Election 2011: The Digital Policy Surprises

Digital policies may not have played a starring role in the current election campaign, but neither have they been ignored. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that for the first time, all major political parties have devoted a section of their platform to digital issues and both the Liberals and New Democrats ran events focused on digital policy. While there is general agreement on the key issues – topping the list are Internet access and pricing, telecom competition, copyright, and the privacy-security balance – each party offers a surprise that gives some insight into its digital policy priorities.

The Conservatives

Perhaps owing to its five-year track record, the Conservatives digital policy platform is the least detailed of the three parties. Many of its positions simply re-affirm a commitment to stay the course – continuation of funding for rural broadband projects, the reintroduction of Bill C-32 for copyright reform, and vocal opposition to the implementation of an iPod tax.

The big surprise, given Tory emphasis on the economy, is the subtle shift from digital economy issues to digital security concerns. For example, the Conservatives have surprisingly little to say about the prospect of removing foreign ownership barriers for telecommunications companies or about their intended use of proceeds from the forthcoming spectrum auction.

Instead, there is a commitment to set aside spectrum for first responders such as police and emergency units. That spectrum is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and will require those agencies to find hundreds of millions more in order to use it.

Similarly, the Conservatives make a renewed commitment to grant extensive new powers to police in the digital realm. There is no specific reference to it in the party platform but included within a promise to pass 12 criminal justice bills within the first 100 days of Parliament are at least two of the bills that would facilitate police access to digital information.

The Liberals

The Liberal surprise is its willingness to stake out very detailed digital policy positions after several years of uncertainty. The Liberals have committed to using the proceeds from the forthcoming spectrum auction for digital policies, including rural broadband expansion and cultural funding. They are the only party to set clear targets for broadband connectivity. Their goals start modestly – universal connectivity at 1.5 Mbps within three years – but anticipate more ambitious speeds by 2020.

The Liberals have also provided a fairly detailed prescription for copyright reform, signalling changes to Bill C-32. These include support for expanding the fair dealing provision to include education on the condition that both “fairness” and “education” are more clearly defined as well as changes to the digital lock provisions to “allow digital lock circumvention for non-infringing purposes.”

The New Democrats

The most surprising aspect of the NDP position is its commitment to undo more than 10 years of Canadian Internet and new media policies. The NDP is the most aggressive of the three parties on the hot button issue of Internet pricing with a commitment to a full ban on usage based billing practices at both the wholesale and retail levels. When combined with a promise to rollback the 2006 directive to the CRTC to rely on market forces, the NDP would reverse longstanding approaches to telecom and Internet regulation.

The NDP platform also focuses on increased regulation of both Internet providers and online video services. Alone among the three parties, the NDP states it would consider requiring both ISPs and “over-the-top” video providers such as Netflix to contribute funding to support the creation of Canadian content. These policies would seemingly require reforms to the Broadcasting Act and force the CRTC to reopen its new media decision that takes a hands-off approach to Internet regulation.


  1. Schultzter says:

    Promising the stars
    So the NDP is going to replace the iPod tax with a bit stream tax on ISP?! I have a minimal internet connection to read e-mail, news, and VPN to the office. Why should doing those activities force me to fund Canadian content?

  2. Annette Demers says:

    Open Media Wants Answers from the Conservatives on this Issue has obtained a conference call between Shaw executives and shareholders. The call reveals that the telecom giant will join other big phone and cable companies by imposing a metered Internet pricing scheme after the election. asked each of the parties to outline their plan of action in our all-party Digital Future Survey. We received answers from every major federal party…with the exception of the Conservative Party of Canada.

    Please take a minute right now to tell Stephen Harper and your local Conservative candidate you want a response to’s digital future survey. Fill in your information below and we’ll send a letter on your behalf.

  3. The Liberals said they were going to invest 500 million $ on broadband. Which sounds like a handout to the Shaws.

  4. Annette,

    Well, the only one with a proven track record is the Conservative Party, so the other parties can falsely promise whatever public opinion polls say. What did the Conservatives do? They sent it back to the CRTC. There was speculation that the CRTC chairman may quite over this, but he didn’t. This was the correct thing to do, the CRTC is the agency that looks after it and have the government experts for telecom.

