Government's action will create uneven playing field

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By Gen. Rick Hillier (retired)

I am frankly quite puzzled and astounded by the federal government's current attempt to increase competition in the mobile phone market by courting massive U.S. companies such as Verizon. I am confused as to how this can be viewed as consistent and appropriate public policy that will benefit Canadians.

Providing Verizon with unique advantages in the Canadian market which are not equally available to Canadian companies goes against everything we, as a country, believe in. For decades, Canadian governments have been champions of our industry, our companies and our fellow Canadians who work so hard to support, clothe, feed and educate their families for a better future by ensuring that a level and competitive playing field exists. Welcoming foreign competitors to our markets is one thing, but we absolutely must not undercut our Canadian companies while subsidizing foreign corporations whose interests in Canada are superficial at best, and who undoubtedly see us as a source of profit to be reinvested elsewhere or shared with their U.S. shareholders.

Let me be clear, I do have a relationship with TELUS, one of the three major Canadian telecommunications companies in Canada, and I know that they welcome healthy competition, and in fact, have a history of encouraging competition in our country. This remarkable Canadian company employs more than 28,000 Canadians, many in high-tech and management roles, invests billions annually in our country's economy and is recognized, worldwide, as one of the top companies globally for its people practices and its philanthropy.

TELUS and its employees re-invest in our country and "give where they live," something that foreign companies are unlikely to do. My relationship with TELUS stems from our shared passion for investing in our communities and supporting small but awesome Canadian charities and non-profit organizations, including those in Atlantic Canada. This provides me with an opportunity to do the kind of nation building that, as soldiers, we tried to do around the world on Canada's behalf. Now we do it at home, thanks to the efforts of this proudly Canadian corporation.

'Canada first' makes sense

As the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) for Canada from 2005 to 2008, I was, at times, frustrated by the "Canadian companies get it first" policy that supported the awarding of any government contract, first and foremost, to a Canadian company, even if that contract was more costly. Should there be no option but to award a contract to a European or American company, those foreign companies then had to pay for that privilege by committing to invest in Canada by supporting our Canadian companies and contributing to our economy in a meaningful way.

Through this policy, we supported Canadian industry, and its millions of employees and retirees, resulting in significant nationwide positive economic impacts and innovation.

As CDS, my first priority was to get the best equipment in the shortest possible time to Canada's sons and daughters in the Forces. Initially our "Canada first" policy caused me concern; however, I came to realize that by supporting our Canadian companies we could build world-class organizations that are able to compete globally and support our sons and daughters in uniform, all at the same time.

Why would we now do the reverse and create a truly baffling "Canada last" policy by favouring an American giant in this crucial spectrum auction? Canadian companies deserve a level playing field when it comes to access to important Canadian resources like spectrum that is used to deliver services in urban and rural Canada.

How is the "Canada last" policy helpful in stimulating competitiveness in our rural and urban communities? There are many ways that we can increase competition for the benefit of Canadians and I think we all understand that.

So, yes, invite foreign companies to Canada. Woo their leaders, articulate the benefits of being in our country, make our case, don't suffocate them with bureaucracy - but put them on a level playing field and let the competition begin.

Now that, at no cost to us, would benefit Canadians like me, from coast to coast.

Gen. Rick Hillier (retired) is chairman of the TELUS Atlantic Canada Community Board and former Chief of the Defence Staff.

Organizations: Verizon, TELUS, Defence Staff TELUS Atlantic Canada Community Board

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, U.S.

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  • Doug Smith
    August 30, 2013 - 10:56

    Mr. Hillier, it would be good to know what you mean when you state, “… I do have a relationship with Telus..” Until you elaborate on that fact, isn’t any thinking person forced to view what you have to say as simply looking out for Telus’ and your own best interests? Doug Smith, Grand Falls-Windsor

  • Ken Collis
    August 30, 2013 - 05:57

    With all due respect Gen. Hillier, if the 'playing field' were level the big three in Canada would bid amounts much higher than the available spectrum is worth just to deter competition. You speak of rural areas that won't be supported but when leaders in my area requested a cell tower to allow us to travel the two hour drive between Grand Falls and the communities of the south coast while still having basic communication in case of trouble on such a dangerous highway we were told that it won't happen because it isn't profitable. The problem for the big three is that they really are out of touch with the people that give them such huge rewards. Take a bit of a loss sometimes just to support the communities you speak of instead of looking at the bottom line every time why don't you.

  • Cashin Delaney
    August 29, 2013 - 19:15

    The entire spectrum system is managed inefficiently, and profitability is not challenged enough within the big 3 providers to induce change. The radio spectrum is not some finite, bankable resource, no more than a rainbow is a pot of gold. Only will and imagination limit the advance of our capacity for voice and data transmission across the rural ether and within our cities. A level playing field may require a restructuring of how cell infrastructure is planned and a revision in the way the whole misguided business of spectrum allocation is managed by our government.

  • Pierre Neary
    August 29, 2013 - 15:32

    With all due respect General I feel like the consumer comes last with the telecommunications companies.

  • Joe
    August 29, 2013 - 14:28

    Shouldn't this be classified under advertizing?