Green Party Releases Their Platform – Our Analysis

With two weeks to go, the Green Party has released their party platform. We offer our analysis through the digital rights lens.

We are continuing our series of political party platform analysis. This, of course, through the lens of digital rights. At this point, we have been waiting on the last few party holdouts. Now, one of those two parties remaining have released their platform. So, we are happy to start digging into this platform just like the other parties.

Of course, before we dive in to this platform, we should point out what happened during the last government. During the Bill C-10 debate, the party voted for Bill C-10 and against free speech online. We saw this through the vote breakdown when the bill made its way through the House of Commons. So, the party does have that hanging over their heads at this stage.

The platform itself can be found on the party website. It can, alternatively, be downloaded in PDF format.

For this analysis, like a number of other platforms, the PDF page number doesn’t necessarily match the actual paginated number. This is because of the cover page and indexes. So, we’ll use both the actual page number and PDF number just to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Expand Broadband in Rural Communities

It takes a bit to get to the first solid mention of digital rights. While there are a few passive mentions, there was nothing really concrete of note up to page 31 (PDF page 33). What drew our attention is this:

Improving rural connectivity
A Green government will:

  • Build up broadband infrastructure in rural areas to help revitalize rural economies and give communities greater access to the services they need.
  • Continue to support the Universal Broadband Fund, and retain that funding with an additional $150 M annually over 4 years to reach communities at the lowest end of the eligibility spectrum

This has been something supported in other platforms as well. Building up access to broadband in rural communities seems to be universally supported. The thing is, it was also universally supported during the last election, but nothing really became of that effort. Still, it’s good to see that parties are still supportive of the idea.

Breaking up Telecom Monopolies

Right after that in the very next bullet point on page 31 (PDF page 33), we see the following:

  • Break up telecom monopolies through changes to CRTC regulation to allow for more equitable treatment of rural consumers

Outside of the OpenMedia platform, this is the first party that we are aware of that actually proposed attempting to break up the telecom monopolies. This, of course, is a great thing to see that this has gotten additional support. The telecom monopolies combined with a complicit regulator has allowed for cell phone rates to be among the most, if not, the most expensive in the world. Breaking up the monopolies is a really good idea if you want to even start solving the problems of Internet and cell phone access and rates.

Tracking Online Hate

After a substantial gap, we did catch something of interest on page 71 (PDF page 73):

A Green government will:
1. Reject and condemn extremist ideologies that promote violence

Develop better guidelines to address the weaponization of free expression to promote hate speech and propaganda.
2. Provide funding for data collection on the spread of online hate and real-world violence.

  • Support research and advocacy groups seeking to address online hate and offline incidents.

On first blush, this seems to be an excerpt that supports the Liberals dangerous online harms proposal that has been internationally condemned for being a threat to online speech, innovation, and more, but it doesn’t appear to be a full throat support of the proposal either. It seems to be more directed at supporting the research and data collection aspect of targeting online hate. Still, it doesn’t necessarily close the door to the terrible approach by the Liberals either, so something to be wary of here.

Protect democracy in the digital age
1. Enshrine citizens’ digital rights, including ‘the right to not be profiled online.’

  • Canada can follow the lead of the European Union, and listen to the recommendations of our national Privacy Commissioner. Regulations must distinguish between demographic profiling, and more manipulative psychometric profiling techniques.

2. Reduce spread of Misinformation.

  • Support research & development to improve artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for detecting misinformation, hate, and violence online, so that this content can be de-emphasized and corrected.
  • Position Canada as a global leader in requiring companies who run large-scale online platforms to detect and prevent proliferation of misinformation. Hold publishers of malicious disinformation to account.

It takes a few times to read through this to get a good grasp of what is being asked here. On first blush, this does look like an endorsement to the online harms paper, but it’s actually a much more narrow approach. The online harms proposal envisioning shoving every website into a “one size fits all” approach, seemingly thinking that the only websites that exist are the large platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. What we see here is specifically targeting the large platforms instead.

What’s more is that this suggests that the Green Party is wanting to focus on developing the tools to fight online discrimination and hate. This is a vastly different and much more welcome approach than the online harms proposal. The Liberals online harms proposal simply leaves it up to website owners to figure it all out (as some American’s might call it, the “nerd harder” approach). This ultimately takes the heat off of smaller operations who are more interested in trying to make ends meet and simply getting by. Obviously, that is a much more welcome approach given the alternative of being faced with a shut down or a $10 million fine.

Freedom of Expression

Interestingly enough, on page 72 (PDF page 74), we see the following:

4. Protect civil liberties and freedom of expression.

  • Limit government to a regulatory rather than hands-on role in monitoring and moderating online content, and build protections that prevent suppression of lawful and accurate content, no matter how critical of government policy it may be.

