Wednesday, September 23, 2020

My thoughts on the 2020 Speech from the colonial Throne

This afternoon, on unceded Anishinabe Algonquin territory currently the subject of treaty negotiation, a British colonial ceremony was held. With parliament only retaining British tradition, we were reminded by a "speech from the throne" that to this day the settler-state doesn't fully recognize the two groups who make up Canada: European colonialists/settlers and the peoples who had already been here for thousands of years.

As I read the text of the Speech from the Throne I noticed a few themes. I could easily put them under an overall headline of the continuation of narrowly harnessing European world views to attempt to further public policy goals.

  • A  romanticization of over 150 years of the members of our European settler-state parliament dealing with challenges, with no recognition or harnessing of the experiences of the peoples who were already here for thousands of years.
  • The continuation of the European entitlements vs responsibility world view around rights, which generate the wealth and power inequality at the heart of the gaps in social responsibility.
  • A continuation of creating excessively large centralized entities which then need excessively large government regulatory and police interventions, rather than enacting policy to decentralize.


The speech properly recognized that we are in a series of crises, including not only COVID-19 but also climate change. There is also a crisis of legitimacy, where more Canadians are questioning the status-quo of how government has been operating.

Solving these problems requires far more change than postponing travel plans.  I believe it will require re-evaluating our world views, including abandoning the entitlement concept which allows individuals and groups to exploit resources (land, animals, people or ideas) to extract private benefit without any responsibility.  We need to think of rights as responsibilities we have to each other, not as entitlements we take from everyone and everything else.


Systemic racism is mentioned, but only in the unfortunately common "white" way of incorrectly believing that systemic racism relates to systems which include individual racists.  Systemic racism relates to the norms and practices within society or an organization. Good individuals can participate in systemic racism, as it is not about individual attitudes.

One large class of examples is the use of police forces as a top-down mechanism to ensure conformity to policies that deliberately avoid discussing the roots of the disputes that armed officers are thrown into. Those who are talking about defunding or abolishing the police are discussing changing our focus to solving societal problems at their roots.  This is not limited to the "war on drugs" or "war on mental illness", but many other government policy manufactured armed conflicts.

While claiming to recognize that Black Canadians and Indigenous Peoples are over-represented in the criminal justice system, the government had already stated it believed that criminal code amendments were needed for those who neglect seniors.  It is Canadian society, including the federal and provincial governments, that are neglecting seniors and yet through a "white" lens the solution is always seen to narrowly focus on criminalizing individuals.

I feel there is a similar problem with bringing up that it is unacceptable that any citizen be arbitrarily detained in relation to Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The same is true of Meng Wanzhou being detained in Canada as a barely veiled part of trade and other disputes between the USA and China.

The RCMP has excessively close ties with a specific subset of foreign agencies and foreign political interests, and none of the above listed people would currently be detained if it were not for the hypocritical structural failures of the Canadian government.  The Five Eyes (FVEY) membership overlaps with the countries that opposed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States -- all British colonies, with the UK itself being the fifth member of FVEY). This should cause us to openly question what world views and values these agencies have in common.

The government can claim in a speech that this is something for which all Canadians stand united, but that doesn't make it true.

The backward-facing discussion of "Web giants" is another example of the government trying to hide its own policy failures.  Our communications infrastructure involves government granted monopolies in the form of right-of-way for physical wired infrastructure and spectrum allocation for wireless.  Phone companies were created by provincial and federal governments, and cable companies via municipal monopolies.  While this infrastructure exists as a matter of government policy, private interests were allowed to buy up all these monopolies such that only a handful of private sector companies claim exclusivity over most of the right-of-way and spectrum.  These companies then also bought most Canadian media that would be communicated over those wires and wireless, including television stations, radio stations and newspapers. (Note: Given their lobbying record, I consider CBC to be a Bell partner and not a public service)

When companies involved in physical entertainment distribution (Book/tape/CD/DVD sellers including Amazon, DVD rental by mail including Netflix) wanted to move existing distribution online, they were blocked by these vertically integrated monopolists. When possible Canadian online competitors to cable were formed, the monopolists blocked it (convincing parliament to pass targeted legislation against already existing iCraveTV and JumpTV). The same was true even of companies that offered search engine services that could be paid by advertising. These companies that could not get big enough were forced out of existence, and those who did were forced to move into the media creation and/or distribution business in order to be allowed to exist at all in a policy world controlled by analog-era media monopolists.

So the "Web giants" are a result of failed government policy around phone and cable companies, and compounding these failures can't possibly solve anything.

I have come to believe that the only solution to this problem is structural separation. The monopolies, whether for right-of-way or spectrum, should be returned to municipalities and managed as a utility in the same way as all other critical infrastructure is.  All over-the-top (OTT) services, including two-way voice (phone) and one-way simultaneous video (cable/etc), would compete on a level playing field and no longer be legally allowed to leverage government granted monopolies.

Taxing new media to perpetuate problems caused by old-media monopolists will only make existing problems worse. This will only increase the cost of those services for Canadians, when those services are providing far better value than the old-media monopolists.

Shitts Creek was able to break the Emmy's record for the most wins of a single reason of a comedy only after it was able to break free of CBC and get wider distribution internationally on services such as Netflix. While we should be providing more stable funding to Canadian production through accountable government subsidies (not anti-competitive old-media entitlements), that money and any other subsidies should be moved entirely away from legacy OTT media companies (broadcasters, and BDU's like cable companies).

Having a "Universal Broadband Fund" is also counterproductive when that money is handed over to old-media monopolists.  Necessary government support from the provincial and federal level should only be to municipalities building their own municipal infrastructure, and never to continue the harm of allowing private-sector monopolists to gain unaccountable control over that infrastructure.  It is the local communities, through their municipalities, that should be setting infrastructure priorities and not those priorities being set in the boardroom of some distant private sector monopolist.

I was happy to hear a renewed commitment to reverse almost a hundred years of Canada's opposition to the policies that became the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada needs to abandon its colonial period, and no longer side with Australia, New Zealand and United States as settler colonies of the United Kingdom.  We should instead be moving forward with decolonisation in order to become a republic. As a settler Canadian I do not support the continued implication that Canada was formed only by two sets of European colonists (French and English), and that these Europeans took over this land through conquest rather than being honorable with our existing treaty partners and within ongoing treaty negotiations.

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