Hon. Perrin Beatty (Minister of Communications) moved
that Bill C-62, an act respecting telecommunications, be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is with a great deal of enthusiasm that I rise to take part today in the final debate on Bill C-62 that will be held in this House of Commons.
I am enthusiastic because I believe it is a good day for Canada. It is most certainly a good day for the thousands of men and women who work in Canada's telecommunications industry. It is a good day for Canadian consumers who will have modern legislation to ensure that there is a standard of service they can expect from one coast to another.
I am enthusiastic because Canadians and the Canadian telecommunications industry have waited a long time for modem and forward looking legislation to govern this important and rapidly evolving sector of our economy and our long wait is finally nearing an end.
June 9, 1993
The Railway Act, which has provided the legislative and regulatory framework for telecommunications in Canada, dates back to 1908. Yet telecommunications networks made up of wires, coaxial cables, fibre optics, microwaves and satellites have long since replaced bands of steel as the foremost transcontinental highway binding this country together. Our most modem and high-tech industry is governed by legislation which is so outdated it is not even used any longer to regulate most rail service.
Third reading of Bill C-62 in the House will take Canadians one step closer to the modern legislative framework we need if this industry is to fulfil its promise as a key catalyst for economic growth, employment opportunities and prosperity.
The progress that has been made in this industry in recent years and the growth that has taken place, an average growth of about 8 per cent per annum right through the recession, indicate that our telecommunications industry is a winner for Canada.
It is an industry that creates jobs throughout Canada. It is an industry that creates opportunities for Canadians. It is an industry that provides services for Canadians that are essential if we are to maintain and build an even stronger standard of living than we have today.
This bill has now been the subject of comprehensive public hearings by two parliamentary committees, the Senate committee on transport and communications and most recently the subcommittee of the House Standing Committee on Communications and Culture. Both studies found there is a consensus that is as broad as it is clear. This country needs a new telecommunications act now and Bill C-62 deserves to be passed into law.
On several occasions I have praised the work of the Senate committee in its pre-study of the bill last year. With determination and most important, with open minds the senators listened to many hours of testimony from the best and brightest figures in Canada's telecommunications industry. The greatest tribute to the senators can be found in the simple fact that many of their recommendations are now reflected in the amended Bill C-62.
After second reading in the House this spring the same challenge fell to the subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Communications and Culture. The amendments made by the committee reflect the members' genuine interest in and awareness of the issues facing the Canadian telecommunications industry and the role that this key industry plays in Canadian society today.
Hundreds of people have participated in discussion of Bill C-62. Many excellent suggestions have come forward, and we have both listened and acted.
The changes made respond to key recommendations of the Senate committee, to suggestions voiced by the House subcommittee, by the CRTC, by industry players, including carriers, resellers and cable companies, by the provinces, by the Canadian business community, and by public interest groups representing a wide range of Canadians who depend more and more on telecommunications services. The amendments have improved Bill C-62, without undermining its underlying principles in any way.
While I will not attempt to list all the amendments brought to this legislation, it would be appropriate to touch on a few of the more substantive changes. These include: more clearly excluding resellers from the scope of the bill; better reflecting regional interests in the policy objectives; giving the CRTC the power to exempt classes of carriers from the legislation; strengthening the provisions on federal-provincial consultation, eliminating a proposed licensing regime while preserving firm Canadian ownership requirements; creating a presumption in favour of regulatory forbearance where effective competition exists, while requiring the CRTC to bear in mind the sometimes fragile nature of competition; imposing an important time limit on CRTC decision making while allowing the commission some flexibility to extend this limit only where more detailed analysis of the matter at hand is required and strengthening the CRTC's ability to deal with infringements of individual privacy caused by unsolicited telecommunications.
I want to pick up on this point in particular because when we ended yesterday my colleague from Mount Royal was quite correctly pointing out that there is a growing concern among Canadians about this whole issue of privacy. There is a growing feeling on the part of Canadians that something must be done and done now
June 9, 1993
by this Parliament to ensure that their rights are respected.
We have written provisions into the bill to give the CRTC the power it needs to intervene, to ensure that the basic rights to privacy of individual Canadians are better respected than they are today.
Members of Parliament on both sides of the House have been deluged with letters from constituents who have complained about receiving telephone calls from auto diallers. They have complained about junk faxes and 976 numbers which have been used in a way that causes them or their families to run up massive phone bills often without realizing the consequences of their actions.
Today the hands of the CRTC are largely tied on a number of these issues. It is important that we bring changes to the law to ensure that the CRTC has the ability to look into these abuses and act effectively on behalf of Canadian citizens to ensure that their basic rights are reflected.
