Companies must stay Canadian, says CRTC chief

Ottawa needs to encourage competition among broadcast and telecom companies without allowing Canadian companies to fall under foreign control, according to the head of the CRTC.

‘Control of the communications sector should remain in Canadian hands,’ said Konrad von Finckenstein, appearing before parliament’s Industry committee, which has been hearing arguments for and against relaxing the country’s foreign ownership limits.

Von Finckenstein emphasized that the CRTC wants to see ‘vigorous competition’ in both sectors and that foreign money, if properly regulated, ‘can play a key role.’ He also conceded that the current regulations are in urgent need of an overhaul.

‘The present rules are too restrictive and complicated,’ he told the multi-party committee. ‘A liberalized and simplified policy to govern foreign investment is essential to improving competitiveness.’

But, he added, no foreign company should have ‘control in fact’ or be allowed to hold more than 49% of a Canadian communication company’s voting stock. Current regulations allow 20% at the operating level and 33.3% at the holding level.

A CRTC ruling that last year barred Egyptian-owned cell phone operator Globalive from entering Canada was overturned by Industry Minister Tony Clement. More recently the federal Tories have moved to loosen ownership limits in the telecommunications sector.

Von Finckenstein added that the CRTC wants the authority to levy fines – or ‘administrative monetary penalties’ – against telecom and broadcast outlets that violate ownership or other regulations; an option the regulator has long sought so that it can enforce its rules more effectively.

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