Second Opinion: Explaining this is just a nuisance

Columnist Jim Holtz talks about the new anti-spam legislation.

The confusion surrounding the Conservative’s anti-spam legislation is indicative of the many ills affecting large government bureaucracies in general and the Conservative government’s approach to dealing with the public in particular.

The bill attempts to deal with the large amount of unwanted electronic communications infecting the cyber-world, yet it is powerless to restrict the high percentage of junk email that originates outside Canadian borders.

The legislation itself is confusing. In its attempt to define the difference between electronic communications which are desirable to an individual and those which are not and should be banned, it uses terms like “personal relationship,” “consent,” “existing business relationship (EBR),” “non-EBR,” and  “commercial electronic message (CEM)” all of which have to be carefully defined.

Of course, on its website the Canadian Radio-televison and Telecommunications Commission tries to explain the legislation, but on its Frequently Asked Questions page the answer to the very first and supposedly simple question (When does the legislation come into force?) refers the reader to five different web pages for the complete answer.

On the surface, July 1, 2014 is the date by which all persons using electronic communications for commercial purposes must be in compliance. That seems to be what the legislation states. Yet unofficially, chambers of commerce are being counselled that small businesses really don’t have to worry until July 1, 2017 when the final piece of the legislation is scheduled to come into force.

When the Gazette tried to contact the commission on its media hotline to ask for a clarification on the date that compliance with the legislation was really required, the man who answered the phone said that there was no one available to answer that question and gave the reporter a media relations email address to send the question to.

The response to the e-mailed question was a terse reference to the Frequently Asked Questions web page.

The idea that governments don’t really want to be bothered explaining themselves and their actions to the people is not a new one. Explaining things is a nuisance for them. The Conservative government in particular seems loath to be bothered with explanations and it passes that attitude down to the bureaucrats who are instructed to never answer questions themselves.

However, when the responsibilities of the many men and women in the government’s media relations department have been reduced to merely referring members of the media to government websites, one wonders if perhaps their goal of limiting pesky and annoying questions has gone too far.