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Cabinet Minister Mandate Letters for The Digital Era

Appeared in the Toronto Star on May 29, 2011 as What Harper’s Ministers Should be Doing Digitally

With the new Parliamentary session set to kick off later this week, new cabinet members are busy brushing up on the myriad of issues they will face in the coming months. The appointment to cabinet comes with a private mandate letter from the Prime Minister that sets out his expectations and policy goals. If Canadians focused on digital policies were given the chance to draft their own mandate letters, they might say the following:

Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry: As the new Minister of Industry, it falls to you to make the digital economy strategy initiated by your predecessor Tony Clement a reality. The centrepiece of the strategy should be universal, competitively priced broadband service. With a majority government in place, we have four years to open the market to new competitors, facilitate the introduction of new wireless broadband alternatives, encourage the market to offer fibre connections in all major markets, foster new local competitors, leverage the role of high speed research and education networks, consider using spectrum auction proceeds to fund broadband initiatives, and address anti-competitive pricing models.

We should set realistic but ambitious targets for broadband speed, pricing, and competition that allows Canada to reverse a decade of decline and once again become a global leader.

James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage: Together with Paradis, you will be working on the fourth attempt at Canadian copyright reform. Bill C-32 provides the starting point, but we need to establish a stronger link between copyright and innovation by instituting greater flexibility on digital locks and fair dealing.

The next four years also offers the chance to create a true national digital library as the foundation of a digital cultural policy. Canada has only digitized 13 per cent of its documentary text and less than one per cent of its video, audio, and photographs. You should assume a leadership position by actively working with provincial and local groups to develop a world-class national digital library that makes Canadian culture available from coast to coast and around the world by July 2015.

Robert Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety: As the two ministers jointly responsible for lawful access, you should ensure this complex legislative proposal is given a full committee review. Before instituting any mandatory surveillance technologies or establishing new police powers, we should require law enforcement agencies to demonstrate how the current legal framework is inadequate to deal with online crime. Moreover, we should ensure that all mandated disclosures of personal information are subject to court oversight.

Tony Clement, Treasury Board President: While you are leaving behind much of your digital economy work, your new responsibilities include the open government initiative. Over the next four years, we should work to make as much government data openly and freely available as possible. We should re-examine the licenses associated with the data to ensure that Canadians are free to use the information in whatever manner they see fit. Moreover, we should at long last remove crown copyright restrictions over government documents and maximize the benefits of our public research funding by requiring researchers to make their work available under open access.

Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade: You will be actively involved in negotiating several trade deals, including border negotiations with the United States, the Canada-EU Trade Agreement, and a proposed trade deal with India. Intellectual property forms a key part of these agreements and the Canadian objective should be to ensure that we retain full flexibility (consistent with international law) to implement made-in-Canada approaches on copyright and patent law. Those laws should be made in Ottawa, not Washington, Brussels, or New Delhi.

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at or online at

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