The Conservative Majority: What Next for Digital Policies?

Last night’s election results have left many online speculating about the future of digital policies in Canada. I think it is hard to project precisely what will happen – we don’t even know for certain whether Tony Clement and James Moore will remain in their portfolios or move elsewhere (there are a fair number of open cabinet positions which could mean changes). Assuming they stay the course, however, the Conservative positions on digital policies are strong in a number of areas.

For example, a majority may pave the way for opening up the Canadian telecom market, which would be a welcome change. The Conservatives have focused consistently on improving Canadian competition and opening the market is the right place to start to address both Internet access (including UBB) and wireless services. The Conservatives have a chance to jump on some other issues such as following through on the digital economy strategy and ending the Election Act rules that resulted in the Twitter ban last night. They are also solidly against a number of really bad proposals – an iPod tax, new regulation of Internet video providers such as Netflix – and their majority government should put an end to those issues for the foreseeable future.

On copyright and privacy, it is more of a mixed bag.

The copyright bill is – as I described at its introduction last June – flawed but fixable. I realize that it may be reintroduced unchanged (the Wikileaks cables are not encouraging), but with the strength of a majority, there is also the strength to modify some of the provisions including the digital lock rules. Clement spoke regularly about the willingness to consider amendments and the Conservative MPs on the Bill C-32 committee were very strong. If the U.S. has exceptions for unlocking DVDs and a full fair use provision, surely Canada can too.

The Conservatives are a good news, bad news story on privacy. A fairly good privacy bill died on the order paper that will hopefully be reintroduced as it included mandatory security breach notification requirements.  There will be a PIPEDA review this year and the prospect of tougher penalties for privacy violations is certainly possible. Much more troubling is the lawful access package which raises major civil liberties concerns and could be placed on the fast track.

As for the opposition, the NDP has been the most outspoken on issues such as UBB and net neutrality. Charlie Angus will now be joined by many new MPs – Andrew Cash and Peggy Nash both come immediately to mind – who have experience on copyright and other issues. The end of the Bloc is great news on digital files as it was the Bloc, more than any other party, that promoted ISP levies, iPod levies, and a range of other new copyright fees. The Liberals put forward some good positions on digital issues and some proponents such as Marc Garneau survived last night (Dan McTeague, who seemed to speak more for CRIA than any MP from any party, and Pablo Rodriguez, did not).

While there will undoubtedly be wins and losses, the majority 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. iamliving says:

    DMCA and ACTA. Welcome to Canada
    My gut says that Harper and Clement will take away far more then they are willing to give Canadians with respect to our digital future and privacy. Sigh.

    Quebec finally joins Canada and Ontario and BC put their heads between their legs and kiss it good-bye!

  2. Cheered me up somewhat

    Thanks for this post, it does actually provide some solace from the election results last night. I hope you’re right and the new majority government goes the way you propose. What I’m not sure about is whether the new government has the same policies because there is no need to provide a middle ground or popular approach. Time will tell.

  3. My predictions:

    1. C-32 get voted AS-IS. If not worse.
    2. UBB, the issue if gonna be put behind. They don’t need to do anything to let Bell do what they want. After all the endorsement they gave, it wouldn’t be surprising.
    3. DPI and throttling: they are gonna change it to make it mandatory for surveillance
    4. Competition: there is enough of Bell, Telus, Shaw, Rogers, Quebecor. They don’t need to do anything. It is not like they tried before to change the foreign investment rule. They didn’t.

  4. I agree fully with Mr. Geist’s assessment that C32 is flawed, but fixable, although I would be tremendously surprised if the Conservatives will actually make any of the changes that Mr. Geist has proposed.

    The single question that needs to be asked, IMO… is why, exactly, ignoring the issue of digital locks completely, and assuming that they are not present, it should be acceptable for consumers to be able to do what seem to be legitimate and reasonable activities, like copy for personal and private use, make backups, or format shift, without requiring any explicit author consent?

