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Minister shrugs off market impact of court-ordered telecom reversal

Customers shop at a Wind Mobile retail store in Toronto on Aug. 26, 2010.

1--Sarah Dea/Sarah Dea/The Globe and Mail

Industry Minister Tony Clement is playing down fallout from a court ruling that quashed a cabinet order allowing Globalive's Wind Mobile to operate in Canada.

The surprise Federal Court decision, handed down Friday, has thrown in question Wind Mobile's future.

A federal judge said the Harper cabinet overstepped the law when it overruled the CRTC in 2009 and let Wind Mobile begin serving customers. The Conservatives did this even though the telecom regulator had decided Globalive didn't comply with foreign investment restrictions.

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On Tuesday, however, Mr. Clement, rejected the notion this turn of events has made the Canadian marketplace more risky for investors.

He said business plans must always allow for some uncertainty. "The question has been asked of me: does this whole issue somehow promote uncertainty in the marketplace?"

"I guess you could argue that Wind Mobile is facing some uncertainty," the Industry Minister told reporters in Ottawa. "I would say this: business people are used to uncertainty. They have to plan for uncertainty - that is part of their business planning."

The Industry Minister said he doesn't think the Canadian telecom market is riskier than elsewhere.

"I don't feel our markets here in Canada are any worse. We are going through a public policy debate. That is good. We are hearing from Canadians: that is even better."

Mr. Clement refused to say whether Ottawa will appeal the Federal Court decision. Globalive is mulling whether to appeal. If the telecom firm launched an appeal, as is expected, it could also request a stay of the Feb. 4 court order - which, if granted, would let it keep operating until the legal battle is resolved.

The Conservatives had justified their Globalive move in part by saying they believed the telecommunications law should be interpreted as encouraging access to foreign capital.

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But Mr. Justice Roger Hughes ruled last week that while the legislation has a mandate to promote Canadian control of telecom companies it does not empower cabinet to act to encourage foreign investment. Its imperative, as currently written, is to foster Canadian ownership, he said.

Mr. Clement said Canadians back the Tory position.

"What I am hearing from Canadians loud and clear is they want more choice. They want more competition. They like the fact we allowed for new entrants," he said.

"That happens to be, by happy coincidence, government policy."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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