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.
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.