By Marc Garneau, MP for Westmount–Ville-Marie
During and after World War II, Canadian politician CD Howe formulated a vision to transform Canada into a leading industrial power in the second half of the 20th century. He saw the future and began building Canada’s nuclear and aerospace industries, as well as the critical infrastructure needed to build a successful and vibrant economy.
Today the world continues to evolve rapidly and a renewed vision is required. The internet is now an essential tool of the new economy, the fundamental highway to transport information. Knowledge and creativity are the hottest commodities and increasingly powerful drivers of Canada’s economy.
The digital economy knows no bounds and the world is investing heavily to seize the opportunity. Australia has dedicated an entire federal department to broadband, communications and the digital economy, focused on trying to build technology leadership. The UK, with its Digital Britain strategy, is developing a system of next generation digital infrastructure: fibre connectivity, wireless, broadcasting, making a commitment to 100% connectivity at 2MB/sec speeds, and implementing a system of competition to encourage more investment in next generation networks. The UK understands that the digital world will be the future and they are determined get there first.
Canada, in 2001 ranked 2nd in the world in internet connectivity, but has now fallen to 10th, and is now 28th out of 30 industrialized nations in wireless and internet costs.
Where is Canada going? Much like CD Howe’s vision for the 20th Century, we need a new vision for the digital infrastructure of the 21st. Last year Industry Minister Tony Clement hosted a digital economy forum and while it was a good show, little of substance came of it. Where is Canada on a commitment to connectivity and universal access? Where is this government on the issues of net neutrality and intellectual property?
Last month, Minister Clement defended his decision to overrule a CRTC decision concerning cell phone service provider Globalive on the basis that it would increase competition in wireless, but on the same day made two other decisions restricting competition in internet service provision and limiting the market incentives to invest in digital infrastructure. First, he denied wholesale access to incumbent internet lines to new Internet Service providers and second, he reversed a CRTC decision which would have forced matching speeds for smaller regional ISPs.
Further, in its decision on Globalive, the government fundamentally changed Canada’s foreign ownership laws. What is clear is these decisions were made for reasons of political expediency and to try to repair the damage caused by a previously botched spectrum auction process rather than as part of a coherent digital policy.
To create new jobs and to build thriving communities in the 21st century, Canada must seize the future and invest today. In a vision to build the infrastructure of the 21st century, Canada must set an ambitious goal of 100% connectivity for all Canadians including Canada’s rural and remote communities; we must create an environment of competition that accelerates investment in next generation fibre and wireless digital networks; we must also reform our laws to ensure the internet remains a free and open platform for the sharing of ideas; we must create a thriving environment that drives innovation but also protects the works of creators; and we must continually evolve our broadcasting, communications and cultural institutions.
Technology is changing our world. Canadians are no longer watching shows only on their television, but on the internet and over their mobile devices. While mindful of Canadian content and the cultural ties that bind our nation through radio, television and other media, we must also evolve if we hope to prosper.
The digital economy is and will continue to be a defining part of our economy, the jobs of today and tomorrow, and will alter the essence of Canadian society. As my party moves towards our Montreal Conference in March, we will be tackling transformative issues like this. It is what must be done to ensure Canada remains a thriving, diverse and creative nation. I encourage all Canadians to join us in defining this dialogue.
Office of Marc Garneau, 613-996-7267