The Cabinet Shuffle: Why a New Industry Minister May Not Mean Changed Policies or Big Delays

Yesterday’s cabinet shuffle sparked considerable discussion over the implications for digital policy issues including the digital economy strategy, telecom, copyright, and privacy (Reuters, Globe, Nowak). The changes – which see James Moore remain at Canadian Heritage but install Christian Paradis as the new Industry Minister – create a new ministerial combination that is often tasked with jointly addressing issues such as copyright and communications policy.

Tony Clement made digital policies a core part of his agenda both in terms of prioritizing the issues and using technology to actively communicate and interact with the public. Given the uncertainty of Paradis’ priorities and the need to become familiar with some complex files, it is understandable that many speculate the cabinet shuffle will slow the process of change and possibly alter the substance. I must admit that I’m not so sure. Every minister has the chance to put their own mark on departmental policies, but I suspect both the core substance of Canadian digital policy and the speed of change will remain largely unchanged.

On the substance, the experience of the past five years has been marked by the central role of the Prime Minister on all key policy decisions. On copyright, it was Prime Minister Harper that mandated the digital lock approach in both Bills C-61 and C-32. On telecom, it was Harper that shuffled Maxime Bernier out and Jim Prentice in to facilitate a spectrum auction that was far more interventionist (set aside, roaming) than Bernier wanted. On Internet access, it was the PMO – not Clement – that first confirmed the desire for change on usage based billing. 

Looking ahead, the PMO will undoubtedly continue to be the key player in digital policy. Paradis and Moore are obviously very important with considerable ability to influence the specific details, but both will ultimately be asked to ensure that the PMO’s policy decisions are enacted. Given that the Conservatives have already laid out some of their plans here – reintroduction of C-32, the framework of the digital economy strategy – big changes are unlikely.

On the timing, the election certainly delayed some initiatives (C-32 must start from scratch, the digital economy strategy was to have been unveiled in early May), but I don’t think the shuffle from Clement to Paradis creates significant additional delays. While the files are complicated, Prentice announced the government’s spectrum policy within a couple months of becoming Industry Minister and nearly tabled the copyright bill a few weeks after that. Since a new copyright bill is unlikely to be introduced in June, the summer months and early fall will provide some time for Paradis to get up to speed. Similarly on telecom, the government delayed its decision on foreign ownership last year and a policy announcement in the fall remains a possibility (and would not have come any faster had Clement remained Industry Minister). There are several other hot regulatory issues – usage based billing, vertical integration, and the extension of the private copying levy to memory cards – but since these are before the CRTC or Copyright Board, the government may wait for those processes to run their course before taking any further action.

It is also worth noting that the cabinet shuffle also included two other changes that will impact copyright policy: John Baird was named Foreign Affairs Minister and Ed Fast was named International Trade Minister. As I’ve discussed before, trade policy will be the primary driving force behind IP reform and it will be up to Baird to deal with trade partners and Fast to preserve Canadian interests as part of the various trade negotiations. Both are critically important roles, but much like Industry and Heritage, the high level policy decisions will ultimately come from the PMO.


  1. This could be a good thing
    Perhaps the government realised that having an industry minister who consistently says the exact opposite of what the government intends to do, and then after it is done, claims the government didn’t actually do what it did, can be interpreted in some circles, in which the truth value of statements matter, as outright, baldfaced lying.

  2. It’s true
    Harper controls everything his ministers say and do so… I guess changing ministers (i.e. puppets) really has no bearing on what happens.

    Remember – Canada is now under the rule of a dictator!

  3. Crockett says:

    Dusty bubblegum …
    It seems that Harper is ready to trade his rare Bobby Copyright card for a few border defenceman and a pipeline forward.

    What else will be tossed against the wall?

  4. Jean-Francois Mezei says:

    Unless there is another popular uprising, I doubt that “Digital Strategy” will be given any sense of priority. And with a “free market” mentality, there is not much of a need for one from their point of view since the incumbents provide sufficient competition to let market forces work their magic.

    I am not comfortable with Bernier back in Cabinet, albeit in a junior post. The interpretation of his Policy Direction is likely to return to “let Bell do as it wishes” aka: light regulatory touch instead of fostering competition.

  5. They don’t get it…
    The digital lock provisions in C32 are going to go entirely ignored by consumers, who will not perceive that the presence of a digital lock should have any legal standing on what they are actually allowed to do with a work. This will cause people who otherwise wouldn’t be infringing on copyright, because they are format shifting or copying for private use, to end up breaking the law, knowingly or unknowingly, and is only going to lead to an even greater number of consumers not caring about copyright.

    Considering copyright is actually nothing more than a social contract between society and the holder of the copyright (that is, society agrees not to copy it for the duration of the copyright and the copyright holder is given some incentive to publish his or her works), it is absolutely vital that copyright reform laws not be made such that the general public no longer cares for them. To do so would put publishers in a situation where they are *forced* to use digital locks on their works as a means to prevent unauthorized copies, since copyright would not be able to protect their interests… And the consumer who genuinely wants to follow the law is left with crippled versions of the media while people who break the law enjoy, without limitation, the benefits of format shifting and private copying.

    Short of requiring every human being to have a brain implant that causes pain whenever they disobey any law (yes… that’s a Star Trek reference), there is not even a theoretically possible way to enforce this.

    A government that wants to create an unenforceable law is not a competent one.

    Too bad we just had an election. Even more unfortunate that they have a majority and are just going to push this through despite the fact that none of the other parties support it.

  6. This is a matter of simple psychology. Unpopular things are always pushed through at the start; come next election the outrage is gone and people have gotten used to it.

    Regarding digital locks you’ll probably just see that any circumvention devices are no longer for sale in Canada, this includes DVD/BD backup programs, CD rippers that defeat CD copy protections, etc. and that is definitely enforceable. For a consumer this means that if you want to listen to a CD you bought on your iPod, you will have to buy the same album again, since you may be allowed to make a format-shifted copy but not circumvent the protection. This is akin to telling your child they can have the candy bar, but they are not allowed to take off or damage the wrapper. And that’s how your government is treating you: as a child. Yes you may privately copy but errr…. don’t circumvent that protection!

  7. Circumventing digital protection will always be as easy as downloading a circumvention tool from another jurisdiction… or, in many cases, simply downloading an unlocked version of the work that doesn’t have the restrictions the locked one has. Consumers will consider the latter choice a preferable one because it gives them more options with what they could do with the work. Is such an act a blatant ignoring of the copyright on the work? Most definitely, in absence of the very tools that people would otherwise utilize to fairly copy the work for their own private use, most consumers are unlikely to care.

    The point that our government just doesn’t seem to get, and has never once addressed, is that if making a private copy of a work is genuinely a reasonable expectation for a consumer, and there is every reason to think that it is, since the copyright act contains explicit exemptions to that end, then it logically follows that whether or not that work happens to have a digital lock on it must be immaterial to that reasonableness. If it happens to have a digital lock on it, it may very be more difficult or less convenient for the consumer to create a copy, but in what way does it make it any less fair for the consumer to actually accomplish or expect to be able to accomplish that end?

  8. Lose the Canadian Content
    Time to get rid of all the Canadian programming that is shoved down our throat and open the door to what people want to watch on TV. Its also time for prices to come down and for the government to regulate it along with the internet prices. That or just open the door to the competition and force them to compete.

  9. I am not comfortable with Bernier back in Cabinet, albeit in a junior post. The interpretation of his Policy Direction is likely to return to “let Bell do as it wishes” aka: light regulatory touch instead of fostering competition.

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