Examining the NDP Platform: Positive Commitments, but Gaps Exist

We continue our world class coverage of the Canadian election through the lens of digital rights and technology. Today, it’s the NDP’s turn.

We’ve been spending considerable time and effort to cover the Canadian election through the lens of digital rights and technology. Previously, we covered the platforms of the Green Party, People’s Party of Canada, Bloc, and the Liberal Party. So far, the only one that is impressive is the Green Party. Today, we are able to examine the NDP.

The NDP platform was released much earlier on in the election. Instead of calling it a platform, the NDP call it commitments. So, we pulled up the PDF and examined those commitments. Here is what we found.

Lower Cell Phone and Internet Bills

The first thing we found is on page 21. It’s a whole section devoted to cell phone bills. It reads as follows:

Canadians count on our cell phones to keep us connected no matter where we go, and reliable, high-speed internet is a necessity. But too many Canadians struggle to afford the services they need: among comparable countries, Canadians pay some of the highest prices for mobile wireless and broadband subscriptions in the world.

People are being gouged, every month, because instead of standing up for consumers, the Liberal and Conservative governments have left it to industry to set the prices. The result is that Canadian families are stuck with sky-high bills, and the profit margins of the five biggest telecom companies in Canada are almost 40 percent, while two million Canadians living in rural, remote, and Northern areas still don’t have access to reliable internet service. The only thing worse than cell phone and internet companies gouging consumers are the politicians who let them get away with it.

It’s time for a government that’s on your side – protecting your pocketbook and delivering the modern services you need.

New Democrats believe that no matter where you live in Canada, you should be able
to stay connected – without breaking the bank because of unfair gouging. That’s why, until the industry becomes more competitive, we’ll put in place a price cap to make sure that Canadians aren’t paying more than the global average for their cell phone and internet bills.

This is, of course, a continuation of an earlier announcement where the NDP also said that they’d cap cell phone bills. The platform pretty much expands on that announcement by not only saying that they will lower cell phone and Internet bills down to an international norm, but also commits to expanding connectivity to all Canadians. Obviously, this is going to be welcome news for anyone who has, or wants, a reliable connection for a reasonable price. We can independently verify that it’s true that research has shown that Canadians do pay some of the highest rates for what they get. So, it’s nice to see a party tackling this long standing problem head on.

The platform then further expands this:

Expanding cell coverage and delivering reliable, affordable broadband internet to every community in Canada is vital to the economic future of rural Canada and remote communities. But it has been ignored by successive governments for far too long. That’s why we believe that we need to act urgently to close the digital divide now, not ten years from now as the Liberal government proposed. We are committed to making sure that every community in Canada has access to highspeed internet without delay.

In addition, we’ll make sure that providers offer a basic plan for wireless and broadband that is comparable with the affordable plans that are available in other countries. To put an end to surprise bills, we’ll require companies to offer unlimited wireless data options at affordable rates, as exist elsewhere in the world, and abolish data caps for broadband internet.

And finally, to protect Canadians from unfair wireless and internet sales and services practices, we’ll introduce a Telecom Consumers’ Bill of Rights and put an end to gouging for good.

So, a lot of details on how the party would go about doing this. In theory, the telecoms could challenge the NDP in court to demand that they can charge whatever they want, but that, in and of itself, just wouldn’t be a good publicity move on their part.

Increasing Transparency on Trade Agreements

On the surface, this doesn’t sound related, but it actually is very much relevant. This is found on page 32:

Canadians know that trade is essential for our economic success.They expect that trade deals will be fair, respect human rights, protect the environment, and put the interests of Canadian workers and
communities first. Unfortunately, under Liberal and Conservative governments, trade negotiations have too often hurt Canadian industries and cost us jobs.

New Democrats support fair trade that broadens opportunity in all areas of the country while protecting our industries and upholding labour standards, environmental protections and human rights. That’s why we’ll always defend Canadian workers in trade negotiations, protect supply management and stand up against unfair tariffs.

