Ahead of next week’s federal election in Canada, Michael Geist has a revealing piece in today’s Toronto Star that compares the positions on Internet/technology issues of the main Canadian parties. The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) at the University of Ottawa and Digital Copyright Canada surveyed the Liberals, NDP, Conservatives and Greens on their views on IP protection, file-sharing, open source, identity cards and use of Internet materials in education. The results are not what a classic right-left divide might predict.
The parties in the middle (Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois) firmly favour rightsholders’ interests over those of users and service providers when it comes to IP, and the Conservatives and Greens support a much less heavy-handed approach.
Several explanations come instantly to mind:
(1) Most political parties don’t understand technology issues well enough to figure out where they really stand on them, so ideology isn’t a good predictor of policy in this area. Secondary point; tech issues are too minority to really matter in a general election.
(2) IP/open source issues typically pit homogeneous, well organised, connected and funded user groups against heterogeneous, poor and largely latent user groups, meaning government policies benefit the well-organised few at the expense of the mostly apathetic many. These results may tell us more about who the rightsholders bothered to lobby, rather than what the parties themselves might think.
(3) Centre-right parties are unpredictable on tech issues, depending on whether their libertarian or authoritarian streaks are in the know or the ascendent. Social democrats can be fooled into thinking any policy with technology in it is a good thing, especially if it ‘encourages innovation’.
(4) My understanding of the Canadian left-right divide may be less than comprehensive….
Full responses to the CIPPIC questionaire and links to other organisations’ responses are available at http://www.cippic.ca/election2004.