The 2015 Liberal campaign platform that vaulted the party from third place to a majority government made a big economic bet that focusing on innovation would resonate with voters and address mounting concern over Canadian competitiveness. Innovation would serve as a guiding principle over the years that followed: The Minister of Industry was reframed as Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, millions were invested in innovation superclusters and global leadership on artificial intelligence was touted as a national priority.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes that four years later, the 2019 Liberal party platform does not include a single mention of innovation or AI. Instead, it is relying heavily on ill-fitting European policies to turn the Canadian digital space into one of the most heavily regulated in the world. Rather than positioning itself as the party of innovation, the Liberals are now the party of digital regulation with plans for new taxes, content regulation, takedown requirements, labour rules and a new layer of enforcement commissioners.
With just over a year to go before the 2019 Canadian national election, the upcoming fall Parliamentary session will undoubtedly feature a renewed urgency to pass legislative proposals and craft new policies that will form the basis for future election platforms. Digital issues will surely feature prominently including the copyright review and Copyright Board reform, website blocking proposals, privacy safeguards, the broadcast and telecom review, a national data policy, and the implementation of the IP strategy. The same is true elsewhere with Europe to again consider copyright reform, the U.S. assessing privacy rules, and many other countries engaged in digital policy initiatives. However, just as the broader public is finding its voices on these issues with policy submissions, petitions, and efforts to ensure that a public interest perspective is a core part of the process, the traditional lobby groups that have long dominated the policy discourse are steadily working to undermine those efforts with cries of user voices being “mob-driven“, “hacking“, or “disinformation.”
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to deliver a keynote lecture at American University, Washington College of Law on NAFTA and the digital environment. A video of the talk can be found here (my remarks start just after 11:40) and is embedded below.
Canadian digital policy over the past decade has been marked by a “made-in-Canada” approach that ensures consistency with international law but reflects national values and norms. On a wide range issues – copyright rules, net neutrality, anti-spam legislation, and privacy protection among them – the federal government has carved out policies that are similar to those found elsewhere but with a more obvious emphasis on striking a balance that includes full consideration of the public interest.
My Globe and Mail opinion piece notes that as with many issues, the burning question for the Liberal government is whether the Canadian digital policy approach can survive the Donald Trump administration. Trade pressures are likely to present Canada with an enormous challenge in maintaining its traditional policy balancing act since the United States is already using tough talk to signal demands for change. This suggests that many Canadian policies will be up for negotiation, although there are some potential opportunities that reside outside of the trade talk spotlight.
The official release of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a global trade agreement between 12 countries including Canada, the United States, and Japan, has sparked a heated public debate over the merits of the deal. Leading the opposition is Research in Motion founder Jim Balsillie, who has described the TPP as one of Canada’s worst-ever policy moves that could cost the country billions of dollars.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that as Canadians assess the 6,000 page agreement, the implications for digital policies such as copyright and privacy should command considerable attention. On those fronts, the agreement appears to be a major failure. Canadian negotiators adopted a defensive strategy by seeking to maintain existing national laws and doing little to extend Canadian policies to other countries. The result is a deal that the U.S. has rightly promoted as “Made in America.” [a video of my recent talk on this issue can be found here].