Although the Conservatives were weeks away from making a major announcement, the party won’t say whether it will come out before election day

Clement mum on Tory digital strategy details

The Conservative government was a month away from revealing more of its digital economy strategy when Parliament fell, according to Industry Minister Tony Clement.

In an interview Tuesday, Clement (pictured), who is running for re-election in the Ontario cottage country riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, said some details would have been announced May 2 at the annual Canada 3.0 conference in Stratford, Ont.

That’s election day, so he won’t be there. However, he wouldn’t say whether the policy will emerge during the election.

Asked if the party favours setting hard speed targets, as some governments have, Clement noted that by the end of this year 98 per cent of Canadian households will be able to subscribe to Internet service offering speeds of up to 1.5 megabits per second.

“That’s the bare minimum of broadband that can allow one to do anything,” he added. People in urban areas have access to much faster speeds, he said, “and we would like to have policies in place that would allow that to spread.”

Nor would he be drawn out on whether the election brings Conservative strategy out on two elements closely related to a digital strategy, liberalizing foreign investment in the telecommunications industry and the rules for the next wireless spectrum auctions.

The government was on track to make those announcements “sometime this year,” Clement said, before the election was announced.
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He did say that the plan for revealing the Conservative digital strategy before the election was to roll it out in stages, including at the Canada 3.0 conference. Because the 700 Mhz auction rules depend on a foreign telecom ownership policy, they were to be announced separately.

Asked if Tories will make a digital strategy a key plank in its election platform, Clement replied that funding for some digital strategy elements was part of the March 22 budget.

That included money to help small and medium businesses adopt information and communications technologies, to promote student enrolment in digital-related courses and to help digital content creators.

“That is something we will return to upon re-election when we re-introduce the budget,” he said.

The budget was lost when the government was defeated.

Another piece of the Conservatives’ digital strategy, Clement said, was revealed last November when he established a number of priority areas, including extending rural broadband, an intention to help businesses adopt digital technologies, helping the workforce increase their digital skills and increasing Canadian content online.

Some of the framework consists of funding and legislation already announced, such as the Connecting Rural Canadians program for extending broadband to underserved households, and introducing copyright and anti-spam legislation.

That framework was to be fleshed out through the budget announcements, the Canada 3.0 announcement and the creation of the foreign telecom ownership and spectrum auction policies.

Clement first announced the Harper government wanted to create a digital economy strategy 13 months ago.

Last summer it held a national consultation to get submissions from the private sector and ordinary Canadians.

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