Yesterday my friend from Mount Royal raised a concern as the House concluded its deliberations at report stage about whether the provisions in the bill could interfere with the ability of legitimate survey takers, for example, to do their work. I can certainly assure members of the House that is not the intention of the government nor is it our expectation that the bill will be used in such a way. We are determined to act effectively in response to the concerns that have been expressed by literally hundreds of Canadians to stop abuses which strip away their basic privacy.
All of us know of some particularly egregious cases where auto diallers and junk faxes are being abused which bring discredit to the telemarketing industry. It wants nothing to do with these fly-by-night concerns which bring nothing but grief to people on the receiving end of those messages. They are vexatious for the telephone companies as well because Canadians turn to the telephone companies asking for their assistance and the companies are very limited in terms of what they can do.
The measures we have taken here that we will be passing into law today will help give better protection to these basic rights of Canadians and will respond to a concerted voice of Canadians from one coast to another
asking that this Parliament act without further delay to protect their privacy.
In all the areas where we have made amendments I believe we have ended up with a bill that is better and stronger than before. Some people have expressed surprise about the government's flexibility and willingness to entertain these sorts of amendments during this process.
Over the course of the debate colleagues opposite have used various figures to describe the number of amendments. Two weeks ago they said there were over 150. Yesterday they said there were 74. The figure is 51.
The government's willingness to listen to suggestions for improvements to the bill does not demonstrate that this bill is fatally flawed, as some in the New Democratic Party would have us believe. The government kept the commitment which I made at the outset both before the Senate committee and in this House that we would listen with an open mind and accept any proposals that could make a good bill better.
My hope is that, in time, efforts by government to act in a non-partisan fashion will be reciprocated by members on both sides of the House. Parliament is here for a reason. And while the road from first reading to royal assent can be long and sometimes frustrating, I believe the journey is most rewarding when all parties forgo dogma in favour of discussion, and conflict in favour of co-operation.
Why waste the time of MPs, senators, witnesses, clerks, researchers, translators, lawyers, officials and staff if no one is really listening? After all, the bill does not belong to the minister or the government; it belongs to all of us. If all the people who care about the outcome have input and consider their input to be meaningful, I believe our accomplishment is that much greater.
I want to express a very sincere word of thanks to those witnesses, members of the House of Commons, members of my own staff, those of my department, senators and others who have done so much to ensure that this bill is responsive to the concerns of Canadians. Their efforts have certainly borne fruit.
June 9, 1993
When we make this major modification to our telecommunications industry and the structure that governs it we are doing away with the superstructure that was put in place in 1908 and replacing it with a modern one suited to the needs of the 21st century. These people have helped to ensure that the needs of Canadians, especially those working in this industry, are respected in the bill itself and reflected in the new legislation that will be put in place.
That collective effort and generosity that was shown by so many people and their willingness to collaborate, work together, listen and search for common solutions to challenges have helped to strengthen this bill and ensure that Canadians will be better served for the future with modem, forward looking legislation.
Mr. Speaker, allow me to return to the three fundamental principles which guide Bill C-62. They are: to ensure that Canadians have access to affordable and reliable telecommunications services; to increase the competitiveness of the Canadian telecommunications industry and to promote Canadian ownership and control of the Canadian telecommunications infrastructure.
The last of these three principles is fundamental to the achievement of the first two. Telecommunications serves to link this country together through a wide range of activities from personal conversations, data and information transfers to business transactions and increasingly to the enjoyment of cultural products and services.
The telecommunications system is in a sense the country's central nervous system linking all other elements with each other. I take pride in the fact that the first Canadian telecommunications act will enshrine Canadian ownership and control of this vital infrastructure as one of its key public policy objectives. I am particularly pleased that the objective of Canadian ownership and control is strongly supported on both sides of this House.
I recently returned from the Asia Telecom Conference in Singapore where I had an opportunity to meet with communications ministers from Asia. I also had the opportunity to meet with representatives of industry from around the world.
I continued from Singapore to Beijing in support of Canadian business and its attempts to sell equipment and services from Canada to a growing Chinese marketplace.
It is striking when one realizes that in China each year between now and the turn of the century the Chinese people will be adding as many telephone lines as we have today in Canada. Virtually every Canadian has access to modem telecommunications services today while in China, as in so much of the world, only a tiny fragment of the population has access to such services.
In Canada, the second largest country anywhere in the world, we have been able to build the world's best telecommunications system. It makes it possible for someone in Pond Inlet in the Arctic to pick up a telephone, be linked to the satellite and talk to someone in any other region of the world. Our telephone system helps facilitate the provision of goods and services across Canada.
