Jean-Pierre Blais at the Banff World Media Festival
June 13, 2017
Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
Check against delivery
Good morning and thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.
I would like to acknowledge that we meet today on the traditional territory of the Treaty 7 First Nations. I thank them and pay tribute to their Elders.
This morning, I want to talk about breaking the status quo. In this spirit, I thought I’d break with convention a bit, myself. I’ll give you a prologue, a speech and an epilogue instead of just one speech.
I’ll begin with some thoughts on diversity. This subject is something I hold dear to heart and it’s a cause that we as an institution have taken great strides to advance. Let me share with you a few examples.
Canada’s broadcasting system plays an important role in working to advance reconciliation between Indigenous communities and Canadian society, and the CRTC wants to make sure Indigenous communities are well served.
Through our recent radio licensing hearing, we are taking important steps to correct the broadcasting system’s historical lack of service for urban Indigenous communities. By their numbers, the people in these communities do not have market force. But as citizens and first inhabitants of this country, they deserve to have access to the communications services they need to contribute to Canada’s cultural experience. Our licensing decision will be released in the coming days.
The CRTC has also recently taken measures to ensure Canadians who are Deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired are well served by the communication system. Canada’s Video Relay Service (VRS) launched last September. The outcome of a 2014 CRTC decision, VRS enhances the ability of Canadians whose first language is American Sign Language or Langue des signes québécoise to participate fully in Canada’s communication system, and in Canadian society more broadly.
That’s not all. In April, at the Awards Gala of the Women in Communications and Technology, I announced that the CRTC will initiate a discussion on the representation of women in leadership positions in screen-based production activities.
Internally, we’ve taken steps to ensure our workforce is representative of the Canadian population, including members of Canada’s Indigenous communities. Of the 417 people who worked at the CRTC as of March 2016, 16 were from Indigenous communities. Another 59 identified themselves as visible minorities. Both figures exceed current labour-force availability statistics.
We have also launched, in partnership with Tungasuvvingat Inuit, a program to create work and career development opportunities for Inuit, as well as increase awareness of Inuit culture among CRTC employees. Imagine if the Government of Canada, the largest employer in the country, were to do the same. That would mean over 700 positions for young Inuit Canadians.
In addition, as part of our Canada 150 commemorative project, we renamed our boardrooms in our Gatineau headquarters. The Chairman’s boardroom now bears the name of Jonah Kelly and Jose Kusugak, two influential Inuit broadcasters. And our main boardroom is named after Réal Therrien, a former Vice-Chair of Telecommunications, who played a pivotal role in ensuring that telecommunications services reached northern communities.
Finally, I’d like to pause for a moment of personal reflection. While I was a lawyer with the CRTC in the late 1990s, one of the files I worked on was the application for the television service that would become the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)—the country’s first network by and for Indigenous communities. My colleagues and I were trying to find a way to ensure its success, if a licence were granted. One evening, I was re-reading the Broadcasting Act and came across section 9(1)(h). That’s when it dawned on me that this section could be used to grant APTN mandatory carriage on basic television services across the country, as well as a mandated subscriber fee.
Since then, APTN has grown into not only a culturally significant media outlet, but also a tremendously important one. The network has won several awards for the quality of its investigative journalism. I look forward to seeing what else it will achieve in the years ahead.
The use of section 9(1)(h) has also led to other important public-interest services to be offered to Canadians, including the service operated by the Assemblies of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
While I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, there’s more that needs to be done. And I encourage you to examine your own practices with respect to these important issues.
In the 1990s broadcasting era, APTN was a perfect example of a media outlet that was defying convention. Here, for the first time ever, was a television service that spoke to the particular needs of Canada’s Indigenous communities. What a concept. Today’s broadcasting landscape is far different, and that brings me to the main speech I promised you today: on breaking the status quo.
