House of Commons Hansard #35 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was devco.

Topics

10 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wonder if you would ask for unanimous consent that we might table a committee report on Bill C-7.

10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the request for unanimous consent. Is there unanimous consent?

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Dennis Mills Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

The House resumed from November 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-17, an act to amend the Telecommunications Act and the Teleglobe Canada Reorganization and Divestiture Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

November 21st, 1997 / 10:05 a.m.

Halton
Ontario

Liberal

Julian Reed Parliamentary Secretary to Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Thornhill.

By November 30, of this year, Canada will have deposited an Instrument of Acceptance in Geneva signifying Canada's commitment to one of the most important trade agreements of the 21st century, the agreement on basic telecommunications.

As of January 1, 1998 this agreement will open a global market of $880 billion to Canadian telecommunications companies. Canadian telecom service providers and Canadian telecom manufacturers are the best in the world. Now they will have the opportunity to connect the world and build a new global information society by bringing Canadian ingenuity to the world.

Canada was a key participant in the drive to liberalize the world's telecommunication markets. At the end of the Uruguay round of multilateral trade negotiations that established the World Trade Organization, it was recognized that there were serious gaps in the services component of the WTO and the General Agreement on Trade and Services covered many service sectors but did not cover some fundamental business enablers such as financial services or basic telecommunications.

After two years of negotiations an agreement was reached on February 15, 1997. On that date, 69 countries with over 90% of the world's telecom revenues agreed to liberalize their markets for the provision of telecommunication services.

As a result of the agreement on basic telecommunications, the ABT, there will now be multilateral rules for trade and investment in basic telecommunication services. Local and long distance telephone, cellular, data transmission and satellite services will be open to competition. Furthermore, Canada will now be able to resort to the WTO dispute settlement process should Canada's trading partners not implement their obligations to open their markets to Canadian companies.

Each of the countries participating in the agreement has made specific commitments, setting out the terms and conditions under which foreigners are permitted to supply basic telecommunication services in their market. For example, Canadian firms will now have full access to the U.S. market for the provision of basic telecommunication services. The use of reciprocity tests by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission will be severely curtailed. Canadian companies will be able to provide local telephone services in the member states of the European Union and in Japan. All of Canada's major developing country trading partners have committed to allowing foreign competition into their markets and to allowing foreign investment of between 25% and 49%.

Besides making market access commitments, the countries participating in the agreement on basic telecommunications have committed to follow the GATS most favoured nation national treatment and transparency provisions. Countries will no longer be able to treat one country's telecommunication services providers better than another. This means that Canadian companies will be able to compete on a level playing field with other foreign companies in international markets.

For telecommunication services where countries have made market access commitments, countries will have to treat foreign companies in exactly the same way as they treat local companies. So, a Canadian company in the European market will be treated the same way as a European company.

Finally, any relevant changes to government policies, regulations or administrative guidelines must be notified to the WTO. As well, countries must respond promptly to requests for information on telecommunications policies and regulations. No longer will Canadian companies be stymied by walls of obscure foreign red tape when trying to enter telecommunications markets abroad.

Furthermore, in order to ensure that as countries move from monopolies to competitive markets, the local telecommunications companies do not abuse their dominant position. The agreement includes a reference paper on regulatory principles.

This means that measures affecting trade in telecommunications services must be administered in a reasonable, objective and impartial manner. Licensing requirements and technical standards must be based on objective and transparent criteria and must not be more burdensome than necessary to ensure the quality of the service.

Canadian telecom companies will be able to obtain interconnection with local telephone companies in foreign markets under non-discriminatory rates, terms and conditions. Perhaps most important, all participating countries must establish independent regulatory bodies which are separate from and not accountable to the local telephone company.

In addition to opening foreign markets to Canadian telecommunications service providers, the agreement on basic telecoms will result in the world-wide market of $800 billion, which means the market will double or triple in size over the next 10 years. This will generate a new demand for the products of Canadian telecommunications manufacturers as telecom operators around the world prepare for a new global environment of open markets and competition.

Companies such as Nortel and Newbridge as well as dozens of small and medium size companies from Newfoundland to British Columbia have carried the Canadian reputation for high quality, competitively priced telecommunications equipment. Now this reputation should earn them a healthy share of this dynamic and expanding market.

Canadian manufacturers will also benefit from the recently concluded information technology agreement. Under the provisions of the ITA, tariffs on information technology products including computers semiconductors and telecommunications equipment will be eliminated by the year 2000. This means that a market of $500 billion will become tariff free and will allow Canadian manufacturers to compete abroad on the basis of their products and their prices. They will be free from the market distorting effects of tariffs.

