Industry minister strikes back on telecoms' wireless 'rhetoric'
James Moore defends government's telecom policy amid criticism
Industry Minister James Moore is holding cross-Canada stakeholder meetings in an effort to calm some of the "overheated rhetoric" he says is boiling up around the potential entry of U.S. giant Verizon Communications into Canada's wireless market.
Moore held his first meeting Friday in Vancouver, and next week's schedule is still being finalized.
Moore said he's doing the speaking tour because there is currently a lot of debate about his government's telecom policy and that so far it has been too one-sided.
"It's being dominated by people who have a vested interest in the benefits that this may or may not have for their firms," he told Rosemary Barton on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.
"We want to make sure that Canadians know that our policy is about serving consumers and serving individual Canadians. That is what our policy is about."
Moore was also promoting through his Twitter account a new Conservative Party website called www.consumersfirst.ca. The website puts forward the government's policy positions on wireless competition and includes a list of "myths vs. facts" about the wireless market.
The site, which carries a faint message at the bottom declaring it the property of the Conservative Party but displays no Conservative Party logos or markings, refers to "our government" throughout.
In response to questions about the site from CBC News, a Conservative spokesman said the party "regularly communicates with Canadians on issues of importance."
"This is an issue that is important to Canadians and we have received tremendous feedback on this," said Fred DeLorey in an email. He did not respond to a question about whether the party was using the website to collect potential voter information.
Moore is pushing back against a very public campaign by Canada's three major mobile-phone network providers who are crying foul over the government's telecom policy. Bell, Rogers and Telus say new federal rules put them at a competitive disadvantage and are calling for them to be reversed.
Bell, Rogers and Telus argue Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has created an unlevel playing field and are sharing their concerns with Canadians in a widespread media campaign that includes a website of their own, www.fairforcanada.ca. It blasts the government for its "decision to promote loopholes and subsidies to giant American wireless companies" and for giving them "preferential treatment."
That campaign may be about to intensify. Reuters, citing four unnamed sources, reported Friday that the big three wireless companies plan to attack Verizon's role in the U.S. government's electronic spying scandal. The sources said the campaign, which has not been approved, will focus on how Verizon's entry into Canada could open the door to a loss of privacy for Canadians, Reuters reported.
Reuters said the campaign, if it goes ahead, will feature ads in newspapers, online and on radio next week.
Moore was asked whether the entry of U.S. companies into Canada would pose privacy concerns for Canadians in a separate interview with CBC Radio's The House. He said the government has been vigilant about privacy concerns.
"We'll be certainly on guard to ensure the privacy of Canadians is safeguarded under any dynamic," Moore told host Chris Hall in the interview airing Saturday.
Verizon, with 100 million U.S. customers, has talked about taking over smaller Canadian players Wind and Mobilicity and is considering a bid on two blocks of Canadian spectrum that are set aside for new entrants to the market in an auction in January. The big three aren't allowed to bid on those blocks and they're also prohibited from acquiring the smaller companies.
The Canadian companies further argue that the government's policy would drive Canadian jobs south of the border and that rural and remote communities would be underserved by new players on the scene.
But Moore doesn't buy their position that Verizon, or any other American firm, would get an advantage because of his government's decisions.
"If that's the case then why is it that it's only Verizon that's looking to enter the Canadian marketplace, potentially?" Moore said on Power & Politics. "If this is such a horrific policy that is so clearly unfair and gives such a great advantage to foreign firms, then they'd be lining up and be very aggressively going after those two blocks of spectrum, and they're not."
Moore said he wants to assure Canadians, including employees of Canadian wireless companies, that the government's policy will benefit Canadians and create more choice.
"Canadian firms are going to continue to do well, and I just think there's a great deal of overheated rhetoric about speculation about what may or may not happen in the auction," he said.
Moore also responded to a letter to the prime minister written by BCE board member Anthony Fell that called Moore's qualifications into question. Moore switched portfolios from heritage to industry on July 15 during a cabinet shuffle.
Fell said in the letter that it is "unseemly" for Moore, after less than a month in his new role, to "suddenly become an expert on major telecom policy and make grand pronouncements."
Moore described the letter as an "interesting approach to government relations." He defended his experience, saying he's been a cabinet minister for five years and that his previous role prepared him well for the new one, including his work with the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission.
"I'm very much knowledgeable about the issues that are at hand here," he said. "I don't take any of this stuff personally."
- This story has been edited from a previous version that incorrectly attributed a new website to the government. In fact, consumersfirst.ca is owned and operated by the Conservative Party of Canada.Aug 15, 2013 3:59 PM ET
With files from Reuters