We’re committed to improving the transparency of trade negotiations, so that Canadians can clearly understand the costs and benefits of any proposed agreement and have their say before it’s signed. That’s why a New Democrat government will directly engage with Canadians on the expected costs and benefits of potential trade deals, as well as ensure that all trade agreements are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We will evaluate all potential trade deals for their social, environmental and gendered impact on Canadians.

This has been a very big long-standing problem with various trade agreements. Between CETA, TPP, and countless other secret “trade” agreements, news organizations like us have to rely on leaks published by organizations like Wikileaks and even KEI-Online to find out what is even in the agreements in the first place. It’s led to absurd situations where we publish anaylysis of leaked documents such as this TPP analysis in 2015.

Of course, just learning the details is a major challenge. If anyone has a concern about where the negotiations are headed, you are out of luck. Only large corporations can have access and critique such “trade” negotiations in the first place. Now, some might be asking why we put trade in quotation marks. This is because when we actually delve into details, it quickly becomes less about trade and more about dictating what the laws should be. As you can plainly see, there are loads of copyright and digital rights related laws in the agreements that countries would have had to abide by.

Eventually, when the trade talks conclude, the laws are largely a “take it or leave it” situation. Then, there is an extreme amount of pressure for countries to hamstring themselves with overbroad laws just for the “privilege” of being in the trade block like that (even though there are previous trade agreements that still hold).

So, being transparent about these trade agreements and even listening to Canadians is a very novel concept. It is, of course, welcome that Canadian’s actually get to have input on the laws they could soon have. Currently, the corporate interests decide what laws need to be implemented and then the laws come down without public public. Very welcome news indeed.

The platform then goes further:

When it comes to what’s on the negotiating table, Canadians know that there are
some things that we shouldn’t be willing to compromise on, like investor-state dispute settlement measures that hand too much power to corporations and undermine the rules that keep us safe and healthy. Trade
agreements should have enforceable labour, human rights and environmental protections – and New Democrats will always protect Canadians against measures that could increase the cost of pharmaceuticals, weaken our cultural protections, or undermine privacy rights.

A New Democrat government will also do more to defend Canadian workers and communities from unfair trading practices. We will modernize Canada’s trade remedy system and make sure that trade unions have full standing in trade cases and the ability to initiate trade disputes, as is the case in other countries.

This is definitely in response to the notorious ISDS (Inter-State Dispute Settlement) laws embedded in a number of different trade agreements. ISDS provisions generally give corporations the power to sue countries in an International court should laws and protections get in the way of profits or “future potential profits”. Such provisions, for instance, caused fears in Australia where cigarette companies could theoretically say that warning labels on cigarette packs would get in the way of profits or future potential profits.

Really, it could apply to anything, though. What if a record label decided that anything less than infinite copyright terms that last forever got in the way of profits or future potential profits? What if a movie studio said that fair dealing or fair use got in the way of profits or future potential profits. It’s a loop-hole so big, you could drive a Mac truck through it and pillage the rights of a countries citizens. It ultimately means that corporations are above the law and that the laws are only for people.

So, this is another big positive here in the platform.

Investments in the Technology Sector

Another interesting commitment is found on page 38:

This Liberal government has moved more and more towards having a single pot of innovation money for all sectors. Businesses and innovators know that this doesn’t provide the targeted help that’s necessary to support our industries as they face unique challenges staying globally competitive.

New Democrats understand that we need a plan that will provide sustainable, long-term support for Canada’s innovators to optimize growth and play to the strengths that Canada has to offer. To that end, we’ll take a strategic, sector-specific approach that invests in innovation and R&D here at home – and we’ll put a particular focus on developing the technologies the world will need to thrive in a low-carbon future.

So, there is a commitment in not only investing in technology, but also offering sector specific investments as well. That will no doubt be welcome news for small business that work in the technology sector.

Further, the platform states:

A New Democrat government will step up as a partner to foster entrepreneurship and support a Canadian start-up culture, with a focus on helping Canadian companies in all regions of the country commercialize new technologies and scale-up, train, and retain the highly-skilled Canadian workforce needed to support industry growth and bolster Canadian competitiveness on the world stage.

So, it really clarifies the stance that this is largely aimed at smaller businesses and startups.

Another Reference to Communication Connectivity

On page 78, there is another mention of connecting all of Canada:

A New Democrat government will work with Indigenous communities to encourage economic development and create good jobs through infrastructure investments and expanded access to broadband internet and cell service for rural and remote communities. We commit to working with Indigenous entrepreneurs to find solutions for accessing capital and scale up, investing in Indigenous social enterprise projects and entrepreneurship.

That, of course, is the same pledge as mentioned earlier in the platform. So, it’s just reiterating that commitment.

On page 84, we see this same commitment again:

In our digital age, technological infrastructure is more important than ever. That’s why we’re committed to making sure that every community in Canada has access to highspeed internet. We’ll also ensure that the right investments are made to expand cell phone coverage to all parts of the country, so that Canadians stay connected – affordably – no matter where they are.

Investment in Arts and Culture

On Page 85, we see the following:

Arts and culture are at the heart of who we are as Canadians. It’s how we listen to and understand each other better. It’s how we connect across vast distances and celebrate our identities. And in such a diverse country, it’s how we share our incredible stories with each other, in both official languages – and with the entire world.

Canada’s film and television industry is also a big part of our economy’s future — and is at the heart of our culture in this increasingly digital era. Almost 180,000 people work in this $9 billion industry across Canada, creating good family-sustaining jobs.

This is pretty non-controversial. They want to invest in the Canadian arts and culture. They then clarify their stance on these issues with this:

But after decades of cuts, a rapidly digitizing media landscape and government inaction are putting Canadian arts, culture, and jobs at risk.

It’s time for a different approach.

New Democrats will protect our heritage and support a strong, independent Canadian arts and culture industry. New Democrats will make sure that Canadian talent can thrive on both digital and traditional platforms – here at home and around the world. We think that artists should be able to earn a decent living from their art, and that government has an important role to play in making sure that a diversity of Canadian voices tell our stories.

So, a lot of this is directed at the people who create the art. That is definitely positive because we’ve seen plenty of instances in the past where large corporations reap all the profits while the creator takes on all the risk and debt after. Major record labels have done this to countless artists as it is. So, hopefully, this commitment will change that.

Regulating Web Giants

On the same page (85), we see the following:

Most Canadians now get their news from Facebook, and Netflix is the largest broadcaster in the country – but these web giants don’t pay the same taxes or contribute to funding Canadian content in the same way that traditional media do. Canadian film, television, and media is up against a tidal wave
of well-funded American content – and the Liberals have refused to take action to level the playing field.

That’s why a we will step up to make sure that Netflix, Facebook, Google, and other digital media companies play by the same rules as Canadian broadcasters. That means paying taxes, supporting Canadian content in both official languages, and taking responsibility for what appears on their platforms, just like other media outlets.

This is an unfortunate theme that we’ve been seeing in some of the platforms that actually touch on this subject. As highlighted in our report about Michael Geist’s response to the Liberal platform, there is skepticism on this front whether this is even the right move. Some, like Michael Geist, say that there isn’t even a real risk to Canadian voices getting silenced because of the competition.

A big reason why rules were put in place in the first place is because, years ago, Canadians merely had access to a dozen or so channels as well as a radio station or two. With such a low number of sources for content, the risk was that broadcasters would simply carry American signals, thus actually opening up the door for Canadian voices being drowned out. Today, we have the Internet and countless sources for streaming. There is an abundance of resources and Canadians have more tools then ever before to have their voices heard. So, requiring platforms to have cancon requirements is a bit like a solution looking for a problem.

Supporting Canadians Making the Digital Transition

Another element on page 85 is this:

We’ll also increase funding for CBC and Radio-Canada to help reverse the damage
of decades of funding cuts under both Liberal and Conservative governments. Public broadcasting has a remarkable legacy of connecting all points of our country – and it needs to have an even stronger future now more than ever to help make sure that Canadians have access to accurate, relevant information no matter where they live.

We will make sure that arts and cultural institutions receive stable, long-term funding to grow and promote Canada’s diverse cultures and histories. We will also extend support to Canadian media to assist them in making the digital transition.

