New Government reaffirms its communications agenda
The newly elected Conservative Government is staying the course on a number of issues of interest to the communications industry. It remains to be seen how the new majority status of the Government will affect the progress of these initiatives.
The Speech from the Throne, which opened the 41st Parliament, resurrected several proposals that were put on hold with the fall of the previous Government and election call. By convention, such a speech provides a general description of the Government's legislative program for the next Parliamentary session
First, the speech indicated that the new Government will generally welcome foreign investment in Canada:
"Our Government also understands the importance of attracting foreign investment to our economy. Foreign investment helps Canadian companies grow by introducing new technologies and practices -- launching pads to strengthen growth and innovation here at home. It provides new opportunities to connect our firms to the world. Our Government will continue to welcome foreign investment that benefits Canada."
However, in contrast to the Speech from the Throne that opened the previous session of Parliament, today’s speech did not reference the telecommunications sector specifically, nor did it provide any details about possible revisions to Canadian ownership rules in the communications sector. The vagueness of today’s speech is not entirely unexpected, as the new Minister of Industry, Christian Paradis, has recently indicated that the Government required more time to determine the appropriate approach to foreign ownership reform.
The reference in today’s speech could also be interpreted as referring to foreign investment policy generally, intended to provide some comfort to the investment community after the Government rejected the proposed acquisition of Potash Corp. last year.
Digital economy strategy
The previous Government had conducted a public consultation on a national digital economy strategy, which concluded in July of last year. The original proposed 2011 federal budget had suggested a coming digital policy document. Today’s Speech from the Throne indicated that the new Government will continue with its plans to release such a strategy:
“In order to improve Canada’s productivity, enhance our economic competitiveness and increase our standard of living, our Government will continue to make targeted investments to promote and encourage research and development in Canada's private sector and in our universities, colleges and polytechnics. It will look for ways to support innovation while ensuring that federal investment in research and development is effective and maximizes results for Canadians. It will also release and implement a Digital Economy Strategy that enhances digital infrastructure and encourages Canadian businesses to adopt digital technologies and provide digital-skills training for their employees and new hires.”
Lawful access bills
As we noted previously, several bills were introduced in he last session of Parliament that would have impacted the roles played by telecommunications service providers with respect to the investigation and enforcement of crimes and matters of national security. Consistent with earlier remarks to police by the Minister of Public Safety, today’s speech indicates that these bills - and other “law and order” legislation - will be quickly reintroduced:
“The Government of Canada has no more fundamental duty than to protect the personal safety of our citizens and defend against threats to our national security.
Our Government will move quickly to reintroduce comprehensive law-and-order legislation to combat crime and terrorism. … They will give law enforcement officials, courts and victims the legal tools they need to fight criminals and terrorists. Our Government will continue to protect the most vulnerable in society and work to prevent crime.”
A recent statement by the Minister suggests that the lawful access legislation will be re-introduced in the fall of 2011.
Finally, today’s speech indicated that the Government is poised to make its third attempt to pass new copyright legislation:
“The success of Canada’s job-creating businesses demands both hard work and good ideas, and we must create the right conditions for both to be rewarded. Our Government will introduce and seek swift passage of copyright legislation that balances the needs of creators and users.”
Previous copyright bills have proved to be divisive, with features such as “digital lock” and fair dealing provisions creating intense public debate. With the new Conservative majority, it may be that a re-introduced copyright bill may find swifter passage through Parliament.