When we take a look at the needs of developing countries such as Mexico or China, success in industrialising and improving the standard of living and quality of life for ordinary people will depend directly upon the infrastructure which is in place. Business cannot locate in a country if it is impossible for it to communicate with its customers and its head office which may be located thousands of miles away.
The goods and services necessary for a growing population cannot be provided without a modern telecommunications system. We cannot attract new industry. We would have a hard time providing services for tourism, banking and financial institutions of all sorts unless we had a modem telecommunications infrastructure firmly in place and Canada has that.
We are determined to ensure that this infrastructure remains in Canadian hands, continues to serve the needs of Canadians and grows with the future. We are determined to use this Canadian base which we have built as a means of launching trade from Canada around the world; as a means of giving literally thousands of Canadian working people the opportunity to produce goods and services which will help to improve the quality of life of people throughout the whole of the world.
June 9, 1993
This country is making an important contribution. It is an important contribution that this industry, which is now being given modem effective legislation, can make to the rest of the world.
We are determined to ensure that this is a Canadian industry. We welcome competition. We welcome the opportunity to compete in the rest of the world. We are determined as well to ensure that the Canadian men and women who have built such a successful industry in Canada will continue to be able to do so in the future.
I would note parenthetically that perhaps the most unique contribution of the debate was made yesterday by my friend, the NDP House leader, the hon. member for Kamloops. He said that the government's policies would lead within a short time to Canadian telephone operators being replaced by Mexicans based in Guadalajara or in Ensenada. Let me quote his words exactly as they were recorded on page 20511 of Hansard:
I am going to make a prediction that would say that within a short period of time when you, Mr. Speaker, or others dial an operator to get information for a particular number the voice you will hear at the other end of the telephone will sound more like Buenos noches, senor. In other words, the telephone operator will be operating out of Guadalajara, or out of Ensenada or out of a community along the Rio Grande River.
I do not think my hon. friend really has to worry about the prospect of B.C. Tel being bought up by Taco Bell. Instead we are ensuring that there are opportunities for Canadians to be able to provide services in Canada and be able to assist our friends in Mexico in developing the infrastructure they need to provide the quality of life that all citizens, irrespective of their country, want to enjoy. The North American free trade agreement opens up a multibillion dollar Mexican market for Canadian suppliers. It is an opportunity that is welcomed by the Canadian industry and one that may help to create hundreds of thousands of Canadian jobs and greater prosperity. By building upon that strong domestic base that Bill C-62 encourages, Canadian industry and Canadian workers are able to take advantage of an international market for telecommunications equipment and services which will total in the hundreds of billions of dollars between now and the turn of the century.
Some people sell Canadian business short and they sell Canadian workers short. They believe that it is impossible for people in this country if we take down tariff barriers and encourage competition to be able to succeed either at home or abroad. This industry has proven them terribly wrong.
All one has to do is to travel outside of Canada and see the amount of Canadian telephone equipment which is being sold by workers who have built and designed this equipment here in Canada and who have worked entirely from a Canadian base to recognize that Canadian workers and industry are as good as the world has to offer. Those faint hearts who argue that we should hide ourselves behind tariff walls simply sell Canadians short.
What Canadian workers are looking for and what Canadian business is looking for is opportunity. They are not seeking to be walled off from the rest of the world. They are not seeking to hide in shrinking markets behind high tariff walls. They ask for the opportunity to compete on a fair and even playing field and the opportunity to be able to sell their goods and their services throughout the world.
That is indeed what we are achieving with Mexico. It is something which will be of benefit to the Mexican people and which will certainly be of benefit to Canadian workers and Canadian business as well.
We have seen that Canadians, given the opportunity, can certainly triumph. As an example of that, in China today there are switches either already in place or already contracted for that are made by Northern Telecom. This provides telephone service to four million Chinese. Northern Telecom among other Canadian suppliers continues to bid on contracts in that part of the world and the prospects look very encouraging indeed for them. What they need is not to have impediments to trade but to have the opportunity to trade and to produce goods and services in Canada and to sell them abroad.
The same applies to Canadian consumers. Colleagues opposite have made the point. We are indeed moving to a very different philosophy here about how we should be providing telephone service in Canada. We are moving from a philosophy which said that we should protect
June 9, 1993
monopolies and have those monopolies located in each of the markets across Canada providing service to consumers.
Last year in an historic decision on long distance competition the CRTC mandated that competition in the future would be allowed for long distance service for Canadians. There are some Canadians who oppose that and believe it is not desirable for Canada or for Canadian workers that competition should be able to exist. I believe they are wrong. We have seen the benefits of competition, rates coming down and opportunities being created.
