Overdue for digital leadership

It is hard to tell what actions (or failures to act) I found most disappointing from the past government. There are so many to choose from, as frequent readers can attest.

CASL – Canada’s Anti-Spam Law – ranks right up there among the most anti-business acts by a conservative government. Once named in an Orwellian fashion as the Electronic Commerce Protection Act, for some reason CASL was given immunity from the government’s red-tape reduction provisions that, among other provisions, dictate “When a new or amended regulation increases the administrative burden on business, regulators are required to offset – from their existing regulations – an equal amount of administrative burden cost on business.”

But, even worse than CASL was the complete failure by three successive Industry Ministers to develop and articulate a national digital strategy that is a root cause of CASL’s over-reach, among so many other problems. It was a failure to demonstrate real digital leadership.

Tuesday’s Toronto Star cited an internal report prepared for the Treasury Board that says “Fifteen years ago, Canada placed first worldwide in e-government services; today the UN e-government survey ranks Canada as 11th.” According to the Star’s report, in 2013 the Auditor General found access to government online services had not significantly expanded since 2005.

It was in 2010 that then Industry Minister (and future head of the Treasury Board) Tony Clement launched a consultation on the digital economy. It took 4 years for the government to pull together a document that was little more than a campaign pamphlet. The digital economy was left “drifting aimlessly” as I wrote in late 2013. That blog post details the missed deadlines and failures to demonstrate meaningful digital economy leadership by successive Industry Ministers. It is a depressing read.

It is encouraging that the new Treasury Board President, Scott Brison, is reviewing the digital delivery of government services. We need a more comprehensive digital strategy with policy directions to guide administrative and regulatory bodies that oversee the telecommunications and broadcasting industries and issues of privacy and intellectual property rights.

In December, I wrote:

In earlier tweets, I connected the current news of a battle between Toronto taxi drivers, Quebec’s law to order the blocking of gambling websites by internet service providers and the financial woes of CHCH television. In each case, a heavily regulated legacy industry is facing disruption from large multi-national internet-based applications. I ask the question of whether the three levels of government are responding appropriately. Are the legacy businesses being given the appropriate freedoms to respond to what is an asymmetric market?

As I have been writing for years, we are long overdue for a review of telecom policy and legislation. As a result, the CRTC continues to insist that it has the authority (even though it lacks the ability) to regulate Netflix and YouTube.

At the time he was appointed as Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains received a mandate letter that included as one of his key objectives “Increase high-speed broadband coverage and work to support competition, choice and availability of services, and foster a strong investment environment for telecommunications services to keep Canada at the leading edge of the digital economy.”

At the time, I asked:

How does the instruction to “foster a strong investment environment for telecommunications services to keep Canada at the leading edge of the digital economy” apply to the appeals in front of Cabinet and the CRTC that I described last week in “Does CRTC policy inhibit investment?” with its “Wholesale inconsistency“?

What signals will Cabinet be sending to the private and public sectors as it deals with the Bell fibre appeal?

How will this government begin to demonstrate its digital leadership?

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