That, in the opinion of the House: (a) a reliable and accessible digital infrastructure, from broadband Internet to wireless telecommunications and beyond, is essential and enables Canadians to seize new business opportunities, create jobs and connect with the global economy; (b) a reliable and accessible digital infrastructure, particularly wireless telecommunications infrastructure, plays a critical role in securing the health and safety of Canadians, notably during emergency situations caused by extreme weather events; (c) innovation occurs everywhere, in rural and remote regions just as much as in urban centres, and all Canadians deserve an equal opportunity to succeed in the digital economy as a matter of fundamental fairness; (d) the government should (i) continue in its efforts to support Canadians, especially those in rural regions, in accessing the digital infrastructure they need to innovate, create economic opportunity and maintain public safety, (ii) examine the possibility of enabling further investments in rural digital infrastructure, including by reviewing the terms and conditions of the federal infrastructure program Investing in Canada, to incentivize investments in rural connectivity by the private sector and by leveraging funds from other orders of government, (iii) continue to work with telecommunication companies, provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous communities and relevant emergency response organizations to enhance rural connectivity and ensure maximum preparedness in emergency situations; (e) the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology should be instructed to undertake a comprehensive study on rural wireless infrastructure, focusing particularly on (i) the underlying causes of, and prospective solutions to the gaps in wireless infrastructure deployment in rural Canada, (ii) the regulatory role of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, (iii) the fiscal and regulatory approaches to incentivize more significant investments in rural wireless infrastructure, and report to the House at its earliest convenience; and (f) the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security should be instructed to undertake a comprehensive study on the public safety dimensions of wireless infrastructure deployment in rural Canada, and report to the House at its earliest convenience.
Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased and proud to rise today to speak to my motion, Motion No. 208. I look forward to hearing my colleagues' constructive comments on the future of digital infrastructure in rural Canada.
Can anyone today, in 2019, imagine living in a Canadian community with no Internet access or cellphone coverage?
In this day and age, Internet access is a necessity. We live in a technology-driven universe. The world around us is a tech world. The world has changed and evolved, but sadly, some Canadians are being left behind because of where they live.
Whether they are close to big cities or in more remote areas, Canadians living in small communities across Canada want reliable high-speed Internet, but all too often, it is unavailable.
What I hear from residents throughout the regional county municipalities of Pontiac, La Vallée-de-la-Gatineau and Collines-de-l'Outaouais chimes with the comments of my parliamentary colleagues in the government and in the opposition, as well as their constituents across Canada.
What I hear from my Pontiac constituents resonates across political parties and across rural Canada. This is not a partisan issue. Rural Canada wants the same high-speed Internet as the rest of Canada; the same reliable cellphone coverage; the same opportunities to build their economies through small business innovation to create local jobs; to enjoy digital culture, whether that is Facebook, Netflix or online gaming; to attract young families to their communities; to participate in democracy; to do online schoolwork with their children—and as a young father I know exactly how that feels—and to receive government services.
Rural Canada speaks with one voice when it demands that digital infrastructure investments be accelerated right now. From high-speed Internet fibre to cellphone towers, the needs are great, and patience is wearing thin. These have become essential services that we all rely on.
To give an example, thousands of my constituents living in the municipalities of Cantley, La Pêche and Val-des-Monts, just 25 minutes away from the national capital of a G7 country, are unable to make their small businesses as successful as they should be or even telework for the federal public service.
Here is another example. The day after the 2018 tornado, I met up with Joanne Labadie, the mayor of the municipality of Pontiac, a suburb of Breckenridge. Seeing the damaged homes, I wondered how it was possible that there was no cellphone signal. At a time of crisis, I could not get a signal on my cellphone. That is not normal.
I stand before this House on behalf of the constituents of Pontiac, but I am also here on behalf of all rural Canadians, who agree that we need more parliamentary debate on this issue. I am here to argue in favour of passing Motion No. 208 and to bring rural Internet and cellphone issues onto the national stage.
Motion No. 208 invites Parliament to confront Canada's rural-urban digital divide and to dive deeper into those nitty-gritty regulatory, economic and public safety dimensions of the issue. It focuses on how we can do more to ensure a reliable, accessible and affordable digital infrastructure for rural communities all across Canada, from broadband Internet to wireless telecom and beyond.
In tabling Motion No. 208, I stand for the idea that Canadians everywhere should be able to access digital networks that play a critical role in securing the health and safety of Canadians, especially during emergency circumstances caused by extreme weather events, for example.
I stand for the idea that rural Canadians must have an equal opportunity to seize new business opportunities in the digital world, to create jobs for their small towns and to connect with the local economy as well as the global economy.
Motion No. 208 constructively expresses broader rural frustrations surrounding the digital divide in Canada and proposes two separate studies to be conducted by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology and the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. This will have a significant positive impact on the process that is already under way to reform the Telecommunications Act.
Our government has already indicated how this reform of the Telecommunications Act will focus on universal access:
Universal access to high-quality and affordable telecommunications services has never been more important. This importance is currently reflected in legislative provisions and the CRTC's basic service regulatory framework, which was recently updated to include modern broadband and mobile services.
I would like us to focus specifically on the reform of that act and on how we can achieve better results on the ground in rural Canada. Improving access to these services for Canadians in remote areas, including indigenous communities, is a national priority.