Without the context of the Green Party voting against freedom of expression in Bill C-10, this sounds like an excellent thing to say in the platform. The problem is, just before the election, the party voted precisely against the above idea. It does open the door to the question of whether the party will say one thing during an election, then do another while in government. Bill C-10, as many readers know, is a bill that would prioritize legacy corporations online and shut out independent creators online. The speech implications were obvious even before the respective votes came down, yet the party voted against free speech anyway. So, the voting record pretty much taints the promise in the platform here.

International Trade

On page 87 (PDF page 89), we see the following:

A Green government will:

  • Shift the direction of international trade away from “free trade” to “fair trade” in order to prioritize the protection of human rights, labour standards, cultural diversity, and ecosystems around the world.

On the surface, this has nothing to do with digital rights. However, as long time readers know, international treaties being hammered out have long been packed with digital rights crackdown provisions and provisions that favour the multi-national corporations. Example of this include TiSA and CETA. So, for years, these international trade agreements have largely been a trade agreement in name only. This is because they are all about what multinational corporations are wanting in International law and largely controlling the outcome along with the bonus of privileged access during the negotiations (something even lawmakers in various countries don’t even have). So, the above is actually welcome news.

This is furthered by the following point sometime after on the same page:

  • Lead international discussions to reform TRIPS (The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) to ensure that intellectual property rights are not barriers to the achievement and furtherance of international human rights and clean development.

Removal of ISDS (Inter-State Dispute Settlement)

Also on page 89 (PDF page 87), we see the following:

  • Remove the current model of Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanisms (ISDS) in all existing trade agreements and prohibit its use in any new agreements.

This is an overarching issue that has been the bane of many rights organization both within digital rights circles and other circles. ISDS provisions allow a multinational corporation to take a government to court if a regulation gets in the way of their profits or future potential profits. For those who are trying to remove cigarettes in Australia, this was a huge part of the debate (at least for a while). The concern was that government mandates that warning labels be placed on cigarette packages. In theory, ISDS will permit corporations to take the government to an international tribunal and sue the government for forcing them to put those warning labels on those packets in the first place.

This whole idea of international corporations being able to wield a veto in this way is terrifying in every aspect. It really can apply to anything you can think of. If a government orders a corporation to clean up an oil spill, they can sue and say “no”. If a government decides to allow fair dealing/fair use exceptions for DRM, then movie studios and software developers could theoretically sue. Is there legislation that bars corporations from using dangerous chemicals in children’s toys? Lawsuit. It’s an insane idea that should never have been proposed in the first place, let alone taken seriously enough to push it through these international trade agreements in the first place.

What the Green Party is pushing here is very welcome.

Online Voting

On page 91 (PDF page 93), we see the following:

A Citizens’ Assembly on Democratic Renewal

Greens will push for a Citizens’ Assembly on Democratic Renewal to be convened as early as possible under the new Parliament. Recognizing the conflict of interest in having politicians re-design the system that elected them, the Assembly would be a diverse and randomly selected body of citizens, brought together with a mandate to consider and to provide a set of recommendations to our Parliament on four interrelated issues:

  • Modernizing Canada’s electoral system
  • Lowering the Voting Age to 16
  • Online Voting
  • Mandatory Voting

On the surface, the idea of online voting is a pretty good idea. More people use cell phones and Internet, so it would increase the possible ways to vote. The problem, however, is the question of security. How does one protect the integrity of the vote online? It’s not just a question of voter fraud, but also the idea that someone might be able to hack into a system and change vote tallies for instance. Another question is what to do in the case of an outage. What happens when, on voting day, the site that handles voting gets hit with a DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. How would votes get handled in that light?

This is one of those things that does solve a number of problems, but also opens up a pile of new problems as well.

We included the note about mandatory voting for information purposes, but the debate about that is outside the scope of our analysis.

Lobbying

Another interesting point is found on page 92 (PDF page 94):

  • Strengthen the Lobbying Act to require greater transparency and prevent “revolving doors” between political life, the public service and lobbying.

For those who follow the debates around the CRTC as well as the copyright debate, lobbying has been a major issue that really sets up for a number of other issues later on down the line. We’ve seen countless instances of record label representatives and ISP lobbyists effectively dictating copyright reform and regulations respectively. All one can find out is that an individual met and the topic of conversation. That’s it. Everything else is shrouded in secrecy for the most part. So, the above commitment is certainly a welcome sight to see.

Access to Information

On the same page (92, PDF page 94), we also see this:

  • Expand the Access to Information Act to include the Prime Minister’s Office, minister’s offices, and administration of parliament.

