Conservative Majority Gives Ottawa A Crack At Breaking The Digital Logjam

My weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) reviews many of the points raised in a blog post last week on the future of digital policies in Canada given the majority Conservative government. It is hard to project precisely what will happen; given the number of open cabinet positions it is not known whether Industry Minister Tony Clement and Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore will remain in their portfolios or move elsewhere. If they stay the course, the Conservative digital policies are strong in a number of areas.

Concerns over the lack of competitiveness in the Canadian telecom market emerged as a campaign issue and a majority government may pave the way for removing foreign ownership restrictions in the telecom market. The Conservatives have consistently focused on improving the competitive environment and opening the market is the right place to start to address both Internet access (including consumer frustration over usage based billing) and wireless services.

Addressing the foreign competition issue will be only a piece of the bigger puzzle, however. The government has yet to set targets for universal broadband access and has been mum about the possibility of a set-aside for new entrants as part of the forthcoming spectrum auction. Answers to those questions may come from the much-anticipated digital economy strategy.

The Conservatives have a chance for some easy digital policy wins. Ending the Election Act rules that resulted in the Twitter ban on election night would receive support, as would maintaining their opposition to deeply unpopular proposals such as an iPod tax or new regulation of Internet video providers like Netflix.

On the hot button issue of copyright reform, it appears certain that Canada will pass a bill on the fourth try. The last bill had its flaws – the digital lock provisions went well beyond international requirements and undermined many consumer rights – but did a good job of balancing key issues such as fair dealing and the liability of Internet providers.

The Conservative platform included a promise to reintroduce Bill C-32 and with a few amendments (Clement spoke regularly about the willingness to consider changes), the bill would deserve broad support.

The Conservatives provide a good news, bad news story on privacy. A bill that featured the first round of reforms to PIPEDA, Canada’s private sector privacy law, died with the election call and could be quickly revived. It included mandatory security breach notification requirements, which have become increasingly relevant in light of the high profile privacy breach involving the Sony PlayStation network. Moreover, there will be a PIPEDA review later this year, which could lead to tougher penalties for privacy violations.

Much more troubling is the so-called lawful access package that raises major civil liberties concerns due to the new surveillance requirements and the mandated disclosure of Internet provider customer information without court oversight. The Conservatives promised to pass an omnibus crime bill within 100 days, meaning lawful access, which has been strongly criticized by all Canadian privacy commissioners, could be placed on the fast track.

As for the opposition, the New Democrats have been the most outspoken on issues such as usage based billing and net neutrality. Digital affairs critic Charlie Angus will be joined by many new colleagues, including Toronto-area MPs Andrew Cash and Peggy Nash, who bring experience on copyright and other digital policy issues. The Liberals put forward some good proposals on digital issues and some proponents, including Industry critic Marc Garneau, are part of their remaining caucus.

The majority government offers the opportunity to move away from years of policies driven by politics where little actually becomes law to one driven by policy that results in true legal reform. Given the last seven years of minority Liberal and Conservative governments that achieved so little on digital policies, the chance to get something done probably represents the biggest change of all.


  1. Bill MacEachern says:

    I’m not very optimistic that the Tories will do the right thing now that they can make progress. In a choice between placating citizens (I despise the term ‘consumers’), and bending over for lobbyists, most governments aren’t too keen on pleasing the public (until it’s election time, natch)

  2. If the Conservatives want to be perceived as being a serious governing party, and not just a hack-party that got lucky – they will re-introduce Bill C-32 after listening and acting upon the NUMEROUS objections to various sections of the proposed bill, especially in regards to fair dealing.

    No matter how much Mr. Geist likes fair dealing: a number of organisations, hundreds of citizens and countless organisations have made their objections clear.

  3. … and that, students of the doctor, should tell you all you need to know about your dear leader’s politics. Seven years of confusing the issue and playing each party against each other, and now some quiet satisfaction at not having to do so anymore.

    Are we awake yet?

  4. Anonymous says:

    John – they’re a hack-party that got lucky
    My bet is they’ll be OK with looking lucky, as long as they get full control of the Internet. Here’s what I mean and what to do.

    We can’t trust them to control culture the way that controlling digital locks allows them. We alone have to take control of this “logjam”, we have to “free” it.

    It all starts with them having access without a warrant, then they justify it with the words “Intellectual Property”, tied to property crime (theft), everything has to be paid for, then they tip any “balance” away from fair use, greatly limiting access and expression for a little profit.

    The only way to stop it is to become anonymous, to accept that expression should be free and not controlled. The state of being anonymous is a basic human need. The ability to be private in public, is what is being removed with the force of this new law, which declares everything private, public.

    People have to choose privacy, they can’t have it legislated. The million kids that lied to facebook about how old they are, that jailbreak their iphones, will grow up to lie to their data provider about WHO they are. They’ll become anonymous.