Breaking the status quo
I’ll begin by taking you back four years to when I first appeared at this forum. On June 12, 2013. At that time, I’d been on the job for about a year, and I shared some of the new ways we at the CRTC were engaging with Canadians and changing the ways we regulate. We brought Canadians into conversations about the wireless code, licence renewals and ownership decisions using tools like online discussion forums that hadn’t previously been used by the CRTC to build the public record.
We also brought Canadians into the centre of discussions about issues like the future of television, new telecommunications services for Canadians with disabilities and broadband connectivity. Since then, we have evolved into a more inclusive organization that considers evidence from a far greater array of sources than ever before. One that does so in an open and transparent way. Never behind closed doors. We adapted our own way of thinking and acting from one that was almost exclusively prescriptive—you will do this, you will do that—to one that is much more based on outcomes.
Along the way, we arrived at a lot of important decisions. We challenged conventional and long-held beliefs about the way Canadian-made content is created and distributed. We challenged producers, broadcasters and distributors to think more broadly than they ever have before: globally instead of domestically or regionally. We declared broadband a basic service.
What we did, in other words, was to help prepare Canada’s communications system for a future in which broadband is the ubiquitous technology.
What we did, in still other words, was break the status quo.
Any coffee lovers in the room may know the name Howard Schultz. He’s the now-departed CEO of a little enterprise called Starbucks. You may have heard of it. Schultz was one of the driving forces behind the company’s identity as we know it now: a place for good coffee, yes, but also a place to linger. A gathering place.
An innovator to the core, Schultz once famously declared, “any business today that embraces the status quo as an operating principle is going to be on a death march.”
I can’t think of truer words—especially not in the world of communications and media.
It’s about broadband, people!
I dare say most everyone in this room today plies his or her trade in the broadcasting world. Some might say I do, too. And I can understand why. The CRTC has a long history that is rooted almost exclusively in oversight of the broadcasting sector.
Pierre Juneau, whose name was given to the Juno Awards and now the atrium at the CRTC’s headquarters, chaired the Canadian Radio-Television Commission in its infancy. His mandate and that of the group he chaired was broadcasting. Just broadcasting. Convergence did not occur until 1976. My how things have changed, not just on paper, but also in practice.
Broadcasting is still the idea that people most commonly associate with the CRTC today. We’re all about broadcasting and content, quotas and rules, they say.
They couldn’t be more wrong. True revolutions are imperceptible at first.
About two thirds of the work we do now is tilted on the telecommunications side of our ledger. (If indeed there even is a conventional ledger with defined columns for each industry any longer. The sharp, clear line that once separated broadcasting from telecommunications is increasingly softer and blurred.)
What’s more, our work on the telecommunications side—measure that by whatever metrics you choose: dollars, volume, impact—will only continue to grow as the years progress. Such is the influence, the ubiquity of broadband today.
Broadband is everywhere—almost literally, thanks to mobile devices. And it touches everything. It’s more than the medium that delivers health care, government services, communications and so many other essential elements of our lives. It’s the platform that enables them. It’s the reason ideas like real-time results, machine-to-machine communication, apps and—dare I say—even fake news exist.
For these reasons, broadband is foremost in our minds at the CRTC. Certainly, it was the raison d’être for the basic telecommunications services decision that we issued last December. During our public consultation, we asked Canadians to tell us about those services they most needed to participate in the digital economy. More than 50,000 responded.
Loud and clear, Canadians told us how broadband improves the quality of their lives and empowers them as citizens. They told us how it connects them with their peers across our vast country and around the world. And they told us how it is the spark that ignites their innovative flames and fires their creative sprits.
They told us more, besides. They told us how a lack of broadband access is actually harmful to their social and economic well beings. That how limited access to broadband (or in some cases, none at all) throttles economic growth and degrades their quality of life. Sadly, this reality is no more apparent than in Canada’s northern and remote communities, which have been chronically underserved by the country’s telecommunications providers.
Our December decision took all this into account. And more than ever, it moved the focal point of the regulation off voice and placed it squarely on broadband.