    I’m not asking this question because I believe that consumers should require permission under such circumstances, I’m asking this question because I believe it’s a question whose answer needs to be brought to the forefront of people’s minds. That is, if there is a good reason to allow consumers those privileges, then why is acceptable to abandon them simply based on a decision that the publisher has made to incorporate digital locks, a decision that the consumer has no part in? It seems to me that the answers that the conservative government is inclined to give to these two questions create a contradiction that is unresolvable without acceding to the notion that C32’s digital locks provisions are too restrictive and need to be curbed a little.

    While the consumer may be free to elect to not buy digitally locked works, a bill like C-32 introduces a significant bias in favor of publishers actually utilizing them, so the commercial availability of unlocked works is certain to shrink into all but nonexistence.

  5. Brought a slim ray of light to my day
    I think iamliving and BillG both are right. I’m concerned as well with what the real image and agenda of the right-wing has prepared for Canada. It’s going to be obviously a copy of the US ideas as Michael very well pointed out from learning the contents of the wikileaks cables. Another real concern is the great role that social media (and internet) has played in this election for the ‘orange crush’ could be seen as a thread and so trying to control it may be a priority. I really do hope that democracy in Canada is mature enough (as a system) that won’t allow to get into a next chapter of Naomi Klein’s best seller about more shock doctrine.

  6. If the mainstream media does their work, publicizing the information from Wikileaks (including the welcome news that the government noted high levels of resistance to their DMCA-style proposals from the Canadian public), I can hope that the next version of C-32 will be improved.

    I will be following the story of Access Copyright’s levies with interest, too. Will the Cons let the federal bureaucracy rubberstamp a huge subsidy to this lobby group from all the schools and PSE institutions that are subject to their demands? Will that, in turn, inspire more to move away from these agreements?

  7. Anarchist Philathrapist says:

    If you are part of the IT industry in this country, with harper at the helm, you can kiss your job good bye! harper is working for the american corporate machine, not canada’s best interest.

    Last night in his speech harper said. “We will be faithful in the trust you have imparted in us…” All I can say is BS!

  8. Bill MacEachern says:

    Son of C-32
    Here we go…

    Well, the Conservatives now have the mandate to bend over for the US as quickly as they want to. As poster #1 said, I’m sure ACTA and DMCA are on the way. But as a bonus, we’ll be removed from the Special 301 watch list. Isn’t that peachy?!?!

    If Emperor Harper feels he needs to make every Canadian a criminal for the benefit of the MPAA/RIAA< I recommend every Canadian engage in a little civil disobedience if Harper can't loosen up.

  9. Welcome ACTA
    Welcome C-32
    Welcome digital locks

    Welcome DPI and throttling which will put many small ISPs out of business since such hardware is extremely expensive and other ISPs, such as the one I use have publicly stated in press releases they will close up shop before they’ll be forced to spy on their users and divulge private information. That would leave me with EXPORNet or Telus dial-up for options…not much of a choice there.

    Welcome UBB, at least on the large providers. Luckily I’m, currently, on a small privately run ISP, and yes, they own all their own architecture and don’t rent bandwidth from any of the big providers. This is something to look for if you’re considering migrating away from the from the giants.

    All in all Canadian Internet is going to go to hell in a hand-basket. Time to start looking for an off-shore VPN as I truly value my privacy. Don’t fool yourself, Internet monitoring isn’t going to be specific, it will monitor ALL traffic, including banking and Internet commerce. A VPN is not entirely untraceable, but preventatively expensive to decrypt and trace, especially once it becomes international.

    We did extremely poorly in the OECD report this year, I bet within two years we’ll be DEAD LAST!!!

  10. As I see it, we have 5 years to spread the word and educate the people on digital locks and copyright reform. No matter what the Cons do, any law can be changed. Just look at the NDP’s position. They heard us. The only way to fight the American propaganda machine is with content of our own. Write stories, make videos and music! Share! It’s our culture! Help make it! Thats the only way to win this fight.

  11. Concerned Canadian says:

    What the hell happened?
    What the hell happened?

  12. Crockett says:

    Hope springs eternal …
    I am going to put on my optimist hat and give the CPC a chance to listen to the needs of Canada over the pressures of outside influences. Their core ideology does not give a great amount of hope but if they want to be more than a one term majority then they will need to govern a little more to the middle.

    A barometer for me will be how they handle UBB, before the election they rode the popular protest wave and dialed it back. Now that they are locked in for four years will they revert to their old ways?

    Time will tell.

  13. ScytheNoire says:

    We can hope, but doubt it
    We can hope some good like competition would come from this, but I doubt it. Harper will carry one as he was doing, this time without any one to stop him. UBB will no doubt be allowed, I doubt we’ll see any new competition from outside investors as Bell, Rogers, Telus & Shaw don’t want that. I think we’ll lose a lot of our privacy rights, much like the USA, which Harper is trying so hard to turn Canada into. Overall, we can hope, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for anything good to come out of this.

  14. I don’t trust them.
    The cons have little interest in the internet. They want big business that rakes in money. My fear is now that they have the majority they will back out of the promises they made around UBB and let Bell and the CTRC do whatever they like, and we’ll have to take it for 4 years.

    And this Lawful Access crap? That can’t pass easily. I can see why they want to do it but it hurts us more than it helps them. Way to sell the country to American interests.

  15. do not want
    This is a nightmare. 60% of Canadians didn’t want this, let alone a majority! Harper and his party should have been thrown in a river for the contempt result, and for putting us back at record debt, and for the G20 events, and for a dozen other things. Instead we handed him a crown. This shouldn’t even be possible.

    Welcome to hell, where the Internet is just like broadcast cable. There are 97 channels but nothing “on”… Also, the TV watches you.

  16. harper is totally worn down by the bi-weekly meetings between either american interest lobby groups representing the copyright groups, or the US government reps who are working for the interest groups.

    Harper is a very weak man. A very frustrated and weak man willing to bend over for the americans to “give them whatever they want”.

    Canadian interests doesnt exist as far as Harper is concerned. Welcome to Canada, where the real governors are the Americans.

  17. Canadian Internet User says:

    What the hell is wrong with my internet? It’s all slow and uber expensive now. And I can’t go to the websites I want to go now. All I get is a page that says:

    “You are not allowed to view this material. Your attempt to access this page has been logged. Have a nice day.”

    Jeezus, I just want to know the weather tomorrow.

  18. I can see Clement staying on with Industry given his exposure to the foreign ownership issue, which I suspect will be a priority for the Conservatives, but I don’t think Moore will stay on with Heritage. I would assume that Harper would want to reward Moore with a higher profile portfolio. For the most part Moore has done a good job with Heritage, proven himself a capable speaker in the House, and for that I think he deserves a promotion. He has taken what could have once been considered a largely symbolic portfolio and turned it into, at times, front page news. I don’t think we could say the same of Bev Oda when she was at the helm. I think the combination of the Industry and Heritage portfolios will play increasingly significant and complimentary role in defining the digital media landscape moving forward, so it should be interesting to see who Harper taps for these jobs.

    Let’s just hope that a Conservative majority is able to accomplish more than previous minority governments in terms of allowing for, and creating the structural changes necessary in order for the digital economy to flourish.

  19. While the ramifications of a Conservative majority are sadly lost on most people, mostly because people didn’t care to look further than the issues being presented during the election, (that is to say none of any consequence) we should in fact be very concerned what the new Canadian version of the DMCA will do because it’s coming and now there’s no one to stop it.

    While I find most of the ‘Download it! Who cares? It’s free!’ attitude a bit too far off the deep end, I do have things I have downloaded that would make me a criminal under these new policies.

    What you might ask? Some episodes of Mythbusters and Dexter because it’s more convenient than the alternatives of watching them. Am I stealing? Am I the criminal element that the Conservatives hope to wipe out and ruin the life of? It would appear so. Me, and everyone else that has watched a downloaded episode of anything or downloaded a song – or has a son or daughter that has done the same – or anyone that has an open WIFI that someone is leeching off of plus probably any number of very common scenarios in this day and age – most of which will lead to the WRONG person being implicated as a criminal.

    This is how it ends. Rampant usage based billing (remember AOL?), real time surveillance on our internet connections and our own government and police actively seeking ways to make common people criminals.

    Good job Canada.

    Last point, I voted so I can complain. Did you? If not, you’re just as culpable in this.

  20. Harper’s majority
    I see no possible way, Harper could have won this election. Over half of we Canadians, did not want Harper as P.M.

    We all know what Harper did with a minority. With a majority, the average Canadians, are really going to suffer.

    Harper gives billions of our tax dollars to…Banks, mines, large corporations, gas and oil company’s. I saw that motion pass, on the House of Commons TV channel. Layton capitulated to Harper’s demand, of giving the wealthiest corporations in the world, ANOTHER tax reduction. This reduction, will come off Canadians paychecks.

    Don’t expect anything good for the people of Canada. If we think Harper was a dictator, in a minority, wait and see what he does to this country and the people, in a majority. Canada will become, the most huge state in the U.S.A.

  21. I was just reading the comments on the “Conservatives committed to surveillance” post. Something was mentioned that didn’t come to mind originally but now has me actually extremely concerned.

    No system is 100% secure. If this real time surveillance of our private unencrypted data feeds is taken at face value that means all of our private data, passwords, banking info, personal info is at risk. A breach of this system would make the Sony disaster look like a minor DDOS attack.

    Think about it, state sponsored malware watching and recording your every move online. Criminals must be practically drooling at the possibility.

  22. foreign investment != panacea (!!!)
    I’m so sick of hearing everyone go on about how foreign investment will be a boon to telecoms and a good thing for consumers. Without the CRTC first getting a new policy direction which can’t be interpretted 12 different ways and which actually put consumers first, foreign investment will do nothing but hasten our decline.

  23. Linda,

    What the results of this election say is that, in general, there was simply a lower voter turnout in the ridings that happened to get a conservative MP. As a result, Conservative MP’s were generally able to get elected with relatively fewer votes (proportionally to the size of their riding), than either the Liberal or NDP MP’s.

    This would probably not have happened if Canada were to adopt a more representational voting system, such as the STV, AV+, or other proportional/semi-proportional electoral system.

  24. Ron said:
    “No system is 100% secure. If this real time surveillance of our private unencrypted data feeds is taken at face value that means all of our private data, passwords, banking info, personal info is at risk. A breach of this system would make the Sony disaster look like a minor DDOS attack.”

    There are ways to protect your data and cover your tracks, proxies, VPN, TOR, i2p and there are others (Some free, others pay services) and more will pop up as more and more countries succumb to US pressure. I think it’s going to get a lot worse over here before it gets better. When the new DMCA law passes and mandatory surveillance comes in to play, that’s when I’ll implement a more intensive data security regiment. I don’t do anything anymore that would even hit the MPAA/CRIA/RIAA radar, but I’ll be damned if I roll over and allow them to track me. i2p, for instance, has 4 or 5 layers of encryption, ranging from 256bit AES to 2048bit Diffie-Hellman. Analyzing the traffic would be virtually impossible. The downside, of course, is that all those layers of security slows things down quite a lot, but as these technologies mature they too will get faster.

    When are they going to learn that they’re fighting a losing battle…just makes me crazy.

  25. Speaking of digital policies…..
    Have you noticed CBC is locking down articles and not allowing printing? Public money abused!

    Go to an important issue:

    Hit the print image and you’re directed to a copyright lockdown page.

    Thank God for copy/paste and word processors!

  26. @Gregg
    Don’t even think about copying and pasting that without a license for use on a “trusted” platform!

    Am I the only one (not) looking forward to a future when browsers integrate their SSL/TLS certificates CPU-based DRM chips, preventing the good old copy/paste? Intel’s latest all have them… Something to keep in mind when you’re shopping.

