The Legacy of Conservative Governments for Mobile Users in Canada

Former Industry Minister James Moore

Canadians have spoken, and across great swaths of this country the overwhelming consensus is that it’s time for a change. After almost a decade in power—with two minority governments and one majority—the Conservative Party of Canada under Stephen Harper will shortly be replaced by a Liberal majority government under Justin Trudeau.

Though my personal politics don’t really align with the Conservatives, I can think of at least two things that party has done for mobile users in this country. Far less clear is how the new government will impact us—the last time the Liberals ran the place was pre-iPhone!

Back in 2009 the Conservative government overturned a CRTC ruling preventing WIND Mobile’s launch. The commission concluded that Globalive (WIND’s parent company) was foreign-owned; then-Industry Minister Tony Clement gave them the green light anyway. Here’s what the Toronto Star had to say about the news back in the day:

For consumers, even those who don’t sign up with Globalive, the decision is a clear win. Competition will spur incumbents and new entrants alike to provide cheaper, more robust cellphone packages in an industry previously dominated by only three national incumbents – Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp. and Bell Canada.

Maybe things didn’t work out quite that way, but at least Canadians have one more available option for their wireless service.

More recently, there was our National Wireless Code. Remember three-year carrier contracts? They’re now a thing of the past, thanks to the Code.

The Code was made possible by the CRTC, but one gets the idea that this past government also had a strong hand in its making. When incumbent carriers fought the Code in the Federal Court of Appeal, the Conservatives intervened. From the Financial Post:

Industry Minister James Moore has requested that the attorney general act as an intervener in the case at the Federal Court of Appeal, Moore’s spokesman Jake Enwright told Reuters on Wednesday.

“We support the CRTC’s decision to apply the Wireless Code retroactively. Our government will intervene in this case on behalf of Canadian wireless consumers to ensure that their voices are heard,” Enwright said.

And then there’s the prickly issue of Bill C-51, made into law by the outgoing government. Dubbed the “anti-terrorism” bill, the legislation troubled many privacy advocates, including Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien. Here’s what he had to say about it in the Globe and Mail:

All Canadians – not just terrorism suspects – will be caught in this web. Bill C-51 opens the door to collecting, analyzing and potentially keeping forever the personal information of all Canadians in order to find the virtual needle in the haystack. To my mind, that goes too far.

As for the incoming Liberal government, the only prognostications specific to the telcom sector come from Scotia Capital analyst Jeff Fan, who had this to say to the Globe and Mail on Election Day:

In recent years, the Conservative government appeared to take a more hands-on approach to setting telecom policy and as a result CRTC decisions have been under the microscope. If a new Liberal government is elected, we believe it would take a more hands-off approach given its many other priorities.

Sources: Toronto Star, Financial Post, Globe and Mail (1) (2)

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