If you have ever used the system set up for Access to Information Act requests, you know it is heavily flawed. I’ve personally used it in the past to try and dig up information about the new defunct ACTA trade agreement. After multiple attempts, I was essentially rejected with the response basically saying, “it’s a secret”. So, it’s got a number of glaring flaws in it, so increasing transparency in any form is certainly welcome news.

Arts and Culture

On page 93 (PDF page 95), we see the following:

Federal support for our cultural infrastructure must be increased.

We recognize and support the existing programs of Heritage Canada and its agencies.

The Green Party of Canada seeks to protect and promote creativity on both an individual and global level. While support is provided for the many artists who have been negatively impacted by the COVID pandemic, efforts are also being made to bring the arts to rural and distant communities, and to promote young artists from those same regions.

Our collective future requires us all to fully embrace Indigenous cultural values with regard to nature.

The Canada Council must continue to support Indigenous creation through direct grants to artists and support for agencies and Arts Services Organizations to be full partners in this effort. The full reflection of our diverse society must be built on our relationship with nature. We can all learn from the peoples who have been here before colonization.

This is pretty vague, but the platform does elaborate on this on page 94 (PDF page 96):

A Green government will:

  • Increase support for indoor or outdoor arts performances required to adapt to become compliant with COVID regulations.
  • Provide $25 million in additional funding to aid museums and cultural organizations in both post-pandemic reopening and continuing to offer accessible digital offerings.
  • Ensure the viability of our cultural infrastructure in consultation with Arts Service Organizations, professional associations, trade associations and unions across the creative sector.
  • Canadian Cultural Identity
    A Green government will:

    • Increase funding to $1 billion over 3 years to all of Canada’s arts and culture organizations including the Canada Council for the Arts, Telefilm Canada, orchestras, theatres, galleries and publishers.
    • Increase support for community arts programs and facilities across Canada by establishing stable base funding at a set percentage of the federal budget.
    • Protect Canada’s cultural identity during trade negotiations and ensure arts and cultural representation on international trade missions.

So far, this appears to be just about funding the arts which is fairly non-controversial. Then we get to this on page 95 (PDF page 97):

    Enact Copyright reform as envisaged by the current Heritage Committee report.

If this is what we’re thinking, oof. The Heritage Committee is where the war on the Internet came from in the first place. It’s not exactly clear what report the party is referring to here, but we do know that in 2019, the Heritage Committee released a copyright “study” that was panned as one-sided. It basically took a who’s who of ratcheting up copyright laws, and simply listened to those lobbyists only. After that, they put together a report that said that no one objects to extending copyright term from life plus 50 years to life plus 70 years.

In fact, the report was so bad, the Industry Committee took the unprecedented step of rejecting the report outright. That is a move that was, of course, applauded by digital rights advocates.

So, in a way, the Green Party is saying that they will move forward with the one-sided approach of only listening to lobbyists at the expense of everyone else. Put it another way, they are wanting to copy the Liberal approach to copyright which has been notoriously bad. What isn’t clear is whether the Green Party put that in as a way of saying, “we don’t really get copyright, so we’ll do whatever the Liberals were doing” or it’s their way of saying, “We fully know what we are doing on the copyright front. We want to just listen to the copyright lobby and don’t care about what Canadians believe.” Neither really paints a pretty picture at all. Still, it is the party itself that put this in there in the first place with little context. This is the end result of that.

Repeating the Call to Expand Broadband in Rural Communities

On page 96 (PDF page 98), we see the following:

  • Establish a universal broadband strategy to give Canadians across the country and in remote areas access to reliable internet.

This is a repeat from an earlier commitment about expanding broadband in rural communities.

Pushing Bill C-10

On the same page as the previous point (page 96, PDF page 98), we see the following:

CRTC, Media and CanCon
A Green government will:

  • Proceed with regulating the powerful platforms and streaming services through the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as envisioned in Bill C-10

This point alone should tell Canadians that no one should vote for the Green Party. Not only did they vote against free speech as mentioned above, but they are also actively running on a platform that says that they will crack down on free speech online.

The flip-flop on free speech is so wild, you could get whiplash from following it. The Green Party, of course, was formed through the environmental movement. The environmental movement depends heavily on freedom of expression. That is why it’s possible to be able to speak out on oil spills, climate change, plastics in our oceans, the cutting down of old growth forests, and so on and so forth. The lists go on. If Canada didn’t have free speech at all, non of this public awareness would likely have happened in the first place. To be actively campaigning today on a platform that so expressly opposes free speech like this is a betrayal of a major core principal of the environmental movement. Environmentalists should be ashamed of this.

