Trudeau a messiah on technology issues, so far

Census and scientist issues a great start, but trade, privacy and connectivity problems loom large.

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Trudeau on Technology:

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Prior to Canada’s federal election a few weeks ago, I wrote about how the then-Conservative government of Stephen Harper had been a disaster on technological issues.

Specifically, Harper had been bad news on five key issues: the killing of the long-form census, the introduction of more surveillance via Bill C-51, the giving away of intellectual property rights through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the muzzling of scientists and the failure to connect more Canadians affordably.

In just a few short weeks, new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has proven to be something close to a messiah in the context of some of those issues. In short order, he has quashed two of them by reinstating the census – starting next year – and immediately freeing scientists to speak to the media.

The moves have already had a major impact. On the census, even the Conservative minister responsible for killing it – Tony Clement – has recanted, now saying he wishes he’d handled the issue better. The Conservatives should have consulted more widely and looked at what other countries were doing, he says.

“I’ll take the blame for that. I should have posed that question six years ago,” he told the Huffington Post.

On the unmuzzling of scientists, well, the scientists and their families themselves are ecstatic. Jody Paterson, mother to a fisheries biologist, posted on Facebook that both she and her son were amazed by how quickly things had changed.

“I feel like I’m in one of those post-apocalyptic movies where there’s nothing but darkness and sorrow and hard times, and then right at the end of the movie there’s a scene of the sun rising over a new world,” she wrote.

Trudeau even went a step further by naming not just one but two cabinet ministers who have science as part of their mandates. Navdeep Bains now heads up Innovation, Science and Economic Development, which used to be the Industry portfolio, while Kirsty Duncan is the new Science Minister.

The move has fans, including the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance, which represents many Canadian technology companies.

“They did the pivot we asked for,” CATA chief executive John Reid told the Ottawa Business Journal. “This is very positive. I think we’re going to make some very good headway for not only the Ottawa (technology) community but for the Canadian community.”

All of that said, Trudeau’s technological honeymoon is now facing its biggest challenges. The new government is already under heavy pressure to make changes to the TPP, which critics say is a disaster-in-waiting for Canada.

Former BlackBerry co-CEO Jim Balsillie on the weekend said the multi-country trade deal – dictated mostly by U.S. interests – will rob Canada of billions of dollars of intellectual property for years to come. Simply put, when Balsillie speaks, people listen.

“I’m not a partisan actor, but I actually think this is the worst thing that the Harper government has done for Canada,” he said. “We’ve been outfoxed.”

Similarly, Trudeau’s Liberals are under considerable pressure to repeal the parts of C-51, otherwise known as the Anti-terrorism Act of 2015, that give too many snooping powers to law enforcement agencies.

The Liberals voted for the bill when the Conservatives were in charge as part of a political ploy, and now must make good on promises to improve the act. Trudeau has again promised a speedy amending process, and onlookers are cautiously optimistic.

The final test on the five points mentioned above will centre on what Trudeau does about an appeal from Bell Canada regarding wholesale internet service.

The company brought its complaint to his still-unnamed cabinet the day after the election in the hopes that the new government will be friendlier than Harper’s.

Bell wants the Liberals to overturn a CRTC decision that gives independent internet providers access to its super-fast fibre networks. The company says that allowing access undermines its incentives to invest in further building the infrastructure, even though rollout is so far continuing unabated.

With affordability of telecommunications services widely acknowledged as a major problem in Canada, Trudeau’s eventual decision on the appeal will go a long way toward demonstrating the new Prime Minister’s understanding of what is essentially a technological grassroots issue.

So far so good, but the real tests will happen soon.

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