NDP Releases Party Platform Before Election – An Analysis

A little while ago, the NDP apparently released their party platform. So, we decided to conduct our analysis on it next.

We have a confession to make. We legitimately thought the Conservative were the first to release their party platform this election. As it turns out, we were wrong on that. While we were awaiting news on a possible election call and covering other stories, the NDP apparently released their party platform before the election was even called. Up until today, we had no idea that their platform was available for analysis. What can we say? We can’t catch every story instantly.

So, to rectify the situation, we are offering an analysis of this platform.

For years, the NDP has been generally quite good about digital rights. They fought against successive bad copyright bills and railed various governments for their attempts to bring in mass surveillance laws via so-called “lawful access” bills. So, from a digital rights perspective, when the Liberal party started pushing their war on the Internet, we fully expected the NDP to fight this tooth and nail.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, what we saw, to the shock of many long time observers, the NDP voting in lockstep with the Liberals to explicitly crack down on freedom of expression by voting three times against the re-instatement of Section 4.1 of Bill C-10. One of the most vocal members, Charlie Angus, was shockingly silent on the matter. After digital rights advocates kept asking, “where is Charlie Angus in all of this?”, eventually, those observers got their answer. He was busy turning his back on digital rights and voting for Bill C-10. While some called this disappointing, one could argue that this was a full-fledged betrayal not just to digital rights, but to some of the NDP’s core values as well.

So, this is what we have on our minds going in to this analysis in the first place.

The platform is available on the NDP’s website. We also have it available here (PDF).

Affordable Internet and Cell Phones

The first thing that caught our eye was found on page 18 which reads as follows:

Now more than ever, Canadians need a fast and reliable internet connections at home to be able to work and go to school, and we all rely on our cell phones to keep us connected wherever we are. Particularly during the pandemic, these are essential utilities, yet too many Canadians still struggle to access the affordable the services they need.

More than half of Canadians living in rural areas don’t have access to high-speed internet, and 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 Canada’s biggest telecom companies in Canada are over 40 per cent3, 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.

Indeed, a ReWheel study does confirm that Canada does pay the highest or is among the hist bills in the developed world. Canada generally has it worse than the US on this front. A cap might help things by quite a bit, but the thing is, telecom companies have a way of charging customers in multiple ways. Famously, ISP’s not only demand a flat fee, but are also known to charge extra fees such as usage fees, hookup fees, and a whole lot more.

Another way ISPs could charge customers is by lowering the quality of service. Upload and download speeds would get reduced while keeping the fees the same. So, while a cap sounds great in theory, carriers will have numerous ways of circumventing this. So, if a cap is put in place, there will have to be a way of blocking these attempts to circumvent these requirements as well.

The platform goes further:

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 declaring high-speed internet an essential service and making sure that every Canadian has access to affordable, reliable high-speed broadband within four years. This will include taking the first steps to create a Crown corporation to ensure the delivery of quality, affordable telecom services to every community.

The digital divide is something we covered when RBC released a study citing this problem. The digital divide is, of course, much more prevalent in rural and indigenous communities. So, that point is, of course, easily confirmed. What’s more is that we have seen a lack of action in expanding access to these communities as well. Having Internet access declared an essential service is, of course, a big step in the right direction. Some would go further and say that access should be a right as well simply because essential every day tasks are increasingly exclusively online (getting a job, paying bills, etc.)

What is interesting is the point about making a crown corporation in all of this. This does feed in to a movement more seen in the US to bring in municipal broadband in under-served communities. Major ISPs, of course, have been fighting tooth and nail to ensure this movement is stamped out because they don’t like the idea of actual competition existing in the first place. It’s unclear if this crown corporation would be responsible for rolling out infrastructure or actually becoming an ISP itself. Still, if it is the latter, it would take the municipal broadband movement to a whole new level. It would very easily shake up the largely monopolistic industry in a much needed way.

The platform goes on to say this:

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.

This pretty much answers a lot of the questions about how the cap would be carried out. The only thing we don’t see in this paragraph is actual speed. If nothing else is an option, significantly lowering the speed of Internet access would be one way the carriers can circumvent this plan still.

The section concludes with the following:

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.

As a whole, this would solve a load of problems in the Canadian wireless and Internet market. Carriers will obviously fight this along the way and would probably litigate in the process to retain their monopolistic hold on the market. Still, since the market hasn’t really changed much for the better over the last decade or more, this is the kind of thinking that is needed to finally break this monopoly and finally bring rates down.

Right to Repair

The next thing that caught our eye is this paragraph on page 20:

To expand consumer choice and cut down on waste, we’ll establish the right to repair electronic devices and other products at affordable prices, and make companies responsible for e-waste linked to their products.

Right to repair has been something that has been going on for some time. It came to be after manufacturers basically manufactured devices so that they would become inoperable by design after a certain age. This made it so that the only solution is to throw away your old device and buy new. It led to bigger profits by corporations while forcing consumers to spend more and increased e-waste unnecessarily. Fighting to be permitted to fix devices has been something that companies fought hard against, but it is a movement that is gaining traction. It’s great to see that this is something the NDP is committed to implementing.

