Monday, August 31, 2009

Conservatives won't stand-up for Canadian consumers

Interesting piece this morning by technology lawyer and analyst Michael Geist, who writes that the Conservatives have pulled the plug on an online tool that would have helped Canadians find more affordable cell phone plans, apparently under pressure from cellular industry lobbyists:

After spending tens of thousands of dollars creating and testing an online calculator designed to help consumers select their ideal wireless plan, Industry Minister Tony Clement killed the project weeks before it was scheduled to launch. Government records suggest intense lobbying this spring by Canada’s wireless companies, who feared the service would promote lower cost plans, played a key role in the decision.
As Geist reports, the government awarded Decima Research a $60,000 contract to do usability testing with the public in 2008 (the people loved it, by the way). And that doesn't include the unknown amount of taxpayer dollars spent developing the tool in the first place.

A tool that was needed, a tool that consumers wanted, a tool that would help Canadians navigate the minefields of a Canadian cellular industry sorely lacking in competitiveness, an industry that charges Canadians mobility rates far exceeding many other countries.

It's a tool everyone wanted, it seems, but the telecommunications companies, and their lobbying in April of Zoe Addington, director of policy in Tony Clement's office, appears to have paid off in the death of the tool, which despite being near launch, and despite the investment of tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars, will not see the light of day under this Conservative government.

By the way, take a look at the lobbyist filing for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association's meeting with Addington. See if you recognize the name.

Why yes, that's former Conservative Premier of New Brunswick (and perennially-touted Stephen Harper successor) Bernard Lord.

Small world, no?

If the Conservatives aren't willing to stand-up for the interests of Canadians, I'm glad to see the Liberal Party is:
The Harper government is standing against transparency and against the interests of consumers by scrapping a web-based cell phone fee calculator, Liberal Consumer Affairs Critic Dan McTeague said today.

"This project was designed to help Canadians find the most affordable cell phone plans in a country that already faces some of the highest rates in the world," said Mr. McTeague. "Rather than stand strong for Canadian consumers, the Harper Conservatives scrapped the project."

Public reports show that just before the decision to scrap the project was announced, there were meetings between the staff of the Minister and representatives of the cell phone industry. Reports indicate that a significant amount of field testing, all with positive reviews, had already occurred.

"If there was a significant problem in the implementation, it would have been discovered much earlier in the process," said Mr. McTeague.

"Why is the Harper government against transparency? A significant amount of taxpayer-funded government resources had already gone into this project. This calculator is especially important during these belt-tightening times. Industry Minister Tony Clement needs to explain to Canadians why this decision was made.

"The government already provides a similar service for credit cards, why not cell phone plans? This tool would have helped Canadians, especially those on lower incomes, find affordable cellular service. Why the government feels that Canadians don't need that service is beyond me," he said.
Scott has more.

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1 comment:

RuralSandi said...

As one writer calls it:

Harper's $100 million tax grab

Mon, 2009-08-31 23:45.
Brian Lilley
If Stephen Harper really believes what he said earlier this summer, that there are no good taxes, then I’m not sure what to make of this. As of today, Canadians will be paying $100,000,000 more in taxes each year; today is the first day of the new TV tax.

Now to be fair, this tax was not proposed or passed by the Harper government but there is the problem, a government agency is about to scoop tens of millions of dollars out of the pockets of Canadians and Parliament has not voted on it. The very idea goes against everything Parliamentary democracy stands for and should have been stopped by Heritage Minister James Moore, failing that by the Prime Minister. They have remained silent.

....and the article goes on - Harper's tax grab - good political slogan for Libs?