Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in support of Bill C-27, the electronic commerce protection act. The key reason is that for eight years I operated my own business out of my home like thousands of other Canadians. I can say from first-hand experience that spam is bad news.
High speed Internet communication by email has become the predominant communication tool worldwide. It is the greatest enabler in the information age for small business and the self-employed. It allows thousands of small-business operators and the self-employed in every province to start their businesses and operate them at a profit. That includes writers, people in public relations, journalists, photographers, engineers, lawyers, event managers, fundraisers and many other occupations.
Email and high speed Internet allow thousands of disabled persons to operate businesses and to work from home. It creates almost a level playing field in that situation for disabled persons. It is an incredibly valuable tool for the disabled to communicate with business people and their family and friends.
Parents benefit hugely from home offices and email. The Internet has been a boon to parents who choose to stay at home with infants and children, which my wife and I have done in the past. They want to work in the evenings or do their email during their children's nap time or playtime if they have infants, as does my friend in Oakville, who operates a home business and is a mother as well. She has a little one-and-a-half-year-old. She can do them simultaneously. She is connected by her notebook computer to her clients, associates and, in fact, the world.
Aside from the travel costs, the most important common denominator and resource for self-employed people in small business is their time. I would suggest that time for the self-employed and small business people is actually priceless. It is almost a currency. When someone or some organization, without any invitation or permission and with no previous business relationship, at a very little incremental cost that is too small to measure, sucks up that time by using trickery and stealth marketing to steal that time with spam, it should be stopped.
Unsolicited, unlimited junk mail trying to sell people watches and many other products of very dubious value should also be stopped. Forwarding fraudulent messages designed to dupe innocent people and cheat them out of their savings should be stopped. For example, I would expect most of the people in the House today have received an email from a prince in Nigeria who only needs a little bit of money to get out of prison and is willing to share his resources for the rest of his life. The sad part is that if enough of those emails are sent out and enough mud is thrown against the wall, somebody will respond and somebody will be duped.
The key problem is that in normal marketing and in normal business, the legitimate kind, those wishing to sell goods and services are restrained to reasonable efforts by cost. It costs money to send letters, to make phone calls, to place ads and to get the attention of consumers and other businesses. In fact, the average cost for a letter is 70 cents to a dollar. However, on the Internet, the cost per contact for spam is actually too small to measure. It is not even pennies. Technology, which is our greatest tool, is also subject to abuse.
The Internet is a precious resource. Effectively it belongs to all of us. As subscribers to telephone and Internet services, we pay a fair amount and we are allowed fair usage. Millions of Canadians rely on the telecommunications network to conduct business. They move goods across continents and the oceans. They keep industry moving to help provide thousands of jobs in thousands of businesses. We share this resource, the Internet, to our mutual benefit.
However, there are limits to this shared network. The network cannot carry an unlimited number of messages. People who have ever tried to call their mother on Mother's Day might have had a busy signal, because that happens to be the busiest day of the year on the telephone network. If they try again and again, they will finally get through. Christmas morning and New Year's Eve are similar. There is a limit to the network.
When a relatively few companies, often not owned or operated by Canadians, send out millions of unwanted and unwelcome messages, they utilize more than their fair share of the network. They use a proportion of resources they have not paid for in fairness and they slow down or stop the email messages everyone else is trying to send or receive. They rob us again of more of our time. These spam senders suffer no significant costs when they send out thousands of emails and demonstrate a wanton disregard for the time of others.
Unfortunately, they are some of the most clever and seedy people on the planet. They devise ways to interrupt our shared network and waste the time of thousands of business people. It is very difficult to put a value on that time, but it is certainly in the millions of dollars. They pitch some products that few people would ever buy. It gets worse.
Recently, my own PC network adviser, Paul Lebl, explained to me that these spammers have developed viruses or worms. The emails have very deceptive subject lines and if the wrong email is opened, the virus or worm will search the hard drive and find every email address on the hard drive and send the spam to every one of those email addresses as well. It is a very insidious practice. I view it as vandalism and it has to be deterred or stopped.
No one is saying that this legislation is going to end all spam in Canada or worldwide, but it will help us work with other countries to reduce spam worldwide. It is about improving Canada's competitiveness in the electronic marketplace as well as protecting Canadian consumers from the most dangerous types of spam. Boosting the competitiveness of our economy and protecting Canadians are two primary priorities of our Conservative government.
Since taking office a little over three years ago, our government has taken action to improve the competitiveness of Canadian companies and of our economy as a whole. Budget 2009 continued to create a competitive advantage which will drive our economy forward for years to come.
We are taking steps to enhance our traditional industries with new knowledge and to create opportunities for the development of new industries.
While our economy obviously faces significant challenges as a result of the dramatically reduced demand in the United States, the proactive initiatives of this government have lessened the blow. The good news is we are positioned to come out of this crisis faster than other countries.
Some members of the House have expressed interest in introducing new taxes and raising existing ones. Our government believes that this would be the wrong approach.
New measures taken by our government have been aimed at improving competition and not just filling government coffers or satisfying special interests.
As mentioned, this bill is about continuing to improve Canada's competitiveness. We are already leading the way in e-commerce, but our online economy is under threat from unsolicited commercial email which undermines consumer confidence and hurts productivity.
The global cost of this unsolicited email, or spam, is estimated at $100 billion a year. Spam costs Canada an estimated $3 billion annually. As has been mentioned, spam represents about 87% of the email traffic around the world at 62 trillion spam emails during that time period.
Spam is a nuisance. It undermines competitiveness and it puts Canadians at risk. Our proposed electronic commerce protection act would deter the most dangerous forms of spam, like identity theft, phishing and spyware. It would help drive spammers out of Canada and allow us to work with our international partners to pursue spammers outside the country.
As usual, our Conservative government is taking action to protect consumers and businesses. We are not just talking. We are acting. This initiative will mean a lot to individuals and to businesses. Individuals will be more confident when they choose to shop online. Businesses will be able to more effectively protect their brand and their online reputation while improving their productivity.
As well as being consistently committed to competitiveness, our Conservative government has always believed in acting when people break the rules. This bill is accompanied by significant and tangible penalties. Offences carry fines of up to $1 million for individuals and $10 million for businesses. Spammers beware.
There are a number of other aspects of this issue which I want to quickly highlight before I conclude.
First, the bill covers text messaging or cellphone spam. The provisions in the bill are not limited to certain types of technology. They target all spam and will continue to be relevant as technology evolves.
Second, this will not affect legitimate or responsible businesses that contact customers or potential customers who have signalled their desire to be contacted.
Third, this approach has been implemented in many other countries with substantial success. Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. have passed strong domestic laws combatting spam, similar to this one. In Australia, for example, the spam act significantly reduced the country's proportion of global spam. Some Australian spammers shut down altogether.
Unfortunately, the bill would not eliminate spam altogether, but it would serve to deter the most dangerous, destructive and deceptive forms of spam, especially those that facilitate other criminal activities, like identity theft.
Finally, the bill would deliver on a commitment made in our 2008 election platform, I am proud to say. That platform stated:
A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will introduce legislation to prohibit the use of spam (unsolicited commercial email) to collect personal information under false pretences and to engage in criminal conduct. The new law will reduce dangerous, destructive and deceptive email and web site practices, and will establish new fines for those who break the law.
We made a commitment, and we are getting the job done. We are improving competitiveness and we are protecting Canadians.