Party Platforms for the 2021 Canadian Election Compared – A Roundup

It took pretty much the whole election, but we finally finished analyzing all the parties we hoped to check out. This is what we found.

Back in 2019, we offered an analysis of all the parties platforms. We wrapped that up with a quick rundown of what the parties stand for and what we thought were good policies and what were troubling. At the time, the question was basically, “which parties could be trusted with your vote if you believe in digital rights?” It’s a perfectly valid question. What’s more, it was a question that had a good answer. If you are looking for a party that was good from a digital rights perspective, you really had a choice between the Green Party and the NDP. Both were very good choices to have for your vote.

Of course, that was 2019, what about 2021?

If one were to ask the same question, “which parties could be trusted with your vote if you believe in digital rights?”, the answer is far more depressing. For the parties that are actually running, the answer is, “non of the above”. It’s very striking to see such a shift away from digital rights. When the Liberals effectively ejected it’s own digital agenda in favour of the wishes of lobbyists, one would think that the other parties would work on a best strategy to hoover up all those lost votes. That, unfortunately, didn’t happen.

Instead, we get the picture of every party basically saying that digital rights do not matter. No one is going to vote based on what is happening on this fad called “the Internet”. This despite the wide recognition that the importance of the Internet has never been greater thanks to COVID-19. That is not to say that no party has anything related to digital rights. Instead, it ultimately is a case of picking and choosing which right you want to support and which right you want to reject. It’s either that or not voting at all which is worse. This truly proves my point that the case for the Canadian Pirate Party has never been greater.

So, what do we mean “picking and choosing”? Well, let’s say you really dislike Bill C-10 (we certainly dislike it for obvious reasons). Well, the Conservative party is against Bill C-10. The problem is that it comes at the expense of implementing a link tax law that pretty much undermines speech in the first place. What if you support lowering cell phone and Internet bills? Then, maybe the NDP is a good choice on that front. The problem is their history of supporting Bill C-10. What if you are opposed to ISDS provisions in international trade agreements? Maybe the Green Party is your party of choice. The problem is, they are actively campaigning on ratcheting up copyright laws and supporting Bill C-10. The point is, there are no good choices in this election for the parties that are running.

From our perspective, it’s basically like a class where everyone present failed the test. The student that had the best chance of passing the test chose to skip out. The only person that passed the test is basically doing a course audit and doesn’t really count. It’s a situation that really doesn’t get more disappointing then that.

So, where does that leave things? We’ll offer our short summary of each platform and showcase the platforms and parties in order from best to worst.

OpenMedia

(Our Analysis)

The Good:

  • Increase affordability for Internet and cell phones as well as increase access to rural and indigenous communities
  • Breaking up the carrier/ISP monopoly
  • Reject website blocking/censorship
  • Protect freedom of expression online
  • Support digital creators
  • Reject the link tax
  • Mandate transparency reports from large platforms
  • Privacy reform that closes loopholes that enable corporations to evade penalties
  • Require consent from users to use personal information
  • Curtail mass surveillance and biometric surveillance
  • The ability for government regulators to levy significant fines for violations of privacy

The Mixed:
(Nothing that we could tell)

The Bad:
(Nothing that we could tell)

OpenMedia truly is the only platform that gets a recommendation. The problem is that they aren’t actually running. The idea, of course, is that they released a platform with the intention of having other parties borrow their ideas. Had any party did so successfully, we would be having a very different conversation for this election.

The Conservatives

(Platform Analysis – Part 1, Part 2)

The Good:

  • Support for Right to Repair legislation, but only for farmers
  • Opening the possibility for pensions and EI for gig economy workers
  • Increasing accountability for big telecom and lowering cell phone and Internet rates for consumers, though there were no specifics
  • Increase transparency for lobbying, though unclear if this will actually be a thing
  • Monitoring foreign disinformation campaigns
  • Increase in broadband access to rural and indigenous communities
  • Reviving the push for privacy reform
  • Scrapping Bill C-10
  • Repeating the promise to tax large tech giants 3%

The Mixed:

