A chat with Maxime Bernier

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I had the pleasure of sitting beside Maxime Bernier on the Toronto-Ottawa flight the other day. I asked him how things were going. He responded with some impressive numbers of supporters, members and donations to his new party. I spoke of having been an appointee at the CRTC, and we spoke of a friend in common, Michel Morin, who was a commissioner when I was. Both Morin and Bernier are Beaucerons, and they seem to breed independent-minded people in that part of Quebec.


We engaged in a brief discussion of the substance of telecom policy, where I prefaced my remarks by saying he probably would not like them. We spoke of his directive to the CRTC, which was always to consider competition in making regulatory decisions. I said we commissioners would solemnly ponder it and figure that we had pondered the issue long enough and then get on with whatever outcome seemed best according to the facts and the law. The net effect of the Governor in Council directive was limited, even if it was beneficial.

Bernier explained that he believed in total deregulation, which is to say, to let whatever level of re-monopolization occur after all controls had been lifted. “In two years”, he said, “there would be new competition emerging from everywhere.” What about the legal privileges, I asked, such as rights of way and spectrum allotments?

As far as I can recall he had no answer for that question. 

We engaged and then disengaged pleasantly. I  like the man, though  I am not persuaded of his policies in the one field where I claim to have some understanding. Milk marketing boards, sure. I can understand the effects that they have on prices of milk and cheese, which take money from everyone and hand it over to dairy farmers. Under current Canadian telecom regulation, we take money from everyone and hand it over to large carriers. The difference between what we do in telecoms and what they do in milk marketing is that we pretend there is significant competition in Canadian telecoms, whereas we do not even pretend to that in milk marketing.

 [Note to self: you are sounding rather Bolshie this morning, Tim].

As to Maxime Bernier, his quest may be futile; the forces of stasis are almost always stronger than the forces of change, except when they are not. But I admire a person able to commit himself to what others consider a hopeless cause, but what he believes is the right course of action. On the other hand, if he were my commanding officer in the army, I might worry about his not accounting sufficiently for the capabilities of the enemy. My admiration of the man is tempered by too much understanding, as I conceive it, of the issues.

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