Parliamentary committee hangs up on policy direction

The Industry Minister’s policy direction to the CRTC received a rocky reception in its review by parliamentary committee. The process of approving the policy direction is breaking new ground. Never before has Cabinet issued such a direction to the CRTC. The Minister announced the move in his keynote address to The Canadian Telecom Summit last June.

According to the Telecom Act, prior to proclaiming the policy direction, we require consultation with the provinces and relevant committees of the Houses of Parliament.

“Consultation with”, but does that mean “approval by” these groups?

Last week, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology voted to recommend

that the government impose a moratorium on implementing instructions respecting telecommunications policies recommended to the CRTC to allow the Committee to hear more witnesses in order to make a more thorough study and subsequently present a report to the House on the impact of the deregulation no later than March 1, 2007

The Conservative members of the Committee voted against the motion and were permitted to prepare a 2-page minority report. The Committee will present the resolution to the full House of Commons, which will create a delay, assuming the Governor in Council wants to operate with a view to the direction from the committee process.

The policy direction was seen to be an expedient way of pushing a market-force agenda without going through the pain of legislative changes to the Telecom Act. It is perhaps a foreshadowing of the challenges of effecting change with a minority government.

As we wrote a couple weeks ago, the very existence of the notice of policy direction has put the matter onto the CRTC’s agenda. Will we notice a change when the direction is actually proclaimed?

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