The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is wrong to be apparently acquiescing in a patchwork regulation of the wireless industry, in which federal and provincial regimes overlap and confuse all concerned. Jean-Pierre Blais, the Chair, seems blithely content with continued balkanization, even disdainful.
This month, the CRTC has held hearings about a proposed wireless code for consumers. Last year, Telus Corp. advocated national standards for service in wireless contracts; the CRTC’s draft code is the result. What prompted the movement toward national standards was the proliferation of provincial legislation to protect consumers. The commission had previously believed there was enough competition, so that consumers didn’t need help.
Last week at the hearing, Mr. Blais appeared dismissive about truly national standards. He asked Kenneth Engelhart, the senior vice-president for regulatory affairs of Rogers Communications Inc., “Why do you want us to do that dirty work...?”
There is no doubt that the federal Parliament – not the provincial legislatures – holds the authority to pass legislation about broadcasting and electronic communications, and to set up subsidiary bodies to regulate those activities, under the federal “peace, order and good government” power in the Constitution Act, 1867. It is true that commercial relationships come under the provinces’ property-and-civil-rights power, but the federal power is paramount. If Ottawa had done nothing at all about telecommunications, that paramountcy would not apply. But the CRTC’s very name shows that, to use constitutional-law dialect, Ottawa has indeed “occupied the field” – a field where Mr. Blais thinks “dirty work” is being proposed.
As he put it to Mr. Engelhart, “You’re turning to us to occupy, in a way to your benefit.”
A pan-Canadian wireless code should not mean loose or minimal standards. It is in the interest of Canadian consumers and Canadian businesses to have wireless consistency across Canada. Surely, the CRTC is capable of forming strong regulations that are not skewed in favour of corporations, but which benefit consumers.
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