Digital policies may not have played a significant role in the just-concluded national election, but the arrival of a majority Liberal government will leave many expecting “real change” on the digital front in the years ahead. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau is likely to focus on key economic promises from his platform once Parliament resumes. However, there will be several digital issues that should command attention during his first 12 months in office.
1. Bill C-51. The Liberals voted for the controversial anti-terror law, but the party promised changes to it if elected. In particular, it pledged to establish an all-party review mechanism similar to those found in many other countries that will bring Members of Parliament into the oversight process. Moreover, the Liberals promised to increase the powers of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and add a mandatory three-year review provision to the law, suggesting that the current government may both start and end its term in office with reviews of the anti-terror legislation.
While Bill C-51 has been Canada’s hot button privacy issue since its introduction last January, the new government will also have a chance to quickly put its stamp on other privacy issues. This could include issuing a strong endorsement of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Spencer decision on the reasonable expectation of privacy in Internet subscriber information by committing to stopping warrantless access to such data.
2. The Trans Pacific Partnership. The TPP emerged as an election issue late in the campaign after the 12 member countries reached an agreement-in-principle on a deal that could have a major impact on the Canadian economy. The TPP involves far more than just the elimination of tariff barriers since it requires reforms such as an extension in the term of copyright, new Internet takedown requirements, and restrictions on domestic privacy protections.
The Liberals were careful to avoid taking a firm position on the TPP, arguing that the absence of a text made it impossible to cast judgment on the still-secret treaty. Once the TPP is publicly-released, expect it to launch extensive public hearings, enabling the study that was largely absent during the negotiation process.
An actual ratification process may wait until 2017, however, since the TPP does not take effect unless the United States is on board. With opposition from leading U.S. presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton, the other TPP countries will likely wait until the U.S. TPP process concludes before proceeding with their own implementing legislation.
3. Telecom competition. The Liberals will likely let the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission lead on issues such as broadcast reform and the review of telecom services. By 2017, however, the term of current chair Jean-Pierre Blais will conclude and there will be mounting pressure to consider issues such as net neutrality, wireless competition, and broadcast regulation as a political matter.
The more immediate issue for the government is a Bell Canada appeal to the cabinet over a CRTC decision mandating independent Internet providers’ access to high-speed fibre Internet connections. The decision is designed to increase competition, though Bell Canada argues that it will reduce carrier investment. If the government sides with the telecom giant, it would signal a significant shift away from the recent emphasis on marketplace competition and increased consumer choice.
4. Copyright Access for the Blind. One of the last bills introduced by the Conservative government was a small copyright bill to allow Canada to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty for the Visually Impaired. The treaty, which is nearing the necessary 20 ratifications in order to take effect, would increase access to copyright works for the blind around the world. There is unlikely to be any opposition to the treaty and the new government could move quickly to bring the bill back to the House of Commons.
5. Open government. The Liberals promised a comprehensive overhaul of open government policies with dozens of potential reforms to create a more open and transparent government. From a digital perspective, the party platform committed to the elimination of fees for access to information requests (beyond the initial filing fee), a no-fee personal information request portal, increased funding for the Privacy and Information Commissioners, and individual, secure online accounts for all government services.