Again, another pretty non-controversial commitment here.

Income Tax Averaging for Artists

On page 86, there is also this tidbit:

Finally, recognizing the special challenges faced by people who make a living in the arts and culture industry, we’ll make life more affordable by putting in place income tax averaging for artists and cultural workers.

That will no doubt be welcome news for creators who have a non-steady income (re: most of them).

Repeating Connectivity Commitment

On page 88, we see another repeated commitment:

Staying connected digitally is more essential than ever, yet too many rural communities in Canada don’t have reliable cell phone or broadband service. A New Democrat government will change that, delivering highspeed rural broadband to all communities in Canada without delay, and ensuring that reliable cell phone service is expanded to every area of Canada – while keeping rates affordable for families and businesses.

Countering Online Hate Crimes

Moving to page 90, we see the following:

It’s time for the federal government to tackle the growing threat of hate crimes targeting
communities in Canada. We will begin work immediately to ensure that all major cities have dedicated hate crime units within local police forces, and to convene a national working group to counter online hate. New Democrats will always stand up against all forms of hate, racism, including anti-Black racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, gender-based violence, homophobia, and transphobia.

It’s a bit unclear the direction they want to take this if taken out of where in the platform this comes from. The context, in this case, is policing. So, it looks like they want police to investigate instances of hate crime. That is ultimately hard to criticize as it avoids the issue of how platforms moderate themselves, what their obligations are, etc. It does avoid a lot of the issues of free speech that frequently come up in these discussions. This is because it’s easy to come up with a policy that does, in fact, run afoul of those that support free speech. Where exactly does one draw the line? Once you start getting into those finer details, that’s where the free speech issues start cropping up. This looks like it avoids that which is pretty good.

Security

also on page 90, we see the following:

New Democrats will deal with threats to our national security, including foreign interference
and espionage, terrorism and cybercrime, by working with our international allies, enhancing real-time oversight of security services, and fully respecting the privacy and Charter rights of all Canadians.

This has been one of those issues where other parties love to pit security and privacy against each other. It looks like the NDP want to balance those issues which is something that often gets left behind in these debates. Certainly a positive thing to see here.

Holding Platforms Liable for Hate Speech

On page 96, we see a clarification of a commitment we just mentions a little further up:

New Democrats believe that we cannot stand by and allow racism to flourish in our
communities. It’s time to choose: we must turn the talk of diversity into action to confront racism, and put an end to it for good. We will work together to tackle the hate, racism, white supremacy and systemic discrimination that are hurting people across the country.

Anti-Semitism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate are too often allowed to flourish on the internet. A New Democrat government will convene a national working group to counter online hate and protect public safety, and make sure that social media platforms are responsible for remove hateful and extremist content before it can do harm.

Earlier, it was more about police enforcement. In this section, it’s actually a bit different. This is because it is about holding platforms liable for the actions of their users. Unfortunately, this commitment is vague, so we don’t know for sure what specifics are being committed to here.

Examples of specifics would be whether there is a deadline to remove hateful content. What would constitute hate speech that platforms would have to abide to? Would it be to police to identify such hate speech or how much would platforms need to police it? There are a lot of variables that aren’t really addressed here. This is not to say that we support such speech, but it’s more of a question of specifics and whether or not it goes from tackling online hate to a concern for free speech.

Disinformation and Fake News

On page 102, we see the following:

Recognizing the threat posed by outside interference in Canadian elections, we believe that more needs to be done to stop the spread of disinformation and “fake news” online. Social media platforms must be held to their responsibility to flag and remove fraudulent accounts, and to respond promptly
to harassment, threats, and hate speech. No one but the people of Canada should decide – or influence – the outcome of Canadian elections.

The only thing about that is that there is no specifics on the degree of enforcement. Facebook is quick to point out that they have a system in place that flags inaccurate information and links to fact-checked information instead. So, the question would be, is Facebook’s system the model the NDP are after or are there other specific ideas they have in mind? That much is unclear. Still, this shows that they are aware of the problem at the very least.