    The focus should be on not gouging customers, and great service, focusing on only one way of doing things. I hope can change their focus. Also, I would support changing outrageous Cable Co. executive pay.

  5. Well, the first paragraph of the NDP’s position sounded reasonable. However, the “bit stream tax” sends up a giant red flag. I especially have an issue with the double-taxation of a tax on the ISP plus a tax on Netflix-like services. What’s next – a point-of-sale tax on Netflix capable boxes (like the PS3), a tax on DVD-players?

  6. Jim, taxing devices could actually happen if there is an NDP or Liberal government or coalition. It’s very common in most European countries (France and the UK for sure).

    In the UK TV licensing:
    “As of 2010, this costs £145.50 for colour and £49.00 for black and white. (that’s about $227 CDN for colour)
    and in the UK
    “You need a TV Licence to use any television receiving equipment such as a TV set, digital box, DVD or video recorder, PC, laptop or mobile phone to watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV”

  7. Chris Charabaruk says:

    Yeah, I can’t support the NDP or Con positions on this. The only one that’s close to acceptable is the Liberal policy, and even then, there’s lots of room for improvement.

  8. ….
    Mhhh… how about $5,000 statutory damages for “losing” your personal information, including credit card details:

    It’s just “pocket money” and compared to copying a CD that you legally own, exposing your credit card info to criminal organizations seems worse. Yeah, let’s make that $20,000.


  9. @Sylvain:

    The European radio and TV “taxes” are actually for funding public radio/TV stations, not for “compensating” “starving artists” for “private copying” of legally purchased materials. If you want to do that in Canada, then all the money should go to CBC and Radio Canada, not to SOCAN and the like.


  10. The Cons have surprisingly shown some balls on opposing ISP gouging recently. I can only hope that this will continue past the election and they not revert to their natural pro big big business tendencies. (I know … I’m a dreamer)

  11. Wow.
    no mention of the Green party’s position (which is extensive).

    Should I post a link?

  12. Dirk, only if you post for the Bloc too

  13. What would be a decent platform?
    If there needs to be UBB then make it sane. Twice the actual cost per gig sounds okay given what Bell was trying to do. Just demand that they give an accurate cost or else the government will set it. Hey, if Bell can feed the CRTC their plans to implement then the government should be able to do the same thing for the public. Neener neener neener.

    BTW… does anyone have a link to any site that lists all of Harper’s two-faced actions that doesn’t seem to appear very much in mainstream media?
    Ex: Harper said that a prime minister should not appoint senators…. then appoints a bunch when he is PM. Harper also claimed to set up fixed election schedules… then starts an election early when his party is likely to get a majority. There’s also the matter of the latest election when I hear the Cons have their attack ads running weeks before the new election is even officially started. Just what the HECK has Harper actually, truly, done that makes him so special that no other PM could have done? If you say ‘the economy’ make sure you have a very thorough reason for saying that he actually helped.

  14. When it comes to UBB, remember it is the cable provider that runs the meter. I don’t believe they can accurately measure personal usage. Further there is no infrastructure to monitor their billing, so giving them the opportunity to charge high overuseage rates is giving them the right to steal.

  15. @Unwritten, do you pay taxes? we elect Conservatives to lower taxes. I have a family and I am near the ave income. I now pay less taxes with Harper. Even GST is 5%. The Liberal’s record for being 2 faced is arguably much worse the Harper’s. Where were you when the Liberals were in power ? Harper doesn’t dither like the Liberal’s. Ignatieff is so stiff he makes Harper and Layton look like a regular people. His bio makes him seem selfish. Layton has improved but the track record for NDP in prov politics have been bad for their economies and the rest of the NDP come off as somewhat extreme. May is too Radical and American for me.

  16. @Mouse That explains the Conservative vote but not Harper and his cronies. Toss ’em for someone more honest (if that’s possible…).

    I’m all for lower taxes, who wouldn’t, but please take note that while the Canadian government was starting to wake up and eliminate our national debt Harper has tossed that away and has started the wild spending again. I can understand the bad economic times but the spending keeps going. You actually think he’s going to stop and look risk looking bad? Unlikely!

  17. ColdBlackHateWolf says:

    Green Digital Policy
    I’m sorry to post such a huge comment, but I feel it’s important to have the Greens represented as well. The following are a few sections of the Green platform concerning digital policy.