  • Taxing large tech giants and possibly inserting a link tax
  • More and/or faster broadband spectrum auctions to lower prices and increase competition – which wasn’t all that successful the last time the party was in power
  • Additional bureaucracy to “examine” big tech and their potential to harm Canadian innovation and business – again, details are sparse
  • An apparent narrowing of the scope of the online harms proposal to actually target content that incites violence – which would be an improvement over today’s proposal
  • Increase involvement for Canadian Armed Forces in cyber security, though it’s likely that this is aimed at public infrastructure
  • Narrowing the scope of online harms to hate speech and other illegal content, though that left questions about how the Conservatives want to incorporate the widely condemned 24 hour window thanks to language surrounding stronger duty for platforms

The Bad:

  • Pushing broader implementation of the CPTPP and TiSA which criminalizes breaking a DRM and unmasks domain name owners to increase the threat of potential abuse for domain name owners in Canada
  • Mirroring the notorious link tax pushed by the Liberals, though leaving the door open for smaller independent creators to getting the funding afterwards

We know, it’s a huge flip to put the Conservatives this high up. Out of all the flunked platforms, this one flunked the least. It’s ultimately a sign of just how bad Bill C-10 is more than anything else. Supporting Bill C-10 is a very brutal thing in our books and the Conservatives are one of two parties that actively said that they are opposed to it.

The NDP

(Platform analysis)

The Good:

  • 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
  • Studying the problem of online hate while respecting the Charter (mentioned twice)
  • A commitment to reform privacy laws (badly needed)
  • Waiving the patent on COVID-19 vaccines

The mixed:

  • Combating online disinformation

The bad:

  • 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

With the voting history of supporting Bill C-10 coupled with a vague commitments resembling support for Bill C-10, the NDP essentially destroyed their chances of being a recommended party for this years election. What stands out, however, is a commitment to reform privacy laws which has been badly needed even before the last election. While some good policies are still in the platform, left over from the last election, this year, the platform is disappointing despite not directly supporting Bill C-10 in the platform itself. Still, the party did overtake the Green Party in this low bar year.

Green Party

(Platform analysis)

The Good:

  • 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
  • Looking into media ownership for large companies operating in Canada
  • Changing the laws on online advertising from a tax perspective

The Mixed:

  • Study for ways to tax cryptocurriencies

The Bad:

  • 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

Last years election winner for best platform now finds itself in fourth place (if you count OpenMedia). The two points that caused this to flunk for this election were the open support for Bill C-10 as well as seemingly supporting the Liberals war on the Internet. At least with the NDP, they tried to hide this somewhat. The Green Party, meanwhile, pretty much came out to full throat help champion the efforts to crack down on freedom of expression. So, that is why the placement for this election.

People’s Party of Canada

(Platform analysis)

The Good:

  • Against Bill C-10 and Bill C-36.

The Mixed:

  • Against efforts to fight discrimination and narrowing anti-discrimination to language that advocates and encourages violence

The Bad:

  • “Counter” “propaganda” from “radical environmentalists” that are against pipelines, thus undoing the push for freedom of expression efforts

From what we could tell, this was the only other party that is running that actively opposes Bill C-10. Indeed, a party that tries to bill itself as the party that supports freedom of expression, once you dig in past the surface, you realize that this is a superficial commitment. Essentially, the opposition to Bill C-10 is more couched in their opposition to oppose efforts to reduce discrimination in society more than actually supporting general freedom of expression. What’s more is that a later provision makes it somewhat clear that the support for freedom of expression ends where environmentalism (and possibly other areas that the party opposes) begins. So, the overall impression we got was that the party supports freedom of expression so long as they agree with that expression.

Further, in our effort to find redeeming qualities, we couldn’t really find anything unlike other parties. So, all of that pretty much spoiled their chances of having a decent platform and even caused it to drop one placement for this election.

Bloc Quebecois

(Platform analysis)

The Good:

  • Call for a 3% tax on web giants

The Mixed:

  • A dislike to online incitement of violence and hatred, though no details on how they propose to combat such content online
  • Money collected from various funds to be redirected to Quebec

The Bad:

  • Opposition to freedom of expression via Bill C-10

Moving over to the really bad platforms, we see the Bloc. Already, the quality of the platform is pummelled by the support for Bill C-10. Add to this is the next to no redeeming quality in the platform to counteract this at all. AS a result, this is one of the worst platforms of this election.

