Canada’s Election: A Review of the Liberal Platform on Digital Issues

We’ve already reviewed the Conservative Party’s platform on digital issues. Now we are reviewing the Liberal Party of Canada’s platform on digital issues.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Canada is in the midst of an election. The question is, do different political parties stand for what you stand for when it comes to political issues? We went digging to find out and now, it’s the Liberals turn.

The Liberal Party’s platform is available on the Liberal Party’s website. We’ll be taking notes from the Full PDF located on the right column of the web page.

The Liberal Platform

We begin on Page 21. The PDF viewer says it’s page 21, but the pagination on the bottom right corner says it’s actually page 19. The page number difference is due to the two cover pages at the beginning of the PDF counting in the PDF viewer, but not in the pagination.

Fair balance Between Creators and Consumers. Digital technology offers many new opportunities, but enjoying content without compensating its creators shouldn’t be among them. At the same time, consumers should have freedom for personal use of digital content they rightfully possess. Liberals have worked to pass effective copyright legislation, including a private copying compensation fund instead of any new tax on consumers.

This is a rather loaded paragraph. On the one hand, you have that eerie similarity between propaganda pushed by foreign record labels (CRIA) and the line about not allowing consumers to not pay for creators work. On the other hand, you have the more optimistic line about allowing creators to actually use something they legally paid for. The first part of the last sentence where they say they are working to pass effective copyright legislation is actually vague. Is the Liberal Party referring to Conservative legislation where they may have offered contributions or Bill C-60 back when they were last in power? The last part is interesting, but vague. If the Liberals aren’t going to expand on the private copying levy as seen on CDs and DVDs and find a different way of compensating some artists (all artists would be far too hopeful as not all creators get compensated for the current private copying levy – namely smaller independent creators like myself) for private copying, what exactly is in the cards? I have a hard time picturing how more money can be found if it’s not tacked on to the price of blank media.

So, after some unpacking of the paragraph, it’s actually hard to really pin an exact place where the Liberal Party stands on these issues based on this paragraph.

Finding any reference to surveillance was a challenge. There is, however, the following paragraph:

Protection from Digital Threats. Just as openness and transparency are the sources of boundless innovation and creativity on the Internet, these same features are too often exploited for criminal purposes causing significant personal and economic disruption, harm to children, and even threats to national security. A Liberal government will make security a priority in Digital Canada, working to advance it with the private sector and other governments at home and abroad.

It’s really hard to gauge from this paragraph exactly what is meant. Is this referring to Lawful Access or something else? One could dig and find meaning for Lawful Access, but it’s so vague, one can’t exactly say for certain that this is referencing Lawful Access or something else.

Overall Impression

The platform does have its cryptic moments to say the least.

The copyright issues seem to point both directions. The Liberal Party might push copyright laws that is balanced and keeps consumers in mind or they might just copy the wish list of foreign record labels that don’t have Canadians interest in mind and paste it in the next copyright reform bill. It’s hard to say for certain which direction they intend on going. So, it’s probably best to look at the Liberal Party’s track record on this issue. When the Liberals were last in power, they introduced a copyright reform bill known as Bill C-60. Bill C-60 was blasted by its critics as being the Canadian DMCA. In fact, the idea of a Canadian DMCA first emerged from Bill C-60 and carried on through to the Conservatives Bill C-61. Many pointed to the flaws of the Canadian DMCA and noted how those flaws are being imported to Canada without public consultation. In a rather famous scene during the elections at the time, Sam Bulte, the Liberal heritage minister, remarked that she wouldn’t listen to Michael Geist, the EFF and his “pro-user zealots”. That led to bumper stickers of people being proud of being a “pro-user zealot”. Ultimately, she lost her seat. Many people cite her track record on copyright and the famous incident as contributors to her downfall – sometimes going so far as to say that she lost her seat because her stance on copyright. In short, the Liberal track record on copyright when they were in power is pretty brutal. Still, after they lost power, Liberal MPs have been known to voice concerns over the Conservatives copyright reform bill. One key issue not mentioned in their platform, but mentioned in parliament in the past was the concerns over the digital locks provisions. They picked up on the concerns of DRM overriding consumer freedoms and raised the issue on a couple of occasions. Why that’s not more directly in the platform is a mystery to me. Overall, I think the Liberals have a long way to go to redeem themselves over the mess they created with Bill C-60. The platform says that it’s on the Liberals mind, but the direction is a little vague.

On the front of privacy related issues, the platform really doesn’t say a whole lot about surveillance or Lawful Access laws. So, we do have to turn to the track record of the Liberals. In 2005, the Liberals introduced Bill C-74. For those having a hard time remembering anything about this, CIPPIC discusses Lawful Access at length while referencing Bill C-74. Let’s just say that the bill, in the views of privacy experts, was a train wreck and sparked major concerns for privacy. Unlike the issues with copyright, the Liberals lobbied hard for the Conservatives to re-introduce the legislation. Lawful Access in it’s more recent iteration, would remove court oversight and give near wholesale access to private communications for the RCMP. As I’ve discussed in my previous review, this could very easily open the doors for abuse. So, in short, the Liberals track record on this issue is abysmal. Judging by the platform, it’s really hard to say that the Liberals really turned a new leaf on this issue and listened to Canadians.

In my personal opinion, when it comes to issues like copyright and privacy, it’s hard to trust that the party will get the balance right. Their track record – particularly when they were last in power – really undermines a lot of the progress they’ve made in actually considering what Canadians concerns are. If the election was based on these issues, I can’t say I’d be prepared to vote Liberal at this time.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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