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An open letter to new Industry Minister Robillard

By Conservative Party MP James Rajotte      

Whatever happened to the promise of opening up telecommunications industry to foreign investment

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Dear Madame Minister:

Congratulations on your appointment as the Minister of Industry. You should be especially proud to be the first woman to hold the position.

I would like to take this opportunity to offer you some thoughts concerning your new portfolio.

Outstanding House Business

There are currently three bills in the mix. The first is the Act to Amend the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act. I would like to reaffirm that the Conservative Party supports efforts by the Canadian government to facilitate the delivery of drugs to help developing countries deal with public health emergencies, such as the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. In addition, I would like to ensure that we do not overlook related issues, such as what measures are being taken to ensure that medication does not get caught up in distribution bottlenecks in Africa. Finally, we would certainly appreciate seeing the regulations that will accompany this bill.

The satellite piracy bill is another piece of unfinished business. As drafted, we do not support this legislation. Firstly, we need clarification as to how and if precious RCMP and local police resources will be used. Secondly, we are concerned that inspection provisions have been broadened. Thirdly, this issue is not just about breaking the law, but about allowing Canadians the freedom to watch what they want, regardless of Canadian content restrictions. We agree with the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage’s recommendation — that the CRTC permit Canadian broadcasting distribution undertakings to offer a wider range of international programming, while being respectful of Canadian content regulations.

While we are on the topic of telecommunications, whatever happened to the promise of opening up this industry to foreign investment? I would remind you that the Standing Committee on Industry recommended that the government prepare legislation to entirely remove the existing minimum Canadian ownership requirements, including the requirement of Canadian control, applicable to telecommunications common carriers.

Finally, the Senate census bill has been kicking around for some time now. Frankly, I am not impressed by this bill. There are 7.5 million amateur and professional genealogists across the country who are anxious to access information about their heritage and their ancestors — they will be denied under current proposals. I support the transfer of census records to the National Archives for public release following a reasonable period of time. Realistically, the records would remain secret for the lifetime of most individuals participating in the census, and 92 years seems like a reasonable period to wait.

Science

Preston Manning made the recommendation years ago, and now we finally have a national science adviser. A good first step, but there are some outstanding issues. Exactly who does Arthur Carty report to? Will he testify in front of parliamentary committees, as does his British counterpart? Will he have a seat at the Cabinet table, like his American counter-part? I would appreciate more details concerning his position.

The science file requires some attention. The most recent R&D statistics for Canada are not flattering. One in five PhD grads leaves Canada. Last year Canada fell from 9th to 16th in competitiveness. In addition, a recent report noted that Canada has dropped from 8th to 14th in attracting foreign investment dollars.

Furthermore, there was something called “Canada’s Innovation Strategy,” which I gather is now collecting dust. Allan Rock called the innovation strategy “urgent and important business.” The strategy was supposed move Canada to the front ranks of the world’s most innovative countries. Clearly, year one has not gone well.

TPC Review and Overhaul

The Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC) mandate is under review.

Where to begin? TPC has become a massive subsidy program offering less and less accountability. Funded to the tune of $300-million a year, TPC is billed as a job creation program; however, TPC no longer distinguishes between jobs created and jobs maintained. In addition, according to TPC figures, taxpayers are paying millions to create two or three jobs.

It cost Industry Canada more money to administer TPC last year than it collected in repayments. In fact, TPC has collected less than 1.3 per cent of the money it is owed under its so-called strategic investments.

TPC is an outrage. As witnessed in the R&D figures above, the seven years of TPC have not resulted in a turnaround in R&D in this country. While we understand the need to fund major R&D undertakings, TPC is not the way to do it.

Kyoto Accord

The Standing Committee on Industry has studied the government’s plan to implement the Kyoto Accord with respect to private businesses. Indeed, it has become quite evident through hearings that the government has no plan, which Paul Martin was forced to acknowledge during the Liberal leadership race.

We have been asking some basic questions for some time with regard to the private sector’s role in Kyoto, which have not been answered. Which agency or government department, and what level of government (federal or provincial or joint) will determine whether or not private companies are meeting the emissions standards set out in the Kyoto Protocol? Will those companies who took early action to reduce CO2 emissions receive credit for those reductions?

IRAP

As you are no doubt aware, there has been some trouble with this program. While the IRAP program, administered by the National Research Council, is certainly well respected, the revelation that some $500,000 in grants has been defrauded is disturbing.

The Industry portfolio is extremely large, and some would suggest unmanageable in its current form. I would encourage you to be vigilant with the taxpayer’s dollar. In addition, I would like a full accounting of the IRAP investigation.

James Rajotte is now the Conservative Party MP for Edmonton Southwest, Alta., and his party’s industry critic.

The Hill Times

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