Our decision established broadband Internet access as a baseline for all Canadians. It is the new basic standard for all.
It established new objectives for those basic services. Fixed broadband services should now come with the option of an unlimited data package, and mobile wireless technology should be available not only in homes and business, but also along the country’s major roads.
It also set ambitious new targets—of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload speeds for fixed broadband access. These speeds are 10 times greater than those we set just five years previous. And because broadband access at these targets is far from universal in Canada, it created a new $750-million fund to support projects in areas that cannot meet, or maybe should I say: have not yet met, the new service levels.
I won’t say that our decision absolutely established connectivity as a fundamental human right for Canadians. Such a declaration is beyond the purview of this Commission. But I will say that our objective is that no Canadian should ever be denied such access.
That said, there’s work to do, gaps to close. Affordability is one. Broadband doesn’t always come cheap. A recent survey on Canadians’ use of telecommunications services conducted by EKOS on behalf of the CRTC showed that about 66% of respondents limit their Internet use due to either cost or capacity constraints.
In our decision, we stated the need for a comprehensive solution that makes broadband affordable for everyone.
Another gap is digital literacy. During our consultation, several groups told us that many Canadians—seniors and Indigenous people among them—lacked the skills to effectively use broadband Internet. Our EKOS survey confirmed that assertion. Nearly one in four respondents said a lack of skills restricted their Internet use.
The federal government has already begun to lay the groundwork to close such gaps. Budget 2017 proposed nearly $30 million in funding over five years to teach basic digital skills, and a further $13 million to help service providers offer affordable home Internet packages to low-income families. This is in addition to the $500 million that has been allocated to the government’s Connect to Innovate broadband program.
The private sector also must do its part. Some ISPs, for example, now offer affordable Internet plans for low-income Canadians. We encourage other ISPs to step up with their own plans. Neither price nor digital literacy should be a barrier to connectivity.
New thinking is needed
These are positive steps that will undoubtedly yield some good, but I can’t help but feel they only scratch the surface of the real issue at hand. Thinking in government and indeed in industry—in this room—is still flawed. It’s focused all too much on traditional divisions between broadcasting and telecommunications. On the status quo as an operating principle.
That’s not the future. Broadband is. Apps are. Quotas, tax credits and the way we all did business 20 years ago are not. They’re anachronisms. They’re as glaringly old-fashioned in today’s world as the steam engine or the horse-drawn carriage. Connectivity is the key.
Much of our work at the CRTC has focused on this undeniable and disruptive reality. Indeed, many of our recent decisions in the telecommunications sector—on differential pricing, wholesale services, basic services and many others—have been focused on both mobile and fixed broadband access. But let me ask you this: How many people from the cultural sector—from the entities you all represent—attended any of these public hearings or participated in the proceedings? Not many. It’s hard to ignite broadcasters’ passions for something as apparently dry as access to broadband. Pity.
Ladies and gentlemen, the reality is, these hearings matter more now than they ever have before. This isn’t regulation about obscure ideas like central office co-location or support structure pricing. This is about laying the groundwork for the technology that will bring the services, programs and content you create to the world. It’s not incremental. It’s fundamental! It’s about the nation’s digital future.
The majority of the intervenors at the hearings I just listed didn’t come from the creative sector. They were individuals and academics from here in Canada and around the world, and the usual suspects from the telecom industry. But there was one group that brought a different perspective: representatives from Canada’s francophone and Acadian communities. During our basic telecommunications service proceeding, they told us that the future of the groups they represent doesn’t depend on arguing at the margins over content, but on getting that content out to the world.
Connectivity is that enabler. Your enabler. Ignore it at your peril.
I’m deeply concerned by the fact that some people in industry and in government continue to bang their heads against the wall and argue on the margins of traditional institutions when we’re in the midst of a sea change. For just a moment, forget Telefilm. Forget the Canada Media Fund. Forget super-screen based agencies. Forget tax credits and co-production treaties with Belgium. They’re tools of a bygone era. Think different. Think bigger. Break the status quo.
