Ottawa to open doors on foreign ownership

Yesterday's Throne Speech signalled the government's intent to open Canadian satellite and telecommunications to foreign ownership, but opponents are quick to warn of a 'slippery slope.'

The federal Conservative government signalled in Wednesday’s Throne Speech that it will introduce legislation to open Canada’s communications industry to foreign ownership.

‘Our government will open Canada’s doors further to venture capital and to foreign investment in key sectors, including the satellite and telecommunications industries, giving Canadian firms access to the funds and expertise they need,’ Governor General Michaelle Jean said.

The Throne Speech was vague on how foreign ownership liberalization of Canada’s cable and phone giants might take place.

But the government’s commitment on foreign ownership follows Ottawa’s recent overruling of the CRTC that allowed upstart mobile phone operator Globalive (Wind Mobile) to compete with incumbent players, despite objections from the industry that the company’s ownership was too highly concentrated in Egypt.

Canadian broadcasters in the past have demanded reciprocity on foreign ownership rules should they be relaxed or eliminated for domestic content carriers, given industry convergence where phone giants operate broadcast arms and cable operators run satellite TV services.

The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting was quick to condemn the Throne Speech commitment, indicating it threatened Canadian culture and could tilt the playing field against domestic broadcasters.

‘Intended or unintended, this announcement creates a slippery slope that will likely lead to the sale of Canadian broadcasters to foreign companies,’ said Friends spokesperson Ian Morrison in a statement.

‘If telecommunications and satellite companies, which are in direct competition with cable, are permitted to be owned and controlled by foreign interests, then cable monopolies will demand equal treatment and sell out to the highest bidder. Broadcasters will follow suit and several generations of hard work to maintain our cultural sovereignty through Canadian ownership and control of broadcasting will be lost,’ Morrison added.

Relaxing or scrapping Canadian foreign ownership rules could also be risky for a minority Conservative government. The opposition Liberal Party has already called for maintaining existing foreign ownership rules for broadcasters, as contained in the Broadcasting Act.

From Playback Daily