Experienced bureaucrat named new CRTC chair

The man who will lead the federal telecom regulator for the next five years is a bureaucrat with extensive experience in the way Ottawa runs as well as in culture and broadcasting.

Jean-Pierre Blais was named Friday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to be the new chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Blais “brings a strong legal background and a comprehensive understanding of the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors and the role of the CRTC, having held high-level positions at the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the CRTC,” Harper said in a news release. “I wish him all the best as he takes on the challenges of his new role.”

Blais replaces Konrad von Finckenstein, whose term was not renewed when it ran out earlier this year.

He knows the major files of the commission, having been executive director of the CRTC’s broadcasting wing.

A civil law lawyer who holds a master’s degree specializing in copyright, international trade, film and television policy, Blais had been assistant secretary of the government operations sector in the Treasury Board Secretariat before his appointment. Treasury Board holds the purse strings of the government.

Before that he was assistant deputy minister of cultural affairs at Canadian Heritage, where his responsibilities included legislation, policies and programs relating to copyright, broadcasting, cultural industries and arts policy.

It is trite to say that he takes over at a difficult period for the commission, because there has probably never been a time when the CRTC didn’t have to handle hot files.

Just over a year ago the government icily made it clear the commission had made a mistake with its usage-based wholesale billing decision. Along with pressure from parliament and the public it was forced to decide the issue again and settled on a capacity-based billing model instead.

Independent Internet service providers constantly complain big carriers – usually BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada – are unfairly interpreting the commission’s decisions; carriers demand the commission lift regulatory controls; and there are calls for it to partially regulate wireless

And that’s just on the telecom side. The commission also deals with broadcasting complaints and issues like telecom carriers buying TV networks.