Let me draw an analogy.
When the steam engine was invented and popularized in the early 19th century, canal boat operators in the United Kingdom flocked to this important new technology. They raced to replace the horses that drew their barges with steam engines that would change water travel forever.
But while they were so focused on fine-tuning their present-day margins, they missed an even more important, more forward-looking development. They never imagined people would start building railways. They never dreamed that goods and people could be moved across the country far faster than boat traffic ever could.
I urge you: stop fussing over your canal boats. Stop arguing over this barnacle or that one that’s stuck to your hulls. Stop being those people who stubbornly insist that canal traffic is the way forward because that’s the medium you’ve always used. The status quo cannot continue to be your operating principle.
Start thinking about broadband. Super highways are today’s reality. Think about how we, government as well as industry, can achieve our objectives. We all agree on a goal to give Canadians’ choices and bring their voices to the world, and we’re blessed with enabling technology to do so. Let’s agree to an approach, a desired set of outcomes, and set that bullet train in motion. Let’s break the status quo.
I submit to you, by the way, that the solution to this challenge is not more government money. Nor does it include fiddling at the margins of legislation—at least not before anyone knows what, exactly, we’re trying to achieve. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve arrived in an era where government has to get out of the cultural sector’s way.
Perhaps that’s a subject for discussion when the government opens its reviews to modernize the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts.
The free exchange of ideas
Let me close the loop a little on this notion of moving goods—I should say ideas, since that’s really today’s common currency—around the country. Rail enabled fundamental change 200 years ago. Broadband is the catalyst today. The future of audiovisual content and information is on fixed and mobile wireless broadband. I’m not alone in holding this idea, by the way. In its most recent Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, Cisco is calling for mobile data traffic to grow by 500% between now and 2021. In just four years.
It is therefore imperative that data be allowed to move freely in the digital world. You’ve doubtless heard of the notion of net neutrality. It’s the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of their sources, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites.
Three decisions taken by the CRTC over the past few years make our policies clear regarding the principle of net neutrality. We started in 2009 with our decision on Internet traffic management practices. In it, we said that ISPs should invest in their networks to avoid congestion issues rather than limiting data usage or throttling users’ speeds.
The second came in 2015 when we directed two wireless service providers, Bell Mobility and Videotron, to stop giving their own mobile TV services an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Both were exempting their services from consumers’ standard monthly data charges. Meanwhile, they counted content from other websites and apps against customers’ data caps. That decision opened the door to fair treatment in the marketplace for mobile TV services.
The third came in April when we issued our differential pricing practices decision. In it, we declared that ISPs should treat all data traffic equally. As common carriers, they should compete on price, quality of service speeds, data allowance and better service offerings, rather than profiting from the innovations of others. ISPs should not treat the data used to access certain content differently. So in the case of Videotron’s Unlimited Music service, they are not permitted to exempt specific music streaming services from data charges under certain plans.
Our decision protected the ability of creators and distributors of online content—people like you and the companies you work for—to innovate freely. It holds the door open for consumers to choose the online content they want without being steered in one direction or another by ISPs’ marketing strategies and pricing decisions.
That’s an enormous boost for everyone in this room. Independence of that nature is exactly what creators crave. It gives you a free hand to reach audiences here in Canada and around the world. Without the filter from dominant players that have their own interests—and not the public’s—at heart. While a number of radio groups recognized this and submitted interventions, none of the associations that specifically represent commercial broadcasters participated in our differential pricing practices proceeding.
Together, these decisions make our policy on net neutrality clear, the value of which is immeasurable in the broadband world. The last thing any of us wants is for ISPs to become gatekeepers. That's not their role. The Internet is too important to all of us to have for-profit companies influencing our choices and even selecting those ideas we see and those we do not.
