Canadian Telecom Summit Address by Panel Chair
Chair of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel
June 3, 2019 - Toronto, Ontario
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It’s great to be back among so many old friends here at the Summit – although more than a few of you have warned me that, depending upon our panel’s final recommendations, I may not win any new ones.
Obviously, it’s the business of the panel that brings me here. So, I want to start off by taking a few minutes to talk about the task that my panel colleagues and I were given, and to fill you in on where we are at in our process.
We were launched as an expert review panel a year ago by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
Our job is to drill down on the tough questions facing Canada’s communications sector and come up with concrete recommendations to update the legislative framework… recommendations that will provide the tools, resources and authorities to policy makers and regulators to enable them to address both the promise created and disruption brought about by technological change.
And we are mindful that governments around the world – including ours – are grappling with these difficult questions as we speak.
We’ve been given the freedom – some might say the burden – to think widely and openly about how to build legislation for the future. And, I should emphasize, that when I say ‘the future’ – that’s exactly what I mean.
Because, as I’ll elaborate further in a couple minutes, that is – and must be – our principal task as a panel: To cast our minds forward, to think of the world that will be and to recommend steps today to ensure that we make it a world we want. For Canadians, for consumers, for industry, for artists and engineers, for affected communities of all sorts. And all sizes.
Obviously, to get it right, we need to rely on wide input, expert insights and broad perspectives. It’s why we placed such an emphasis on outreach and engagement – with everyone in this room. And with many others beyond.
That work began in September as we issued an open call for written submissions to help inform our work and shape our outlook. That call also highlighted four theme areas that we encouraged participants to speak to.
In our dialogue with Canadians since September and in the delineation of our research priorities, these themes proved enduring.
Let me re-state them here, since they will continue to shape our deliberations and ultimately, our areas of recommended reform.
First – we’re seized with the importance of reducing Barriers to access by all Canadians to Advanced Telecommunications Networks. In other words, what can we do to help ensure the reach and reward of new technologies, platforms and services are spread fairly and widely throughout our country.
It’s a matter of equity. Of commerce. And, obviously, it’s a matter of affordability. Each of these considerations is huge. And each brings with it significant challenge.
Further, digital transformation, including the emergence of 5G wireless networks, requires the efficient roll out of new infrastructure to increase the functionality, capacity, and network reach to address consumer and business demand and, consequently, a legislative framework that is able to accommodate these advanced and ubiquitous networks. It must also be able to address the new challenges to the safety and security of Canada's telecommunications infrastructure.
Second, how can we better support the creation, production and discoverability of Canadian content? It’s without a doubt an area of enormous priority for us all.
Our stories are outstanding and our storytellers remarkable. But how do we ensure that our creators are offered the means for those Canadian stories to be told and to earn a decent return for their creativity and labour. And – a critically important point – how do we get those stories seen and heard in a world where the mechanisms of shareability have changed so dramatically. And are only set to change still more into the future.
Third, we’re concerned with improving the rights of digital consumers and digital citizens. Huge platforms exist and continue to be rolled out – with unprecedented scope and reach, stretching across borders and affecting virtually every aspect of daily life. In the face of this reality, how can we preserve as much power, as much choice, as much control as possible for the individual consumer. And how do we ensure that there are independent, trusted, accurate and diverse Canadian sources of news and information which are critical to an informed citizenry, civic participation and our democratic processes.
And finally, we’re focused on renewing the Institutional Framework for the Communications Sector. Defining the roles of each of the players in the governance and regulation of the sector. Ensuring they have the tools needed to deliver on their regulatory responsibilities and preserve our interests.
Guided by these themes, we set out over the course of the fall and winter to engage with a broad range of Canadians.
To further an understanding of the issues for a wider audience, we developed three informational videos which provided an overview of the 3 key pieces of legislation covered by our Review. I am pleased to tell you that they were prepared and narrated by experts from the panel itself: Hank Intven for the Telecom Act, Peter Grant for the Broadcasting Act and Monica Song for the Radiocommunications Act.
And then we got ‘out of town’: while we couldn’t get to every community, we made a big effort to travel the country for face to face meetings and conferences:
Panel members met with 150 individuals and groups in stakeholder meetings held in 11 communities across the country – from Vancouver and Calgary in the west, and Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit in the north; through central Canada to Halifax and St. John’s in the east.
We attended 12 conferences over the course of those months as well.
The depth and breadth of the consultation process was tremendously valuable to us. We heard from many people and communities whose voices are not always heard.
For example, the Northern trip. We met there with Indigenous cultural and telecom groups, entrepreneurs, health-related NGOs, governments, and official language minority groups. And got to appreciate – first hand – the great cultural and economic potential that exists in the North, and the exceptional entrepreneurial spirit that resides there.
But the trip also highlighted the challenges that geography represents for those who live, work, and connect in the North.