Media Ownership

On page 97 (PDF page 99), we see the following:

  • Call for an Independent Commission to undertake a comprehensive study of the concentration of media ownership in Canada in comparison to other western countries and recommend how to diversify media ownership and strengthen the depth and breadth of news reporting, especially local news, in Canada.

This is a major problem with the Canadian market these days. ISPs are buying up media organizations. Every part of the media distribution chain is becoming increasingly concentrated to a small handful of players. It is why ISPs are increasingly warming up to the idea of site blocking, even going to court to order themselves to block websites. So, it’s nice to see that this party understands the inherent problems that come with this.

Taxing Web Giants

On page 98 (PDF page 100), we see the following:

A Green government will:

  • Apply a corporate tax on transnational e-commerce companies doing business in Canada by requiring the foreign vendor to register, collect and remit taxes where the product or service is consumed. The e-commerce sector – giants like Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, and Google – command a significant share of the Canadian market but pay virtually no tax.

This has been a pretty universal call among every party. What is interesting here is that, while some parties specifically call for a 3% additional tax, the Green Party doesn’t name a specific number. Only that they want to increase taxes on the web giants.

Online Advertising

On the same page as the above point (page 98, PDF page 100), we also see the following:

  • Prohibit Canadian businesses from deducting the cost of advertising on foreign-owned sites such as Google and Facebook which now account for 80 per cent of all spending on advertising Canada.

Admittedly, we’re not well versed with spending money on foreign websites. We don’t pay for advertising of any kind (we can only dream about something like that in all honesty), so we really can’t comment on something we know so little about. However, if someone else would like to comment on it, they are certainly free to.

Cryptocurrencies

On page 99 (PDF page 101), we see the following:

A Green government will:

  • Establish an arm’s length Federal Tax Commission to analyze the tax system for fairness and accessibility, based on the principle of progressive taxation. The last Tax Commission was in the 1960s, so reform is long overdue. This will include recommending an appropriate way to tax cryptocurrencies.

Interestingly enough, we haven’t heard much in the way of cryptocurrencies between parties. If our memory serves us correctly, this is the first time we’ve seen this get mentioned in a platform for this election. Obviously, attempting to put a tax on cryptocurrencies is going to be far from easy. So, little surprise that they took the step of asking for a commission to look into it rather than outright putting out an idea.

A Third Mention of Expanding Broadband in Rural Communities

On the final page (page 101, PDF page 103), we see the following:

A Green government will:

  • Ensure access to strong internet connection by investing in broadband connectivity

This, of course, is the third time that this was mentioned in the platform by our count. It’s positive to see this get so much attention. We’re just not exactly holding our breath that this will finally get started.

Conclusions

During the 2019 election, we commented how the Green Party had the best platform out of every party. To go from that platform to this was hugely disappointing. It signals that the Green Party is no longer a party that is particularly concerned with trying to get voters who care about digital rights. What’s more is that the party is astonishing signalling that they are more willing to listen to lobbyists than the interests of Canadians thanks to certain points made in their platform.

Of course, all the good sounding content was put at the front, but when you get to the last part of the platform, that is where all the nasty stuff pops up. So, something to keep in mind when reading just the summary.

So, for those who don’t want to read all of the above, here is a brief summary of the main points:

  • Expanding rural broadband (mentioned 3 times)
  • Breaking up the telecom monopolies
  • Tracking online hate
  • Support freedom of expression (later contradicted)
  • Transition from free trade to fair trade on international “trade” agreements
  • Scrapping ISDS provisions in international trade agreements
  • Online voting and mandatory voting in federal elections
  • Tightening lobbying rules
  • Increasing transparency in the Access to Information Act
  • Increasing funding for the arts
  • Implementing the Liberals war on the Internet as envisioned by the one-sided Heritage Committee as well as ratcheting up copyright laws
  • Explicitly pushing Bill C-10, cracking down on freedom of expression
  • Looking into media ownership for large companies operating in Canada
  • Changing the laws on online advertising from a tax perspective
  • Study for ways to tax cryptocurriencies

Unless you actually take the time to examine the whole platform, it’s very easy to miss the two points that basically undoes a good portion of the otherwise positive points being made. It was very well buried in the platform, but naturally, we weren’t fooled. We boldfaced the two points of concern just to make it stand out in the summary.

As we said, this is quite a fall from grace on digital rights. Last election, the Green Party was basically vying for the top spot for who got the best platform on the digital rights front with the NDP. This election, they basically undid that. A very disappointing turn of events to say the least.

Further reading:
Green Party Platform (PDF)
Conservative party platform analysis part 1
Conservative party platform analysis part 2
NDP Party platform anlaysis
The absence of the Pirate Party of Canada
OpenMedia platform
Bloc Quebecois platform rough analysis
Liberal Party platform analysis part 1
Liberal Party platform analysis part 2

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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