CRTC Chairman Ian Scott

Two weeks ago the Competitive Network Operators of Canada (CNOC) filed a Part One application with the CRTC asking for Ian Scott to "recuse himself, or be recused, from deciding all matters affecting service-based competition" pending the outcome of a Federal court decision involving TekSavvy and CRTC decision 2021-181, in which TekSavvy alleges "a reasonable apprehension of bias and
breach of procedural fairness in Chairperson Scott’s conduct and public statements leading up to the CRTC’s decision."  

The whole ordeal goes back this 2019 photo posted by @LeDevoir/@TekSavvyBuzz on Twitter which shows Bell CEO Mirko Bibic & CRTC Chair Ian Scott out for beers in Ottawa just a week after Bell filed an appeal to the CRTC 2019 wholesale rate decision.

According to a National Post article, Scott claims did nothing inappropriate and that he was just meeting someone he’d known “for many years” for a beer, and that the meeting wasn’t initially about business.

Obviously smaller ISPs don't see it this way - as pointed out in the CNOC Part One application this meeting was "not attended by any Commission staff and is alleged to contravene the Commission’s internal protocols and guidelines, as well as
those from the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner."  The phrasing Scott uses to describe the meeting is also interesting - he said it wasn't "initially" about business.  That implies that business was in fact discussed.  If it was "just beers", one would assume he would assert firmly it wasn't about business without the word "initially".  As I've posted about before, language matters in a regulatory setting.

It doesn't really matter if this was initially a beer with a friend or just a beer with a friend - it's clear that what Ian Scott did directly contravened the Canadian governments own policy on Conflict of Interest.  This policy clearly states that "Public servants in the Government of Canada are required to be as concerned with preventing apparent conflicts of interest as they are with preventing real and potential conflicts of interest." If holding an off-book meeting (until the photo was released) over drinks during with someone who has a vested interest in an open file doesn't have the appearance of a perceived conflict of interest then I don't know what does.  

Fast forward to today - in a not so shocking turn of events, the CRTC issued a letter in which they refused to action on the CNOC application and stated that "when a telecommunications matter involving service-based competition is next before the Commission for consideration, the Chairperson will consider whether to recuse himself or not, as he has consistently done in respect of all matters since his appointment, and he will render a decision with respect to his participation in those telecommunications matters at that time."

In other words, the CRTC doesn't want to police its own - they are leaving up to Commissioners themselves to determine if there is a conflict or not, and if they don't think there is one, then it must not exist.  It doesn't matter if everyone else perceives a conflict, if Ian Scott doesn't think he did anything wrong then its fine.  The message from the Commission today is simple - there is no check, no balance, just foxes running the henhouse at 1 Prom Du Portage however they see fit.