This government has promised to create jobs for Canadians and to make Canada a cornerstone of the global information society. In successfully negotiating the GATS agreement on basic telecommunications, we have done both. Canadian telecom service providers will launch into newly opened markets and Canadian telecom manufacturers will find that the demand for their products will double or triple over the next 10 years.

New opportunity translates into jobs for Canadians and a chance for Canadians to make their mark on the global information society of tomorrow.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Elinor Caplan Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of this bill. I believe it is good for Canadian businesses and consumers, including those in Thornhill. This bill opens the world telecommunications market to Canadian companies with two important impacts. It will provide a source of jobs in the knowledge based telecommunications industries and the competition will lead to better rates for consumers. Those worthy objectives warrant support of this bill.

The overwhelming goal of this government is to connect Canadians, to make Canadians and Canada the most connected country in the world and to ensure that Canadians have access to the information highway and the new economy it supports. Many steps have been taken. This legislation brings forward the General Agreement on Trade and Services, GATS, which is the Agreement on Basic Telecommunications, ABT. The legislation before us implements the terms and the provisions of those agreements.

I met recently with the the economic development officer for the town of Markham. He told me that Markham considers itself a high tech capital of Canada. The critical mass of companies in knowledge based industries is unsurpassed in this country. The critical mass is some 700 companies.

I believe, on further exploration, people would find that many of those companies are involved in or are supporting the telecommunications industry which is finding its hub, its strong base, not only in Thornhill but throughout Ontario.

I can also say that I have met with the director of education for the York region board of education. As well, I have met with the chair and the director of education of the York region separate school board. I am pleased to report on the interest that students and their boards of education have shown in the government's SchoolNet program. In fact, not only is there interest in ensuring that all the schools in Thornhill are connected, the program of having computers in schools is already firmly connected in the York separate school boards.

They have established a centre where old computers are refurbished. To date over 400 computers have been distributed through the York region separate school board system as a result of the program of the Ministry of Industry which assists schools to participate in the program and the students to have access to the computers.

I know that the York region board of education is also very interested in participating in this program.

There is a heightened awareness of the need to be connected. There is a heightened awareness of the need to have access and skills to use these technologies. There is a need for our students to be educated and have those skills which will lead them to the jobs of the future.

This legislation will give Canadian business access to an $880 billion industry worldwide. Canada is at the forefront. We are leaders in this technology. I believe that opening competition in telecommunications services is not only an important part of the strategy which this bill provides, but we know that it is the best and the fastest way to build the infrastructure for a knowledge based economy. The way to do that is through open competition. We know that Canadians can compete and can also lead the world.

Canada will be hosting the high level OECD conference on electronic commerce in the fall of 1998. Electronic commerce is not only central to the knowledge based economy, it is also the foundation for future growth and job creation. By creating the best environment for electronic commerce Canada can and will continue to be a world leader in this emerging field, generating increased investment in electronic networks and growth in such areas as electronic transmission, multimedia products and on-line services.

The OECD conference will be an excellent opportunity for Canadians to learn more about what Canada is doing, what opportunities there are for them and also about the impact on consumers.

The legislation before us today is a necessary step toward giving our telecommunications service companies the keys they need to the world market. It is my hope that this bill will be received and unanimously supported by everyone in this House. I believe it is in the interests of Canadian businesses, it is in the interests of Canadian consumers, it is in the interests of all in Canada who have an interest in economic prosperity and job creation. I know that the people of Thornhill would want to see this bill passed expeditiously and implemented.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Reform

Dick Harris Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the hon. member and certainly there are parts of this bill which we can support. Perhaps overall it will improve the system. However, one of the things that really concerns us is something which has confounded Canadian business, especially the telecommunications business, and that is that this bill confers additional powers of jurisdiction to the CRTC.

Canadian business is asking the government to get out of its face and let it do business. We see sections of this bill which enable the government, via the CRTC, to get more into the face of Canadian business.

In view of the fact that Canadian business basically wants to say leave it alone to just do business in this country, create jobs and a healthy economy, this bill gives the CRTC more dictatorial powers which may serve to further confound the efforts of Canadian business.

I would like the hon. member to comment on this, please.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Elinor Caplan Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that this bill actually in the specific agreement excludes is broadcasting. One of the reasons for that was the concern of this government to ensure the protection of Canadian culture. In all agreements that have dealt with trade, we have made sure that culture was off the table and excluded, and the CRTC has been an important instrument in ensuring that Canadian culture has been protected and that industries know the rules.

While the CRTC, like any other institution, is imperfect, certainly we always must remain vigilant to ensure that Canadian culture is protected at the same time as our industries are encouraged to participate in a competitive environment and play on the world stage in a way that will create jobs and prosperity for Canadians.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the comments from the hon. member from the Liberal party. The unfortunate aspect of it is that in Nova Scotia we saw recently the provincial government giving $12 million to AT&T to compete head on with our local phone company, MT&T.

