The Harper government’s launch last week of a publicity campaign promoting its policies on competition and pricing in the wireless telephone industry is suspect for its timing. A spokesperson for Industry Minister James Moore says the campaign – which includes newspaper ads, radio ads and a website – is a dutiful effort to inform Canadians, but releasing it now casts doubt on the government’s motivation and raises questions about its use of tax dollars to push a partisan agenda.
Ottawa has had all summer to counter claims by the “Big Three” telcos that large foreign cellphone companies could use a loophole in the rules governing the auction of new wireless spectrum to unfairly gain a foothold in the Canadian market. So why did the government wait until late last week to launch a comprehensive rebuttal? The timing is questionable for three reasons in particular:
The worries about a Verizon or Vodaphone having an unfair advantage are moot: The deadline for applying to take part in the auction was Sept. 17, and no large foreign telcos are on the list;
The rules of the auction process, which is now under way, effectively prevent bidders such as Rogers, Bell and Telus from responding to Ottawa’s unprecedented targeting of their industry;
And the government has prorogued Parliament and will deliver a Speech from the Throne in less than a month that will focus on priorities that include a consumer-first agenda on such hot-button issues as, you guessed it, cellphone costs.
Further muddying the waters is the fact that the new government ads and website largely mimic the content, tone and message of a Conservative Party of Canada fundraising website, www.consumersfirst.ca, which the party launched in the summer. Among many similarities, the Industry Canada and party websites both tout the claim that cellphone costs have fallen nearly 20 per cent since 2008, while jobs in the industry have increased 25 per cent, and both dismiss the same list of “myths” and “fictions” that contradict the government’s positions.
Ottawa is taking advantage of the enforced silence of Parliament and the Big Three cellphone companies to stake out its position as the friend of the Canadian consumer – a position that is an important part of an election-minded agenda that will be unveiled in the Oct. 16 Speech from the Throne. This is not something for which the Canadian taxpayer should be footing the bill.