Two years after peak crypto, Bitcoin has faded from the political conversation

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Almost two years after reaching all-time highs in value, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have faded from prominence in Canadian politics. They also no longer appear on the public asset disclosure forms of several members of Parliament — including Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, once one of crypto’s most prominent supporters in the political sphere. The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner publicizes summaries of disclosures made by all MPs. Those disclosures list assets like cryptocurrency if their value is greater than $10,000. As recently as February, Poilievre disclosed ownership of shares in a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund, Purpose Bitcoin. But in his most recent disclosure in September, Poilievre no longer lists the asset. The Conservative leader may have sold the shares, or their overall value may have fallen below $10,000, which would eliminate the need to disclose them publicly. Poilievre’s office did not respond to several requests for comment from CBC News on the leader’s personal holdings or current position on cryptocurrency. As Poilievre campaigned for the Tory leadership on the way to a landslide victory, he spoke positively about decentralized finance and cryptocurrency. At one point, he argued that crypto would allow Canadians to “opt-out” of inflation, which was soaring at the time. And he famously used Bitcoin to purchase a shawarma at a London, Ont., restaurant in March 2022. Cryptocurrency assets have also disappeared from the disclosure forms of several other MPs who previously held them, including Conservatives Ben Lobb and Tony Van Bynen and Liberal Chandra Arya (who still holds stock options in cryptoexchange company Coinbase). A number of MPs do still disclose personal crypto holdings. They include Liberal Joël Lightbound (who chairs a parliamentary committee that studied cryptoassets) and Conservative Ryan Williams. Peaking in value in November 2021 at over $80,000, Bitcoin’s price subsequently fell by almost three quarters to just over $21,000 at its lowest point in the last year. It has since rebounded in part, reaching around $48,000 this month. Experts in cryptocurrency technology and regulation told CBC News that media and political attention in cryptocurrencies tracks closely with the price of the assets. Many cryptocurrencies have surged by around 30 per cent in the past month. “It happens all the time,” said Jeremy Clark, an associate professor at Concordia University who specializes in blockchain technology. “Price goes up, it’s all over the news. It goes away, then two years later it goes back up.” Far less discussion of crypto than last year Cryptocurrency broke into the Canadian political mainstream over the past several years. Mentions of “cryptocurrency” in parliamentary chambers and committees peaked at 279 over 2022 but have since dropped to just 94 in 2023 to date. Most of the references have been made by Liberals, looking to call attention to Poilievre’s previous advocacy. Just recently, the Liberals launched an attack ad on Poilievre, leaning on his Bitcoin stance. A private member’s bill attempting to encourage growth in the sector, sponsored by Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, was voted down earlier this year. A parliamentary committee studying the issue delivered a report on the issue in June, arguing crypto had the potential to generate “significant long-term economic and job creation opportunities in Canada.” But a government response to the study did not commit to following through on its recommendations and instead referred more broadly to existing programs and regulations. Mariam Humayun, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa who researches cryptocurrency, said that despite the waning political and media interest, those in the industry continue to develop new technologies and products. “They’ve been building, despite nobody paying attention to them and media not caring about it or politicians not caring about it,” Humayun said. In fact, Humayun said, a certain skepticism has emerged in the cryptocurrency community regarding politicians. “I think a lot of people in the Bitcoin space actually kind of are very wary of politicians, because they sort of see them as fair-weather friends,” she said. “They will embrace these things when everything is great, but then they don’t really talk about it when things are down, right?” A question of regulation Without clear direction from governments, responsibility for handling emerging regulatory issues in cryptocurrency has fallen to independent regulators, said Matthew Burgoyne, who co-chairs a specialized digital asset team at the Osler law firm. Canada’s umbrella regulator, the Canadian Securities Administrators, has published several of what are called “staff notices” on the technology. “They’re not law. They don’t have the the the force of law,” Burgoyne said. “But what’s happened is most cryptocurrency companies in Canada, primarily trading platforms, have followed staff’s suggestions.” That creates a situation where there’s “de facto” law, he said. “I think in this environment it’s just important for the federal government to take a stand and I think that would alleviate some confusion,” Burgoyne said. The last few years also saw some developments on new digital currency technology. The Bank of Canada announced it would review the possibility of a digital Canadian currency, for example. “My view from the Bank is that they don’t see cryptocurrencies as big enough yet. They’re keeping an eye on it, they’re aware of it, but they don’t see it as a threat to the Canadian dollar,” said Clark. Clark said that even though the crypto industry is still developing, still deploying new technologies, it suffers from limited mainstream appeal. Most of the activity in the industry was in the financial services sector, he said, with little application to everyday life. “I think if it doesn’t break out of tools for blockchain people trading blockchain things, ultimately it’s not going to succeed,” he said.

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