At the start of the campaign, I highlighted ten digital economy questions that need answers and the Liberals have taken a good step at answering many of them. There is still need for greater detail, but at least they’ve put forward something to debate. By contrast, Industry Minister Tony Clement quickly tweeted that the Liberal document “borrows” from his digital strategy, yet unless I missed a press release, no Conservative digital strategy has been made public. There has been a digital economy strategy consultation, the creation of a government department within Industry Canada, a speech on a strategy that provided preliminary views, and elements of what will likely form the strategy (ie. open government), but none of these are the strategy itself. If Clement believes it borrows from his unreleased strategy, that only emphasizes how the issue is non-partisan and should be prioritized by all parties.
With respect to the strategy itself, perhaps its most significant aspect was the promise to use the revenues from the forthcoming spectrum auction to facilitate broadband access in underserved areas. In fact, sources advise that the commitments to fund CBC/Radio-Canada and the Canada Council for digital content creation will also come from spectrum revenues. Given that the auction is expected to generate billions of dollars, this is very significant. The revenues from the last spectrum auction went to general revenues (critics argue it went to the automotive industry). A commitment to use the spectrum revenues for purposes directly related to connectivity, culture, and the digital economy is an important step forward and helps ensure that new initiatives need not come out of tax revenues. It will be interesting to see if the Conservatives and NDP make a similar commitment.
The absence of a cross-cutting approach is also missing from the issue of competitiveness and the digital economy. There is a solid proposal to help fund digital startups, a commitment to the open Internet, and a vague reference to “competition in a healthy business environment that rewards innovation.” I don’t really know what that last principle actually means in practice. It would have been far better to take a position on competition and innovation by taking a stand on foreign investment in telecoms (the government punted on the issue in the fall), on steps to address concerns with competition and Internet access (including retail UBB), and a position on vertical integration in the broadcast and telecom sectors. These are all key competitive issues but the platform remains largely silent on each.
Overall, the Liberal strategy is a good start that should help promote more debate on the issue during the campaign (though as an aside the intent to move toward online elections runs counter to most experts in the field who caution against it). The test will now be whether the opposition parties give the digital economy similar prominence within their platforms. As I noted in my post yesterday, over to you, Conservatives and NDP…