How one techie is thinking thus far about the Canadian General Election

While I have had party membership in the past, I am currently not amember of any party. I’m a person with a technical background and havespent a lot of volunteer time in the last decade working on publicpolicy in areas of technology law. If you are a fellow technical personlooking for some ideas during this election, I’ll offer what I’mthinking.

First, a gripe. Every election I hear people say something like “Idon’t know which leader I am voting for this time”. I’ve checked, andwith the exception of some oddball by-elections in the past, therehaven’t been riding featuring more than one leader in that riding.While people may be watching the USA where they have the presidentialcandidate on the ballot, this doesn’t exist in Canada. You are votingfor a local person in your riding — while it is true that the PrimeMinister is the leader of the party with the most seats in the house,you really need to focus on learning about the local candidates.

For issues around technology law, it really comes down to the individual people who are elected. As one example, I wrote previouslyhow a change of one key person in the NDP party switched them from aparty that supported DMCA-style legislation to the strongest opponent.Their Digital Culture spokesperson Charlie Angus (Timmins – James Bay)may be a musician and not a technical person, but he really “gets it”on the benefits of modern communications technology. He also recognizesthe need to speak to actual practitioners and technology policy wonks,rather than incumbent industry executives, to form policy aroundtechnology.

A second gripe — people need to get past their fears and startvoting for what they want. Our current horse-and-buggy electoral systemis First Past the Postwhich is a system that only works correctly when there are only twocandidates. In a world with cell phones and computers it is well pastthe time to modernize our system. While the political parties tend tofavor some form of party-based proportional representation, an easyfirst step is to transition to a ranked ballot (see: Preferential voting)and otherwise keep our voting system the same. The two parties thatmost oppose this modernization are the Liberals and the Conservatives,which are also the two parties most likely to claim you need to votefor them to keep some other scary person out. I believe that anycandidate that is not personally a strong proponent of electoral systemmodernization waives their right to speak about vote splitting. Peoplewho claim that this would be too complicated have to be called on that,as they are essentially suggesting that Canadian voters are too stupidto count. There is referendum already underway in the province ofBritish Columbia to use a mildly more complex system based on a rankedballot called the British Columbia Single Transferable Vote.

Evaluating the options in the Ontario riding of Ottawa South

With those gripes out of the way, I will write about what I’m doing in my own riding of Ottawa South.Thus far only three candidates have been nominated. The incumbent DavidMcGuinty (Liberal), Elie Salibi (Conservative), and Qais Ghanem (GreenParty).

While I have met and like Qais, he has not demonstrated an interestin technology law. He also doesn’t seem to have a background in theeconomic issues that concern me the most. Like the Green Party itself Idon’t consider “the environment” to be an issue separate from otherissues, but a key component of every other policy. I believe in thetriple bottom-line of fiscal, social and environmental and believe thatwhile we have lowered our fiscal debt in recent years that we did so byborrowing from the environment and social bottom lines. The Greens area centre-right party that grew in strength partly as a result ofprevious Progressive Conservatives joining in, in a riding whosehistory suggests it is full of centre-right voters. That said, I don’tbelieve this is one of the ridings where the Greens are a strongcontender this election.

This is the same problem that the NDP have. They likely haven’t beenquick to nominate a candidate as it isn’t going to be one of thepossible ridings for them. There are ridings where the NDP and GreenParty candidates will be much stronger, and you should take a closelook at these individuals to determine their views. There is also thefact that the larger the NDP caucus, the more powerful Charlie Angus’voice will be.

I have met and spoke with David McGuinty many times in the past,starting from before he was nominated as the candidate for the June2004 election and as recently as yesterday. Yesterday I was walkingpast 1818 Bank Street (which is between my house and my bank branch),saw the McGuinty campaign signs, and wondered in. Mr McGuinty was thereand after the regular social pleasantries he started to ask me what Ithought of the Jim Prentice’s views on letting “the market” decide ontelecommunications policy (IE: incoming SMS messages on cell phonesbeing the latest issue, but also his previously articulated views onNetwork Neutrality). Mr. McGuinty tabled Bill C-555 in the previous parliament, and is hosting a petitionin support of it. While the bill speaks of cell phone access fees, italso directs the CRTC “to gather information, seek input and make areport on competition, consumer-protection, and consumer-choice issues”on a range of issues including network neutrality.

After a quick chat on network neutrality and Bill C-61, he broughtus into bio=patenting and I then brought up how gene patents areconsidered “program sequences” and that it was through the non-logic ofsoftware patents that patent law was radically extended to thesignificant uses of gene discoveries.

