Jean-Pierre Blais in as New CRTC Boss

by Jordan Richardson on June 11, 2012

Jean-Pierre Blais is the new chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. He will commence a five year term on June 18 and was appointed to the post by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Blais is the second CRTC head to be appointed by Harper.

“He brings a strong legal background and a comprehensive understanding of the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors and the role of the CRTC, having held high-level positions at the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the CRTC,” Harper said in a statement.

There are some political motivations behind the appointment, with Blais holding experience in the bureaucracy and knowing how and when not to take on the government. The previous chairman, Konrad von Finckenstein, was more inclined to take on the Tories over the years.

Blais certainly has his work cut out for him. He’ll face things like the CBC’s licence renewal hearings in short order, but the more contentious issues are related to the wireless industry and Canada’s troubled telecommunications landscape. The upcoming spectrum auction will be on Blais’ proverbial plate, as will continued notions of “competition” and foreign ownership.

The inside view on Blais appears to be that he is “enforcement-minded,” which could mean that he’ll be stricter when it comes to imposing fines and punishment.

On the other hand, Blais appears to be a backer of big media. That could spell trouble for the CBC in upcoming negotiations, as he once told the public company that “mega-mergers” were the only way Canadians could compete on a global scale. How (or if) this would translate to policy decisions remains to be seen, but his foundational philosophies should prove educational.

Obviously, the Harper government is hoping for smoother sailing. Clashes with the previous CRTC head over issues like foreign ownership and usage-based billing have set the stage for Blais’ arrival. With the new boss, the Tories have to be hoping for a change and a more conciliatory tenor. Ottawa has also made it clear that the CRTC does not “set policy,” ensuring that the new chairman knows that the job of the regulator is, roughly, interpretation of the objectives of existing policy.

Blais most recently served at the Treasury Board and has a senior position within Canadian Heritage as the assistant deputy minister of cultural affairs, which put him in charge of some copyright issues. He is a lawyer by trade and once served as the executive director of broadcasting for the CRTC.

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