democracy has failed, both in Canada and United States, because elected officials tend not to represent their constituents. Sarmite “Sam” Bulte, Stephen W. Harper and Jim Prentice (really “Sam Bulte 2.0”) are just some of the examples.

    But Canadians are also responsible for the government they got.

    “Tony Merchant, the class-action lawyer, says the problem extends beyond government and regulatory action and lies with consumers themselves. Canadians’ politeness and non-confrontational manner serves them well in international reputation, but it also makes them willing suckers to be taken advantage of by the likes of banks, airlines and telecommunications providers.” From [ link ] .

    “politeness and non-confrontational manner”. “willing suckers”. Swallow everything thrown at you.

    Charlie Angus: “This election will be crucial for the future of digital innovation in Canada. So folks, its time to move beyond click and point and get out there and do some campaigning to get rid of these guys.”

    So, time to bring back elements of participative democracy. We have elements of it thanks to the Net, but now let’s move beyond the Net, pointing and clicking.

  14. As Tony Merchant makes tens of millions a year from suing government and corporations (so, basically, we all pay him through higher taxes and prices) he has zero reason to want this to change

  15. Kevin Street says:

    Hey Ottawa,

    Instead of worrying about who you crossed or angered, how about getting out there and doing your part to make sure the Conservatives don’t win? That seems like the best way to finish this bill, if you ask me.

    The Conservatives and the other parties need to understand that suport for this bill *will* hurt them at the ballot box.

  16. intolerance
    I voted Conservative in the last election. I won’t be this time. For me it comes down to the non-negotiable issue of Bill C-61. Any candidate in my riding that supports it (or anything like it) is crossed off my list as a possible.

    I wanted to expound further on my thoughts here, but the anti-religious bigotry in this comment thread tells me it really isn’t worth my time. JasonN, everyone has a believe system of some sort, perhaps yours is atheism. Whatever yours is, you are a fundamentalist in that belief system with deep-seated hatreds for those that do not share your beliefs. From where I’m standing, I can’t tell the difference between you and the description of the people you rant about. It’s just a suggestion, but try dialling down the hatred and venom a bit and you’ll be a happier person. Tolerance, including religious tolerance, makes for a much happier world for all.

  17. I am Christian and it doesnt need a bad
    You’ve got me completely wrong Bill. All I do is preach tolerance to everyone around me! I don’t want us to hijack this thread any further regarding religion, it was just an important part of the make-up of my original arguement as to what the Conservative party is about and the kind of people who consult with them and form their policies. In turn, that speaks volumes regarding Harper’s character and direction, not to mention he knows nothing about tolerance and should not be in a position to lead a country made up of many different beliefs and backgrounds which would appear to be contrary to his own. There is a lot to be said about the importance of separation between church and state.

  18. Do You Care?
    If you really care, you\’d join with me and donate $100 to the Liberal Party or NDP (if they are likely to win your riding). Then write a nice letter to the Conservative candidate telling them exactly that. Ohhh – you get $75 of that $100 back on your tax return, so this is the cost of a couple weeks internet – well worth it.

    Don\’t think it will make a difference? There are at least 100,000 of us and that is $10MM of potential funding (I\’ve already donated for 10 of you who were too lazy to do it yourself). No political party will ignore $10MM in grass roots contributions – you should know that from experience on this Copyright Bills. The problem is that they don\’t think any of you care enough to cough up that $25. Are they right?

  19. Don’t give any money to the old line parties (Lib/Cons) that no longer represent constituents. The Liberal DMCA in 2005 wasn’t much better. I suggest contributing to the Green or NDP as they took a good stand against C-61. Or even the Marijuana party if you want to show some contempt for the state of politics in Canada!

  20. Political Donations

    I agree the Liberal DMCA wasn’t any better, but there is a new Liberal regime in place who seem to have accepted the need for public consultation. That counts for a lot.

    Also, back in 2004, even the NDP were supporting that Bill – the whole committee was screwed up.

    So … support the candidate in your riding who is most likely to out poll the Conservatives. In my neighbourhood that was the Liberals (and I’m a former Progressive Conservative worker), and they received $1,100, a new party member, and (when I get the time) a campaign worker. Yes, THAT is how pissed I am. I hope some Conservative operative out there actually reads this and conveys this upstairs.

    If the Conservatives win and pass this legislation, I’ll donate more to the party who promises to modify it with proper public consultation.

  21. email election conduct
    perhaps this may be something to ponder:

    allegation: candidate creates a yahoo id with a false name, sends emails containing false information regarding other candidates, which is picked up as front page news in local community newspaper.

    what is the consequence in a digital age where the impact of this type of communication method may not be taken serious by our judicial system?

    if it is happening once and may not be taken serious, then, how many more times does this get to happen across our country, federally/provincial/civically before someone says enough?