Why did Verizon pass on Canada?

Jesse Brown considers the issues that may have scared Verizon away

Was it something we said?

After all, Canada is a perfectly attractive market! Our wireless industry is worth more than $20 billion a year. We have more than 30 million mobile consumers, all frustrated with current relationships and hungry for something new. We have a government practically begging somebody to come over and give us a twirl. So what gives?

Time for a cold, hard look in the mirror. For all we’ve got going for us, we’re not without our issues.

We have legal issues: Telus is suing the federal government over wireless policy in a bitter fight to gobble up more spectrum. We have union issues: last Friday thousands of members of our two biggest unions, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers and Canadian Auto Workers, rallied in the streets of Toronto against the possibility of a scary foreign wireless company setting up shop on our soil.  We have political issues: sure the Conservatives are desperate to bring in a new provider, but even their reign may not last forever. The Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois have all opposed the notion of relaxing foreign ownership restrictions on wireless spectrum in the past.

But the biggest issue might be with our reputation. Verizon was not the first global telecom company Ottawa courted. Our first date was with Orascom CEO Naguib Sawiris, who was talked into launching WIND Mobile here in 2008. It’s a decision he came to regret:

“They take our money and they leave us to the dogs … Anybody who asks me, I tell him, ‘Look, we are the stupid investors that poured a billion dollars into Canada here and created 1,000 new jobs, please don’t do this mistake. Don’t come here.”

If that didn’t put enough stink on us, consider the relentless propaganda campaign launched by the Big Three this summer. It may have done little to turn consumers against Verizon, but the public might not have been the intended audience. The noise might have been to convince Verizon that Canada is a hostile market, rife with regulatory, legal, political and cultural baggage, and just not worth the trouble.

Of course, this is just speculation. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam didn’t say why he wasn’t coming — he just said he’s “not interested”.  And, hey, maybe it’s not us — maybe it’s them. Verizon just spent $130 billion to buy 45 per cent of Vodafone’s shares in Verizon Wireless. Maybe they just don’t have the cash to make a move right now.

Now that I mention it, there’s an idea! Vodafone looks like it suddenly has shekels to burn. Perhaps Industry Minister James Moore should buy them a drink.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown