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Real Change on Digital Policy May Take Time Under New Liberal Government

A Liberal majority government will undoubtedly mean big things for digital policy in Canada.  At the start of a new mandate, many will hope that a new party will lead to a significant change on telecom, broadcast, copyright, and privacy. With a majority mandate, there is certainly time to tackle these issues. My guess, however, is that real change will take some time. The Liberal platform did not focus on digital issues and other than the promised reforms to Bill C-51 and much-needed open government and transparency initiatives, most will have to wait.

The real action – and perhaps real change – will take place in 2017. By that time, the U.S. election will have concluded and the future of the Trans Pacific Partnership will be much clearer. Canada will surely start studying the TPP once it is finally released, but any steps toward ratification would likely depend on the U.S. position on the agreement. With Hillary Clinton currently opposed to the deal, its ratification is far from certain.

Several laws are also slated for review in 2017, including the Copyright Act. There will be great lobbyist pressure to adjust the 2012 reforms alongside the mandated changes from the TPP (if Canada proceeds with the agreement) and the ratification of the Marrakesh treaty for the visually impaired. Publishers will ask the government to curtail fair dealing, the U.S. lobby groups will demand stronger anti-piracy measures, and consumers will focus on re-considering the restrictive digital lock rules.

Privacy, broadcast and telecom may also be up for review in 2017.  The next PIPEDA review is technically scheduled for 2016, but it would not be surprising if that slipped by a year. On the telecom and broadcast front, the Liberals will likely let the CRTC lead on issues such as broadcast reform and the review of telecom services. By 2017, however, the term of current chair Jean-Pierre Blais will conclude and there will be mounting pressure to consider issues such as net neutrality, wireless competition, and broadcast regulation as a political matter.

The new Liberal government has some excellent people to lead on these issues including Marc Garneau, who was a strong Industry critic during the copyright reform process, as well as the many Liberal MPs who worked on privacy issues as part of Bills C-13 and S-4. Further, the new government has one of Canada’s leading intellectual property experts as an MP as McGill law professor David Lametti was elected in a Montreal riding. Lametti has written extensively about the problems of copyright term extension and the importance of fair dealing, providing a strong voice for a public interest perspective on digital policy. All of this points to real change and the chance for a fresh start on Canadian digital policy in the years ahead.

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can be reached at www.michaelgeist.ca.