Conservatives Release Their Party Platform – The Worst Out of Everyone

It took three quarters of the election cycle, but we now have the Conservative election platform. We take a look at it through a digital rights lens.

It’s not quite an 11th hour release, but it’s pretty close. With the election nearly over, some suggested that the Conservative plan has been in hiding this whole time. The day before the early voting is set to take place, the party finally released their more than 100 page platform. Of course, this raises the question of whether or not very many people would even have time to properly go through the platform. While some might not, if you are concerned about technology and digital rights, we got your back.

First, we should point out that our analysis of the other platforms is already up and ready for your review if you still haven’t gone over them. We got the Green Party, the People’s Party of Canada, the Bloc, the NDP, and the second last straggler to the party, the Liberal Party. Up to now, based on the platforms, it really seems like a two horse race between the NDP and Green Party. The Liberal Party, meanwhile, is a distant third with the remaining parties not having much, if anything, to show as far as digital rights and technology is concerned.

So, this leads us to the party latest to the platform release party, the Conservatives. Our experience with the history of the Conservative party is that they have a very mixed history on these issues. On the one hand, they pretty much copied the Liberals playbook and tabled warrantless wiretapping (Lawful Access) and a brutal copyright reform bill that wound up being just as bad a the previous Liberal government. The copyright reform bills proposed would have followed the US in ushering an era of mass litigation of Canadians for file-sharing. Specifically, Canadians would suddenly get saddled with hundreds of thousands or millions in fines for the comparatively minuscule offence of non-commercial copyright infringement.

Of course, as we said, it’s a mixed bag. After massive backlash from the Canadian public, the Conservatives towards the end of their last mandate finally decided to back off some of these proposals. Instead, they lowered the fines for non-commercial infringement to a few hundred dollars. At the same time, they also gutted fair dealing by allowing DRM to override the exceptions. So, if enough pressure is applied to the Conservatives, it is possible to get them to partially come to their senses and produce something reasonable on this file.

So, are they continuing to carry those lessons of the past going into this election or do they have a short memory and are intending on falling back to their own ways? That’s what we’d like to find out with this analysis.

Looking Into Intellectual Property

We had to go 21 pages into the platform before we finally get a mention of anything that is of interest to us. This is a small paragraph which reads:

The expert panel will also look at policies to strengthen Canada’s ability to capitalize on intangibles, like intellectual property, and improve incentives to encourage more businesses to patent their innovative ideas.

The panel in question appears to be in reference to an “expert” panel. Bizarrely, this is in a section that discusses the Canada Revenue Agency. While this point simply suggests that they would “look at” it, this does suggest that they are already leaning towards tightening copyright laws. This, of course, is a red flag for us because there is already is a push to import Internet censorship into the country. To be fair, this section doesn’t make any specifics, but there is reason to be worried about this.

Intellectual Property In Trade Agreements

Moving to page 24, we see this:

To ensure Canadian companies can compete and win internationally, we will make sure that intellectual property protection and free trade services is at the heart of new trade agreements.

This is a bit of an oddball statement given that we see intellectual property provisions in trade agreements like NAFTA 2.0, CETA, and others. Unless other multilateral trade agreements are in the works that involve Canada, then this statement seems to be more like a promise that is nothing but air. The only possibility we see is that if new trade agreements crop up, they vow to tighten copyright laws in them. This, of course, is another red flag for reasons mentioned above. Over top of this, who knows what other overall bad ideas multinational corporations will come up with.

Culture and Heritage Section – Nothing

You might think that page 50 would be promising. After all, a whole section devoted to culture? How could you go wrong. Unfortunately, all this section talks about is how things are changing with technology. After that, they promised to make visits to museums admission free. After that, there is a mention about festivals and community events. Finally, they promised to commemorate those who built the nation. That’s the whole section. Nothing on copyright, Internet, access, or anything that would be of interest to us for that matter. It’s a surprisingly big swing and a miss.

Media Outlets

Moving all the way down to page 70 (no really, there is nothing relevant up to now), we did see this paragraph:

To support regional media outlets, we will dedicate a portion of federal government advertising dollars for them.

This is a fairly vague statement. There is no amount given, just that a “portion” will go to them. This is likely related to Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that Canadians see on TV (“A message from the government of Canada”). This, of course, already happens, so it’s not exactly clear what will change necessarily here.

Rural Expansion of Broadband

Finally, we found something that is more than just remotely relevant. It’s also on page 70 which reads as follows:

– Expand Rural Broadband

To ensure that the largest number of Canadians are connected to the internet at high speeds, we will set aside a portion of all spectrum auctions for rural Canada. Canadians – no matter where they live – should have access to high-speed internet. Ensuring that public resources like wireless spectrum are prioritized for Canadians living in rural and remote areas will help achieve that.

We will also redirect existing rural broadband funding toward strategic priorities, such as high-capacity backbone where there is no incentive for the private sector to fund telecommunications infrastructure. We will take a smarter approach that allows the private sector to do its work, while focusing government investment on areas that are less commercially attractive.

To ensure that rural Canadians are not unfairly lumped in with urban centres in spectrum auctions, we will redefine the licence areas for internet providers.