While Mr. McGuinty is not a Digital Culture Spokesperson for theLiberals like Charlie Angus (I don’t get the impression Mr. McGuinty’sprivate members bill had full caucus support), I have been very happywith him as my MP. Beyond technology law which he has shown a keeninterest, his background before politics was as President and CEO ofthe National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. You don’t get much more credible than that on understanding the interconnectedness between the environment and the economy.

I’ll be honest and say that I would love to finally get my largeGreen Tax Cut, given I’m one of those Canadians that has a lower carbonfootprint than the national average. I strongly believe in usingeconomic policy to provide incentives to become more efficient. While acap-and-trade is an appropriate tool for larger corporations, we alsoneed a tax shift to engage average Canadians and also to reward thosewho have made better choices. Then again, maybe this belief in havingindividuals both rewarded and economically accountable for their carbonfootprint makes me to much of a fiscal conservative. Then again, thefact that the Conservative party has thus far opposed this fiscalconservative policy is informative about them as well.

Which brings me to the Conservatives. I would need to have acandidate denounce Bill C-61 and the “let the non-existent competitivemarket decide” views of Jim Prentice on telecom policy (both wired andwireless, where the government grants monopolies on rights-of-way andspectrum) before I would take a Conservative candidate very seriously.It is quite possible to have such a candidate as it is not like C-61 orwhat Jim Prentice says are party policy, or even all that consistentwith fiscal conservative, or pro-free-market values. Like the NDP inthe past it is quite possible for them to elect some forward-thinkingpeople and turn the party around.

I am a political junkie, and I watch the elections Canada nominationdatabase and try to contact candidates as soon as they are nominated.I’ve been writing letters to Elie Salibi since he was nominated by theConservative riding association in February 2007. His political websiteindicated that “prior to entering politics, Elie spent seven years atCorel, where he served as Director of International Sales”. I don’tknow if this will mean that he has a technical background, or possiblyeven an economics background. I do find it more than a bit frustratingthat I have been writing e-Mails for over a year and a half now andhave heard nothing back. I guess I’ve gotten used to politicianscarrying around portable email devices like Blackberries, iPhones andothers — not someone who doesn’t reply.

I decided to see if I could get in touch with Mr. Salibi thisafternoon. I went to the corner of Bank and Hunt Club to see where 2446Bank Street, Suite 301 was. It turns out that this is a mall I’mfamiliar with, and that suite 301 is actually a tiny P.O. box in theUPS store in that mall. So, the candidate doesn’t reply to email, isusing a P.O box and not a real address, and hasn’t bother publishingany other contact information (A phone number maybe? Heck, even a faxmachine to indicate to us what era they are in :-). They have electionsigns all over the riding which suggests they have a lot of cash, butit will take some one-on-one convincing for me to think this is acredible local candidate.

Then again, maybe I’ll get in touch with a human being before theelection is over and he’ll turn out to be great. I’m obviously notgoing to hold my breath given what I’ve seen thus far.

If you are a Conservative party supporter (or better yet, haveconnections with a technology friendly candidate) and would like to“correct” anything that I’ve said, please do so in the comments. It hassurprised me how poor this new Conservative party is on issues likeanti-circumvention which infringe on tangible property rights and stompon provincial jurisdiction. These are not traditional Conservativeparty values. Gun registration is bad, but information technologyremote-control is good — amazingly inconsistent.

What you should do?

I’m hoping my little run-through my riding will encourage people todo something similar in their riding. If you do so, please let me know(please hit reply and add to the comments). If we representatives inevery riding do this we would have a great picture of what is possibleacross Canada. I will want to link to anything people write so peoplecan go to the Digital Copyright Canada website, find their riding, and know what other people have said.

If you want to get together with other people, there are a growing number of Fair Copyright for Canadachapters being formed. Many of these groups are getting active in theelection, creating pamphlets for public education and communicatingwith candidates. There is a meeting of the Ottawa chapter that I will be attending tonight.


Less than an hour after posting this I received a phone call fromElie Salibi’s campaign team. They are actually launching their campaignat their office at 2525 Bank (near Albion), close to were that postoffice box is. They are looking into where my emails went, and I willpost updates as I receive them.

Also after I posted this some friends of mine joined a Facebook Event tomorrow evening for the launch of the NDP candidate, Hijal De Sarkar.

Russell McOrmond is a self employed consultant, policy coordinator for CLUE: Canada’s Association for Free/Libre and Open Source Software, co-coordinator for Getting Open Source Logic INto Governments (GOSLING), and host for Digital Copyright Canada.

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