NDP Opposition Day Motion - on the affordability and accessibility of Canada’s Telecommunication Services

Motion debated in the House:

Mr. Masse (Windsor West):

That, given telecommunications services in Canada cost more than most other countries in the world, leaving far too many Canadians with unaffordable, inadequate or no service at all, the House call on the government to implement measures that will make those services more affordable, including:

a) a price cap to ensure every Canadian saves money on their bill;

b) abolishing data caps for broadband Internet, and mandating that companies create unlimited data plans at affordable rates for wireless services;

c) putting an end to egregious and outrageous sales and services practices through a Telecom Consumers’ Bill of Rights;

d) revisiting the structure of the spectrum auction to make sure everyday Canadians benefit most from the revenue, rather than repeating the failures of previous Liberal and Conservative governments, which squandered almost $20 billion from previous auctions; and

e) directing the CRTC to reverse their rural and remote broadband implementation policy, which condemns these areas, including many Indigenous communities, to years of substandard broadband and wireless services.

Peter's speech:

Context : Debate

I wanted to start off by praising the work of the member of Parliament for Windsor West, who has been dogged and determined to bring fairness with respect to the telecom charges people are paying right across the country. He does an extraordinary job. He will be speaking in the House a bit later on today. Right now, he is in a press conference, making sure that journalists across the length and breadth of this country are familiar with the NDP's five-point plan to not only save Canadians money but also expand telecom coverage right across the country so that broadband and cellular services are made available in remote areas of the country where it is not available now.

What does the five-point NDP plan mean and what does it mean if Parliament adopts it? What it could mean for a Canadian is savings of up to $600 a year. I want to go into that in some detail, because the reality is Canadians are struggling to make ends meet.

Recently, as members are aware, we found that, in any one month, half of Canadians are $200 away from insolvency. What we have seen over the past few decades is more inequality and a greater struggle for average Canadian families to make ends meet. We should all find it shameful that the average Canadian family now has the worst family debt load in any country in the industrialized world. That means Canadians have been struggling to make ends meet and for decades the federal government has done very little to assist them with that. We often find that lobbyists, such as the big Internet companies from the United States, which are not even paying taxes in Canada, have had an influence, and the lobbyists for the telecom companies have also made a difference. Therefore, it is common sense, not rocket science, to simply have the federal government take the measures needed to make a difference in the lives of Canadians.

As we know, in the developed world, Canadians pay some of the highest prices for mobile, wireless and broadband services. It costs them a lot more per month than people who live in other countries. That means there is price gouging taking place. The federal government has basically allowed big telecom to gouge Canadians with impunity. That has to end. The current NDP five-point plan would put measures in place to ensure that would not happen anymore.

Let us take one example. This is something that has come out of many studies. What studies have shown consistently is that the average price for Canadians who have a two gigabyte plan per month for data—and I am among them, as I am sure many Canadians are—is now somewhere in the neighbourhood of $75 to $76 a month. The question is this. How does that compare with plans in other parts of the world, because obviously if Canadians are paying too much, then putting measures in place to ensure Canadians are not being gouged makes a great deal of sense.

Similar studies that have been done show the difference between what Canadians pay and what people in other parts of the industrialized world pay. If we were in Toronto, a monthly plan for two gigabytes of data would cost about $75.50 a month. What is the price for a two gigabyte plan in Paris? For people who are French and living in Paris, the same two gigabyte plan would cost $30.91. That is a substantive difference. The difference can basically be summed up as the big telecom companies in Canada are being allowed to gouge Canadians with impunity. In other parts of the world, governments have taken action to restrict the amount of money that can be gouged from the consumer.

In London, the same gigabyte plan, which is $30 in Paris and $75 in Canada, is $26.56 on average, which is $50 less per month than in Canada. In Rome, for the same plan, two gigabytes per month, one would pay $24.70. These are European examples.

We can look at a country that is similar to our country, such as Australia, which is a vast land, differing infrastructure, and many parts of Australia are remote as are many parts of Canada. Australia put in place measures to ensure that it has a cell phone and Internet broadband infrastructure. However, in Australia, they have found that those same prices are substantially less than what they are in Canada. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, in Australia, the price is $24.70 per month. Therefore, it is $50 less a month for a two-gigabyte plan in Australia, which faces the same infrastructure challenges across its vast expanse as Canada does, but it has a better degree of remote broadband and cell phone access. It has put in place a better infrastructure, and the cost per month for the average Australian is $50 a month less than in Canada.

I talked about Italy, and I misspoke a moment ago. In Rome, if one is looking at broadband and wireless access, it would cost $21.11, which is a profound difference to Canada. We are talking about $50 more that Canadians are paying for a two-gigabyte plan, and this is just one of many examples. Consumers living in France, the United Kingdom, Italy or in the vast expanse of Australia are paying $50 a month less for a two-gigabyte plan than we are here in Canada. There is no other way to explain this except rampant price gouging and governments refusing to protect consumers. That ends today with the NDP five-point plan.

The motion was read earlier, but I think it is important to reiterate what the NDP five-point plan is proposing, which is:

One, we would put a price cap to ensure every Canadian saves money on their bill. This is a best practice that other countries have put in place and it has saved money for their consumers.

