The Upcoming Budget and the Implications for Canadian Tech Policy

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will unveil the government’s much-anticipated budget this week amidst widespread speculation that it will feature sizable spending cuts and significant reorganization of major government programs. While changes to old age pension eligibility, the CBC, as well as government departments and programs will attract the lion share of attention, my weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the budget choices could have major implications for technology policy.

The government has telegraphed some measures, including an initiative to recast the National Research Council into a service focused on providing assistance to business rather than an entity emphasizing basic research. Changes to the NRC may be just the starting point as the budget’s fine print could include some important clues about where the government is headed on the digital economy.

One significant spending decision involves the renewal of CANARIE, Canada’s research and education high-speed network (I am a volunteer CANARIE board member).  For years, CANARIE has been responsible for cutting-edge Canadian networking programs such as ensuring Internet connectivity for every school from coast to coast to coast.

More recently, it has focused on meeting the networking demands of data-intensive research programs that would otherwise swamp the networks used by the general public. Beyond providing connectivity to researchers, CANARIE has begun to offer Canadian small and medium sized business a test bed and cloud computing platform to test innovative new services and there have been suggestions that it could use its network to provide linkages for local communities seeking broadband alternatives.

CANARIE operates on five-year mandates and is looking to the government to renew it for another term. The decision won’t be in the fine print – the cost could exceed $100 million over the five years – but the government’s approach will send important signals about how it views the role of CANARIE within its broader digital economy strategy.

The viability of the new anti-spam legislation, which is still awaiting regulations before taking effect, may also be determined by budget choices. Once operational there will be costs to run an anti-spam reporting centre along with the enforcement costs for the three enforcement agencies responsible for taking on Canadian-based spammers.  If there are budget cuts, the enforcement side of the law may languish due to a lack of financial support.

The fine print of the budget may also determine whether another copyright bill is on the way. A new bill is expected to focus on copyright and counterfeiting enforcement, with beefed-up powers for border enforcement and customs agents.

Last summer, U.S. cables released by Wikileaks confirmed Canadian plans for an intellectual property enforcement bill separate from the copyright reform bill date as far back as 2009. The cable stated “the government has completed legislation to enhance Canada’s intellectual property rights enforcement measures. However, the government has no plans to introduce the bill in Parliament any time soon because no funding was linked to the legislation in the last budget.”

The bill is expected to grant customs officers new seizure powers for counterfeit products and may create a new national intellectual property crime coordination office.  Given the costs associated with these measures, the budget will need to include financial support for these measures or the bill may face further delays.

As with any budget, there may be additional surprises. These include the possibility of addressing plans for the billions in proceeds from the forthcoming spectrum auction or providing dollars for the open government initiative that has begun to take shape in recent months. Given the broad range of issues, technology policy watchers will undoubtedly dig into the details as soon as the budget is released.

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  1. Here`s how to save billions in tax dollars:
    Don`t start a cyberwar against Canadians just to please US media interests. Just leave the Internet as it is: private and copyright free.

    And Harper, please stop trying to tell us that censoring the net and cutting people off of it will create jobs and bring wealth and choices to Canada. That`s just stupid.

  2. “… an initiative to recast the National Research Council into a service focused on providing assistance to business rather than an entity emphasizing basic research.”

    This would be a BIG mistake. While there are often little immediate dividends from such investments, they are the underpinnings of any future economy. We certainly can’t compete on the labor front, to give up any (little) advantage we have on research would be quite unwise.

  3. Just between NRC not being an NRC and CANARIE being threatened, I feel ill. I mean, I knew the Cons were anti-science/research/anything that doesn’t immediately benefit business, but really?!?!?

  4. What...the... says:

    Canada in the dark ages?!
    So the Conservative really want to push us back to a digital dark age? They do they really want to take away all the great things we have now, and leave us with dial up modems, and record players?

    What’s next? ban the use of cars, so we have to go back to a horse an buggy?

  5. @Crockett
    At one time my wife worked for one of the Institutes at the NRC in Ottawa… this was about 7 years ago (in the pre-Harper era), At that time it was quite normal for research that was performed at that institute was either partially or completely funded by private companies; in some cases more than one company was involved. Why would the companies do this? Simple. Due to the complex and expensive nature of the facilities required, none of them were able to go it alone. In this situation, since the companies funded the research, they owned the results and could decide if they would allow the results to be published.

  6. stratégies de trading says:
    Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice .

  7. @Anon-K:

    This isn’t about what one institute at some point in the past was normal, or happened regularly or was possible. What this is about is NRCs’ mandate. And changing from a mandate of basic research with possibilities of collaboration with the private sector, to exclusively (at best) collaboration with the private sector is a rather significant shift.

    Not only is this a rather unpleasant shift, it’s a hypocritical one for the Cons. You know, Cons are about less government, less spending, etc. But, here we have just as much government. They just benefit business instead of the people. Which is quite vulgar and a perverse twist of Conservative values.

    It just keeps getting worse and worse…