Thoughtful policy

Maybe I am the naive one for expecting delegates at national political convention to produce thoughtful policy resolutions.

Shame on me.

At the recent Liberal Party convention, there were 24 policy proposals that earned majority delegate support as an “official party policy”.

One of these, ranked tenth in priority, was entitled “Combatting Disinformation in Canada”. The policy requests “the Government explore options to hold on-line information services accountable for the veracity of material published on their platforms and to limit publication only to material whose sources can be traced.” Because it directly impacts press freedoms, the media had a field day with this one. A Globe and Mail editorial called it “nothing short of dreadful and dangerous”.

The resolution passed without debate. No one stood up to challenge it. And while the Prime Minister told journalists that the government “had no intention of acting on the party’s policy”, let’s remember that this same government is pushing through a suite of legislation to control internet content, generally treating committee review of the bills with hostility.

As the Globe editorial wrote, “the resolution reflects how the Liberal base, at least, thinks that control should be increased”.

This wasn’t the only resolution that should have attracted greater review. Number 17 caught my eye, entitled “Fairer Access to Telecommunications Infrastructure”. The leadoff recital begins “Whereas a 2017 OECD report found…”. And, that may be all you need to know about that first recital.

Should we actually care what a six year old OECD report reported? A 2017 OECD report, any 2017 OECD report, is based on data from 2016 or earlier. It is 2023. If there are no newer reports that support your resolution – the first recital of your resolution – that may be an important indicator. Contradictions in that policy resolution might bring comic relief to your day. For example, the policy calls for nationalization of telecom infrastructure in part of the resolution, while seeking more international carriers in the second part. What a welcome to doing business in Canada!

I am not just picking on the Liberal Party. Three years ago, I noted that more thoughful policy would be helpful for all of the political parties. At the time, the Conservatives had produced a telecom policy paper that read more like a rough draft of a first year college term paper, a hodgepodge of random thoughts.

Our parliamentary committees seem broken. Is there a sufficient depth of understanding of issues to help produce more thoughtful policy?

Last week, University of Calgary economist Dr. Jeffrey Church and NERA’s Managing Director Dr. Christian Dippon penned a detailed critique of the “junk science” approach to analysis of international price comparisons, published in the Financial Post. The article is a deeper analysis, but it is worth investing time and brain-power to read.

Notably, the authors write that “The quality of network service, availability of family plans, consumer preferences, income, availability and terms of handset provision, alternatives to wireless services, costs of provision, and the institutional / regulatory / legal environment all differ across countries.” These factors are all missing from more simplistic analysis of price comparisons, leading to a flawed conclusion that higher prices in Canada are to be blamed on market competitiveness. “The FCC assessment [pdf, 2.8MB] of effective competition in wireless services contrasted starkly with the emphasis on flawed international price comparisons by the CRTC and the Competition Bureau.”

Junk science market analysis contributes to the flawed resolution passed by the Liberal party at its convention. Such policies, based on overly simplistic price analysis, can lead to increased costs for Canadian carriers, ultimately raising prices for consumers and potentially harming the business case for investment in network upgrades.

What is the best way to facilitate development of more thoughtful policy?

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