As the national election campaign launched five weeks ago, I wrote that "the election presents an exceptional opportunity to raise the profile of digital issues." While the economy unsurprisingly dominated much of the political discourse, each of the national parties unveiled platforms and positions that included some discussion of digital policy. With Canadians headed to the polls today, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, Ottawa Citizen version, homepage version) offers a scorecard on each party's digital policy positions.
Conservatives. The Conservatives were the last party to release their platform, but it included considerable discussion of digital policy issues, including telecommunications, spam, and copyright. On the telecommunications front, the party committed to preventing companies from charging fees for unsolicited text messages. It also promised to strengthen the powers of the new Commissioner of Complaints for Telecommunications with an emphasis on establishing a code of conduct for Canadian wireless carriers.
Several years after the National Task Force on Spam recommended introducing anti-spam legislation (I was a member of the task force), the Conservatives promised to follow-through with the long-delayed bill. The party also pledged to wade back into contentious copyright reform, promising to reintroduce the legislation that sparked considerable concern from Canadians across the country, and to introduce tougher anti-counterfeiting measures, which may indicate continued support for the still-secret Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
Liberals. The Liberal party used its platform to emphasize its commitment to universal access to high-speed Internet. As part of its infrastructure investments, the party promised that it would "complete the job of making broadband Internet service available to rural communities." The platform also announces plans to develop a Canadian Digital Media Strategy.
The Liberal position on copyright remains somewhat unclear with much of the focus on the need for broader consultations before introducing a future bill. Several candidates committed to protecting both creator and consumer rights, with the party's Bill C-60, which died on the order paper in 2005, serving as a likely starting point for new legislation.
New Democrats. Consistent with their position before the election, the New Democrats were the most outspoken on digital rights issues. Led by Charlie Angus, a Member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay, the party promoted telecom and copyright as key concerns. On the telecom front, it focused on net neutrality, arguing that the issue deserved greater prominence in the electoral debate.
On copyright, the party was highly critical of the Conservatives' copyright bill, arguing that it would "criminalize fans, leave artists on the sidelines and offer a windfall to corporate lawyers." Dozens of party candidates committed to copyright consultations and protecting user rights, while suggesting that the legislative focus should be on commercial piracy rather targeting private users.
Greens. While the Green party is associated primarily with environmental issues, the party presented a fairly robust digital policy position. It rejected copyright legislation based on providing legal protection for digital locks, called for an end to crown copyright, and provided the most explicit support for net neutrality, noting in its platform that it would prohibit "Internet Service Providers from discriminating due to content while freeing them from liability for content transmitted through their systems."
The party was also the only one to focus on the emergence of open source software. Its platform says that the party will "ensure that all new software developed for or by government is based on open standards" and that it would encourage and support transitions to open source software in government and education.
With all parties offering much food for thought, it is clear that digital issues will have a role to play regardless of who emerges victorious on Tuesday.