Former Harper Minister Calls Telecom Policy a Waste of Money

  • Maxime Bernier is running for Conservative Party leadership
  • Quebec lawmaker says CRTC should be completely dismantled

A former top minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government criticized his old boss’s telecommunications policy and called for a total overhaul of Canada’s foreign competition rules in a speech less than a month after declaring his intention to run for leadership of the right-leaning party.

Maxime Bernier said the previous government, which lost power to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals last year, wasted billions of dollars by giving cheaper access to wireless spectrum to smaller companies and hurt competition by not opening up the market more to foreign players. Bernier also said the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission, which regulates the industry, should be completely dismantled.

“The CRTC is not protecting consumers, it is only protecting its own power,’’ Bernier said during a speech Tuesday at the Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto, the industry’s main annual gathering.

The comments put Bernier, who represents a Quebec district, in opposition to one of Harper’s key policies: pushing for lower consumer prices by propping up smaller players and requiring the country’s biggest carriers to allow new entrants to use their networks at regulated rates. The government’s goal was to foster a fourth company in each region to compete with BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp.

The government should have gone without the subsidies and instead relaxed Canada’s foreign takeover rules even further to potentially encourage a foreign company to enter the market, Bernier said.

“We could have had a lot more competition,’’ he said. “Perhaps a big American or European company would have decided to enter the Canadian market or buy a Canadian provider.’’

In his bid for leadership of the party, Bernier is positioning himself as a strong advocate for free-market policies. In other recent public appearances he’s taken aim at the party’s support for supply management policies in the agriculture sector. The Conservatives will choose their new leader next year and go up against Trudeau’s Liberals in the 2019 election.

Currently serving as the Conservative party’s critic for innovation and economic development, Bernier was industry minister in Harper’s first government, which took power in 2006, but soon moved to the role of foreign minister. The Conservatives who took up the file after him, including potential leadership rival Tony Clement, championed the fourth-player policy.

Bernier also lashed out at the CRTC’s review of internet services for poor and rural Canadians, calling it an “obvious waste of time and money.’’

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