Work in ICT/interactive media? These are your issues. #elxn42

With only a few weeks to go in the Canadian federal election campaign, not all Canadians are decided on who they want to govern the country. In many cases, Canadians are trying to decide if they even should vote.

We get so lost in the contemplation of our needs as Canadian citizens that we get overwhelmed. In that overwhelm we sometimes forget that there are key issues on the table that affect the industries we work in.

For an interactive media or digital tech professional, aka information and communications technology professional (hereon in, we’ll call ourselves the “ICT professional”), we’ve been largely ignored. While ignored, it doesn’t mean this election doesn’t have a lot of impact on our industry’s growth and potential for prosperity. The prosperity of our sector means more stable jobs which increases our spending power, improves Canada’s GDP and well, you get the picture.

My original intent was to look in depth at the various platforms, but after a quick issues brainstorm with my Interactive Media Management students, I realized there are a LOT of issues and quite a number of government agencies impacting Canada’s digital economy. That would be a lengthy series of blog posts that I can only wish I had the time to author. So instead – a list (kind of TL;DR, but very worth it if you’re still undecided!) of key issues and how they impact the ICT sector.

Before you head to the polls this month (advance polls are open this weekend!), take a look at the platforms of the parties you’re considering with these issues in mind:

Support small business

“Support” means different things to different people. Does it mean tax breaks? Does it mean access to funding? And even then, is it grants or loans? Also, small business has historically meant “mom and pop” shops. Now it means fast moving scalable, always pivoting start-ups. Are the systems being proposed for small business a fit for our businesses? Add to that how to be ready for being big companies, many start-up employees get stock options – any policies on adding taxes to stock options need to be clear about what’s for wealthier Canadians versus those trying to build a company from the ground up. If you’re looking for specific agencies, Business Development Bank of Canada is one to seek reference of in the platforms as typically government loans for small business get run through them.

Encourage research and development

R&D is the heart of all things interactive media and digital tech.  We are already very well supported by many different R&D grants and tax breaks, but are they serving the industry effectively?  Are the parties planning to reform? Are they adding R&D incentives for innovation in digital tech or only for more established industries, or are there partnership opportunities to bring digital tech together with established industries (for example, the work by many in wearables, mhealth, and elearning)? Organizations you might see mentioned on the matter include the SR&ED tax credit, SSHRC and National Research Council, and FedDev Ontario (or similar initiatives).

Edit: IRAP is the other federal R&D agency to watch for policy updates on.

Job creation & entrepreneurship

What Canadian is not tired of hearing about “job creation”. But it’s true. The workforce in interactive media and digital tech is highly educated.  Are we being used effectively in the industry? Are we missing opportunities because no one can afford to have the proper resources on a problem or product? What about supporting freelancers and small consulting businesses who truly are the backbone of our sector?  Resources for them to expand?

Edit: Many of the federally funded entrepreneurship programs are designed for 18-29 year olds. But due to the ebb and flow of companies and hiring cycles, many GenX and Boomers find themselves facing freelance work or entrepreneurship, but they’re provided with fewer federal resources even though they have the same mentorship needs and cash flow support. These are the new “middle class” that parties are squabbling over, but are they addressing the cohorts needs?

Social systems

Child care. Heath care. Care for the elderly.  With the high volume of freelancers and start-up entrepreneurs in our industry, this means a lot of Canadians in our industry don’t have formal vacation days or benefits.  Our sector is aging up. Certainly we have a lot of 20-somethings, but Canada’s digital economy dates back a few decades. Guess what – the leaders of our industry are now the “sandwich” generation.  Young children in tow while helping aging parents. These concerns greatly impact how effective Canadians are at work.

Immigration

Canada is facing a shortage of skilled employees, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math. Do our immigration policies help bring in skilled people to fill our gaps?  Or are they hindering?

Education

Education is outlined in the constitution as a provincial issue. But as a highly educated workfoce, we are all very familiar with the rising cost of tuition. While there are some pretty great tax breaks on tuition and loan interest, is that the only solution? Should tuition be more affordable to begin with?

What about the new reality that as long as you work as an ICT professional you are always going to learning. Are the funding systems for upgrading education enough as they mostly only apply to training through public institutions? (My personal micro-agenda dream wish: tax breaks for individuals and small business to attend industry conferences #swoon).

Privacy

There have been a LOT of new laws put in place in the last few years about privacy (or not when you try to make sense of C-51).  Guess what? It’s us ICT professionals it falls on to follow all of those rules. Might be worth looking at what our obligations are for process and reporting and talk to our MPs about what this means for small business. (Sidebar: did you know that every business, big or small has to adhere to CASL, but no one in politics does? Just a tiny bit irksome).

International trade

Canada is a country that makes its money off exports. While TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) is still too new and too big to fully assess, Export Development Canada and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service are the two cornerstone supports for Canadian businesses to export. This isn’t just about lumber and oil, but also to find international contacts for distribution of our games, apps, SaaS, or tech products. Are these two agencies doing enough? Should they be funded more? Are there gaps in their offerings that should be filled?

Affordable broadband access and mobile service

How many ICT professionals are aware of the % of Canadians with access to internet? (87%), and even then, what percentage of Canadians have broadband? (Less.) Or quality mobile service? (Let’s define “quality”…) Increasingly, Urban Canadians are digital haves, rural Canadians are digital have nots. This also significantly divides those in Canada’s north from the south, which can impact digital skills training which has been identified by the government as a must for the Canadian economy to go forward.  Some of this is already in motion – particularly broadband access to the territories. But is it enough?  And what about the cost per MB of data on our mobile devices, or the overage fees for watching a few extra hours of streaming video at home…?

Promoting Canadian stories on digital platforms (aka “Canadian Content” and culture)

The government of Canada has historically been a strong supporter of arts and culture, including media products.  For those who haven’t been following, for the past 10 years advocates have been trying to get the federal government’s attention on this shift.  This is a blog post onto itself (check out Butter Tarts and Brown Drinks for more detailed information for the finer details of Canadian cultural policy and the digital transition).

The CBC’s mandate is to make itself and its content available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means. While often the butt-end of joke, we can’t deny the role CBC has had over the years in pushing digital content distribution on alternate platforms (another whole other post, link to their video player will suffice for now). Ditto for the NFB, who have expanded their services to experiment with narratives using digital platforms, and winning many prestigious international awards in the process. And of course the Canada Media Fund right now is undergoing a review of how stay relevant as stakeholder of digital content creation during a time of transition (also, they have become one of Canada’s largest funders of independent produced video games).

The CRTC made a bunch of decisions/statements about the future it sees for content delivery in Canada – how many of these will we see happen? Should we see happen? Or not?

Now it’s up to you!

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October 19, 2015
Federal Election
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These are our issues ICT colleagues. And very little of it is being talked about in the twitter-fied sound bites being regurgitated to us on a daily basis.

To educate yourself on who to vote for, contact your local candidates, or spend some time reading the platforms of the various political parties.  For ease of reference, here are the links to the four leading parties platforms (in alphabetical order):

Conservative: http://www.conservative.ca/ (Sorry, I couldn’t find their standalone platform page – if there is one, let me know!)

Greens: http://www.greenparty.ca/en/platform

Liberal: https://www.liberal.ca/realchange/

NDP: http://www.ndp.ca/plan

Reminder – the rules around how to vote have changed. Thankfully, Elections Canada is online to help Canadians determine if they’re on the list, and how to make sure you are set up to vote. If you’d rather talk to someone in person, contact your local Elections Canada office.

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