Rip Van Regulator
CBC president helps write CRTC obituary

Brian Flemming

GOVERNMENT regulation of business and industry was one of the most original inventions of western liberal democracies Its genius lay in the safe channel it provided between the Scylla of laissez-faire capitalism and the Charybdis of command economy communism.

A classic political “third way” it led to the creation of mixed

Like most great political ideas, it was deceptively simple. It began to blossom as the Industrial Age gathered momentum and legislatures couldn’t pass enough detailed statutes to keep up with the huge economic, social and cultural problems new technologies were spawning.

The unlikeliest of revolutionaries, government.’, lawyers, stepped into the bureaucratic breach with “delegated legislation,” the proper name for government regulation. Using this simple technique; governments had only to pass skeletal enabling statutes in which the power to draft detailed regulations was handed to the executive branch of government, or to the regulators themselves.

The sometimes sordid act of legislating thereby moved to the cloistered calm of legislative counsels’ chambers where Cartesian values could be carefully cultivated. The political “noise” Machiavelli so treasured became muted as the rise of delegated legislation turned into the most massive transfer of democratic power yet.

But as often happens, the “victors” (e.g. 20th-century regulators) faced their most serious challenges after they reached the summit of their success. History is littered with examples of this paradox of the pinnacle.

Most recent was the Soviet empire: it appeared superpower-strong just before it disappeared faster than an unguarded Faberge Egg in post-Soviet Russia.

In similar fashion, the emerging cyber-economy threatens to consign many hitherto “successful” forms of government regulation to the compost heap of history The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is an early candidate for the high jump.

Mandarin’s mandarin

New CBC boss Bob Rabinovitch, a mandarin’s mandarin, recently pushed the CRTC along its road to oblivion. After it tried to issue a licence with more conditions than those accompanying title to a feudal farm, Rabinovitch told his regulator to get out of his face.

In truth, the CRTC represents all that is wrong with post-modern government regulation. For starters, this constipated, politically correct commission hasn’t had a real “makeover” since 1972, before telecoms, power generation and airlines began their long march toward deregulation.

The extent of its ossification can be seen at CRTC “hearings.” They are more stringently scripted than papal canonization procedures. The agency has 4so succumbed to the mortal sin of regulators: trying to micromanage new books. If the books were the businesses it regulates. Rabinovitch rightly ridiculed it for that.

Two years ago, this Rip Van Regulator “discovered” the Internet. In a vain effort to extend Its life, the CRTC studied the possibility of regulating cyberspace. It concluded this was impossible. That report effectively chiselled the CRTC’s epitaph.

The CRTC cannot control the CBC because it cannot regulate broadcasting on the Net. Rabinovitch hinted he would head in this direction. Welcome to the Wayne’s World of rec-room broadcasting.

Has Rabinovitch enough stroke with the CBC’s “shareholder” to brush aside the bleating of the broadcast regulator? Ignoring it will be his best strategy because regulators, once created, are harder to destroy than Dracula. When the first great information technology – the movable type printing press – was invented, the Vatican established a “regulator” to censor new books. If the books were deemed doctrinally OK, the agency issued a license, A.K.A an imprimatur. Astonishingly, that institution lasted until 30 years ago when the church finally closed it. QED.

As the CRTC sinks slowly into irrelevancy, it will whine about protecting Canadian culture and the need for regions to be “reflected” to themselves and to the rest of us. (Is Toronto a region? We should be told.)

Control culture freaks

But it’s too late. Pathetic pleas won’t work because the CRTC is in no better position to survive than were those thousands of monks who, before Gutenberg, copied all books by hand. The regulatory tide is on its way out for the control-culture freaks of the’ CRTC.

“King” Rabinovitch, Canada’s unlikely clone of King Canute, deserves our thanks for pointing this out to the haughty courtiers of the CRTC.