We have also seen jobs being created in Canada as a result of competition. Jobs have been created directly in the telecommunications industry as they will be in the constituency of the House leader of the NDP where an announcement has been made by one of the companies providing long distance competition that it was their intention to create a new service and new jobs in that constituency. We are seeing it created across the country. As a result of competition we are seeing that as rates come down Canadian business people are able to obtain telecommunications services less expensively, as are Canadian consumers from one coast to another. Some people argue that it should not happen and that it is not in the public interest that it should happen.
However, what would happen if we maintained and followed the policy of some that rates should be artificially high for long distance and that competition should not be allowed? One of the costs of doing business for Canadian companies is indeed the cost of telecommunications services. If these services were available much less expensively south of the border would there be an incentive for these Canadian business people to remain in Canada and to create their jobs here or would the incentive be to take those jobs out of Canada and move them to some other country? Unless we have modem telecommunications services available in Canada at competitive rates we will have a hard time developing our economy, creating the jobs in industry and providing the services that we believe Canadians from one coast to another are entitled to have.
Canadians are not afraid of competition, they welcome it. They are not afraid of increased services, they welcome that. They are not afraid of moving to the marketplace, they welcome the fact that the marketplace will be more effective in the future.
We have seen the effects already in cellular, not just in Canada but around the world. In those countries which took the model of licensing a monopoly, the penetration of cellular service is universally lower than it is in those countries which mandated competition. Prices are higher. Service has not been extended as far. Why? Because one is dealing with a protected monopoly instead of dealing with a marketplace in which the consumer is king and in which the needs of the consumer are put ahead of every other concern.
Today with the legislation which governs our telecommunications industry at this moment it is against the law for the CRTC to refrain from regulating. It is against the law for the CRTC to say that the marketplace and free market competition is doing a good job for consumers and that it does not make sense to delay the introduction of new services or to require costly regulatory hearings. This is costly both for taxpayers and for consumers who have to pay the bill passed on to them by the companies. That is simply not allowed. The CRTC is required by law to regulate and to go through this costly and cumbersome procedure which denies timely improvements in service to consumers and drives up costs both for consumers and for taxpayers. How is the public interest served if we allow this to continue for one more day? How are ordinary Canadians served by that sort of action on our part as Parliament?
The CRTC is there and will remain there in order to intervene in instances where the marketplace cannot do the job fairly and effectively. That power is not circumscribed. It is there and it remains undiminished. In those instances where the marketplace can do the job better we are saying it is time to move away from protected monopolies to free market competition. Every single Canadian in every part of Canada will be a beneficiary as a result of the action that we are taking.
All these principles which underlie the bill are important for Canada. They are important for building for our future, giving opportunities to young Canadians and ensuring that the quality of life that we are privileged to enjoy as Canadians is maintained and enhanced. This is because without innovations in telecommunications it is impossible for us to move services out to the rural and
June 9, 1993
remote areas throughout Canada where we are expecting that new services should be provided.
By bringing in new legislation, encouraging our industry, giving opportunities to the men and women who work in Canada's telecommunications industry and showing vision by putting in place an electronic highway system to tie together every home, business and governmental institution in Canada we can broadly democratize the provision of services in Canada. We can make it so that people in the most rural and remote parts of Canada have access to the same quality of services as people have in the hearts of the great cities in Canada. We can make it so that people who are living with disabilities have the opportunity to work from their own homes and be able to participate fully in the labour force. We can make it so seniors or single mothers will have the opportunity to continue to participate fully in the labour force and to do so from their own homes to improve their quality of life and to make a contribution to our economy as a whole.
However, it requires that we have modern legislation in place and that all of us involved with the industry and with government show vision and a sense of direction for Canada.
Often when we talk about Canada's telecommunications system and about the importance of telephone service the debate gets relegated to the business pages if it gets covered at all. Often there are many other elements of debate in this House which draw much more attention than what we do for our number one high tech industry in Canada.
It is an historic day for this Parliament and it is an historic day for every Canadian that we are now finally moving to put this modern legislation into place and to ensure that Canadians can plan for the future with confidence, knowing that they will continue to have a Canadian-owned, strong, national telecommunications system.
The principles underlying Bill C-62 have now been endorsed by the Senate committee's pre-study, by the House of Commons at second reading, by the subcommittee of this House charged with reviewing Bill C-62
and by the vast majority of witnesses who have made submissions on the legislation.
The telecommunications industry, its major users and the regulator are unequivocal in their message to this House. Canada needs a new telecommunications act. Bill C-62 is that act. It has been thoroughly debated, studied, amended and improved and it must be passed today so that telecommunications can take us to the very bright world of tomorrow.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: TELECOMMUNICATIONS ACT