Ruckus at the CRTC

News of the ruckus at the CRTC came as no great surprise this morning. Raj Shoan, the regional commissioner for Ontario, is suing the organization. On the one hand, the Chairman of the CRTC is utterly dedicated to controlling everything in his environment, lest the unexpected happen, and on the other we have a young Commissioner who will not take being controlled.



Beyond the personality clash, the issue for public policy is: what is the appropriate role of a Commissioner, and does the CRTC Act allow for enough independence to the official decision makers?


Before we delve into the policy, a bit about the personalities. During my last year at the Commission, Jean Pierre Blais became the Chairman. He was good to me, as far as I was concerned; he assigned me to a study of the issues involved in Next Generation 9-1-1, and I was happy to have something real to do. But the relationship was wary, on both parts. I crave my independence of mind and JP organizes the universe so that it bends to his will. Between two people of such tendencies there can be no stable relationship of trust.

The core of the matter, as I see it, is that while the current Chairman can be good to subordinates and effective with superiors, the concept that anyone is actually his equal – no kidding, really his equal – makes no sense to him. Like the square root of minus one, the concept of an equal has to be accepted in principle but is unimaginable in practice. Yet the Chairman needs the votes of colleagues, and colleagues are juridical equals when it comes to their votes.

How then to control them? Let me count the ways. The Chairman controls their office budgets, the assignment to panels to hear cases, the speaking opportunities, the assistance from staff, their travel, and much else besides. And to get any of this the Chairman could cause Commissioners to have to deal with the staff that he can throw up between himself and them.

So every action says: “you are my subordinates and need to know your places.” And a young lawyer like Raj Shoan can say “oh yeah!?”.

By comparison, the previous incumbent, Konrad von Finckenstein, all six feet seven Prussian Count of him, could be occasionally aggressive but was actually the soul of democratic discussion, provided you got him in private. When he found he could not roll me (he did try it once) he resorted to politely asking, and most of the time I was quite happy to oblige.  He had an open-door policy and he was perfectly willing to endure my walking in and asking him what on earth he thought he was doing on certain issues. (Joining the Telecom to the Broadcasting Act was one of my least favourite ideas). You had to summon the courage to confront him, but thereafter he was very open to discussion. Moreover, he though it added lustre to his Commission to have commissioners successful in their own fields. He encouraged me to run for the Board of the American Registry of Internet Numbers, when I told him I was being considered for the role.

Konrad was bent on getting his way – as any man of passionate convictions would be – but he never once let the thought pass through his mind that the autonomy of commissioners to decide their own minds was an unnatural affront.

The current Chairman – to the extent I understand his way of being – will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid overt conflict, not because he is some kind of peace-maker, but because he wants the universe to bend to his implacable will. He may be right or he may be wrong on the issues, as every person of integrity is allowed to be. But when it comes to the management of people, they confuse him by their obstinate refusal to see the triple-distilled enlightenment of his superior mind. And equality, like the square root of minus one, is an imaginary construct. This is not a formula for free discussion or happy working relationships.

In the interim I hope Mr. Shoan enjoys working in the broom closet.

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