Absolutely no head on collisions by Shawn Rossi (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/4fZHVB

Absolutely no head on collisions by Shawn Rossi (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/4fZHVB


Why Navdeep Bains and Melanie Joly Are on a Collision Course on Digital Policy

The Canadian chapter of the International Institute of Communications held their annual conference in Ottawa this week, headlined on Thursday by back-to-back appearances from Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly (in a question and answer session with Jennifer Ditchburn) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.

Both ministers spoke primarily about their key policy initiative, namely digital cancon (Joly) and innovation (Bains). Joly’s cancon discussion again emphasized the benefits of exports and foreign investment, but she also indicated that all policies are still on the table, including an ISP tax and efforts to bring Internet companies such as Netflix “into the system.” Joly was followed  by Bains, who used his speech to sketch out the foundation of his forthcoming innovation strategy. His focus included universal, affordable Internet access and telecom competition (which raises real doubts about whether the government will approve Bell’s proposed purchase of MTS).

Both ministers noted that their public consultations are ongoing, yet the reality is that sooner or later the government will have to make some policy choices. An export-led cancon strategy that focuses on foreign participation would mesh nicely with an innovation strategy that envisions similar benefits from embracing the digital environment. However, many of Joly’s comments and the pressures from some stakeholder groups point to the prospect of new Internet fees or regulations to support the domestic industry. Should that happen, it is increasingly likely that Bains and Joly will present dramatically different visions of Canada’s digital future with policy proposals that are fundamentally incompatible with one another.

The most obvious example involves the issue of universal, affordable Internet access which pits Bains’ vision of an innovative economy that has affordable Internet access as its foundation against Joly’s potential support for an ISP tax. The two policies tug in opposite directions as Bains is looking for ways to lower Internet costs and increase access, while an ISP tax would increase costs and reduce access.

There is a similar conflict with respect to a Netflix tax or new Internet regulations designed to bring Internet companies into the system. While Joly may envision new regulations on Internet companies, Bains told the conference that “the digital economy is the economy” and extolled the benefits of Canadian IT companies becoming global players by venturing into every sector in the company. Those goals may conflict with new Canadian-specific regulations that will make it harder to attract technology companies and to keep domestic success stories at home.

In fact, the potential sources of policy conflict extend beyond new cancon tax or levy schemes:

  • If Joly hopes to use spectrum proceeds to fund cancon, she will likely find Bains opposing the proposals as he will want to allocate the money toward building Canadian networks.
  • If Joly wants to use copyright reform to increase liability for Internet companies or to scale back fair dealing, she will find Bains arguing that changes to the liability rules or user rights will place Canadian companies at a competitive disadvantage.
  • If Joly promotes changes to Internet advertising rules that eliminates tax deductions for digital advertising with foreign companies (ie. Google), Bains will express concern that the changes are likely to reduce e-commerce adoption in Canada and limit growth of the digital economy.

Digital cancon and innovation strategies premised on competition and the benefits of the networked environment would offer obvious synergies. The concern, however, is that proposals that focus on ways to take money out of the Internet economy to support the cultural sector will lead to an inevitable policy collision between the two ministers.

One Comment

  1. margaret beresford says:

    There is little difference when applying the same analytical eye on aspects of all trade deals. When attempts have been made to argue a strictly global economy adherence through ISDS clauses, the extreme focus on benefiting global corporations to the utter determent of all domestic industries is obvious…Obvious as to how the ISDS is structured with only corporate member-tribunals empowered to make findings. Especially knowing, there will be no appeals allowed. Thus individual country’s domestic Constitution and rules of law are illegally ignored, as is the basic tenets of contract law.
    This same blind adherence is applied to procurement changes in specific trade agreements such as the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). Which strips all rules and regulations each country has established for all fair competition among domestic industries in negotiating government contracts…..The direction will be to force all small to medium-sized industries to unfairly have to compete against multinationals which can manipulate ever lower bids…

    When all of these anti-domestic measures, (developed secretly, without the knowledge of taxpayers) are in place, then globally taxpayers will be indentured as targets to pay compensation to cover the normal expected loss of corporate profits….
    The result will be not only a total denial of the rules of law but the destruction of any country’s attempt at maintaining a thriving domestic economy….Corporations will in fact, be the only dominant determiner in all levels of society….More evidence is now becoming apparent that financial and other corporate institutions are taking over (privatizing) all essential utilities and other public programs and services, to maximize profits by minimizing services to a increasingly desperate domestic population. Note too, that rarely if ever have corporations paid fair value for the infrastructures taken, (see results of all, now corporate controlled institutions in Greece). Most analysis was/is being done and offered on one site, that of bilaterals.org.