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Google looking to form Canadian lobby group for internet companies

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Google has approached several leading tech companies about forming a new tech lobby group in Canada, The Logic has learned.

Multiple sources familiar with the matter confirmed to The Logic that Google wants to create a Canadian version of the Washington, D.C.-headquartered Internet Association (IA).

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Talking Point

Google has approached multiple leading tech companies and offered to cover half the startup costs for a new lobby group, multiple sources told The Logic. The group would seek to influence the federal government on a range of key policy issues for internet companies.

According to the sources, Google Canada has offered to cover half the startup costs for the new organization. Conversations are still in the preliminary phase, but discussions have included the organization hiring an executive director to lobby the federal government, they added.

“Over the past year, I have spoken to several people at other companies about the need to build an organization that can speak specifically to the interests of businesses that either build their business on top of online platforms, or build platforms themselves,” said Colin McKay, Google Canada’s head of public policy and government relations, in a statement.

He cited the federal government’s digital and data consultations and the growth of artificial intelligence in Canada as examples of issues that have been discussed.

Multiple sources said the discussions included forming a Canadian version of the IA, a lobby group formed in 2012 with 46 members in the U.S. The IA declined to comment when asked if it’d been approached by Google Canada or other members operating in Canada about setting up a local chapter.

McKay said his conversations with other companies “have not evolved to the point of identifying an organizational model or policy agenda.”

Most IA members are publicly-traded or mature technology firms headquartered in the U.S. McKay said the organization discussed in Canada would reflect both domestic and multinational companies, and startups as well as more established firms.

“The intent here is to expand the number of participants and voices in the policy debate in Canada,” he said.

The Logic reached out to 43 companies, including members of the IA in the U.S. that operate in Canada and firms which sources indicated Google had reached out. Thirty-four did not respond by deadline when asked if they had been approached, and eight declined to comment. Only PayPal said it had not been contacted.

“We don’t comment on speculation about potential alliances or conversations with other organizations,” said Cam Gordon, head of communications at Twitter Canada.

“We’re going to pass on commenting as we don’t have a strong point of view at this moment,” said Taina Biggs, head of communications for the Americas at Transferwise, a U.K.-based money transfer company.

McKay is on the board of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), an existing lobby group that represents Canadian tech and telecom companies, as well as foreign subsidiaries. One source said on background that ITAC is heavily focused on telecommunications issues, which is why it would make sense for Google to want a dedicated internet lobby group.

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“We cannot speak to what Google may or may not do,” said Jennifer Gibson Eichner, director of communications at ITAC, directing questions to the tech giant. However, she said ITAC is “very supportive of Google Canada and all of our members that are interested in supporting various facets of Canada’s diverse ICT industry.”

McKay said Google Canada will remain a member of ITAC.

The IA calls itself the “unified voice of the internet economy,” and has a chapter in the United Kingdom.

In Canada, 15 IA members have employees or consultants registered to lobby the federal government; they filed 306 monthly communication reports in 2018.

Online platforms have been under increasing scrutiny in Canada over the last year. In December, a parliamentary committee made 26 recommendations on regulating Big Tech, including making data a part of the Competition Bureau’s review of large mergers, and auditing algorithms. Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly criticized Facebook and Google for being slow to take responsibility for the content on their platforms.

And, there is growing concern among large technology companies in Canada that a sales tax on platform service fees—like the one that took effect in Quebec on January 1—could be introduced federally, the sources said. In August 2018, The Logic reported that Facebook would start collecting sales tax on advertisements bought through their Canadian offices, as part of a worldwide change. At the time, Airbnb, Netflix, Google and Spotify all said they would comply with any legislation on the subject.