Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise on this bill, which is now Bill C-28 and was Bill C-27. As has been indicated before, it has been a very long time getting to this point, in fact, several Parliaments and elections, to the point where Canada is pretty much last in the line of modern developed countries that have such legislation.
I listened very carefully to what the member for Timmins—James Bay had to say. He talked about the lack of a broadband strategy on the part of the government and he is absolutely correct. There are many things the current government could have been doing. There are many things that the former Liberal government was doing when John Manley was industry minister.
There are a lot of innovative ideas in the marketplace. For example, a few years ago it was discovered that school boards, some in the United States, were able to set up dark fibre co-ops. In the past the school boards had been under contract with the telcos and were leasing their broadband from the phone companies. They turned the whole relationship upside down. By the school boards doing their own dark fibre builds, they were able to offer gigabyte Internet access and they sold space to the very telcos that they had been leasing from before.
There is nothing difficult about this. The reality is that the fibre can be laid out on the ground or it can be put through the air or through trenches. Trenching is the most expensive way of laying dark fibre.
In rural communities, for example the community of Churchill in my home province, the government does not have any difficulty because the government has crown lands to work with and rights of way at its disposal. A government that is interested in taking the bull by the horns can mandate in very short order that dark fibre be laid over crown land through pipes that the provinces own. It does not have to make the type of effort that private industry has to.
When a private telco wants to lay fibre, it has to negotiate with the landowners. It has to negotiate rights of way. It is a very involved process. The government has none of that to contend with.
Unfortunately, what has happened in this country is that over the years governments have bowed to the pressure of the telcos that want the good customers. As soon as the government tries to develop a proper broadband strategy, the telcos knock on its door and say that the government cannot do that because it is against the principles of free enterprise. The telcos want the right to offer this service in cities and urban centres where they can run the final mile very cheaply to people's homes. They want to be able to offer that to residents and to control the pipes to the hospitals and schools so they can make tons of money, but they do not want to do it in rural areas. They do not want to do it in the north.
That is the conundrum that governments have faced. While they could have taken charge in a more determined way, they have tended to piece off the private companies within their jurisdictions. They have allowed telcos to take some good sections and then the governments are stuck with the less profitable areas.
Even so, I still say that all is not lost. Fibre is cheap. Fibre is not expensive and is easy to build. We had four or five examples of co-ops and school boards in the United States that developed their own fibre. They took the cost of the fibre, turned it around and not only leased out their extra capacity but they still had enough capacity in their system to fulfill their own needs for free and at much faster rates.
What will happen when the final mile is completed and the thick fibre exists, rural hospitals, for example, will be connected. The last time I toured Brandon Hospital, which is in a city of about 50,000 people in my province, it was still sending the electronic imaging for medical tests by bus to one of the smaller hospitals in Neepawa, which I believe is the closest hospital. That should not be the case. Once we have a proper broadband strategy, those images will be sent electronically, rather than being put in a can and sent on a bus to another hospital. They will be able to be sent electronically to the hospital. That is what we are talking about here.
That is what the member for Timmins—James Bay was alluding to when he talked about the broadband strategy that we do not see the government making efforts toward. I am not a big fan of the previous Liberal government but when it comes to issues like broadband, at least there was a pulse in that government. We do not hear anything from the current government.
Let us take a look at the whole area of government online programs. Ten years ago, in 1999, the prime ministers of Great Britain and Australia would put their vision statements on a website indicating where they saw government online programs rolling out and developing over the next 10 years.
I remember putting a resolution before the Manitoba legislature that government programs should be online by the year 2010 and that they should be transactional. It was recognized that there was no point in putting all government information online. There would be tons of information online, some usable, some not, but the true goal was to offer government services on a transactional basis. For example, a student applying for student aid or a student loan would not have to ride the bus from Sudbury to Toronto, for example, to have the privilege of standing in line at a government office to fill out an application.
There was a student aid online program set up in Manitoba, probably 10 years ago, which worked from the very beginning. It worked from the very beginning because it was a low-hanging fruit that dealt with youth. If it had been a program for senior citizens who were less inclined to use computers, it might not have worked so well. However, it worked very well because we were dealing with people who understand computers, who have worked with computers in their daily lives and in school settings since they started school. It was natural for the government to put student aid online. That is an example of a program that worked very well.
Those sorts of programs should have been replicated right across all jurisdictions. We should not be offering them in one province and not in another. The provinces had to get together to talk about whether they could share these programs. I have always said that the national government, rather than individual governments, should pay for one national computer program to be used in all the hospitals across the country. We had software developers in my own province getting a grant from one arm of the government, the Department of Industry, to develop a software program and then turn around and sell it to individual hospitals. The taxpayers had the privilege of paying for a certain software program that was already paid for in part by the taxpayers through one arm of the government to pay multiple times as each hospital bought the program.
That made no sense at all to me. Where was the direction and leadership of the government. There were some signs under the latter part of the Paul Martin government that it was showing some interest in developing programs that could be used on a national basis.
We did encourage the provinces to get together and exchange programs, which worked to a certain extent, but it fell down because of the silo effect. People in their own little silos in their own parts of the government refused to co-operate with anyone else. We would hear arguments that it was contrary to the legislation, that it would need to alter it to the legislation in its jurisdiction or that it did not meet its capacities.
However, there were these off the shelf programs. For example, the Securities Commission in Alberta had a program that Manitoba could simply adapt because it was exactly what it needed. However, we found a lot of silo thinking where people would say that was specialized for Alberta and that they needed to have their own made in Manitoba.
In many ways we find ourselves working against ourselves and perhaps that is why the system is not as advanced at it should be.
A few minutes ago my colleague mentioned consumer legislation. In 2002 in Manitoba, we put together bill 31. I was asked to be the coordinator of it. We had to pull in all the people from four or five departments and we had that typical silo problem. Before we got them together in one room, we heard all the reasons that it could not be done or could never be done. We called them together in one room and asked them what their problems were. In a group environment they did not have a problem.
Therefore, we proceeded with a very big omnibus bill. As a matter of fact, it was designed and crafted under the Uniform Law Conference of Canada suggested wordings and it was the most comprehensive of its type in Canada at the time.
One of the things that got the bill moving a lot quicker was the idea of putting in some consumer legislation. We discovered that there were between one and four states in the United States that had laws that said that if people did not receive their product or service that they ordered on line that the credit card companies would be held responsible to reimburse them. That sounded very intriguing. That was 10 years ago. That was at a time when Internet commerce was still in its infancy and we were trying to encourage it in Manitoba. However, we did not want people to be afraid of it and think that somehow if they bought something on line and they did not get it they would be out their money and would not know how to retrieve it.
In bill 31, we made the credit card companies responsible for any Manitoban's purchases online and if they did not receive the product or the service, the credit card company would be responsible.
Can anyone guess what happened? We went to committee and we heard from the credit card companies. Some of them were not too happy about this but Visa, which is a very big organization, did not put up that much of a fight.
We put forward that particular piece of consumer-friendly legislation and we put forward other pieces of consumer legislation but the reason we brought in this legislation in the first place was to streamline the government and make it more efficient.
We were trying to use the common business identifier. In the old days, the federal government and the provinces were using their own business numbers. We had situations in provincial governments where people were not even paying their PST or GST to the government and, in fact, were in receipt of grants from other parts of the government. This was an intolerable situation and it is something that should never happen.
Therefore, by having a common business identifier and a centralized computing system, we were able to tell if a person had applied for a grant from a certain department and whether the person was in arrears on his or her PST or whether the person owed the taxpayers all sorts of money that he or she had not paid back through taxes. We were trying to put a stop to that. We were also trying to make the system easier to use for businesses so they could file their returns. We were cutting down the paperwork involved in business.
The Conservatives just love to talk about red tape. One of the first things Conservative politicians love to talk for hours about is reducing red tape. The former member for Portage--La Prairie, who was in this House for several years, made his career on cutting red tape in the Manitoba legislature. He also made his career on eliminating the pension plan in the Manitoba legislative assembly. I can tell the House that it was not a very happy group of former MLAs when he moved to the federal scene and proceeded to collect his own federal pension when they in fact had lost their own, but that is an aside.
Nevertheless, the legislation before us today is long overdue. As a matter of fact, we have a danger here that this legislation will need to be re-tweaked. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech in response to some comments by the member for Timmins—James Bay, nothing in this bill involves any criminality.
We just had a case in the last two weeks where Facebook got a judgment against a Canadian guy for $1 billion. He did a huge amount of spamming on the Facebook system and has made a hero out of himself by getting all kinds of free publicity around the world. What has he done? He has simply declared bankruptcy. We could go to all this trouble of finally passing this bill after all these years and find out that it is totally ineffective when we have people running huge spamming operations in this country right under the noses of the authorities and then, when they finally do end up in court and get sued, they just simply declare bankruptcy and are gone or simply change countries.
Clearly, if we are passing legislation now, we should ensure there are enough penalties in here that will make people responsible and try to correct the behaviours that we are seeing.
However, as we indicated, there are bigger issues. This is an important issue and we need to deal with it, but the member for Timmins—James Bay talked about the other areas, such as the broadband strategy that is lacking from the government. The vision on broadband is very vital to this country and especially to the survival and development of rural Canada. There is also the whole issue of government online programs, which we hear nothing about from the government.