My eyebrows raised involuntarily during the run-up to last week’s throne speech. The federal government was floating the idea of dealing — it’s not exactly clear how — with cellphone roaming charges and the packaging of television channels by cable and satellite signal providers. This is, after all, a government that does nothing without considering how it will affect the business sector.
So let’s get the delicious irony out of the way first thing. The same government that loves to bundle various and sundry legislation into massive omnibus bills suddenly has an issue with cable and satellite folks bundling individual channels into packages? Only in Canada, you say?
Let’s start with why I think the Conservatives (Liberal governments did this, too, though not quite to the extent we’ve seen in the last few years) package often completely unrelated legislation into huge omnibus bills. Well, partly because it’s a great divide and conquer approach. Put enough eggs in a basket and some will look great and some will look crappy. But who’s going to object to a nice big basket of eggs when there are only a few they don’t need?
Omnibus bills also make it hard for the opposition and media to focus. Single in on one or two issues and the government has a built in “yeah, but” excuse — there are 50 pieces of legislation here but you only want to talk about one or two?
Now, why do cable and satellite companies bundle channels into packages? The obvious answer is that it’s more convenient and less costly for billing purposes. Offering 200 channels that subscribers can choose from individually is a greater technological challenge and billing costs spiral. Imagine the steady stream of requests to add or subtract channels on a monthly basis — hey, my neighbor says there is a cool mini-series on CRAP this month, so I’ll subscribe to watch it, then unsubscribe afterwards because for the most part CRAP airs mostly, well, crap.
If I was running a cable company I’d be pointing out this disconnect in philosophy to the prime minister, and I’d also be asking why he wants to take on their way of doing business when he shows no interest, like all of his predecessors, in questioning why gas prices change in lockstep, and go up even when there is no clear change in supply and demand.
Roaming charges, as outlandish as they may be, fall in to the same category — issues that this economy-obsessed government doesn’t usually get involved with. Buyer beware and let the market decide and all that. But Canadians hate cable companies and they hate phone companies and what better way for a governing party to win some votes than to side with Joe Sixpack than to tell him that you hate them just as much?
The throne speech caused another smile, too, this one when I saw the reaction of a friend when I told him it includes balanced budget legislation. This same government that hasn’t balanced a budget for so long that it might not recognize one if it ever sees it has announced that it plans to make it the law to balance budgets. Presumably it will be enacted after the projected 2015 balanced budget.
“A law?” my friend sputtered, “Just balance the damn budget!”
I couldn’t help but take the opportunity to raise his blood pressure even further when I told him the government also plans to implement “one-for-one” legislation. With each new regulation enacted this law would force the government to take another one off the books.
“Just do it,” he yelled, going all apoplectic on me, the innocent messenger. “They’re gonna bring in another law for this?”
I’ll admit I brought those subjects into the conversation just to wind him up — I knew exactly the reaction he would have because I’d had a similar one myself, though it wasn’t quite as dramatic.
Essentially, laws like this are not intended to force the government in power to behave in a certain way. That would be akin to pointing a gun at one’s own head and calling out at someone making a threat, “Stop, or I’ll shoot!”
No, these are what I call silly bugger laws, designed to make life miserable for future governments. It’s like seeding farmers’ fields with landmines or poisoning the well, a practice usually reserved for retreating soldiers. The government doesn’t look like it’s in danger of losing power any time soon (yeah, I know, I said the same thing in the Paul Martin era), though, so we are left to wonder what it’s really up to.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.