This appears to be taking a page out of the NDP and Liberal party platforms. There is a promise to expand rural broadband. This, of course, is a well known problem where there are many rural areas still stuck on dial up or satellite Internet (assuming the latter is available at all). Of course, the platform mentions setting aside spectrum for it.

It’s actually amusing because this loosely resembles the Conservative parties previous attempt to bring competition into Canada. With great fanfare, the Harper led Conservative government held this national wireless auction. The idea is that other companies can finally get in on the broadband market and bring some competition into this largely monopolized sector. The end result was disastrous with most being gobbled up by the three big players or regional established players (Sasktel for example). It did nothing but make the Conservative look like they had no idea what they were doing. So, at least there is a revised plan here.

Of course, this proposal is much more half-baked than the other promises. A big problem with the current Internet and wireless sectors is the fact that Canadians pay some of the highest fees for some of the worst service. Unlike other parties, this platform skips pricing. In a way, this is surprising given the themes of “more money in your pocket”. Finding ways of reducing Internet and cell phone bills would actually go a long way to accomplish this. Unfortunately, non of that is to be found here.

Cyberbullying Legislation

Moving down to page 76, we see the following:

To better protect our children and crack down on cyberbullies, we will introduce legislation to prohibit the use of a phone or the internet to threaten or advocate selfharm. Too many children are confronted with the realities of bullying at school and at home. Social media has enabled bullies to do more harm, and they are virtually impossible to escape.

Cyberbullying knows no borders. The Cyberbullying Accountability Act will clarify that if a bully is outside of Canada, and the victim is in Canada, the offence occurred in Canada. We will also introduce mandatory penalties for repeat offenders.

A new Conservative government will also create a civil liability so that the parents, guardians, or account holders of cyberbullies can be held liable for the cyberbullying activities of their children.

While stemming cyberbullying is a noble cause, there is a flaw with this plan. This comes to the aspect of International laws. If you put a law in the books that if it happens to a Canadian, then the offence happens in Canada, it’s a bit hard to enforce the law on someone who lives outside of Canada. We are, after all, talking about a different jurisdiction with different laws (and possibly a different legal system altogether). So, it’s a bit difficult to see how saying that the offence took place in Canada would really change much in any practical sense.

Consent to Collect

Next (on the same page), we see this:

To safeguard the data and privacy of Canadians, we will require companies to get consent to collect data through plain language agreements. Only data that is necessary to provide the service can be collected.

It’s very difficult to see how this would change anything. There are countless online services that say, “by continuing to use this site, you agree to our terms and conditions”. This might require re-writing some terms and conditions on some side-page out of sight by the user, but beyond that, it’s hard to really see how this changes anything in the online privacy landscape.

From there, we see this on the next column:

Increasingly, parts of our lives are moving online. Paying monthly bills, transferring
money between accounts, making large purchases, and investing can all be done with the click of a button or a tap on a device. Canadians need a government that recognizes the importance of modernizing policies to keep up with our growing connectivity and new technology. We will employ sensible regulation, rigorous standards, and strong oversight over the personal information, data, and privacy of Canadians.

Really, this paragraph says nothing. The paragraph could very well have simply said, “We promise to do a good job”. Fewer words, just as meaningful.

After that, we get this:

To establish a standard and educate Canadians about the security features of their devices, applications, and appliances, we will create the Canada Cyber Safe brand. This will empower consumers to make educated choices about the devices they purchase.

It’s not a bad idea to create an education campaign, but it’s also not easy to gauge its potential effectiveness at this stage.

Data Breaches

Moving to page 77, we see this:

To protect Canadians from largescale data breaches, we will work with our partners to establish binding cyber security standards for critical infrastructure sectors and penalties for non-compliance. There are no binding security standards for service industries, like banks, that can have a real and serious impact on Canadians.

We actually see first hand breaches and leaks on a near daily basis. After seeing the various platforms, this is an area that other parties fall far short on. This platform represents a very small start. Penalties for non-compliance is where that start is. What would have been more concrete is the idea of giving the privacy commissioners the power to issue fines to companies (something that is completely missing and represents a massive compliance gap in the Canadian system).

What’s more is that there isn’t an idea of how large fines would be in the first place. Are we going to see actual fines to the tune of a percentage of annual turnover like what we see in Europe? Otherwise, are we going to see fines that range into a couple thousand dollars so companies get the message that non-compliance means they rummage through the couch for some spare change? Additionally, how do we know if an entity is in non-compliance? Is it before or after a security incident happens? Will organizations be required to notify authorities in the event of a security incident?

In light of questions like this, it kind of makes that short paragraph seem, well, lacklustre.

Government Security

Also on page 77, we see the following:

To coordinate government data policy at the highest levels, we will establish a Cabinet committee on cyber security and data privacy. As holders of some of Canadians’ most sensitive information, the government must abide by the highest possible standards for cyber security. We will run regular cyber security penetration tests on all government departments and establish industry standard performance benchmarks for senior public servants.

