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Comment: Why put Canada last in federal telco policy?

I am puzzled and astounded by the federal government’s attempt to increase competition in the mobile-phone market by courting massive U.S. companies such as Verizon.

I am puzzled and astounded by the federal government’s attempt to increase competition in the mobile-phone market by courting massive U.S. companies such as Verizon. I am confused as to how this can be viewed as consistent and appropriate public policy that will benefit Canadians.

Providing Verizon with unique advantages in the Canadian market that are not equally available to Canadian companies goes against everything we, as a country, believe in. For decades, Canadian governments have been champions of our industry, our companies and our fellow Canadians who work so hard to support, clothe, feed and educate their families for a better future by ensuring that a level and competitive playing field exists. Welcoming foreign competitors to our markets is one thing, but we absolutely must not undercut our Canadian companies while subsidizing foreign corporations whose interests in Canada are superficial at best, and who undoubtedly see us as a source of profit to be reinvested elsewhere or shared with their U.S. shareholders.

Let me be clear. I have a relationship with Telus, one of the three major Canadian telecommunications companies in Canada, and I know that they welcome healthy competition, and in fact, have a history of encouraging competition in our country. This remarkable Canadian company employs more than 28,000 Canadians, many in high-tech and management roles, invests billions annually in our country’s economy and is recognized worldwide as one of the top companies globally for its people practices and its philanthropy. Telus and its employees reinvest in our country and “give where they live,” something that foreign companies are unlikely to do.

My relationship with Telus stems from our shared passion for investing in our communities and supporting small but awesome Canadian charities and nonprofit organizations. This provides me with an opportunity to do the kind of nation-building that, as soldiers, we tried to do around the world on Canada’s behalf. Now we do it at home, thanks to the efforts of this proudly Canadian corporation.

As the chief of defence staff for Canada from 2005 to 2008, I was, at times, frustrated by the “Canadian companies get it first” policy that supported the awarding of any government contract, first and foremost, to a Canadian company, even if that contract was more costly.

Should there be no option but to award a contract to a European or American company, those foreign companies then had to pay for that privilege by committing to invest in Canada by supporting our Canadian companies and contributing to our economy in a meaningful way.

Through this policy, we supported Canadian industry, and its millions of employees and retirees, resulting in significant nationwide positive economic impacts and innovation. As chief of defence staff, my first priority was to get the best equipment in the shortest possible time to Canada’s sons and daughters in the armed forces.

Initially our “Canada First” policy caused me concern; however, I came to realize that by supporting our Canadian companies, we could build world-class organizations that are able to compete globally and support our sons and daughters in uniform, all at the same time.

Why would we now do the reverse and create a truly baffling “Canada Last” policy by favouring an American giant in this crucial spectrum auction. Canadian companies deserve a level playing field when it comes to access to important Canadian resources such as spectrum that is used to deliver services in urban and rural Canada.

How is the “Canada Last” policy helpful in stimulating competitiveness in our rural and urban communities? There are many ways that we can increase competition for the benefit of Canadians, and I think we all understand that.

So, yes, invite foreign companies to Canada. Woo their leaders, articulate the benefits of being in our country, make our case, don’t suffocate them with bureaucracy — but put them on a level playing field and let the competition begin. Now that, at no cost to us, would benefit Canadians like me, from coast to coast.


Retired general Rick Hillier is chairman of the Telus Atlantic Canada Community Board.