Canadian Leaders Debate: Almost No Discussion on Digital Rights

With the Canadian English leaders debate wrapped up, one thing stands out: if you cared about digital rights, this was not your night.

We’ve been following the Canadian leaders debate to see if there is a possibility that technology and digital rights issues would crop up.

For background, this is the second English debate Canadians got to watch. The first was the Maclean’s debate where Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, didn’t even bother showing up to. The debate saw a passing mention of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

After that, the French language TVA debates took place. Unfortunately, for a large portion of Canadians who don’t speak French, no English translation was available for post-debate analysis. So, we can’t really analyze that debate for any technology and digital rights issues that could have cropped up.

So, that leaves the leaders debate today. The debate is, perhaps, the fullest English language debate yet. Canadians saw the leaders of the Liberals, Conservative, NDP, Green Party, Bloc, and People’s Party debate a number of topics. While topics like the environment, the economy, fiscal responsibility, and indigenous rights did crop up as debates of focus, there were, of course, opportunities to bring up digital rights and technology in the process.

Unfortunately, such topics only received a single mention. While debating fiscal responsibility, Bloc leader, Yves-François Blanchet, made the comment that large tech companies are stealing from Canadians. Unfortunately, in a debate where there were plenty of moments were talking over each other (the majority of that coming from the Liberal and Conservative leaders), that point never was really expanded on.

Of course, the source of the comment is actually quite surprising. When we examined the Bloc platform, we couldn’t really find anything related to digital rights. So, for us, it was a surprise that the party that doesn’t mention anything about technology and the Internet is the only party that even bothered mentioning the topic in the first place.

The comment, in and of itself, is quite confusing. This is partly because it was never elaborated on. The question is, how are big tech companies are stealing from Canadian’s in the first place? Is this coming from the angle of copyright and we’re talking about intellectual property rights? Is this coming from a taxation standpoint (which has been brought up by other parties) where the party feels they are not being taxed enough? What about if this is coming from the angle of big tech somehow drowning out Canadian voices and the party is trying to approach this from a cancon angle? Is this something different completely?

Unfortunately, we may never know exactly what angle the Bloc was going for here. So, debating whether or not this comment has any merit is quite problematic. We really don’t know what it’s specifically in reference to necessarily.

Now, it’s not as though other parties are ignoring the issues completely. We’ve seen the NDP platform and the Green Party platform. There are points in them that discuss tech issues. This ranges from a Canadian’s right to privacy to AI to the cost of Internet and cell phone bills. So, there are parties who have familiarized themselves on the issues. It’s just unfortunate that even these moments of progressing these debates wound up being missing in action during the latest leaders debate.

At this point, unless something blows up to the point where it completely alters the last portion of this campaign, the risk we see is that a party will get elected on a platform that largely ignores these issues. This has the potential to send an awful message that technology and digital rights issues don’t matter to Canadians.

When politicians get the message that digital rights don’t matter, that’s when we see things like Lawful Access, extending copyright terms, cracking down on encryption and security, ratcheting up copyright laws, and a whole host of other issues. So, as a consequence, Canada risks seeing more than a decade of progress on these files unravel to the point that citizens are starting over on square one again. As someone who has covered the copyright debates in Canada more than a decade ago, this is not something Canadians would want to repeat. These are the years where politicians wilfully and blatently ignore constituents, call Canadians “pro user zealots”, hang up on reporters during interviews, and accuse Canadians of being supporters of child pornographers because they don’t support a crackdown on digital rights.

As we see these issues seemingly fly further and further under the radar, this opens up the risk that Canadians find themselves going back to those years. If it’s not a big deal now, it can very easily be a big deal later. Unfortunately, as many know, the Canadian government can operate like a train. It may be slow moving, but once it gets up to speed, it’ll be extremely difficult to stop.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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