Evidence of meeting #167 for Public Safety and National Security in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was solutions.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Paul-Hus.

Mr. Dubé, you have seven minutes, please.

June 10th, 2019 / 3:55 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Amos, thank you for being here and for bringing this motion forward.

So long as we're talking about the content of different motions, I'd like to know something, because I'm intrigued. Why was a study commissioned at the outset? I listened to the discussions with Mr. Graham and Mr. Paul-Hus. For your part, you talked about the work of mayors, councillors or political leaders in your community. So there seems to be a clear consensus on the problem.

Rather than asking for further study by a parliamentary committee, why not introduce a motion or bill requiring the government to make changes and take action on this issue? Such a motion would have identified the problem and the House would have asked the government to do something about it. This would have had more impact, especially since there are only about ten days left in the current parliamentary session.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

First, the motion was introduced in November 2018, before the 2019 budget. The Connect to Innovate program, the largest rural Internet investment program in Canadian history, was already in place. The motion and other political factors have put very constructive pressure on our government and have led to several new investments. As I mentioned, it plans to invest $1.7 billion in the Universal Broadband Fund, and make other investments in satellite technology and spectrum-related public policy measures. A whole series of measures have been taken. Given the slowness of the parliamentary process—

4 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Allow me to interrupt you.

Regarding the municipal actors in our ridings, I regularly speak with Mr. Jacques Ladouceur, who is the mayor of Richelieu as well as the reeve of the Rouville RCM. If there is not much traffic, it will take you 35 or 40 minutes to get from Richelieu to Montreal. It's not very far away. It is a constituency with rural areas, but it is not necessarily a rural constituency.

M. Ladouceur told me that you can throw all the money you want out the window, but—you recognize this in part in your motion—the CRTC relies on certain rules to assess the quality of the Internet connection. I am not an expert in this field and I rely, as we all do, on local actors who know about it. The CRTC measures the quality of the Internet connection in a certain way. If there is a place on the map where there is a certain band quality, the area is not considered a priority. Thirty-five minutes from Montreal, it is conceivable that we could find a house on one range that has a good quality band, but this is not the case for the other houses, and all of them are penalized.

I thank the minister for demonstrating an openness to speak to municipal officials in my riding. The mayors in my riding recognize the problem and I have no doubt that it is the same in yours.

Why limit ourselves to saying that the government has made investments and that we will look into the matter? Why didn't you approach this more forcefully? Money is all well and good, but you need something else. You and the elected municipal officials in your riding have identified the problem. Why don't you send a message to the House that something more needs to be done, such as changing the CRTC rules?

4 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

I believe that the process leading to these changes—whether legislative, regulatory or fiscal—has begun. The Telecommunications Act is being reformed. I am sure that this will be the subject of important discussions during this election period and following the election. This is the right time to present concrete solutions.

Yes, we can go directly to the CRTC, and that's what we did last week. Commission representatives appeared before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology to discuss regulatory issues and its investments. Indeed, the CRTC has a $750 million fund that comes solely from telecommunications companies and not directly from taxpayers. All these discussions are taking place right now, but there is no easy solution. That is the issue. That is why I asked for these two studies. We cannot take certain things for granted. As a voter, I would like a political party to propose not one solution, but a range of solutions, whether it involves the spectrum, the tax aspect, investments or regulation.

Do we now have all the solutions to these problems? I don't think so. That is why I am opening the discussion. I believe in the potential of 338 members of Parliament who care about rural Canada.

4 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

My last question is similar to the one Mr. Graham asked earlier. Two studies in tandem, we don't often see that. As for public safety, I appreciate that you don't want it to be an afterthought.

That being said, are there any specific actors we should talk to? We are talking about floods, and, in particular, various equipment. What could the committee focus on to be useful in this regard? The preamble largely deals with economic and regulatory aspects, but what do you see for us?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

May I ask you to answer quickly, please?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

I am thinking here of firefighters' associations, police departments, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and other municipal groups, as well as mayors of small communities across Canada. We must listen to Canadians. To know their stories and experiences is to know the reality. I find that Parliament sometimes lacks representation from small communities. I am also thinking of the security services across the country. These were some suggestions.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Dubé.

Mr. Picard, you have the floor for seven minutes.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

Mr. Amos, you said that your fellow citizens were eager to see the establishment of a cellular telephony infrastructure. We can understand them.

How realistic are your fellow citizens about how long it will take to set up this system? This will not happen in a day or a week.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Honestly, this is the most difficult aspect of our work and, in this case, of mine. I know that by advocating for digital infrastructure solutions, I am open to criticism. That's for sure. People want solutions, but would have wanted them yesterday. It is not in two or three months and even less in two or three years that they want an Internet connection. They would have wanted it yesterday, and rightly so. It will be very difficult for me to get my electorate to fully consider how long it will take. However, we must start at the beginning and address this problem. For this reason, I am very pleased with the investments our government is making. With more than $5 billion over a decade, this is a serious investment.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

Beyond the need, there is also the question of social acceptability. People want to have the infrastructure as soon as possible, but suffer from the "not in my backyard" syndrome.

I'll give you an example. I live 25 minutes from Montreal, between Montreal and my colleague Mr. Dubé's riding. Past the mountain, where I live, in what is an urban suburb, the cellular signal is weak or non-existent. So people who come to my house can't use their cell phones. Steps have been taken to address this very real problem, and cell phone towers will be erected in my riding and in Mr. Dubé's riding. Obviously, there will always be cases where the tower will not be in the right place, but these towers are needed. People want solutions, but they don't want the equipment they require.

