Liberal contender Garneau wants open telecom market

In the first policy announcement of his bid for the federal Liberal leadership, Marc Garneau is calling for "real, market-based competition" for the telecommunications sector, including more foreign ownership.

Quebec MP wants to 'blow doors right open' on foreign competition to help consumers

Liberal leadership contender Marc Garneau makes his first policy announcement on telecommunications in his bid for the Liberal Party in Ottawa on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Marc Garneau thinks opening Canada's wireless market to more foreign competition is the best way to offer Canadian consumers lower prices and service that's more comparable to what's available in other G7 countries.

In the first policy announcement in his bid for the Liberal Party leadership, Garneau called for "blowing the doors right open" on foreign ownership in the telecommunications sector.

"Canadians pay 20 per cent more than wireless users in the U.S., 70 per cent more than users in France, and 100 per cent more than users in the U.K. and Germany," Garneau noted. "Germany, Sweden, Italy and France have no restrictions on foreign investment in telecommunications. It is time for Canada to enter fully into the global market as well."

The Harper Conservatives, earlier this year, changed foreign-ownership rules to encourage overseas investment in the wireless sector.

But those changes only affected the country's smaller carriers. Foreign companies are allowed to buy wireless operators with less than 10 per cent of market share by revenue.

"Canadians are frustrated with the endless list of roadblocks," Garneau told reporters, saying he was pretty confident unpopular things like three-year service contracts and system access fees would "go out the window" if the sector was open to foreign competition.

"Only real, market-based competition will keep providers in line," Garneau said. "The ultimate winners will be Canadian consumers."

Voluntary code not enough

Canada's telecom regulator has been given an earful over the past few weeks from disgruntled consumers, the majority of whom have called for an end to three-year contracts for smartphones and other wireless devices.

Hundreds of people also complained to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in an online forum that there isn't enough competition in the wireless industry.

While Garneau favours ending all restrictions on international competitors in the wireless sector, he would maintain current limits on broadcasting to "protect Canadian content and culture." 

Monday's news conference offered the first plank in his economic platform, as part of his strategy to position himself as the candidate of substance.

Garneau is expected to unveil his entire four-point economic plan Wednesday in Toronto.

The former astronaut launched his leadership bid late last month, relying on his space-based credentials to propel him to victory.

Garneau, who was Canada's first man in space, jumped into the political arena in 2008.

He has insisted he's not daunted by the prospect of going up against Justin Trudeau, son of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who is viewed as the favourite in the race.

Trudeau is expected to meet reporters Monday afternoon at an event in Wakefield, Que.

With files from The Canadian Press