I know my colleagues in the Reform Party do not like the idea of people on welfare and people collecting EI, but I am sure they would be quite adamant that huge rich multinational companies come into areas of the maritimes and literally coerce the provincial government into giving them money in order to set up shop to the detriment of workers and the company and management already there.

Can she give assurances to this House today that this bill, or the agreements to these bills after the OECD, will not add to the detriment of working people already in those communities? As well, at the same time she talks about education for children, need I remind this House that it was this government that cut education funding to the Atlantic provinces and across this country to the tune of billions of dollars.

On one hand she says this is good for the future of people and children. On the other hand they are taking money away that aids the children of our future.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Elinor Caplan Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the member. I believe that Canada and Canadians will benefit. We will benefit in two very specific ways. The agreement opens up a world market of $880 billion to Canadian telecom companies which are among the best in the world and which can compete. That will mean more jobs and better jobs for people right across this country. I believe that is what competition will do. I believe we will see that right across this country and hopefully every region will see those benefits.

Canadian telecom services providers will also benefit from new markets on an equal footing with local and foreign competitors and Canadian telecom manufacturers will find a new demand for their state of the art products as new and exciting telecom operators around the world prepare for global markets which are open and competitive.

This will foster innovation and I believe that will be good for Canadians because not only will the competition foster innovation, bring forth the new ideas that our very well educated Canadian population will benefit from in the way of new jobs and better jobs, but also I think we will see better prices for Canadian consumers.

On the answer to the question on students, I made the point that this government is doing what it can in a very positive way to ensure the students have access to computer technology, supporting provinces in their local initiatives, and working directly with school boards to ensure the students have access to computers and the skills they need so that they will be able to take advantage of those new jobs in the future.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Hélène Alarie Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I take part in this debate on Bill C-17, an act to amend the Telecommunications Act and the Teleglobe Canada Reorganization and Divestiture Act.

Telecommunications in Canada are in constant evolution. The standard communication networks are giving way to new technologies. Obviously, these new means of transmission through technological development also contribute to the globalization of trade.

In fact, state of the art communication services and technologies are leading to multiplication of trade outside the country. This new context presents a daunting challenge for Canada, that of maintaining its international competitiveness, despite the threats to its traditional industry share of investments.

The disappearance of technologies associated with natural monopolies and the restructuring of telecommunications and broadcasting activities to meet global, rather than national, requirements, calls for a reform of government policies. These must now set out new ground rules for telecommunications and broadcasting corporations.

The disappearance of the traditional boundaries between telecommunications, cable television and informatics heralds the convergence of information transmission services on a single information highway. We are witnessing the disappearance of the natural monopoly with the introduction of indirect competition, which has come about primarily through the new transmission technologies; direct competition will require complete deregulation.

In 1993, international communications traffic reached 47.7 billion minutes. This represents barely nine more minutes per person on a global scale, but 46 minutes if high income earning nations alone are considered.

The impact of this bill on the everyday lives of citizens will take the form of new job creation, since our industry is strong and can easily compete internationally.

According to the Federal Communication Commission, another advantage will be an 80% drop in international telephone rates in a few years. This bill therefore has two objectives.

The first is to bring Canadian legislation into line with Canada's international undertakings as a signatory to the February 1997 World Trade Organization's services agreement, commonly known as GATT. The agreement takes effect January 1, 1998. The bill's second objective is to bring Canadian legislation into line with the new competitive context in the telecommunications industry.

By signing the telecommunications agreement, Canada undertook to eliminate the remaining monopolies, those held by Teleglobe and Telesat. It undertook to liberalize international call handling. It undertook to completely liberalize the regime for ownership of mobile communications satellite systems and, finally, to lift the restrictions on increased foreign ownership in Teleglobe Canada. In addition, ownership of international submarine cable landings in Canada was liberalized and a reference document setting out regulatory principles for all signatory countries was approved.

With this bill, the government is giving more powers to the CRTC, as can be seen in sections 1, 2, 3 and 7. Among its many powers, the CRTC will be able to issue telecommunications licences and to suspend or revoke a licence for non-compliance with the act.

As for section 46.6, it provides for the implementation by the CRTC of a contribution mechanism, because the CRTC itself recognizes that a contribution fund must be created to provide services in regions where it is more expensive to do so. This provision gives the CRTC legal authority to do this. The fund will compensate the companies offering basic services for their actual costs. The Bloc Quebecois believes there is an urgent requirement to design a reliable and transparent mechanism for supporting companies and their customers in regions where costs are higher.

