Mark Goldberg

Majority isn’t always right

I came across an interesting article in The Guardian from a few years ago that is perhaps somewhat relevant to the very public discussion about Canada’s telecommunications industry.

Three years ago, Julian Baggini wrote “Think democracy means the people are always right? Wrong”. In the article he writes:

Western democracy is built around a tripartite trust: trust in the people to hold government to account and to set the general direction of policy, but also trust in politicians to make specific decisions, and in institutions to provide safeguards against rash or tyrannical actions. What we are seeing all over the western world are the last two pillars being torn down, leaving all trust resting on the people.

This is rightly called populism, not in the American sense, but as understood in the rest of the world. Populism is generally defined as a mode of politics in which the will of the people is seen as clear, virtuous and homogeneous. Populist politicians simply promise to do what this will commands, ignoring or denying the fact there are different, competing interests in society, not just those of the majority. Populists do not try to square the simple desires of the electorate with the complex realities of society but pretend that what seems simple is simple and that anyone who says otherwise belongs to an obfuscating elite looking for excuses to defend its own interests.

Sound familiar?

There is a reason we look to expert panels, such as the CRTC, to explore the complex issues associated with telecommunications regulation, hopefully acting without political interference in reaching their determinations.

The issues associated with the current review of Canada’s wireless industry are quite complex and the stakes are extremely high. There are different, competing interests involved, extending far beyond the short term interests of the majority.

As Eros Spadotto of TELUS wrote this past weekend in the Toronto Star:

This brings us to the crux of the problem around affordability: many of the arguments are not informed by facts, neglect to account for policies that have failed in other countries, and make no reference to the risk of introducing regulatory uncertainty when wireless carriers are preparing to make generational investments to accommodate the transition to 5G.

Eros, the EVP of Technology Strategy and Business Transformation, spoke about “accelerating innovation and economic prosperity in Canada” at The 2019 Canadian Telecom Summit (his address can be seen online). Better than most, he understands what is at stake in the current regulatory review. His article in the Toronto Star says the evolution to 5G is predicted to add 250,000 permanent new jobs and $40 billion to Canada’s annual GDP. “If this is what’s at stake, surely we want to be making informed choices about the right path to take.”

Returning to Baggini’s piece in the Guardian, “No sensible person thinks majority opinion is a good guide to best practice in health, education, engineering, or pretty much everything else. So why would public policy be any exception?”

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