Public Policy for the Digital Age

With the imminent federal election call in Canada, it seems timely to start a discussion on public policy principles that our governments (federal and provincial) should be considering. From the context of the information technology industry (web, mobile, digital media, etc.), why is this important?

Firstly, as more and more traditional manufacturing jobs migrate to the Pearl River Delta, the knowledge-based industries, given the right macroeconomic environment, could well be one of our best job growth options. By “macroeconomic environment”, we are referring to the complex web of legislation providing fair regulation, securities legislation and tax code that better encourages the growth of a globally competitive IT industry.

Secondly, it should be noted that the Silicon Valley, where most of the IT industry originated, has not historically been that engaged with government, policy or lobbying. In fact, many in the technology industry have proudly worn the badge of libertarianism, erroneously believing they represent a future that has transcended the need for government intervention or regulation. In fact, all the time, these people may have been simply living in a sheltered world created, ironically and in large measure, by big government and the military industrial complex. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the US Department of Defense, funded massive research during the 1960’s and 1970’s that led directly to the creation of the modern internet. As it happens, the very openness (if not the counter-cultural flavour) of today’s web, arose directly from creating a redundant fabric that would potentially survive nuclear attack.

Thirdly, and not to overgeneralize, many elected officials lack proficiency in technology and the future of the digital and wireless economy to make good policy decisions. Rather than being a criticism, it’s just a fact of life. In that environment, it behooves technology industry leaders to work to inform our government representatives, and the civil service, on important matters.

A key complicating factor is that the political process has a tendency to pander to public opinion rather than cold harsh economic realities. Spending tens or even hundreds of millions trying to subsidize dying industries is like trying to extend the life of the proverbial buggy whip. Spending money on programs to lessen the impact of social and economic change is quite another story. But, even then, governments generally don’t excel at picking winners and losers. Generally, it is better to simply level the playing field and stand back to let the market perform.

Accordingly, over the next few weeks, we’ll choose a few topics that have direct relevance to our digital future and, quite likely, our overall prosperity in the coming decades:

  • “Why Bill C-61 is a Bad Idea for Canada’s Digital Economy”,
  • “Taxing Talent in Startups”,
  • “Startup Investment Discouraged by Tax Laws” and
  • “The Sorry State of Mobile Regulation in Canada

Stay tuned. We encourage your input on any issue we discuss. If you feel there are other key issues to the future of our knowledge based economy, then, by all means, include that in comments as well.