Protecting Privacy Rights Through International Trade Agreements

One easily missed aspect of different parties stances on digital rights is finding out where they stand on international trade agreements. In the last decade or more, trade agreements have dwindled down to being trade agreements in name only. When you dive into the actual details, you’ll very easily find that it has little to do with trade and more to do with lawmaking. More specifically, the lawmaking in these agreements is designed to benefit multinational corporations (and sometimes regional monopolies). This is often at the expense of consumer rights. So often, it spills over into digital rights as we saw with TiSA, the CPTPP, and others.

The NDP does touch on this with specific interest to privacy rights. From page 35:

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. We will also protect Canadian businesses who are taking action to transition to a low-carbon future with a border carbon adjustment that will level the playing field on imports from areas without a carbon price.

What this also somewhat references is patents which is often the source of increased drug costs. Since it wasn’t directly mentioned, we don’t know for sure, though.

Still, the fact that they will guard privacy rights from these agreements is great. After all, one aspect of this is the push to unmask domain name holders which would open up administrators to spam and personal attacks. So, this commitment generally is a positive thing overall.

Repeated Commitment to Expanding Rural and Indigenous Communities

Some time after that, we found this on page 38:

We also know that it’s a challenge to grow a business without modern communications infrastructure. That’s why New Democrats will make sure that high-speed broadband and cell phone infrastructure is available to connect our farmers and rural communities to the services and tools they need, no matter where in the country they are.

This repeats an earlier commitment to expanding broadband to rural and indigenous communities more than anything else.

Increasing the Taxes on Web Giants

Over on page 39, we see the following:

We will also ensure that internet giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon pay their fair share of taxes, just like every other company – unlike the Liberals, who broke their campaign promise to make these companies play by the rules.

This is actually surprisingly vague. It’s a commitment that aligns itself with other party promises like Liberals and Conservatives. This paragraph shares very few details, however. So, we don’t know from this paragraph if this is a reference to a link tax or a reference to adding a specific tax to these companies.

Another Repeat of the Commitment to Expanding Broadband to Rural and Indigenous Communities

On page 70, we got our next mention of interest:

We will also respect Inuit self-determination by co-developing the federal government’s Arctic Policy Framework through shared governance within the Inuit- Crown Partnership Committee, including through the adoption of an Inuit Nunangat policy in full partnership with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. We will support the economic and social self-reliance of Inuit by addressing the massive infrastructure deficit in Northern communities, including housing, access to high-speed broadband, and airports, and ensuring that federal election ballots include Indigenous languages like Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun.

This is generally another mention of expanding broadband to rural and indigenous communities. So, another trip on this well worn path at this stage.

Expanding Broadband in Rural and Indigenous Communities Again

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Actually, don’t because you will. Found on page 86 is this:

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.

This is yet another repeat of this commitment.

Cryptic Commitment on Web Platforms

On page 87, we see the following:

Most Canadians now get their news from Facebook, and Netflix is the largest broadcaster in the country – but despite the Liberals promising to take action, these web giants still 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 not done what it takes 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. It means that these companies need to pay corporate taxes now, support Canadian content in both official languages, and take responsibility for what appears on their platforms, just like other media outlets.

This is actually a very vague commitment. While it is sort of clear that the party wants to add a tax for the large tech companies, what else this all entails is less than clear. We do know that before Section 4.1 was removed from Bill C-10, the legislation was controversial for a very different reason. Essentially, the legislation would basically throw Canadian content (AKA cancon) requirements on various platforms. It was always going to be a bad fit because we’re talking about regulations meant for television when television was in its infancy and simply copying and pasting these regulations to large social media networks. It was a terrible idea from the beginning and always will be a terrible idea.

The suggestion here appears to follow along with the Liberal’s ill-conceived plan. Mandating cancon requirements on a global platform is never going to work. This not only undermines the platforms presence in Canada, but also undermines Canadian creators who may not be considered “Canadian” simply because they haven’t handed their papers over to authorities just to be certified Canadian (among other things like handing over all metrics and data related to their activities). It’s disappointing that the NDP seems to be doubling down on this bad idea.

Simply put, there is a huge difference between a big corporate publisher with millions of dollars in backing and a staff of several hundred people and some random person with a cheap camera trying to post something on their channel. Trying to take both examples and force them to abide by the same rules is, for the most part, completely senseless. Moreover, it is destined to tilt the playing field in the direction of those with deep pockets. While the push is supposedly directed at the large tech giants, at the end of the day, this will all trickle down to the small independent creator in the end. Ultimately, they’ll be the ones punished one way or another.

The Commitment to Expanding Broadband to Rural and Indigenous Communities Again

On page 89 to 90, we see this:

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 high-speed 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.

Once again, another repeated commitment.