Put simply, as we look at amending the Telecommunications Act, are the right legislative tools in place to further the objectives of affordable, high-quality access for all Canadians, including those in rural, remote and indigenous communities? This is just such an important question.
We all know this is not a new issue. Since the advent of the Internet, rural Canadians have had less Internet access than urban areas. High-speed fibre connections are less common, and wireless cellphone signals are weaker than in cities or oftentimes absent altogether.
Telecommunications companies invest less in digital infrastructure in rural Canada for reasons related to geography, cost and population density.
Although Internet service speeds and cellular services have improved in rural Canada, the problem remains: digital services and infrastructure in urban Canada have improved at a faster pace, which again puts rural communities at a relative disadvantage.
This has serious negative repercussions, which tend to snowball at all economic, social, democratic, public safety and demographic levels.
The digital divide is real. Rural Canadians have fewer choices of Internet service providers and wireless service providers, and they often pay higher prices for lower-quality services, despite lower per capita incomes. Closing the gap in broadband Internet and wireless service availability in Canada presents an enormous set of financial challenges requiring billions of dollars in funding and investments, challenges that can only be overcome through shared responsibility.
Federal programs such as connect to innovate and connecting families are helping to provide affordable broadband access to some Canadians in rural regions, but to date, there is nothing to address the issue of wireless access.
We have already made major investments, and I credit the Government of Canada for these major investments. Significant progress has been made. For example, in Pontiac, in 2018 I announced $13.4 million in investments in backbone fibre in the MRCs of Pontiac, La Vallée-de-la-Gatineau and des Collines-de-l'Outaouais, and just a couple of weeks ago, another $7 million in the municipality of Cantley. That is a total of over $20 million. These are unheard-of, historic investments, and I am very thankful that both the federal government and the Province of Quebec stepped up.
By comparison, between 2006 and 2016, barely over $1 million was invested by the previous administration in Pontiac's Internet infrastructure. It is no wonder that we are playing catch-up here.
I could go through a list of towns and small communities that are going to be better served by high-speed Internet. I will name a few of them, because it is important that they be recognized for the challenges that they face right now, and they are waiting:
Here are some: Montcerf-Lytton, Bois-Franc, Aumond, Egan-Sud, Grand-Remous, Cayamant, Gracefield, Kazabazua, Denholm, Low. In the MRC Pontiac, there are Chapeau, Danford Lake, Portage-du-Fort, Ladysmith, Alleyn-et-Cawood, Thorne, Bristol, Rapides-des-Joachims, Sheenboro, Norway Bay, Sand Bay, Waltham, Chichester and Plage-Baie-Noire.
These are just some of the communities that are going to have far better Internet access as the investments are brought to bear.
These investments mean that over 4,000 households will be able to connect to the Internet.
I agree with my constituents and I agree with our mayors and our municipal councillors: We need to act fast. We need these projects implemented.
That is one of the reasons I recently organized meetings between the telecommunications company responsible for a large portion of the projects in our riding and the mayors. It was so we could encourage them to get these projects in the ground, on the poles, as fast as possible. We know that the projects are going to be implemented, starting this year and through 2021.
As we debate Motion No. 208, let us recognize the great investments that are already happening in Canada, not just in Pontiac but across the country, and let us see what we can do to go much, much further.
The pace and scope of these investments, made possible through tax measures or CRTC regulatory requirements, must be significantly accelerated to address the impact of inequalities in digital infrastructure and distribution of services on areas such as health and public safety.
This is what Motion No. 208 is all about.
I am proud to announce here in the House of Commons that this motion has the support of key municipal organizations: the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the rural caucus of the Union des municipalités du Québec.
Vicki-May Hamm, mayor of the City of Magog and president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, sent me a letter of support in which she wrote:
In Canada today, fast, reliable Internet access is an essential service that should be available to all, no matter where they live.
She goes on to say this:
That is why I am writing to you today in support of your motion on rural digital infrastructure. The FCM recognizes that reliable, accessible digital infrastructure is essential to Canada's rural communities and would enable people across the country to benefit from new business opportunities and participate in the digital economy.
I am extremely pleased to have the FCM's support.
The same goes for the rural caucus of the Union des municipalités du Québec.
In a letter signed by the mayor of Chelsea, my mayor, it says:
Like you, the Union des municipalités du Québec or UMQ recognizes the strategic importance of digital infrastructure networks to community development. The deployment of digital infrastructure networks is a matter of principle and of equal opportunities for Canadians. It is essential to Quebec's economic development.
The UMQ's local municipalities caucus hereby officially offers its support for Motion No. 208 on rural digital infrastructure. Rest assured that you can always count on the support of local governments when it comes to giving everyone access to quality digital infrastructure.
I know I need to conclude now. I will very quickly thank all the municipalities across the Pontiac for stepping up and passing resolutions in support of Motion No. 208: Fort-Coulonge, Kazabazua, Sainte-Thérèse-de-la-Gatineau, Campbell's Bay, Gracefield, Chelsea, Low and the MRC of Pontiac.
In conclusion, I just want to make clear that this is a national priority. Although our government has done so much, we have to do more and that is what Motion No. 208 is all about.