For those who don’t work in a government setting, this sounds like a pretty solid idea. For those who work in government, some will know how security is already tested. This ranges from security awareness training to cold calls in an effort to obtain information (testing government employees). It would be interesting to see what else would get changed, but some of this actually already happens.

International Stage

Moving to page 82, we see the following:

As Prime Minister, Andrew Scheer will confront the global complexities of climate change, human migration, cybersecurity, and national defence, and work tirelessly to renew relationships and stand up for Canada on the world stage.

With nothing in the realm of specifics, this doesn’t really add anything. From there, we see this:

A new Conservative government will also make sure that Canada is at the forefront of advocating for the CANZUK alliance.

CANZUK is the diplomatic shorthand for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom – nations that share common histories and legal systems, and similar views and voting histories in international political fora. The CANZUK movement proposes enhanced free trade, seamless military interoperability, and security and intelligence sharing.

It’s unclear what is specifically meant by intelligence sharing. Does this mean sharing of people’s information through third party government wiretapping or something different completely? We don’t really know.

International Trade

On page 85, we see this:

Conservative governments have always made trade a top priority. The previous
Conservative government signed 53 trade and investment agreements, including negotiations with 11 countries in the Trans Pacific Partnership, and 28 countries in the European Union. A new Conservative
government will champion our industries both at home and abroad, renew relationships with our trading partners, and work to sign new trade deals to ensure the prosperity of Canada.

There are two points to be made on this. For one, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was killed by US president Donald Trump when he pulled the US out of the agreement. Canada was consistently for the agreement.

The second point is the fact that the original TPP represented all the worst ideas in Copyright being packaged into one law. From the lens of digital rights and technology, it’s extremely gutsy of the party to incorporate that tidbit in there, hoping that no one would remember what a disaster that “trade” agreement was. Sorry, but we remember that disaster quite well. It was a disaster and the world dodged a major bullet when that agreement was killed. If anything, this is a reminder that the party was for this and the platform touted it as a badge of honour. Big mistake in our view.

Next is something we found on page 86:

Create a CETA and CPTPP Accelerator

To better support our small and medium enterprises on the world stage, we will provide extra funding to support Canada’s entrepreneurs in finding customers in Europe as well as in markets opened by our new free trade agreements. Sometimes, just signing a trade agreement is not enough. An ‘accelerator’ is necessary to take full advantage of these newly opened markets. This accelerator will provide market intelligence or advice on local regulations, as well as funding to attend trade shows.

This represents terrible news for those who have an interest in digital rights and technology. The CPTPP, which is the new version of the disastrous TPP, contains a number of provisions that would be bad news for digital rights advocates. This includes the ratification of WIPO, the unmasking of domain name owners, increasing the length of copyright terms, and criminal penalties for circumventing a DRM.

CETA is an even worse disaster. As we analyzed, provisions include ratification of WIPO, DRM legally overriding all fair dealing exceptions, the possible importation of the failed three strikes law, Internet censorship, statutory damages for non-commercial infringement (in essence, rolling back the more reasonable fines), the possibility of border security seizing your cell phone at the border for the purpose of enforcing copyright law.

Not only does the platform say they support these ideas, but also work to implement them more quickly. Canada does not need Internet censorship (among the many other bad ideas these agreements represent). It’s stunning that a party would say that they would do everything they can to implement these laws as quickly as possible.

Taxing Large Tech Giants

Buried all the way down to page 101, we see this:

Make Large Technology Companies Pay their Fair Share

Many of the largest technology companies earn billions in Canada, but do not pay any corporate taxes here. A new Conservative government will ensure a level playing field with Canadian businesses. In line with similar taxes in Europe, we will apply a 3 per cent tax on revenues of businesses that provide a social media platform, search engine, or an online marketplace to Canadians. The tax will only apply to the largest companies; those with worldwide revenues of more than $1 billion and revenues in Canada of more than $50 million.

We will include a pathway for these companies to set up shop here in Canada. If a company chooses to locate here and pay regular corporate income tax, then we will allow them to deduct their corporate income tax from the large technology company tax. Ultimately, our goal is to encourage companies to set up a corporate headquarters in Canada. This off-ramp will encourage them to do so.

This is consistent with many of the other parties platforms. What the pathway means (do they just rent out a tiny building and call it home?) is a bit unclear here, so it’s hard to judge whether this will really do anything.

Final Thoughts

What is remarkable is that many of the ideas we did find that were positive (however few there were), they wound up being half-baked. Still, we were prepared to call this a platform that would be the fourth best (behind Liberals, NDP, and Green). After all, a half-baked idea is better than nothing at all or just a line of lip service.

All that changed when we hit page 86. For some, CPTPP and CETA are just a series of letters. Since it’s a trade agreement, it automatically must be good, right? Well, when you actually know what these agreements are all about, that’s when the true ugliness comes out. As such, in a mere 1 title and 1 paragraph, this platform fell from the fourth best to the single worst platform for digital rights and technology by far.

If you were basing your vote on digital rights and technology, you should probably look at the Conservative Party and say “not with a 10 foot barge pole!” Seriously, if you don’t support Internet censorship, DRM, or the ratcheting up of copyright laws, then you do not support what this platform stands for. Avoid at all costs.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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