Our meetings with young people were a highlight – they have a particular stake in a future which we can’t even imagine today. And we have a responsibility today to put in place a framework which will be responsive to the change which lies ahead, and will endure.
They spoke to us about the importance of access in rural and remote communities, and of wireless in schools. And the priority that needs to be attached to digital Canadian content en français. We also heard from our student audiences about the ways in which technology have changed their viewing habits and consumption of information, audio and audiovisual content.
So that summarizes the effort and outreach that has brought us to this point. And I’ll be honest with you – I had hoped to arrive here with copies of our What We Heard interim report in hand. Unfortunately, the stars didn’t quite align – not to mention the more earthly considerations of editing, translation and production. But I want to assure you that it is in the very last stages of preparation and will be released later this month.
In that respect, let me give you just a quick preview of what you can expect – and what you should not.
The report will be a faithful and fulsome catalogue of the feedback we received during our travels, and the more than 2000 written submissions and letters that arrived at our doorstep. The response has been voluminous – and on many occasions - it has arrived with volume. These are issues that matter to people. It doesn’t take a lot to spark their passions.
We have the found the exercise of writing the report clarifying – it has helped us to identify key issues, fundamental debates and the many, many difficult decisions that lie ahead. I think you’ll see all that reflected.
But I want to put your expectations in check – this report will focus on What We Heard, not What We Think. That will come in January 2020 with our final report when we pronounce on these matters with our recommendations to government.
Over the course of the next number of months my panel colleagues and I will turn from the task of analyzing input to the even more challenging matter of making up our minds – and offering our prescriptions for future legislative change.
For obvious reasons, I am not going to stand here today and hint about where we might end up. Truthfully, we have a diverse and animated set of views among panel members. Challenging debates and decisions lie ahead. Personally, I’m energized by those debates – because the policy choices that confront us are vitally important. Artistically, economically, technologically and in so many other ways.
I know you know this – frankly, the people in this room know it as well as anyone in this country. Maybe in this world.
So, on that point, let me just leave you with one additional thought – you might even call it an appeal.
When we talk about the future of our legislative and regulatory framework for these issues – we, as panelists, have reached one firm and inevitable conclusion: We must think big. We must think globally. We must think, not about what will serve Canada and Canadians well for the next few years, but for the next full generation, at least.
Our horizon cannot be constrained to the next election or the next rollout of new technologies. It must be cast further ahead. To get it right for today, we must contemplate our approach to tomorrow. We need to build our legislative framework, even in the face of dizzying change – perhaps because of that dizzying change - to persevere until 2040 or even 2050.
And that’s no small thing.
People in our industry don’t have the luxury of thinking in those terms often. We have shareholders and bosses. Markets and customers. Consumers and clients. It tugs us understandably toward the immediate. But on these matters, we get the chance – indeed, we have the obligation – to think more broadly.
On the principal and intimidating questions of Canada’s role in the digital economy of tomorrow – and the exercise within that context of our cultural sovereignty, we must grapple with huge issues. We must think long-term if we are to faithfully and responsibly serve the near-term.
Personally, I have become convinced that the best way to keep from getting overwhelmed by it all is to remain rooted firmly to a couple simple goals. Speaking strictly for myself I think of them as how to avoid getting left behind in that bold new world. And, even more importantly, how to set ourselves up to take full advantage.
It is natural to approach a panel such as ours from the pressing point of view of how to serve your existing business plans and how to facilitate your contemporary goals and objectives. I get that. I genuinely do.
When we’ll be releasing our What We Think report, not just our What We Heard report – I would urge you all to look at the recommendations we offer through that wider lens.
At that time, your voices will carry enormous weight with government decision makers. I know you have all engaged forcefully in our consultations. I hope that you will engage forcefully again at that time in response to our recommendations.
And I hope you will take advantage of the chance to speak out – not just against that which might contradict your current course. But in support of that which might open up whole new avenues of opportunity – brand new lines of business and exciting new possibilities.
We have so many standing advantages – the quality and extent of our technological networks. The incredible talents of our artists. The industry of our engineers and experts. Access to the world’s many cultures and markets.
There’s a huge moment to be seized. But we will have to reach up – not just out - to grasp it.
If we approach this future solely focused on becoming winners, we may risk leaving too many behind. If we aim all our efforts at not becoming losers, we will surely let huge possibilities pass us by.
The proper approach is a measured balance, a shrewd mix and a wide, far-reaching perspective.
That’s the goal the panel members and I will be setting for our final report. And I want to acknowledge the tremendous talent and contributions of all six panel members – and thank them for their dedication to the task at hand.
I hope our approach is one you will find encouraging. And one you will be able to echo.
I want to thank you very much. I am grateful for the chance to be here today, delighted to be with you all again and very excited about the work that lies ahead.
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