This article originally appeared in the Globe and Mail.
By Peter Menzies, January 4, 2022
Vicky Eatrides will never be more popular than on her first day as Canada’s chief communications regulator.
Publicly, everyone loves the new chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and is filled with hope that she will see the world as they do and – for the sake of the country’s culture, of course – enrich their lives. The same can be said for new vice-chair (telecom) Adam Scott. Their halos will glow from the commencement of their five-year terms on Jan. 5.
Until they issue a decision.
After that, it will be all downhill as, one by one, the ranks of the disappointed grow until they form a full-voiced choir of the aggrieved. Little wonder many conclude that the only way for a CRTC chair to survive is to ensure that everyone is equally unhappy.
There is much positive buzz surrounding Ms. Eatrides. One factor is that the commission she is inheriting is already deeply unpopular among those who advocate for consumers and service-based competition. The May 27, 2021, decision by outgoing chair Ian Scott’s CRTC concerning wholesale access rates for broadband services remains infamous. The bar for Ms. Eatrides has been set low.
But the optimism also stems from the fact she’s a career civil servant who spent years at the Competition Bureau, which is at the moment – at least in the eyes of the pro-competition/consumer crowd – wearing a superhero cape due to its stubborn opposition to Rogers Communications Inc.’s proposed $20-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc.
People I respect and who know Ms. Eatrides think she is as solid an appointment as could be made given the Herculean task ahead.
There is also a very good chance that she will be more than ably assisted by Mr. Scott, the incoming vice-chair. Those who have crossed paths with him speak of a highly capable individual with decades of experience managing connectivity issues. Notably, neither Ms. Eatrides nor Mr. Scott bring any baggage from the traditional content creation sector that successfully lobbied for Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act.
But while the monster that is Bill C-11 still awaits confirmation (whether unamended or as amended by the Senate remains to be seen), Ms. Eatrides’ first tasks will be structural and watched carefully. With Mr. Scott and Alicia Barin, another incoming vice-chair (broadcasting), there is clearly a new team with a fresh mandate in charge, and these will be nervous nights for senior CRTC bureaucrats. It is not unusual for new chairs to install leaders with whom they have worked previously, and, given that both Ms. Eatrides and Mr. Scott come from the public service, there will be no shortage of those nearby.
Next will be clearing the decks of leftover decisions, such as the do-over ordered by cabinet on the CBC’s licence, the undue preference complaint filed against Rogers for not carrying OneSoccer and others.
This will set the stage for Ms. Eatrides to make sense of Bill C-11 and attempt to prevent the many catastrophes it makes possible.
Those include the risks to the incomes of tens of thousands of Canadian digital creators, the future of an open internet and the freedom of citizens to express themselves through it. YouTube and TikTok creators see themselves as lambs being led to the slaughter, while smaller streaming companies may, depending on Ms. Eatrides’s decisions, decide that Canada just isn’t worth the trouble and leave.
Further complicating matters is the fact that those who pushed for Bill C-11 will be expecting to reap what is likely to be a very overpromised reward, while hovering over it all will be a cabinet armed with new powers to second guess all the most important decisions.
As if that isn’t enough pressure, everyone within the CRTC’s soon-to-be-global scope will be watching closely to determine if Ms. Eatrides’s appointment will, in concert with a fresh approach to competition policy, signal that the consumer is once again the one whose interests the CRTC intends to primarily serve.
So, here’s hoping that Ms. Eatrides’s first day is a good one.
Peter Menzies is a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a former publisher of the Calgary Herald and a previous vice-chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.