What is the perception of people in your riding?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

This kind of debate will always be ongoing. In rural areas, the discussion may be less difficult because the vast majority of my fellow citizens are in favour of these towers and accept this kind of compromise.

This question is not a new one. This is a concern that both the CRTC and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada have been trying to manage for years. The whole dynamic of "not in my backyard" is important and you have to manage these aspects.

The vast majority of public safety concerns arising from the lack of mobile phone services are raised in small communities far from large urban centres. Therefore, the question of not wanting a tower in your backyard is less relevant. This concern certainly remains, but it is less important.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

When it comes to infrastructure planning, setting the right priorities is key. In terms of economic drivers, cell phone and Internet service is a priority. It enables economic growth. In fact, it's a must-have. In order to do business, people need a cell phone and Internet access, without which, success is merely wishful thinking. This priority benefits the community as a whole.

We are talking about public safety, however, and the issue is whether the infrastructure to address the social, business and economic concerns raised should include bandwidth for the exclusive use of first responders in the event of a disaster, such as in the north. I remember what happened with the Fort McMurray fires. Police and firefighters weren't using the same bandwidth to communicate with one another, and, in some cases, they weren't able to communicate at all. In situations like that, having dedicated lines and matching infrastructure is necessary.

How, then, should requirements be prioritized when implementing the infrastructure?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

That's a great question, and it's precisely why I'd like the committee to conduct a detailed study. I can tell you how I think the available spectrum should be divvied up between emergency responders and the public, but, as the member for Pontiac, I'm no expert. Although very pertinent, it's not a question I'm qualified to answer.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

Do we have the means, the capacity and the authority to make companies invest in expanding their networks? Eventually, it comes down to the return on investment. In all likelihood, companies haven't set up infrastructure in rural areas because the critical mass needed to generate a return on investment isn't there.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Through the CRTC, the government requires telecommunications companies to invest in digital infrastructure. Two years ago, the government announced $750 million in funding over five years for that purpose, and the CRTC began receiving the first applications a week ago. The funding comes directly from the telecommunications companies.

There's a central question that needs answering, and I certainly hope the CRTC gives it some thought. Is $750 million over five years sufficient? Should it be more? The fund was announced in December 2016. Following the 2019 budget, investments in the area have gone up considerably.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

It works better when the witness pays attention to the chair.

Mr. Motz, you have five minutes.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Amos, for being here today.

You won't get any argument from me or anyone in my riding about the need for rural infrastructure and connectivity. My riding is about 30,000 square kilometres and most of it is a rural area that struggles with connectivity issues from end to end.

As one example, one of the counties had asked for $2 million from the connect to innovate funding stream that came out a year and a half or so ago, for the beginning sections of a broadband plan for their region to provide a lot of necessary services to their constituents. They got $200,000 of their $2-million ask out of the $500 million that was rolled out across the country. That was a disappointment to them and to me, but it also put them in the very tough spot of how to move forward with one-tenth of what their ask was. How do you get things done?

I know you weren't here for this, but if you compare that with the rural crime study we just did, one of the things we looked at through this rural crime study was.... It was all about public safety and there are many areas where people couldn't access law enforcement through telephone service, 911, because there wasn't the infrastructure in place to do that.

Right now some of the people in rural Canada whom I've chatted with since that study on rural crime are wondering whether.... Now we're talking about doing digital infrastructure for rural Canada, but we couldn't give the same attention to crime and it's about public safety. They're wondering about how credible the ability to roll this out actually is.

I guess my question for you, sir, is this. Beyond the connect to innovate money that's been set aside for this and has been rolled out, is there any thought to or do you have any idea of whether the infrastructure bank that's been set up by this government...or how much of that has been rolled out to rural Internet projects?

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Maybe I'll start with the beginning of your question. You represent a riding of 30,000 square kilometres. Pontiac is 77,000 square kilometres. We're talking about big ridings here with great needs. All of our communities across rural Canada are playing catch-up. That is the simple reality. I'm not saying this to be partisan, but it is a simple fact that the previous Harper administration did not invest sufficiently in this, and that put us behind the eight ball.

We're now coming up with government programs that put carrots in front of telecommunications companies, that create incentives to invest more; and the connect to innovate program has had a number of major successes. The funding is rolling out presently, but I think there's a recognition that we need to do so much more because of situations like the one you're pointing out. I'm sure there is more than $200,000 worth of Internet infrastructure needs in your region, and we need to get to that point. Budget 2019 is really going to help us get there.

With respect to the Infrastructure Bank, the budget was quite clear that it would be contemplated as a source of financing. I'm looking forward to Minister Bernadette Jordan, our Minister of Rural Economic Development, coming forward with a plan for a rural economic development strategy, and to her collaboration with our Minister of Infrastructure, François-Philippe Champagne, to bring forth a plan to show us how more capital can be brought to bear, because at the end of the day, it is going to be about incentivizing private sector companies or—

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

Is that the way forward, to get more of a P3 approach to the whole concept of this?

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

I think it's part of the solution, but I don't think it's the whole solution, because there are going to circumstances where the private sector determines that it doesn't want to invest in particular corners and there are going to be little pockets that are left alone. We have to enable regional governments or non-profits to work together to fill those gaps. That's why this is going to take time, because there's going to be a process in which companies evaluate where they want to take advantage of these incentives and to invest, and then we're going to be doing gap analysis, and then going back in and doing more work. I think this is going to be an iterative process.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Motz.

Ms. Sahota, you have five minutes.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

I've given my time over to David. He has a keen interest in this subject, so I think it's only fair.

4:15 p.m.

An hon. member

He has 25 more questions.