A tip of the hat to Michel Morin as we go to “skinny basic”

My former colleague at the CRTC, Michel Morin, ought to take a bow. Long before it was fashionable, he was arguing for the concept that the CRTC endorsed yesterday, the idea of “skinny basic”: an affordable, small package of cable services.

It is difficult to promote conceptual innovation at a regulatory agency, for several reasons. Institutions are conservative. The laws, which serve as standing instructions, are fixed at any given time. At the CRTC, the Chairman holds essentially all the power: over staff, over scheduling of topics, hearings and decisions, and over who sits on panels.

Commissioners are in many cases treated as voting machines of uncertain reliability by the CRTC Chairman, as in his position, how could they not be?

Michel Morin was the first Conservative appointment to the CRTC in the Harper regime, a matter in which he took legitimate pride. He had been a Radio-Canada reporter for thirty years, and the habits of investigative journalism never left him. He preferred to research a topic in depth, and write voluminous opinions. The arts of blarney and easy chat were not familiar to him; his mind was rigorous, his thinking clear and principled, and his concerns were frequently not so much explained as declared.

I knew I was in the presence of a superb character when I first entered his office: bedecked with filled bookshelves, rugs and comfortable seating. Amidst the usual wall full of photos and trophies from work was a resplendent picture of Her Majesty the Queen caught is a very happy moment in her chair at home beaming a huge, unfeigned smile at the photographer. It totally confounds one’s views of the Queen; once seen you can never imagine her again as a dour duty-driven sobersides. I took this as a clue that I was not going to be treated to the usual violin rhapsody of “poor, poor pitiful us” in the key of “Q”, and I was right. Michel was of that special breed, scarcely produced any more, a French Canadian. Say that again with emphasis on the word “French”.

Michel did not speak English when he began his time at the CRTC. Through assiduous attention to language lessons, and huge determination, he managed to turn himself into an effective speaker and writer of English.

Michel was a rigorous and consistent opponent of French-Canadian tribalism wherever he found it. He just could not stand it; it made him ill. He was at once French, Canadian, and a citizen of the world.

Michel fought his campaigns without much assistance from other commissioners, largely, I think, because it never occurred to him to cajole, consult, or persuade on any basis other than superiority of rational argument. He was not the type to sit in other Commissioners’ offices talking politics, large or small. He produced huge dissenting opinions. He may even have enjoyed being a minority of one, and he relished a fight against odds. In another age he might have been a Martin Luther.

The expression “marching to the sound of his own drum” comes easily in recollecting him.

The recent decision of the CRTC to allow a cheap “skinny basic” was really a decision of the people, who are disconnecting from cable with its overpriced packages and incessant advertizing. The regulatory action follows the market, and the market in video services is allowed to exist because the CRTC has held off trying to regulate over-the-top services as “broadcasting”.

Yet, someone saw it coming five years ago, and that man was Commissioner Michel Morin. Je te salue, Michel.Bravo!

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