They see a future of Canada without any tech to speak of

"By way of contrast with the light-on-tech platforms of Liberals and Conservatives, the New Democrat election platform addresses many tech issues head on."


By Robert Janelle
Preview from SCAN's Print Edition

In a week, Canadians will be heading to the polls to decide the make up of a new government. With Ottawa's tech sector still in recovery mode, it would seem more important than ever to examine where the major parties stand in the issues of high-tech.
Since Stephen Harper's Conservatives took power in early 2006, there has been an S&T Strategy announced but largely unimplemented, and two other tech-related milestones.
First, there was Industry Canada's wireless spectrum auction, where a chunk of spectrum was set aside for new entrants, creating new competition in the Canadian wireless communications industry. The auction also added several billion unexpected dollars to the federal treasury when bids for spectrum went skyward.
The second was Bill C-61, to amend the Copyright Act. The bill was derided for leaning heavily in favour of copyright holders and not providing a reasonable balance for consumer rights. While it provided stronger protection for content creators in the digital age, critics claimed it would criminalize common consumer activities like time-shifting television programs and downloading music from CDs to MP3 players.

Those frustrated with the bill began signing up for the protest group on Facebook called Fair Copyright for Canada, which now has more than 92,000 members.

Bill C-61 died on the order paper with the election call. But it could be tabled again if Conservatives form the new government. Reports from Industry Minister Jim Prentice's office is that Bill-61 is still the direction they plan to follow.

That said, where is Mr. Harper’s party planning to take technology if re-elected? Going with what has been announced at the halfway point of the campaign, the answer seems to be: not much. The platform is very light on technology.

Despite the criticisms of Bill C-61 as anti-consumer, consumer protection is actually very high on the agenda. Following the decision of wireless telecom providers Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility to begin charging users for incoming text messages, the Conservatives have stated that they plan to ban charges for unsolicited commercial text messages. Along with ensuring consumers aren't paying for spam on their cell phones, they’ve also promised to introduce anti-spam legislation based on the recommendations of the Anti-Spam Task Force from 2004.

At the Conservative party website there are also proposals to crack down on computer viruses, identity theft and phishing schemes (tricking users into entering personal information using, for example, a phony bank web site.)

Stephane Dion and the Liberals also come up a little light on high-tech issues. Going along with their much publicized environmental reforms, what tech is there is heavily focused on the greenside.

First off are “smart tax incentives” to assist businesses in adopting green technology by “accelerating the capital cost allowance rates for green investments.”

Along with investments in green tech, there's also a plan to subsidize the introduction of technology to rural Canada. The Liberal platform offers rebates to farmers, truckers and fishermen who “invest in technologies that reduce their fuel consumption and emissions.”

Rural Canada is also the focus of another Liberal technological promise, the extension of broadband service to non-urban and remote areas.

By way of contrast with the light-on-tech platforms of Liberals and Conservatives, the New Democrat election platform addresses many tech issues head on. Looking at green tech, the NDP is would create a “Green-Collar Jobs Fund” of $750 million per year to retrain workers displaced by strict environmental controls to install and maintain energy efficient technology.

Also addressed in the NDP platform is the issue of net neutrality. According to their platform document, they'll “protect everyday Canadians’ right to freely access the Internet content of their choice at a flat rate and with clear and transparent rules.” The NDP also state that they'll end the practise of “bandwidth throttling” by Internet service providers.

Finally, the NDP also goes at the copyright reform issue head-on, stating that new legislation would ensure fair compensation to creators while addressing consumer concerns.

Not surprisingly, the main mention of technology in the Green Party’s platform comes from investments in green tech, with a strong focus on low-carbon emission technology.

Similar to the Liberal proposals, tax incentives for companies that switch to more environmentally friendly technologies are high on the list of changes. The Green Party makes no direct mention of copyright reform in official policy documents, but their support for net neutrality is made clear.

One interesting nugget in their economic policy: the Greens would like to switch government computer systems to Free Open Source Software (FOSS) solutions in order to cut costs by avoiding licence fees and ensuring the right to freely modify the software to suit department needs.

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