Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, presented to the House on Monday, May 7, 2012, be concurred in.
I am pleased to speak about this very important report on e-commerce that was prepared by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.
This is one of many reports that point out not only the difficulties being encountered in the area of e-commerce but also this government's failure to set out a digital strategy for Canada. The industry and opposition members have been calling for such a strategy for many years now, but the Minister of Industry has never said anything at all about a long-term digital strategy that would bring Canada into the 21st century. This report is perfectly in line with guidelines that could be established as part of this digital strategy.
We are well aware that the Conservatives are allergic to the word “strategy” because it implies that they will have to think long term, beyond 2015, and have a long-term vision that will help Canada to move forward. We are still waiting for the Conservatives. They need to set guidelines so that companies that provide wireless and telecommunication services know where they stand, so that small and medium-sized businesses also have access to the tools they need to develop, and so that Canadians have access to affordable and effective Internet services no matter where they live in this vast, beautiful country.
During our study of e-commerce, we determined that, in general, Canadians enjoy using the Internet and all the different ways of accessing it. However, the government does not seem to be aware of that. For instance, it is eliminating programs that, in some areas, provided the public with Internet access through libraries, and it is putting off the 700 MHz wireless spectrum auction. We are at a standstill while all the other OECD countries and even the emerging countries are making great strides in this area.
I would like to share some statistics that support what I am saying, which is that Canadians are avid Internet users. According to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, the CWTA, traffic on certain Canadian networks is growing by 5% each week. That is significant. The wireless penetration rate should exceed 100% in 2014. We need to know the quality and speed of the network so that we can ensure that service is the same all across Canada. Again, according to the CWTA, Canadians send more than 274 million texts per day. In the first nine months of 2012, they sent 61.5 billion. This responds to a very important need for Canadians, a need that is not new but has been around for a long time. History has demonstrated that Canada was built on that need for communication. That was the subject of our debate yesterday.
First nations were already travelling the lakes and rivers to meet with one another, to connect. The famous transcontinental train, which satisfied a need to connect Canada's regions, also helped build this country. Canadians have an ongoing need to communicate with one another, no matter where they live. In the 21st century, we have moved from connecting via lakes, rivers, roads and railways to connecting via a virtual highway.
Yet, there is no help from the government. There is no direction. There is no long-term strategy or vision to support the industry players and create infrastructure and ways to connect Canadians, regardless of their means or where they live.
When this e-commerce report was being prepared, the NDP did not just encourage the government to bridge the gap between Canada's regions, it demanded it.
We called for various things. My notes are in English, so I will say this in English, although I like to address the House in French. Actually, there is a great expression that sums up very well what I am trying to say. Right now, there is a divide between urban and rural or remote regions. The wish expressed by the NDP in the dissenting opinion would be a great objective that could be part of a digital strategy, if the government were to take some action and put these recommendations into practice.
We had a number of recommendations.
The NDP dissident opinion in the e-commerce report I am speaking to was presented by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.
First, we asked the government to bridge the digital divide. Right now in Canada there is a digital divide whereby some regions are deprived of high-speed Internet and the means to communicate with other regions of Canada. There seems to be a lack of services or of reliability of service in different regions of Canada.
In the House of Commons, we have talked about how important it is to make sure that no matter where people live, whether in northern regions or rural regions or anywhere else in Canada, they are able to connect and participate in the economic development of Canada and our society.
I am thinking of the northern regions, where there is a lot of development going on and a lot of things are happening. A lot of first nations communities there could benefit if we could finally bridge that digital divide, but it will not happen just like that.
We need direction, we need a strategy and we need the leadership of a government that has a long-term vision to bridge the digital divide. It is badly needed.
There is also a knowledge divide. We need to fill the knowledge gap with respect to the Internet and technology to make sure that we know how to use it and that people have the knowledge to access and use it.
What is very important is to have small and medium-sized businesses able to adopt technology to have their businesses on the Internet and doing business on the Internet. That is very important.
I would like to give the House some statistics and quotes about technology adoption by businesses. Right now, at the industry committee, we continue to explore this issue, especially regarding small and medium-sized businesses. We have a government that is always at the forefront saying that it is for the economy and for building the economy, but its actions do not speak very loudly in helping the economy in a concrete manner and for the long-term.
One witness we heard at committee, from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said:
A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group of G20 countries indicates that Canada is behind in the adoption of technology by business, and in the size of our Internet economy.
We are not talking about the economy of the future but about the economy now, the knowledge economy. We are lagging behind. The witness said:
The study concludes that this gap will widen over the coming years, meaning that Canada will lag behind its global competitors even more. The $4.2-trillion opportunity represented by the Internet will pass Canada by. This gap exists across the economy, across sectors, regardless of the size of the entity. [...] With our relatively small population and huge land mass the Canadian market is essentially California with a distribution challenge.
How can the Conservative government pass on a $4.2-trillion opportunity represented by the Internet?
The knowledge gap and the digital divide are all part of a digital strategy that is lacking from the government. The Conservatives are all for business and all for the economy, but they have no long-term strategy. The Minister of Industry is silent, even though report after report gives clues as to what that digital strategy could be.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business also appeared and told us about the divide between consumers and small and medium-sized businesses. Consumers are very fond of online shopping, because it is very practical. More and more people are using this method to shop or want to shop online.
However, the federation noted that small and medium-sized businesses have a hard time adopting the technologies that would allow them to grow.
We are talking about technologies such as websites or online payment methods. The federation noted that there were problems with receiving electronic payments. You can have a nice website and try to adopt new technologies, but if you have problems with receiving payments when you are in business, things are not going very well.
Although websites are quite affordable now, they are an investment and need to be maintained. More and more businesses have a website. However, not being able to receive payments is an obstacle to our economy, the development of small and medium-sized businesses and regional development. That is why this is so important.
Small and medium-sized businesses create an awful lot of jobs. In fact, half of all jobs are created by small and medium-sized businesses. In addition, these are often local family businesses with deep roots in Canada. They are indeed part of our economy.
According to the results of a survey of members, the obstacles were the following. A number of members said that the implementation cost did not warrant the investment, that electronic payments were not commonplace in their sector, that they did not want to change the way they did business in terms of payments, that they were concerned about online security, and so on.
These barriers are the reason why small and medium-sized businesses are reluctant to embrace the technologies that could help them thrive. This is why our dissenting opinion spoke of the need for support from people who can introduce technologies within small and medium-sized businesses, focusing on both awareness and information.
Our recommendations also mention that the government must play a leading role in the adoption of e-commerce. The Government of Canada may well be a service provider, but it also acquires services so it can keep working. It is both a service provider and a service consumer. The government needs to be a leader on this issue.
Again, I call on the government to show leadership on the issue of a digital strategy that would include e-commerce and the famous spectrum auction I mentioned earlier, which has been delayed by rules that keep changing depending on the day and the Minister of Industry's mood. This also ends up creating a lot of uncertainty for telecommunication service providers.
I chose to speak on this subject because there is no strategy, no clear signal from the government, no plan that would ensure this new 21st-century tool is available to small and medium-sized businesses across Canada. This will not be the last time I speak on this very important issue.