    6.6 Supporting the free flow of information

    The Internet has become an essential tool in knowledge storage and the free flow of information between citizens. It is playing a critical role in democratizing communications and society as a whole. There are corporations that want to control the content of information on the internet and alter the free flow of information by giving preferential treatment to those who pay extra for faster service.
    The Green Party of Canada is committed to the original design principle of the internet – network neutrality: the idea that a maximally useful public information network treats all content, sites, and platforms equally, thus allowing the network to carry every form of information and support every kind of application.

    Green Party MPs will:
    • Pass legislation granting the Internet in Canada the status of Common Carrier – prohibiting Internet Service Providers from discriminating due to content while freeing them from liability for content transmitted through their systems.
    • Support Canada’s Advanced Research and Innovation Network (CANARIE)
    • Increase infrastructure spending to accommodate increased bandwidth use and to improve access to rural and remote Canadians (see Section 1.14 Infrastructure and Communities)
    • Review of economic model of how ISPs bill their customers.
    • Improve support for small ISPs to improve competition and diversity choice of for consumers.
    • Ensure network neutrality by supporting the principles of fair use, consumer information privacy, communications market competition, and rationalization of the statutory damages provision.

    6.7 Open Government Data

    For all public data where there are no privacy, security or other legal concerns preventing the data from being shared, data will be reviewed by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada via Personal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act (PIPEDA) and made publicly available under the following conditions:

    • With the highest level of granularity and detail possible which still maintains the privacy of individual citizens.
    • In a timely fashion so that the value of the data is preserved.
    • Accessible to the widest range of users for the widest range of purposes in a nonproprietary format.
    • Machine processable and structured to allow automated processing, without having to mechanically harvest the data before using it.
    • Non-discriminatory and available to everyone without having to register or self-identify as being interested in the data.
    • With a license that does not encumber the user, and ideally without a license at all.

    1.9 Open source computer software

    As computer hardware improves, it is important that software programs are readily modifiable by the people who buy and use them. Developing alongside the proprietary software sector is Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS). This software is generally available at little or no cost, making it very popular in the developing world. It can be used, copied, studied, modified and redistributed with little or no restriction. Businesses can adapt the software to their specific needs.
    Under the free software business model, vendors may charge a fee for distribution and offer paid support and customization services. Free software gives users the ability to work together enhancing and refining the programs they use. It is a pure public good rather than a private good.
    The Green Party supports the goals and ideals of Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) and believes that Canada’s competitiveness in global information technology (IT) will be greatly enhanced by strongly supporting FLOSS.

    Green Party MPs will:
    • Ensure that all new software developed for or by government is based on open standards and encourage and support a nationwide transition to FLOSS in all critical government IT systems. This will make Canada’s IT infrastructure more secure and robust, lower administration and licensing costs, and develop IT skills.
    • Support the transition to FLOSS throughout the post-secondary educational system.

    Here is a link to the entire Green platform:

  18. The Green take on ‘Open source computer software’ is ridiculous in the real world. Open source solutions don’t fit every problem.

  19. Really? Ridiculous in the real world? Really?
    What is more ridiculous, government paying hundreds of millions to license their software to American companies or supporting international initiatives on products (like OpenOffice) which are very functional and usable for their use? Then the government has to deal with the cost of choosing a vendor a, then deal with the backlash if another vendor (lets call them Bee) makes the same product and if due process wasn’t followed with every t crossed and every i dotted, pay vendor Bee exactly the same contract $. We know the connies don’t follow due process and this is what happened the last time the govies choose Microsoft over Word Perfect. We ended up buying copies of Word Perfect and then promptly shelved them.

    And that’s just office software, don’t get me started on specialty apps such as geo-mapping, autocad, and other business planning tools the govies use. I know, I used to be a govie and this is the crap we had to put up with. I drooled over the concept of an open source platform from the headaches it relieves and the money we would save.

  20. Ed R, Autocad is about $4000 it’s really the only software that is used for certain application. I know map makers that use it and they would be mighty upset if they were forced by politicians to switch to SketchUp or FreeCAD. I assume that several departments use Photoshop and that StatsCan uses Mathematica and these are just a few examples that make it impractical.