Two, we would abolish data caps for broadband Internet and mandate that companies create unlimited data plans at affordable rates for wireless services. This abolishing of the data cap has also made a substantive difference for other countries, and consumers in other countries are paying substantially less, $600 a year less. I would ask the Canadian population, the middle-class, working-class families, what they could do with that $600 more they are paying compared to the Italian, French, English or Australian consumers. There is simply no way to legitimize or justify the price gouging that is taking place.

Three, we would put an end to egregious and outrageous sales and services practices through a telecom consumers’ bill of rights.

Four, we would revisit the structure of the spectrum auction to make sure everyday Canadians benefit.

Five, we would redirect the CRTC to stop its interpretation that is guaranteeing substandard broadband and wireless services for rural and remote communities.

This five-point plan makes sense to everybody but the big telecom lobbyists. It makes sense for Parliament to adopt it today. The result would be a $600 saving per year for the average Canadian family. It would make a difference. Therefore, I urge all members to vote for the NDP five-point plan to reduce the cost of telecom and to expand services in this country.

Context : Questions and Comments

Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, I wish the member had listened to my speech. He will have other opportunities as other NDP members will be explaining it again later on.

The difference I cited is for a two-gigabyte plan per month. The average cost in Canada, in places like Toronto or the member's own riding in Winnipeg, is $75.44 per month; in Australia, Sydney, for example, it is $24.70. That is what I cited in my original speech and I will be reiterating it throughout the course of the day. There is simply no way to justify Canadians in Winnipeg having to pay $50 per month more for their telecom, wireless and broadband services, than an Australian has to. They have the same infrastructure challenges, apples to apples.

What has happened, though, in Australia is that the government has taken effective measures to ensure that there are not these windfall profits and that consumers are not being gouged, and that is what New Democrats are bringing to the floor of the House of Commons today.

Context : Questions and Comments

Mr. Peter Julian: Once again, Mr. Speaker, Conservatives are supporting the big telecom lobbyists, like they have done with big oil and gas. No matter how much money the Liberals pour into companies for the Conservatives, it never seems to be enough. Here is a case where the Conservatives could have taken action for 10 years and never did. That means every Canadian consumer, including consumers in the member's own riding, are paying $600 more than they should be because of the lack of government action. The member threw out a drive-by insult, but the reality is that other countries have put these measures in place. Other countries have protected their consumers and it is about time the Canadian government actually protected consumers.

The other point is that this would also have a profound impact on small businesses. Small businesses are being gouged, including in the member's own riding. Putting these measures in place not only helps individual Canadian families but helps small businesses that can be competitive and create jobs in communities right across the country. The average revenue per gigabyte in Canada is up to 70 times for big telecom than it is in other countries. We are talking about excessive windfall profits. We need some common sense and decency and save money for Canadian consumers.

Context : Questions and Comments

Mr. Peter Julian (New Westminster—Burnaby, NDP): Madam Speaker, I am reminded of Shakespeare, much sound and fury signifying nothing. The member opposite gave a completely meaningless speech, attacking the New Democrats, but not offering any solutions at all. He has not replied to the critical question that we have been raising all day, in the one example we gave, of why it costs Canadians, getting two gigabytes per month of data, $75 per month in Canada and in all of the other examples we cited, including France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Australia, it is $20 to $25.

His constituents know that they are paying $50 a month too much, and yet the Liberals have proposed nothing, except slapping each other on the back, to what is the most egregious price gouging of consumers and families who are already hard hit. As we know, half of Canadian families are $200 away from insolvency in any given month under the Liberal government, the highest level of family debt that we have ever experienced in our history and in the history of any industrialized country. The family debt level is crippling Canadians and yet the Liberals offer nothing to push back against what is the most egregious price gouging of Canadians.

Why do the Liberals not have anything to offer? Why do they not have any answers? After three and a half years in power, why is this price gouging continuing?

Context : Questions and Comments

Mr. Peter Julian (New Westminster—Burnaby, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. She is an extraordinary member of Parliament. Just a few months ago, all members of Parliament voted her the best local representative in the entire House of Commons. That is because of the good work she does every day on behalf of her constituents.

It is in that light that I would like to ask her a question. We have the Liberals and the Conservatives, who know full well, it is not that they are ignorant of the facts, they know full well of the massive price gouging that is taking place on Canadian consumers. Total revenue per gigabyte in the big telecom companies is roughly 70 times higher than other countries. The excess profits, the ripoffs are taking place. Liberals and Conservatives have indicated today that they want to continue with impunity. Rather than standing up for their constituents, they are standing up for the big telecom lobbyists, isolated in Ottawa. They do not understand.

We have these windfall massive profits in the most profitable sector in Canada, and in a similar vein, we have seen the same kind of windfall profits in the pharmaceutical sector. It is always the same justification, that we can rip off the public because some of the money will do some good at some point.

I would like to ask the member if her constituents buy that argument, that government can give tens of billions of dollars to these big corporate lobbyists and that somehow, eventually, that will benefit Canadians, or does she believe that people in this House should be standing up on behalf of their constituents and putting in a price limit so that we do not see the excessive gouging that we have seen over the last few years?

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