Federal political wrangling a threat to tech reform

In Ottawa, opposition politicians are talking about voting down theruling Conservatives and forming a Liberal-NDP coalition government,supported by the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

A new government isfar from reality, but the mere threat of a defeat of the rulingConservatives means you can forget about any federal reforms in favourof the telecom industry for a while.

Thisis not to suggest the Conservatives were any more committed totechnology reform. After all,it’s still illegal for foreigners to hold the majority of voting sharesof a telecom carrier, which is one reason it was so difficult for BCEto find a buyer. Bill C-61, the Actto Amend the Copyright Act, was delayed until just before thesummer recess, guaranteeing it would die on the order paper. Given theopposition by security researchers such as Third Brigade’s BrianO’Higgins, it’s probably just as well Canada has yet to ratify the WIPOcopyright treaty, given the concerns down south over the DigitalMillennium Copyright Act.

Three issues the governmentreally should address soon are copyright, foreign ownership of telecomcarriers and ‘Net neutrality. But the events of the past week prettywell guarantee political deadlock until another election, due to thelikely outcome of two scenarios.

Suppose the NDP, Liberals andBloc fail to agree on a coalition. In Scenario 1, the Conservativescontinue to rule over a minority government for the time being, but arefar more cautious in their legislative agenda. Forget about any reformsthat put the kybosh on policies dear to the hearts of the economicnationalists, such as Canadian ownership of carriers.

Scenario 2is similar to what happened in Ontario in 1985 when then-Premier FrankMiller’s Conservative’s were defeated. At the time, then-NDP leader BobRae agreed not to defeat then-Liberal leader David Peterson for twoyears, on the condition that Peterson introduce a package of billsproposed by the NDP. Peterson replaced Miller as premier and ruled withNDP support until 1987, when he was re-elected with a majoritygovernment.

Now the federal NDP and Liberals are talking about asimilar arrangement, though one that would require the support of theBloc Quebecois and would give the NDP six Cabinet positions. In thisscenario, either Stephane Dion or Michael Ignatieff would get to bePrime Minister, but the legislative agenda would be comprised mainly ofbills written by the NDP and the Bloc.

NDP MPs did speak outover Bill C-61 earlier this year, but with a recession on the doorstep,a coalition is unlikely to put copyright reform, or ‘Net neutrality,near the top of the agenda. Neither would the Conservatives, if theysurvive the latest threat to their minority government.

Is either scenario favourable to the tech industry in Canada? Tell us what you think by clicking on the comment button below.

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