Liberal Party

(Platform analysis – part 1, Part 2)

The Good:

  • A promise to push forward with the Digital Charter for reals this time
  • Expanding broadband to rural and indigenous communities by implementing a “use it or lose it” system for providers
  • Commitment to Right to Repair legislation
  • Protecting privacy in international trade

The Mixed:

  • Ominous promise of copyright reform
  • A vague reference to cyber-security, though no real specifics

The Bad:

  • Pushing through Bill C-10 in 100 days of getting into office
  • Pushing through the link tax within 100 days of getting in to office
  • Pushing the Online Harms paper into passed legislation within 100 days of being elected
  • A possible reference to Lawful Access, though this is in response to a vague commitment
  • A possible reference to anti-encryption laws, though the point is rather unclear

Last election, with their “sunny ways” comment, the party came in as the third best platform out of everyone. After getting into power and abandoning this approach, the party has morphed into the anti-Internet, anti-speech, and anti-innovation abomination they more resemble back in the 2000’s. Perhaps the most audacious aspect about the platform is that, not only are they proudly waiving around their anti-Internet agenda in their platform, but are also vowing to execute the free and open Canadian Internet within 100 days. It cannot be overstated the devastating consequences should the Liberal agenda be implemented into law, leaving Canada with the last resort of having to rely on the legal community to step in and put a stop to the madness. As a result of everything that went on in the last government and the platform, the Liberals are basically the worst of the worst out of every platform put forward.

Pirate Party of Canada

(Article on absence)

The party would have had quite a positive impact on the election. Their long history of positive thinking platforms suggest that if they were around today, they would be the party to show other parties how campaigning with a great digital agenda is done. Unfortunately, they are not going to be part of this election, so we are adding them here instead.

Conclusions

As mentioned in the opening, no party that is running is worthy of a vote should the voter be concerned with digital rights. Every single one of them flunked in our books. Sometimes, there are positive aspects to be found in the platforms. Unfortunately, many platforms either feature caveats that they would be bad in another area or there is a promise that contradicts the good commitments. As a result, at best, you are looking at voting for a party and having regret because you are betraying a core principle that you likely hold dear.

While the lineup is absolutely pitiful, it does lead to the question that if the parties this election are so indifferent towards digital rights in their platforms, what will that foreshadow in the next government? When the message seems to be that digital rights only kind of matter during an election, does that mean that what is going to become of the next government is going to be so much worse than what we’ve seen in the past? I honestly don’t know for certain, but I can’t see this as being a good sign from the get go.

There are certainly trends in the platforms to note for sure. For instance, privacy reform has been badly needed for years. Yet, significant mentions only happen to be found in three platforms (Conservatives, Greens, and Liberals). The Liberals abandoned this push for privacy reform part way through their minority government. This despite that when privacy reform is tabled, it is generally welcomed with open arms not only among the parties, but also among the overall public as well.

Then there is the issue of Internet and cell phone affordability. Canada has become an international joke when it comes to affordability in these areas. The Conservatives, NDP, and Green Party have ideas on how to increase this affordability. While Michael Geist focused his attention on the Liberals dropping this critical issue from their campaign, among the parties, it’s actually very hit and miss. It’s quite possible that the parties are becoming increasingly out of touch with the overall Canadian population. Canadians know that prices in cell phones and Internet are at asinine levels of expensive, yet the parties seem somewhat indifferent, depending on the party of course.

Most parties seem to agree that there is a need to increase broadband access to rural and indigenous communities. Under-served communities in this area has been a very long-standing problem. Yet, this was almost universally promised during the last campaign and nothing really became of these promises. The problem still persists. Here we are today with a majority of the parties once again promising to finally fix this once and for all. Canadians have every right to be skeptical that anything is going to change this time around in this area.

Then there is the Liberals war on the Internet. This through their three pronged approach of Bill C-10, the online harms proposal, and the link tax. This drew considerable attention in the Canadian public (no doubt much to the ire of the major media outlets who have a stake in eliminating the online competition that has the audacity to force them to put some effort into their journalism endeavours). You’d think that some parties would basically stand up and say, “Hey, that is not cool! We are going to oppose every aspect of that!”. It would be an easy way to score some points, yet no party ultimately stepped up to the plate to fully take this on. At most, you had angry shouts about Bill C-10 and possibly a narrowing of the scope of the online harms proposal, but that’s about it.

At this point, the best hope is that Canadians get a very status quo minority government. This is mostly to keep the parties in check more than anything else. Until a party gets their act together and actually forms a comprehensive digital strategy that is, at least, reasonable, then this will continue to be our overall conclusion. For this election, we all hope for another minority government again.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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