  27. Bytowner says:

    Yerp provokes a disturbing thought
    And the “lawful access” provision might – if we’re not paying attention and maybe even if we are – get bundled into that omnibus “tough on crime” bill.

  28. Crockett says:

    People have traded a ‘sense of security’ for a reduction in freedoms. There will be a time when people will wake from their doldrums, but for the next four years we are stuck. Get ready for a groundswell of voters remorse.

  29. Yerp, there would have to be some significant changes for something like that to occur.

    The key issue is that the CPU doesn’t really know when something is being “copied” or “pasted”… it’s all just 0’s and 1’s at that level. The concept of the clipboard is something tied to the OS, not the CPU architecture… and to legislate something like that would create an environment where any software written for any reason that did not comply with the regulated standards would be illegal, and it would also be illegal for anyone to share source code without non-disclosure agreements.

    The simple fact that either Canada would have to either cut itself off from the global Internet entirely, or else it would have to be enforced at a global level for it to have any hope of succeeding makes it unlikely in the extreme that it is ever going to happen anytime soon.

  30. We’ll See
    I’m willing to refrain from judgment until these “undesirable” laws are actually passed, but something tells me I’ll be reducing my internet service down to a bare minimum, my media purchases will taper off significantly. I also wonder if the GPL and Creative Commons licenses will be placed in jeopardy, now?

  31. electoral reform
    Mark, I agree we need other choices that allow better representation.

    Personally, I would like to see us use our current technology and institutions to go further that either STV or AV+. But these are very good first steps.

    In this last election, there was much more strategic voting than I have seen in other elections that I can remember (ABC). Both of the above options would have eliminated this. What the final political landscape would look like today if had used such alternatives, I can’t begin to predict. But many more of us, the people being represented, would be happier with the results.

  32. @Yerp
    I’m already running the “most untrusted platform” for the copyright gestapo – Linux 😉

  33. re: Speaking of digital policies….
    @Gregg – Just hit control-P! If you’re using any Linux-based system and you have the appropriate PDF-conversion tools installed, you will be able to print the article to PDF in no time flat.

    Although, to be honest, I do not understand how PRINTING a web page can possibly be considered – legally, logically, or even illogically – as piracy…

  34. @Gregg
    You’re probably get even more mad; that traces back the the good old US of A – how’s that for your Canadian tax dollar being put to good use?

    2625 259th CT SE
    SAMMAMISH, WA 98075

    Domain Name: ICOPYRIGHT.NET

    Administrative Contact:
    O’D#########, MIKE LLC
    2625 259th CT SE
    SAMMAMISH, WA 98075
    425 557 9439

  35. Stephen Paul Weber says:

    Getting things done
    The ability to “get things done”, as you say, is only a good thing if that power is given to someone who is going to get *good* things done. I’m not sure we can say with confidence that this is the case.

  36. That’s what I keep hearing at work. “At least things will get done…” WHAT!?!!?! What kind of backward, half-baked mentality is that? Sure, things will get done now, but, like Stephen says, that’s only a good thing if *good* things get done.

  37. electoral reform says:

    tell your representative you want approval voting over plurality voting
    approval voting is the simplest, most representative, and most compatible alternative voting system with our own. it prevents wasted votes and represents more people than dumb as a door nail plurality voting.

    but it will never happen under conservative rule because under it they would not have won the election. 40% of the vote cannot create a government in other more civilized countries.

    in fact, 40% of the votes representing a majority isn’t just ludicrous. it is criminal in a year 2011 democracy. I said it: criminal. the power of this democracy is weak compared to some countries in africa. 40% of the vote deciding the government is criminal.

    the brits are voting today on switching to a new, improved voting system. if they don’t vote in favor of it, and if we don’t switch either, we deserve what is coming to us.

  38. @ Byte
    I’m not surprised.