    They’ll do it if only to avoid copyright lawsuits for sharing music they like, but probably also to have some kind of cool public life and still get health insurance, or a decent job. They’ll do it whenever they want to talk politics, or criticize a store, or a celebrity.

    Personally, I think RIM and Canada, are in the lead if the network goes that way. The Blackberry is perfect for offering what Canadians expect: privacy when online.

  5. Crockett says:

    Are we awake yet?
    .. or has someone been up too long? I though conspiracy theories only worked for acolytes?

    The reality is the conservatives will make choices that will best benefit the Conservative party, I would like to say ‘that most benefit the people of Canada’ but it is naive to believe this is how modern governments work. Our choice is to elect the party that we think will act in our best interests as it works to improve it’s own hold on power. Not the best system, but it’s the one we got.

    How this will play out, over the next four years, in the copyright/digital-infrastructure/privacy debates will be a combination of paying the piper and playing to public optics.

    “listening and acting upon the NUMEROUS objections to various sections of the proposed bill” will be the optics game, but it will be less listening to what is right rather than what is expedient, and who has the loudest voice.

  6. ByteMaster says:

    “but it will be less listening to what is right rather than what is expedient, and who has the loudest voice”

    I’m afraid it’s going to be who has the biggest chequebook. I try to raise awareness among people who I talk to, and most of them are surprised to learn that copyrights actually expire (or at least: did so in the past).

    Copyrights need to balance. Balance between “the creators” (in actuality: the producers/distributors) and “the rest” (i.e. the public, excluding some special interest groups that already get preferred treatment such as libraries). The problem is that the government benefits more when the balance overshoots towards the rightsholder side then when it overshoots to the other side. This is not just any revenue it creates, i.e. money coming in, it’s also that certain foreign powers package their demands and to get the one, you’ll have to accept the other. Luckily we’re now in a more leak-friendly society, where even newspapers set up their own whistle-blower sites, that through leaked proposals we might be able to learn more of the internal, secretive mechanics of government dealings (to ‘keep the Americans happy’).

  7. Unwritten says:


    Yes, we’ve seen signs of that when the Cons did nothing on the matter of UBB until the signed protest reached over 200,000+. Internet providers are all mixed with broadcasting with a number of major players which introduces a conflict of interest that should be addressed.

    How the Cons deal with this and other matters now that they have a majority will prove illuminating. Harper’s tactics have gained him a large number of people who are very much interested in letting the Canadian public know when something odd involving the Cons crops up. It will be interesting to see what Harper does with a majority for if he really think he can get away with more he might just blow the Cons out of the water.

    Or, on the other hand, he might have been waiting for a majority for implementing other policies. Time will tell.

  8. pat donovan says:

    holy sweet suffering crap!
    the conservatives will..(and have done)

    introduce a new form of corperate overlord-ship at the CRTC (consisting of corp hacks)

    fines of 5000$ for downloading and 25000 for uploading (no fink rule yet)

    put csis 24/7 in EVERY isp in
    the land for any+all traffic

    TRY to make playing media you have illegal on other media (PVR, tranferring, dvd’s on linux, the cloud lockers, etc etc etc)

    make the web pay-per-byte, page and download

    make netflick illegal (and sat services) so (telus, bel, et al) favories can pick up the biz

    jack up rates so we’re not only getting slowest, most expensive but most monitired service in the world.

    and that’s NEXT month. then they’ll get creative, like using web-cam monitors in your living room legal.


  9. Crockett says:

    This is why there is so little trust …
    An example from the USA but equally applicable to our own CRTC …

    @Michael – sorry for the repeat comment but felt it even more relevant in this post.

    We all know what VonF is about. We are all tired of being embarrassed by this buy. But complaining about it is not going to be productive. He is nothing more than the incumbents puppet.

    We must start insisting on ACTION by the positions that have the authority to get the rights things done. We must focus our resources on the Minister of Industry and the Prime Minister. I believe that Mr. Clement understands the issues and knows what the effective alternatives are. I also know that all I have seen from Mr. Clement as Minister of Industry is a “lets give the existing process and chance to work” and “I can’t play all my cards at once” strategy”. NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

    @Michael – re: collusion – Dakrew has neither the authority nor the resources to do what you are suggesting. However, the Competition Bureau does. Why do they continue to sit on the sidelines while the CRTC endorses vertical convergence and allows the controllers of the backbone to play in the retail market?

    Canadians have now given the government a majority. The government has no excuse for continued inaction. If the Minister of Industry’s much anticipated, “new” digital policy is just more high level suggestion for promoting competition then Canadians are in trouble.

    I believe organizations like need 5 million supporters not 500,000 to get some real action out of the people that have the authority to get things done. CanadianISP published an article( that reflects much of the same position that I support.

    Wightman Telco( is an example of what REAL competition can bring to Canadians.