The echo chamber
You don’t have to look far to understand the importance of the free movement of ideas in today’s world. Our neighbours to the south are experiencing a difficult period in which media are being circumvented and abhorrent phenomena such as fake news and alternative facts are steering public opinion in dangerous directions. It’s more important than ever that the truth be plain and that people have access to a multiplicity of ideas.
One of the unfortunate paradoxes of the Internet age is that although all of us have a diversity of opinions from which we can choose, our focus is narrower than ever. We choose to consume media and opinion from only those niche sources with which we agree, rather than those that present different ideas or broader spectrums of information. This phenomenon is known as the “echo chamber.” And it’s troubling.
When any of us listens to ideas delivered only by people with whom we agree, diversity suffers. Outsiders who advance different viewpoints are ignored, looked down upon with mistrust. The spiral deepens when evidence and expertise is discarded in favour of opinion. Fake news becomes the tool public figures use to discredit their opponents and direct attention away from more significant issues. I know of this first-hand at a very personal level.
I referenced the trouble this trend has caused in the United States, but it’s far from the only country whose people are guilty of this myopic practice. Here in Canada, the French-language radio market—Quebec City’s infamous shock jocks—builds and reinforces its own echo chambers that deepen societal rifts.
I submit to you that an antidote to the echo chamber is a robust, healthy and responsible public broadcaster. Now more than ever, the CBC must be accountable to the public for the high quality and trustworthiness of its news information and programming. The CBC has a critical role to play in the digital space. It must remain there and continue to deliver balanced, intelligent content for Canadians. And it must apply the trusted news source lens to all of its activities. That is, it should focus on news rather than commentary. It must stop chasing clicks, and it must always publish verified stories from credible sources. All its analysis must be vigorously and objectively verifiable.
Perhaps the public broadcaster will consider using the money it collected from the sale of its shares in Sirius XM Canada to support such undeniably worthwhile endeavours. By our calculations, CBC will get approximately $58.8 million from that sale. These and other ideas will doubtless come to the fore when the CRTC considers the CBC’s licence renewal.
By the way, the echo chamber isn’t limited to only thoughts and opinions. It’s a blight on the cultural world, too. It rots content diversity just as thoroughly.
TV is, and should be, a forum for shared identities and shared experiences, but those recommendation engines on which so many of us rely for new content only steer us in the direction of more of the same. Things you’ll enjoy based on what you’ve previously watched. Things you’ll enjoy based on what your friends love. Where’s the diversity in that? How do we escape the tyranny of algorithms? The answer begins to be found at the Discoverability Summit we hosted in 2016.
I wonder: is the media content and broadcasting sector its own echo chamber? Do your perspectives resonate with Canadians who, as taxpayers and subscribers, have invested over $20 billion in your businesses over the past five years? What do you have to show them? Frankly, as I read some recent commentaries, I believe that some people in the creative groups in this country are all too deeply entrenched in their own echo chambers.
It’s disheartening to me to see that the same people who portend nothing short of “the devastation of Canadian domestic [television] production” as a result of CRTC policies are also conspicuously silent on matters that cast the CRTC in a more favourable light. Where was their news release when, in April, we announced $29 million in benefits from the Sirius XM transaction and that nearly $270 million had been contributed between 2010 and 2015 to develop and promote Canadian music, creators and artists? This as a direct result of CRTC policies. Is a quarter of a billion dollars of direct investment not a milestone worth at least acknowledging?
Ladies and gentlemen, public policy about the communications sector is no longer the private domain of technocrats, regulatory lawyers and the benefactors of years of entitlement. You don’t need a licence to vote. And since Canadians fund the content you make, they don’t need private membership cards to set the stage for the future of communications in this country.
Those citizens have a right to say whether any of their subscriber money or any of their tax dollars go to your endeavours. There should not be a barrier to public debate. There should not be any unarticulated assumptions. Facebook, Twitter and Reddit have broken down the barriers to full and inclusive public-policy debates in transparent and open forums.
