Politics

by Blaise Alleyne


Filed Under:
canada, corruption, lobbying, politics, telcos

Companies:
bell, telus



Canadian Telcos Appoint Ex-Cabinet Ministers To Their Boards

from the not-as-bad-as-it-seems dept

Two of Canada's big three telcos have recently appointed former cabinet ministers of the ruling party's government to their respective boards. A few weeks ago, Bell appointed Jim Prentice, who was responsible for telecom policy and regulating companies like Bell while serving as Minister of Industry in 2007-2008. Then, while former cabinet minister Stockwell Day's new "government relations" not-a-lobbying-firm has raised concerns about loopholes in lobbying laws, this past weekend Telus named Day to its board. (How long until Rogers aligns with industry standards and finds an ex-minister of their own?) OpenMedia.ca decried both appointments as examples of big telecom "cozying up to the government," but journalist Peter Nowak argues it's the system's fault: "Lobbying is so pervasive and deeply integrated" into the system that the only way to deal with it seems to be to "fight fire with fire," as even new wireless carriers have quickly learned -- i.e. don't hate the players, hate the game.

Neither Prentice nor Day will be lobbyists, but it seems obvious that their knowledge of government is being sought for the purposes of lobbying. In the broadband space, Bell has been butting heads with the government and regulators over issues like wholesale usage-based billing. In the wireless space, the next spectrum auction is approaching and incumbents want to avoid a repeat of the last auction, where 40% of the spectrum was reserved for new entrants and the government forced incumbents to offer roaming agreements -- rules ironically set by Bell's new board member, Jim Prentice.

Are these appointments examples of regulatory capture? It might appear that way. It's certainly a case of telcos gearing up for a heavy round of lobbying that's unlikely to favor consumers, but it's hardly a case of blatant revolving doors. Day was not actually responsible for telecom policy, and Prentice was behind rules that angered incumbents. If the government favors incumbents in the next spectrum auction or backs down on wholesale usage-based billing, that would be a different story, but Canadian incumbents are scrambling because they've lost some big battles. This isn't so much a cause for deep concern as it is a challenge to those who favor more competition in Canada to keep pressing the government to follow through on what it's started.

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  1. icon
    Blaise Alleyne (profile), 9 Aug 2011 @ 11:08pm

    Re: f-that

    It definitely can be a cop out. But two examples of where it's relevant:

    1. As I understand it, Stockwell Day isn't technically doing anything illegal. He's not a lobbyist. But, he's advising lobbyists on their government relations strategies. The rules against lobbying are pretty weak if you can avoid falling afoul of the law by just removing yourself one-level from the lobbying.

    But, I mean, Day's website says this:
    "Stockwell Day Connex is not a lobbying firm. Further, in consultation with Canada’s Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and subject to the Government of Canada Accountability Act and the Conflict of Interest Act, neither Stockwell Day nor Stockwell Day Connex will provide ‘insider’ information on any matters related to Cabinet discussions, files or decisions, past or pending."
    To the extent that's actually true, if the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner says things are okay? The system is set up in such a way that this sort of thing isn't considered a big deal, even though it may well should be.

    2. WIND Mobile had to get into the lobbying game to stay alive in Canada. They've faced legal challenges around Canadian ownership requirements, have had to lobby the government to get auction rules that will let new entrants into the market, etc. So far, IMHO, WIND has used virtually all of its lobbying ability to do things that are good for consumers, but the fact that they have to play the game and drive truckloads of cash up to Parliament Hill? That's a problem with the system.


    But yeah, otherwise, I agree -- even if the system is broken, that wouldn't excuse behaviour that's actually corrupt. That would be a total cop out. But there's a lot of behaviour that isn't corrupt, but isn't really beneficial either, which is tied to more systemic problems.

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