Former New Brunswick premier to head wireless association

The new head of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association knows his way around Ottawa and the Conservative party fairly well, which will be an asset for an organization whose members are heavily regulated.

Former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord, who co-chaired the Tory federal campaign in the recent federal election, takes over as the association’s lead lobbyist on Monday.

The 200 member group is dominated by wireless carriers, who have eight seats on its 16-seat board of directors.

Lord’s experience in government may help with what association chairman Almis Ledas said is the group’s main demand from the feds, “fairness and predictability.”

In explaining why it chose Lord, Ledas said in an interview that “the industry is complex, it’s is growing it has many stakeholders and we felt we needed to find the best leader who could deal with all of the items in all regions across Canada. And we think in Mr. Lord we found such a person. “He’s a consensus builder, he’s equally capable in both official languages and I think he has a track record of coming up with plans that have risen to the challenges that have been put before him.”

Many of those issues are the types of things a politician would have dealt with in the past, he said. “He will have to call upon those skills that he will have developed in politics across stakeholders that will be in the public and in industry.”

Ledas, who is also vice-president of corporate development at Bell Mobility, acknowledged Lord doesn’t have wireless industry experience, but said as premier he did dealt with some wireless-related issues.

For his part, Lord is a devoted BlackBerry user, but in an interview made it clear he isn’t a slave to the device. “I can put it aside for at least an hour … I don’t need to look at it every minute.” He sought the post because wireless is an exciting, growing industry that can help the country grow.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the technology,” he said. It “remains to be seen” if his political background makes him particularly well suited to be a lobbyist, he said. Rather, “I think it’s the skill set that I have, the expertise that will help me be a voice for the industry.”

Lord has just finished building a home for his family in Moncton, where he’ll be based rather than move to Ottawa.

The association speaks out on a wide range of issues, including the rules for the recent wireless spectrum auction, proposed artist royalties that would have to be paid for downloaded music and videos, creating a cellular phone recycling program and suggested legislation that would forbid its carrier members from hiring replacement workers during strikes.

Asked to name the top three issues the CTWA faces, Ledas said maintaining an environment that will allow its members to keep pace with the opportunities before them, dealing with financial demands – including foreign investment restrictions – of a capital-intensive industry and deciding where an industry growing in many directions will focus its attention. On some of these issues the association hasn’t reached positions yet, he added, including the rules on the next wireless auction, which the government said could come as early as 2010.

As for the current economic downturn, which the Bank of Canada has suggested could extend for another 12 months, Ledas is cautiously optimistic. This will be the third slowdown he’s seen in 18 years, but in the previous two the wireless industry experienced only a “lull in growth” not a contraction. This time, he predicts, because more subscribers than before believe their wireless devices are essential most will look elsewhere in their budges to save money.

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