Studying the Problems of Online Hate

On page 92, we see the following:

It’s time for the federal government to tackle white supremacism, terrorism and 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.

Probably the only relief here is the fact that the NDP doesn’t appear to be doubling down on the online harms proposal by the Liberals which would crack down on the Internet as a whole. Still, it does run close to it, but hopefully if they get their working group, they don’t recommend the same things as the Liberals plan since that would have a devistating impact on online communities and websites as a whole.

Vague Mention of Privacy Rights

One thing we were looking for is where parties stand on privacy reform. Obviously, this has been badly needed for years, but the best effort has largely been shelved by the Liberals. We did see this on page 93:

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. We will also strengthen protection for Canadians who are victims of foreign interference and threats.

This sounds more like trying to strike a balance when it comes to tackling hate crime online. It came close to a commitment to privacy reform, but it missed the mark in this instance.

Repeat on the Study of Online Hate

On page 99, we see a repeat of the commitment on online hate:

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 legally responsible for the removal of hateful and extremist content before it can do harm.

It’s equally vague to the previous mention of this, so we don’t know if this is necessarily good or bad (it can go either way depending on implementation and details).

Combating Disinformation

On page 106, 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.

This is likely going to be a universal commitment overall. A big sticking point to all of this, however, is the question of who gets to decide what is misinformation or not. On the one hand, having common medical advice being the prevailing information available is pretty non-controversial to people who aren’t anti-vaxxers. On the other hand, what if legitimate criticism is actually classified as “disinformation”?

We actually saw that in Canada when an IP address linked to the Canadian government (Shared Services Canada to be more precise) was highlighted to whitewash Wikipedia and claim that criticism towards Bill C-10 was all just disinformation. Luckily, it was just editing Wikipedia. A worry is that criticizing the government would be put in the same bucket as obvious disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. So, while on the surface this sounds like a pretty cut and try topic, when you get down to the details, things actually get very messy very quick.

Reforming Privacy Laws

We were wondering if this was ever going to get mentioned. Fortunately, it did. We saw this also on page 106:

Finally, New Democrats will work to strengthen privacy protections for Canadians by updating privacy legislation to include a digital bill of privacy rights, and boosting the powers of the Privacy Commissioner to make and enforce orders and levy fines and penalties.

Canadian privacy laws have been in dire need of reforming for years. The situation is so bad, the Ontario government of all governments is doing it alone on this front. This in direct contrast to Europe who has enjoyed reasonably good privacy laws through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for over three years now. It’s been a law that has continually delivered results including, more recently, a €746 million fine on Amazon. Before that, a general top 5 fines list shows the following:

  1. Google (€50m/£43.2m)
  2. H&M (€35.3m/£32.1m)
  3. Tim – Telecom Italia (€27.8m/£24m)
  4. British Airways (£20m)
  5. Marriott International Hotels (£18.4m)

Yet, even after all of that, Canada doesn’t even have a law that actually has teeth to go after companies who violate Canadian’s privacy or are negligent with their data. It’s, simply point, a huge embarrassment. So, it’s actually good to see the NDP pushing this.

Waiving the Patent on COVID-19 Vaccines

A growing movement is to waive the patent protection of COVID-19 vaccines. In May of this year, US President, Joe Biden, called for this in an effort to fight COVID-19 and make this battle more about fighting a disease and less about the profits of major drug production companies. On page 107, we see the NDP also joining this call:

To improve global health and help end the COVID-19 pandemic everywhere, Canada should fully and generously support global efforts to make vaccines freely available to the world’s most vulnerable. This includes supporting the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Waiver (TRIPS), that would waive intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines and ensure technology transfer, so that low-income countries can start making vaccines locally and save lives.

So, another positive thing to see here as well.

Overall Summary

There are certainly questions about the NDP’s support for freedom of expression thanks to their support to Bill C-10 and opposition to Section 4.1. Interestingly enough, Bill C-10 was not even mentioned in the platform despite this.

So, generally, we found the following in their campaign platform:

  • A push for affordable Internet and cell phone rates
  • A push for right to repair legislation
  • Expanding broadband to rural and indigenous communities (Mentioned five times)
  • Guarding privacy rights affected by international trade agreements
  • Increasing taxes on web giants
  • A vague commitment on web platforms possibly pushing for cancon requirements on websites just like the Liberals when they initially pushed for Bill C-10
  • Studying the problem of online hate while respecting the Charter (mentioned twice)
  • Combating online disinformation
  • A commitment to reform privacy laws (badly needed)
  • Waiving the patent on COVID-19 vaccines

So, certainly an interesting list of commitments to say the least. Perhaps a more vivid commitment to freedom of expression would have been nice, but we didn’t really see that in there.

At any rate, we hope you find this analysis helpful and informative. If you catch anything we missed on the topic of digital rights, definitely let us know. Still, we think we got everything this time around.

Further reading:

Full NDP Platform (PDF)
Conservative Party Platform analysis part 1
Conservative Party Platform analysis part 2

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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