Vicky Eatrides, a lawyer and long-time senior executive at the Competition Bureau, will become the next leader of Canada’s telecom regulator as it faces calls to increase competition in the industry.
Ms. Eatrides will begin her five-year term as chair and chief executive of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Jan. 5, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez announced in a news release Monday morning.
In May, the federal Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development released a draft policy direction asking the CRTC to improve competition within the sector and enhance access to telecommunications services. A final policy draft is expected in early 2023.
Ms. Eatrides said in an interview that she wants “to see a commission that is modern, inclusive and timely,” and that she will work with all interested parties during a time when the CRTC is undergoing substantial changes.
While she did not comment on specific regulatory goals, she said she is focused on driving tangible results for Canadians, including by “putting money back in people’s pockets, ensuring more choice and promoting innovation.”
Consumer advocates noted the significance of a public servant being assigned to the head role at the CRTC, as opposed to an industry professional, calling it an indication that the federal cabinet, which appoints the chair, is focused on increasing competition.
John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, called the news a “great relief” after the past few years at the CRTC, which many independent telecoms and consumer advocates have characterized as damaging to competition in the industry. The regulator’s chair and CEO since 2017 has been Ian Scott, who worked for Telus and other companies before taking the job.
Geoff White, executive director of the Competitive Network Operators of Canada, an industry association that represents independent internet service providers, said he was optimistic about the new appointment. “It’s clear that stimulating competition is job number one for this next commission,” he said.
The CRTC has also faced criticism for being slow to make decisions. Industry observers say this has been a perpetual issue for the commission, with decision times becoming even longer during the pandemic.
In a statement, Rogers spokesperson Zac Carreiro said the company is looking forward to working with Ms. Eatrides as the commission “modernizes broadcasting regulations to build a strong Canadian cultural economy.”
Bell Canada and Telus Corp. did not respond to requests for comment.
Ms. Eatrides began her career practising federal regulatory law at the national law firm Stikeman Elliott LLP in 2000, and joined the federal public service in 2005. During her 12 years at the Competition Bureau, she rose to the rank of senior deputy commissioner of competition, cartels and deceptive marketing practices. In 2019, she joined the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development as an assistant deputy minister. Both government bodies are frequently involved with the telecommunications industry.
The Competition Bureau made its final arguments last week against the $26-billion merger of Rogers Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc., a controversial deal that the bureau is attempting to block. The Competition Tribunal, Canada’s merger court, is currently in the process of ruling on the case.
Mr. Rodriguez also announced Monday morning that Alicia Barin and Adam Scott, two long-time public servants, will become vice-chairs at the CRTC.
Ms. Barin has been an interim vice-chair at the CRTC since August. Before her time in government, she spent 13 years at Astral Media, a television and radio broadcaster that was acquired by Bell Media in 2013. And for six years she worked with a series of small and medium-sized professional services businesses as a senior executive in planning, finance and process operations roles, according to the CRTC website. She was first appointed a CRTC commissioner in 2019.
Mr. Scott has worked at the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development since 2001. He is currently director general of the spectrum policy branch, where he oversees spectrum auctions and regulation. (Spectrum refers to the radio waves that carry wireless signals.) Previously, he was responsible for advising the government on various telecommunications regulatory and competition issues, and for shaping policy for closing broadband gaps in rural Canada, according to Heritage Canada’s news release.
In addition to the CRTC’s existing open files on telecommunications and broadcasting, the commission’s new leaders will face a rapidly expanding mandate to subsidize news organizations, regulate streaming platforms and oversee social-media content.
These new responsibilities include the management of two major pieces of proposed legislation: C-18, a bill governing online communications platforms, and C-11, which includes amendments to the Broadcast Act.
“Given the increasing complexity and importance to Canadians of files in front of the CRTC, Vicky’s broad experience will be very important. We need a regulator that will keep the telecom and media oligopoly in check,” Anthony Lacavera, Globalive Capital chair and former CEO of Wind Mobile, said in a statement.
Kevin Desjardins, president of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, said the industry group is impressed with the CRTC’s new leadership, and is hoping for regulation that will take into consideration audiences, advertisers and broadcast rights.
Editor’s note: The starting date for Vicky Eatrides's five-year term has been corrected in the online version of this story.