    When I played in a band a decade ago, our CANADIAN webhost demanded before we upload any of OUR music to our own site, we had to first FAX a document stating authenticity to a Washington, DC phone number (which had no reverse lookup, but the area code was owned by the US govt.)

  39. Folks annoyed by the CBC “lockdown” — take a deep breath and refind your happy place.

    Content on the site is managed through iCopyright, which is indeed an American company, contracted for these services in Canada by Access Copyright, among others. The folks making decisions about what you may and may not do with their legally owned content are Canadian. No troops are massing on the border.

    BTW, the top headline today on the CBC site: “Obama heads to Ground Zero” has many, many sharing options attached to it including e-mail, and the iCopyright permissions allow five (5) free printings of the story.

    What more do you want from the creators and owners of that piece of journalistic expression? Do you require that they personally deliver the information to you on fine paper embossed with your initials?

    Perspective, please.

  40. CBC Lockdown
    I have no problem with the CBC locking down their content, it’s their prerogative. As John said, they provide ample sharing options. Where I do have a problem is when they start trying to micro-manage me. A good example is WHEN it becomes illegal for me to go and copy the images from my Web browser cache folder so I can store them for future reference. Even if they lock down the site, unless they encapsulate them in some sort of wrapper to prevent caching, the Web browser will still likely cache the images.

    In any case, I think the big problem many people have with iCopyright is not so much what they do, but where they are. When a publicly funded organization like the CBC is using an American service to manage copyright it has all kinds of negative implications, especially given the tension between the US and Canada on the subject and recent failure of C-32. …not to mention they’re spending public money outside Canada for a service most Canadians feel unnecessary. How many people are saving and printing CBC web sites? Probably a fraction of a percentage point. They probably spend vastly more money protecting it than they would lose otherwise. Are there no Canadian companies which can provide similar services? C’mon…really?

  41. Census 2011
    I’ve just received an invitation from our dear government to fill in the Census forms online. Don’t they know that I now have UBB & internet caps and I might get hit with overages if I do so? I’ll just call and ask for the paper forms instead.

    Nap. 🙂

  42. Harper is PM now says:

    To LINDA
    Linda said: “I see no possible way, Harper could have won this election. Over half of we Canadians, did not want Harper as P.M.”

    Um, no? We as Canadians CHOSE Harper over the nuts in the Liberal party. A majority of us did NOT want liberals, and we voted thus! If you dont like the outcome then change it in 4-5 years. Until then, please dispense with the ten-year-old 5th grade mentality of whining every time you don’t get your way.

  43. Woe is us. says:

    To Harper is PM now
    Yup, you’re right, and we Canadians will get the government we deserve. Just like we did in Ontario with Mike Harris. Funny thing is we in Ontario did not learn from our Mike Harris experience and now have a school system, the 407, and many other things which illustrate the true price we paid.

    Now we will have to do it all over again with the similar destruction of our health care system, the CBC, and other cherished institutions.

  44. Junji Hiroma says:

    I didn’t give away my privacy for security
    The people that voted harper in deserve NEITHER.

  45. Captain Kirk says:

    I hate the conservatives
    I live in conservative strong Calgary, and I will tell you right now, I am not a supporter of them, my views are more New Democrat, and somewhat liberal, and the very thought of a Conservative Majority government scares the hell out of me. I am so tired of them taking away my god given rights along with other canadians as well. Every time the conservatives get to form a government, they always create new laws that support corporate interests, and anything that was legal yesterday, is illegal today.

    As for the copyright act, I want them to leave it alone, I am a musician and them trying to pass a law like C-61 or C-32 scares me to death, its more in support of the corporations than it is for the artists.

    Now something that could get me into trouble, I work for Shaw, anyone whom has Cable internet no matter where in canada you are, if you unplug your cable modem everynight before you goto bed, and plug it in when you wake up, it officially resets itself and is unable to send your online usage back to the company, so download all you want, you wont get into trouble if the copyright law is passed. Those whom have it with telephone companies like bell or telus, unfortunately it sends your usage habits back everytime you connect to the internet, sorry.