With the new powers provided the CRTC under this bill, the government is ensuring that practices in Canada are in line with those abroad so that a clear and consistent process can be created to identify the players in the industry. We hope that the CRTC will now be able to implement rules that guarantee a level playing field for everyone.

As for the Minister of Industry, he now has authority under sections 4 and 5 of this bill to issue licences for international submarine cables, and, under section 8, to certify that telecommunications equipment is in compliance with Canadian standards. It is also important to note that the government is responsible for the full implementation of Canada's telecommunications policy. It must ensure that all Quebeckers and all Canadians have equal access to telecommunications services. That is why the Minister of Industry has the power to issue directives to the CRTC.

Finally, the Bloc Quebecois agrees in principle with this bill, which flows naturally from the telecommunications agreement. However, a number of questions arise: What will be the real benefits of these new initiatives for taxpayers? The Bloc Quebecois believes that hearings are urgently required to define what is meant by basic telecommunications services. What does the “affordability” of a basic service mean? For some, affordability is determined on the basis of the subscriber penetration rate, but this is not a significant measurement because it does not take the fall in the standard of living into account.

The telephone has become an essential commodity. Many people are prepared to cut elsewhere, for example in the food budget, to have this commodity. Therefore, the Bloc Quebecois thinks there is an urgent need to determine what low income customers can afford to pay for this basic telecommunications service.

Despite the liberalization of telecommunications, it is essential that these services remain affordable for everyone.

There is also another question that we consider critical: What about privacy? There is great public concern, and rightly so, about the impact of this on the release of personal information. This bill opens the door to globalization in the area of communications, and the government has still not fulfilled its commitment regarding a law to protect personal information in the private sector and at the networking level. The population is still waiting, and there may be very serious incidents if the government waits too long.

As far as privacy is concerned, both for the private and the public sector, and where linkage is concerned as well, Quebec is proud to have been both a laboratory and a model for this. I am therefore suggesting, on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, that the federal government do its homework and follow the example of the Quebec legislation which protects both privacy and linkage. Particularly after passage of this bill, data linkage must be protected by legislation.

In April 1997, the parliamentary human rights committee called for adoption of legislation, but we are still waiting. On September 18, 1996, the Minister of Justice promised it by the year 2000, but we are still waiting. The Minister of Industry made a commitment to establish a legislative framework to protect personal data in his Canadian strategy for the information era, recognizing that voluntary compliance with a framework was not enough, but we are still waiting. This leaves us with the impression that the minister is bowing to the business lobby, which would like to have a more flexible framework.

Also related to privacy, it appears that the new technologies will develop telephone communications between individuals and not places. These new satellite technologies will be able to locate individuals wherever they are. Thus this becomes a control over individuals and society. We must go beyond the industrial aspect and an analysis of profitability, for it is appropriate as well to question the values our society wishes to preserve.

In the field of telecommunications, the public is often left out of the debate, given the complexity of the subject, and I can understand this. That is why the advisory committee on the information highway suggested, not all that long ago, that the federal government strike a national advisory committee on access reporting to the Ministers of Industry and Heritage and mandated to give advice on the new requirements relating to access and services deemed essential in a knowledge-based society. This advisory committee should be composed of equal numbers of members from industry and the non-profit sector.

In closing, this bill is an opening toward the liberalization of communications, something which is universally applauded. Nevertheless, the Bloc Quebecois will ensure that these questions receive clear and formal responses, as well as lead to precise, concrete and immediate actions.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Reform

Dick Harris Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of comments that concern us about this bill. I get back to the point that business has been wanting government to get out of its face and just let it do its business.

This bill in fact will give the CRTC, pertaining particularly to the telecommunications and communications business, more powers to restrict or issue licences based on what the CRTC believes it should be doing with its businesses, for example, how much Canadian content, how much Canadian culture and how their philosophy might fit with the applicant.

I find this particularly offensive when appointed bureaucrats are going to have such powers to wield over free enterprise business. Our party supports free enterprise.

The other comment I have is on the financial fund that is being set up. This is another opportunity for the government to expand its patronage program.

It is going to give Liberal MPs simply another avenue to dole out government grants to Liberal-friendly businesses in their ridings.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Hon. members, there are a number of members who have indicated that they would like to respond in questions and comments. If there are a number of people who indicate an expression of interest to comment, I would ask all hon. members to keep their questions and their responses short so that we can get a bit more debate. Response.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Hélène Alarie Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, naturally there are questions, but we are here in this House to follow the debate, to follow events and to ensure that the bill covers as many aspects as possible.

We cannot liberalize unless there is an organization with a set of rules. This means we have to keep an eye out, because there are things to monitor.