Thoughts for the next five years
The CRTC plays a critical role in Canadians’ lives by ensuring that they have access to a choice of innovative services at reasonable prices, that they have access to information and services that enhance their safety, and that a wealth of Canadian content is created and available on a variety of platforms.
As I look ahead to the next five years of work before this Commission, I’m certain its work on these fronts will continue. In fact, it’s a safe bet to suggest this work will become even more important in the years ahead.
I foresee three developments that will buck the status quo.
The first and boldest: the end of print journalism as we know it. This is not the first time print’s death knell has been sounded, but profound changes are afoot. Much more so than in years past. La Presse, for example, recently announced that it will stop publishing a print edition and become fully digital as of January 2018.
The advents of radio, television and even the Internet did not shake print’s foundation to the same degree that broadband has—and will. Broadband is far more powerful and ubiquitous than its predecessors. What will replace print journalism and its journalistic codes established over 300 years? I’m confident there will be a strong journalistic presence online—it is too essential to democracy for there not to be—but it will take time to develop.
Perhaps there is a role for government to play here. Not to fund news gathering, I hasten to add, but rather to encourage capacity building in a digital age, such as by supporting digital-first journalism schools. Perhaps private and public broadcasters should embrace initiatives such as Wikitribune that aim to expose and correct fake news.
The second: music quotas on radio will no longer serve their purpose. Young people now discover more music over Internet streaming services than they do over radio. Does it therefore make sense to continue to mandate such things on the airwaves? Quotas are proving to be outdated on television. They’re fast becoming just as old-fashioned on radio—and particularly among French-language broadcasters in the Quebec market.
Instead of government mandating such inefficient practices—ones that ultimately drive radio operators to promote destructive talk and open-line formats—maybe the better way to support Canadian music is to require radio broadcasters to invest in showcase events. To shine a light on Canada’s exceptional musical talent. To promote rather than protect, as I said in 2012, well before others did.
Don’t get me wrong. The fact that Canada has become one of the largest exporters of musical talent in the world is absolutely due to regulation and public policy proactive design. The dual combination of government policy to fund such endeavours and the CRTC’s job of creating and enforcing radio quotas has created this reality. But this model of supply and demand-side policy no longer holds up in an all-access Internet-driven environment. It’s a death march.
The third: unless things change, the CRTC will need to act to increase wireless competition, which in turn will lower retail wireless rates, raise data caps and spur further innovation. In the United States, wireless service providers do not share their networks, which results in excess capacity. Carriers lower retail prices to bring in more customers and offer unlimited data plans to use up this capacity. In addition, this excess capacity has led to a reseller market that is supporting many mobile virtual network operators (or MVNOs) that typically target specific consumer segments.
In Canada, network sharing is more prevalent—with the endorsement of Industry Canada at the time. The practice makes Canada’s networks highly efficient, which is important given the size of the country and the lower population density. But due to several factors, including the high cost of competitive entry and because all network components are utilized, we have yet to see a level of competition that puts downward pressure on retail rates.
Until the current reality changes—if indeed it ever does—Canada will always have a problem of high retail wireless prices. The CRTC may therefore have to intervene in one of three ways—possibly all—none of which is ideal.
The first would be to regulate retail prices, although we would much rather see increased competition between providers create better choices for consumers.
The second would be to mandate wholesale access for mobile virtual network operators. After all, in his speech on June 5, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Development has implicitly opened the door to the abandonment of facilities-based competition.
The third would be to review the impact network sharing among facilities-based providers has on competition.
I have two final aspirations that touch on the future of Canada’s cultural industry and the CRTC. This is the epilogue.
First, I hope the Minister of Canadian Heritage issues her long-awaited decision on the cultural policy review soon. Very soon. The department launched its consultation in spring 2016. Not knowing in which direction the government is heading creates uncertainty for everyone: us at the CRTC as well as you in business. Here are provocative questions that no one has yet asked taxpayers: Is there a role for government in culture? Will it be there forever?
