Q&A: Telus answers critics of Big 3 telecom 'Fair for Canada' campaign

The 'Fair for Canada' campaign by Bell, Rogers and Telus has sparked some negative reaction online and some analysts have questioned its effectiveness, but a senior Telus executive says that overall it's been a success.

Last week, ran a story that asked the question: Is the Big 3 telecom 'Fair for Canada' campaign working? 

The campaign by Bell, Rogers and Telus, seeks to rally Canadians against any federal government action that would give U.S.-based companies like Verizon Communications an unfair advantage to bid on valuable wireless spectrum.

The campaign has sparked some negative reaction online and some analysts have questioned its effectiveness.

But Josh Blair, executive vice-president of  human resources and chief corporate officer for Telus, says that overall it's been a success.

This interview was conducted last week, before Verizon's CEO Lowell McAdam told Bloomberg that Verizon isn't currently interested in making a move into Canada's wireless market.

He spoke to CBC's Mark Gollom about the campaign, its critics and some of the negative attitudes toward the top three cellular providers.

CBC NEWS: How do you think the campaign is going?

Blair: When I step back and look at our broader campaign and all the broader vehicles, discussions, dialogues that are occurring, we’re seeing a lot of success overall in terms of the campaign.

If you look at the two polls that have come out on the topic, both of them have said Canadians do want more competition, they would welcome foreign competition into Canada, and that’s Telus’s position also. But they also said interestingly that Canadians believe the spectrum auction should be fair.

If you look at the Nanos poll, 81 per cent of Canadians said the spectrum auction shouldn’t favour foreign or domestic companies. And if you look at the Foreign Research poll, 65 per cent of Canadians said the auction shouldn’t favour foreign or domestic companies. So I think those are both pretty powerful third party assessments of what is the voice of Canadians on this issue.

CBC News: One telecom analyst, Iain Grant from the Seaboard Group, said the campaign has been "one of the least effective lobbying/PR campaigns in history" in part because you haven’t changed the minds of the two most important people involved in the decision making process: the industry minister and the prime minister.

Blair: Our view is that the most important people in the process are Canadians and to say this all just comes down to two people I think is an incorrect statement. I think it comes down to what’s right for the population of Canada and that’s why we’re undertaking our expensive effort.

There are so many groups coming forward, there are so many voices coming forward, there’s polls coming forward saying [they] welcome more competition —  let it be foreign but let it be fair.

CBC News: But do you deny there’s been a negative reaction or a backlash. One analyst, Mark Blevis, looked at the online reaction and found it has been pretty negative toward the campaign. In terms of average Canadians, there does seem to be a segment that is responding negatively to the campaign.

Blair: Yes, I’m not going to sit here and tell you there’s been no negative reaction specifically to the advertising campaign itself and I think we’ve seen in respect to the advertising campaign feedback on both sides of the spectrum. For me, I just say, let’s take a step back and look at how the overall outreach is working and I’d say the two polls … say that the everyday Canadian very much wants more competition but also very much wants that competition to be through a fair fight.

CBC News: It seems that there are a lot of people out there that may not even be thinking about whether your argument is legitimate or credible. They just have a negative reaction when it comes to the Big 3.

Blair: When you see negative reaction toward a company or a group of companies, it says you’ve got work to do on your customer service. At Telus, we know we’re not perfect on this front. And in fact going back to 2009, we said we’ve got to really focus on this and put[ting] customers first was what we adopted as our rally cry across the company. But we’ve made a lot of changes.

CBC News: Why do you think there is that perception that when it comes to customer service, the Big 3 are failing?

Blair: From Telus’s perspective that perception is melting away over time. We’ve got to the point where we actually measure our customer service by the likelihood of our clients to recommend us to their friends and family and our measure on that ground has gone up significantly over the past few years to a point where 72 per cent of our clients would recommend us to their friends and families. So it's something we’re working hard to change over time. There’s history there that all telecos need to overcome.

CBC News: Does it surprise you that some people might be reacting negatively because they feel in the past they haven’t be treated well as customers and now you’re asking them for support?

Blair: No. We’re eyes wide open on this at Telus. We explicitly know we’re not perfect. We know we need to get better. We know we have history that goes back decades of not having customers first as our number one mantra in the company. We’ve changed that at Telus over the past four years and we’re working hard on that. But to say that there are individuals out there who have had negative reaction, we fully understand.

CBC News: Labelling the campaign Fair for Canada —  I think there are some out there that might think this isn’t about Canada and about what’s fair for Canada. This is about what’s in the best interests for the Big 3.

Blair: If you look at the positions we’re putting forward, we’re not putting positions forward that would just help Telus, Bell and Rogers. And I think you could then critique us if that was the case and say, "This is just about the Big 3, this isn’t about Canada." But the positions we’re putting forward would also help SaskTel, they would help Videotron, they would help Eastlink, they help [MTS], companies like Public Mobile if they aren’t the ones to be gobbled up by Verizon. I think it shows we truly are putting forward a policy that says be fair to Canada and to foreign entities. But one understands why assumptions are formed too.

This interview has been edited and condensed.