The association representing Canada’s high-tech industry has thrown down the gauntlet in the federal election campaign by challenging party leaders to “seize the high-tech ground.”
John Reid, president of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance, says the release of the CATA election platform last week is a direct call for political action in the new economy.
“Our purpose is to elevate the whole debate the high-tech platform plays within the various parties,” says Reid.
“We want them to embrace each of these subject areas and themes, and we want to hear from them about their creativity and innovation.
“We want to see exactly what leadership they’re going to show.”
CATA has targeted several core planks in their “Seize the High Ground” election platform, including:
* fiscal measures focused on the human resource shortage;
* full adoption of electronic commerce;
* reducing the burden of regulation;
* research and development acceleration;
* boosting education, market access and trade.
Reid added all of the measures are intended to benefit the Canadian economy as a whole, not just high-tech companies.
“We are challenging all the contending political parties to evaluate their respective platforms against those of Canada’s High Tech Party,” said Brian Edwards, chair of the alliance and CEO of BCE Emergis.
“Our executives from one end of the country to the other are being mobilized to ensure that we are heard and understood . . . we’re basically mobilizing the community behind us.”
The platform is being sent to about 10,000 high-tech executives across Canada. The industry lobby group has also launched an advocacy campaign, using an online survey, to document regulatory obstacles, including tax reform and administrative practices which affect high-tech companies.
“We’re going to flow through these ideas in an aggressive way to the bureaucrats and the politicians,” adds Reid.
CATA has more than 600 members and 1,500 companies, mostly in the ICT sector, which belong to associations affiliated with the alliance. Members include Nortel Networks, IBM, JDS Uniphase, Bombardier and BCE Emergis.
Based on the challenge issued by CATA, Business Edge has surveyed Calgary candidates for the federal election. Their responses are listed below.
If it forms the government, the Canadian Alliance will embrace new technology, says Preston Manning’s campaign manager.
But Harold Davenport said that doesn’t mean the Alliance is ready to spend taxpayers’ money to develop new forms of technology.
He branded CATA as a special interest group trying to promote its own cause. “(Technology) has to be tempered with how well it will be accepted by the general population,” he said
Davenport said the Alliance will show its commitment to new technology by having Manning — the party’s “second in command” — assume a technology portfolio.
“Things are bound to happen with the Alliance party,” said Davenport. “(Manning) knows that, if you have nothing to do with (technology), you’re going to fall by the wayside.”
The CATA Alliance “platform” sounds pretty much like the Liberal Party’s platform, says Calgary South West candidate Barry Rust.
With the exception of CATA’s call for major changes to the Income Tax Act under the rubric of regulatory reform, “four of the five points fall right within the basic strategy of the Liberal platform,” said Rust. “And we favour deregulation where it’s feasible.
“There’s no question the government’s existing emphasis on research has got to be maintained, because there’s a new economy coming down the pike,” said Rust.
CATA’s “biggest ally here is (Finance Minister) Paul Martin. He feels this is absolutely the top priority for the government and for the country,” Rust added.
But he said Martin believes both the provinces and the people of Canada must be on side for such an effort to succeed. “We have to get people on side the same way we did with the need to eliminate the deficit.”
NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY
“There are a few good things here, but a lot of disturbing ones,” observes Don LePan, New Democratic Party candidate in the riding of Calgary Centre, of the CATA Alliance “platform.”
While it’s hard to oppose any call for more emphasis on education, or simplification of tax regulations, or research and development, explains LePan, “what this group is putting forward is an agenda of greed for their particular industry.”
While CATA’s supporting documents suggest the economy will continue to grow, he said, the only sector they think the government should support is their own. They have no sympathy with help for the poor, for families, or for Canadian cultural industries, said LePan.
“But they want money for high tech. Our party has a lot of sympathy for developing high tech,” LePan concluded. “But what they’re calling for is a special deal for a particular industry and that’s not something the New Democrats would support.”
PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE PARTY OF CANADA
The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada views the CATA Alliance “platform” with favour, says Calgary Southeast PC candidate Ray Clark.
“This is a business proposal to create wealth, and that’s good,” says Clark, a former Calgary alderman. “From my perspective . . . anything that creates business creates wealth, creates in the long term social spending. We support that.”
But Conservatives go farther than mere calls for a simplified tax code like those outlined in the CATA proposal, Clark added. “Creating wealth is diminished by repressive taxation. We’re attempting to reduce that” through the party’s proposed reductions to taxation, including its call to eliminate the capital-gains tax.
“What the CATA Alliance is attempting to do is encourage business. Our policies encourage business. So we’re supportive of all of that, and we applaud them for doing it.”
CATA and the Tories both, he added, are “encouraging an opportunity for the majority to win by encouraging business to become profitable — and profit is not a dirty word.”
Bev Smith is running as an independent candidate in Calgary Centre principally to make a point about the policies of all the major parties on tax relief for stay-at-home parents.
She suggests, one of the best ways for the government to support e-commerce is to restructure the tax code to make it easier for employees to work from home — and for employers to let them. The federal government could start by allowing its own employees to work flexible shifts, share jobs and telecommute, she suggests.
“Let people balance their careers and their families,” Smith says. “The government should recognize the important contribution people can make by working at home.”
If the government were serious about having a technically savvy workforce, it would put money back into education of all kinds. “If these people really want to make education make us more competitive in world markets, they’ve got to reduce the cost. . . . The surplus we’ve got is because we cut back on important things. We stole from our children and now it’s time to give it back.”
MARXIST LENINIST PARTY OF CANADA
Peggy Askin, Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada candidate in Calgary Centre, said: “Issuing this political program and asking political parties where they stand is a continuation of the way politics operates in Canada.
“Corporations want a guarantee from politicians that they will continue to hand over the assets of the nation to insure their competitive edge in the global markets.”
However, Askin had kind words for the CATA Alliance, at least for asking the right questions.
“I’ll compliment these people for at least raising issues like: Should education be a priority, does this tax system actually suit the interests of developing an economy that will develop e-commerce?
“If growth in the high-tech industry is also going to give rise to a large amount of employment, then that’s a useful thing,” Askin added.
“If they’re only lobbying for more efficient, quicker ways to make profit, that’s not going to advance the interests of Canadians as a whole.”