It’s undeniably important to consider such issues, but a hard line has to be drawn at some point. Reviews of such nature, and here I’ll include the reviews of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts that were announced in Budget 2017, must have clear objectives and time lines. Anything less creates years of further uncertainty. A window for endless lobbying and sterile debate.
I was recently in Australia at the invitation of the Australian Communications and Media Authority—that country’s CRTC—which is in the process of a well overdue Australian content review. I reflected there that politicians are ill-equipped to make decisions to respond to digital disruption. Oftentimes, they were elected with the support of those who are being disrupted. And while in office, they continue to be lobbied by these same people.
Those politicians mostly know the old business models and have imperfect grasps and appreciations for the emerging layers that are busy innovating and not lobbying. But mostly, politicians hate saying “no” to those who want a “yes” and “yes” to those who want a “no”.
The CRTC also struggles with incumbency in an age of disruption. But we have no choice but to make decisions or face Mandamus proceedings for failing to act. We have to draw the line, live with the discontented, and get on with the business of creating world-class content for Canadians and the world.
We can’t be perpetually waiting for Godot.
My final hope: that the independence of the CRTC is bolstered. The role we perform now is profoundly significant. It always has been from a logistical and cultural point of view, but its role will be even greater in the broadband age. We are the regulator of communications’ enabler.
I hope to see CRTC Commissioners appointed with greater independence—at arm’s length from government so that each is assessed solely on his or her exceptional qualifications. I would also like to see their appointment periods extended from five years to seven. What is the value of an independent regulator that’s kept on a short leash? How can a commission such as ours be truly independent when ministers are not shy to issue statements in the middle of public proceedings—not once, but twice? This, despite having clear authorities to “touch” the arm’s-length regulator in a complete and detailed code prescribed by Parliament. These were real events during my term.
Why is it that the CRTC is without a permanent Vice-Chair of Broadcasting since November 2015? Why has not a single Commissioner been appointed on a permanent basis since October 2015? This is just bad governance.
As connectivity becomes the medium through which news and information is exchanged, there is some wisdom to be drawn from the experiences of other nations. The CRTC can be a much more effective organization if its Commissioners are appointed with far greater degrees of independence.
The independence of the communications regulators in Morocco and Mexico, for example, is codified in those nations’ constitutions. Moreover, in France, oversight of appointments to the regulator is the responsibility of the legislative branch. Wouldn’t that be an interesting model for Canada now that the CRTC maintains the Voter Contact Registry? We have become elections regulators.
Very few people, by the way, have connected those dots. Hypothetically, a minister of the Crown’s election campaign could be found offside of the elections rules that the CRTC now regulates.
I’d like to end with just a few words about what we’ve accomplished in the past.
Since 2012, I have had 16 colleague Commissioners, too few of them women. Together with the 400-some staff in our offices across the country, we have taken bold steps to modernize the CRTC’s policies, regulations and frameworks to account for the disruptive nature of broadband and evolving consumer behaviours.
It’s been an involved and complicated process that has raised more than a few eyebrows. But let’s be clear: change—the kind of change that actually effects meaningful progress—should. Breaking the status quo is hard.
Difficult questions must be asked. Entitlements must be struck down. Existing realities challenged. At some point, deciders must have the courage to stop consulting and start deciding.
I will not apologize for speaking the truth to power. That’s my job. I am fastidiously predictable in my approach and my policy thinking. If you missed it, you have been looking too nostalgically in the rear view mirror.
The CRTC has done its part to prepare Canada’s broadcasting and telecommunications sectors for broadband’s pervasive and transformative influence. It’s now up to you all in this room to embrace that change. Here I am speaking especially to companies, guilds, associations and unions. Reject the status quo as an operating principle. (Anything less, as Schultz said, is a death march.) Think bigger, bolder and broader than ever before.
The optimist in me hopes you will—not just for your own private commercial interests, but also for the interests of all Canadians. Because, ladies and gentlemen, when your economic interests rely on revenues from Canadian subscribers and taxpayers, you too must serve the public interest.
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