Empowering the Privacy Commissioner

Also on page 102, we see the following:

Finally, New Democrats will work to strengthen privacy protections for Canadians by boosting the power of the Privacy Commissioner to make and enforce orders.

While this commitment doesn’t explicitly state fines, it does imply it. That, of course, is welcome news because that is a major area of weakness Canadian privacy laws have these days. Europe has the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws which allow regulators to fine a percentage of annual turnover for privacy violations. Regulators in the US have been stepping up their game by fining companies millions, or in a rare instance, billions, for privacy violations. An example of that is the FTC fining Facebook $5 billion for privacy violations.

Meanwhile, in Canada, privacy commissioners can sit there and wag their finger, telling companies “don’t do that again!” At best, the commissioner can go to court and argue in court that a company should be fined. Even if the commissioner wins, the fines are comparatively small. Essentially, companies can simply do what they want because the worst possible fine is, at best, a rounding error on their balance sheet.

Hopefully, this commitment leads to something like what we’ve seen in Europe where regulators can actually issue effective fines that deter companies from abusing the information they gather on Canadians. The possible attitude by companies of “what are you gonna do about it?” shouldn’t even begin to be a risk, after all. So, very welcome news.

Some Policy Gaps to Consider

what we did see wound up being largely positive news. There are a number of commitments that do patch some big problems facing Canadians. That’s not to say that there weren’t some policy issues that are missing.

One thing we didn’t see is a stance on copyright. There is considerable pressure to ramp up copyright terms from the already way too long life plus 50 years to the more extreme life plus 70 years. The question would be, would the NDP commit to keeping the term to life plus 50 years, or better yet, reduce the length of copyright to help expand the size of the public domain and bolster creators ability to create new content?

On a related question, would the NDP also commit to increasing the power of fair dealing? As of now, Canadian creators have a disadvantage over their American counterparts who have a more robust Fair Use provision in their copyright laws.

While copyright laws have changed to outlaw copyright settlement demand letters, there isn’t any provision that would penalize companies from trying to send ransom notes. So, companies are free to break the law without consequence. The question is, would the NDP make the law enforceable by creating a mechanism to report violators and allow for fines to be levied against those violators?

On the security front, while there are commitments to hold companies accountable for data leaks and breaches, there is also not really a stance on encryption. Last month, Public Safety Minister, Ralph Goodale, openly considered getting Canada involved in the war on encryption. The move has been condemned by The Citizen Lab and a lawyer who works for CIPPIC. It would have been nice to see a direct commitment by the NDP to not compel companies to compromise their encryption with backdoors. We didn’t necessarily see that here.

A History of Highlights

One thing we do have to work with is the fact that the NDP does have a history with some great highlights. A lot of that is thanks to Charlie Angus who consistently went after Conservatives and Liberals when it came to major copyright reform problems. In the mid 2000’s to early 2010’s, we’ve seen both the Liberal and Conservative parties simply listen to what major foreign interests wanted, then putting those interests into Canadian law with little regard to public and expert input. There was even a time when Angus demanded that the Culture Ministry have the “For Sale” sign removed from their door.

So, when these issues do come to light, we see a long history of the NDP standing up for Canadian interests.

Overall Impressions

There is some repetition of their commitments. We’ve highlighted that in our analysis. Still, there are a lot of highlights. This includes empowerment of the privacy commissioner, increasing rural connectivity, combating fake news, commitments to protecting Canadian privacy, and capping cell phone an Internet bills.

There are a few commitments that could go either way such as compelling platforms to enforce anti-hate speech policies (as in, what are the specifics and where the line is drawn).

One aspect that might be controversial is the fact that they want to compel companies to comply with cancon requirements even though expert opinion suggests that such a requirement isn’t necessary.

They do have a long history of standing up for Canadian interests on various issues.

Still, there is some gaps such as a specific stance on encryption and the fact that there are some areas of copyright where there isn’t a platform stance. So, there are some gaps to consider as well.

While the policies aren’t as impressive as the Green Party, we can safely conclude that this platform is in a very solid second place in our view. Plenty of positives to go around here.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.