House of Commons Hansard #409 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was communities.


Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

1:15 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, although I am pleasantly surprised that the government has finally decided to do something about rural telecommunications, I am a little disappointed that it comes in the form of a motion proposed so late in its term. I suspect that some of the things the motion calls for will not be feasible in light of the constraints of the parliamentary calendar. The motion mentions two committee studies that will probably not happen due to time constraints.

I want to commend my colleague, the member for Pontiac, for making an effort to raise the issue of rural telecommunications infrastructure, but I must say that I would have liked to see the government take the first step, seeing as I have been asking it to do something about cellphone coverage for over three and a half years now. Right now, some major roads in certain rural areas do not have cell service. That creates a lot of public safety issues.

Furthermore, one of the weaknesses of this motion is that it calls for the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to undertake a study to prove that improving wireless communications will enhance public safety. Well, everybody already knows it will. When someone gets in a car accident in an area without cell service, they cannot call for help and may have to walk five kilometres in the middle of the night, with kids in tow, in -40°C weather, with wild animals around to boot. Anyone can see that this scenario is not very safe and could easily be avoided with modern technology.

Cell phones did not exist in the 1970s, so it was normal to walk if you were in an accident in the middle of nowhere. Now, however, technology is accessible, and when people travel to parts of Africa they are often surprised to see that there is cell service everywhere. I did a humanitarian placement in Senegal and there was cell service everywhere. It was only in a very remote region of western Africa in a village called Tiaré, about a two-hour drive from Kaolack, that cell phones no longer worked.

However, in Canada, a G7 country, there is still no cell coverage along some highly-travelled roads. I think we can all agree that this is unacceptable. It is a matter of public safety, and a functioning cell phone can save lives in many situations.

It makes absolutely no sense to ask the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to study this issue to show how important a wireless telecommunications network is to public safety. I think that the Minister of Public Safety has enough data at his disposal to make investments, considering the impact these investments could have on public safety.

Another important thing we need to talk about when it comes to wireless communications is the lack of a national strategy. In fact, that was mentioned in the Auditor General's report on high-speed Internet access in rural regions. The government takes a piecemeal approach to its programs and investments without ever establishing a national strategy or knowing where it is going. That has considerable repercussions.

Often programs are put in place or subsidies are given to certain companies so that they can have a faster Internet connection. As a result, the companies that are granted these subsidies crush their competitors who receive nothing and the cycle starts all over again. Unfortunately, the money invested in rural infrastructure is not being optimized. In other words, this creates a value-for-money problem. It is not clear if we are creating competition or if this is truly working.

It is also unclear whether investing in the private sector is more effective than investing in co-operative style businesses. It is too bad that a comprehensive vision was not explored.

We are also seriously behind when it comes to implementing wireless communications programs. For example, the latest programs earmarked slower speeds than the ones proposed in the recent CRTC rulings. According to current usage of high-speed Internet and wireless telecommunications, the CRTC believes that people should have access to 50 megabits per second.

Unfortunately, in the latest programs, the speed is often 5 megabits per second. We are perpetually behind. By the time various measures included in a program are implemented, the program is proposed, proposals are received and reviewed, money is disbursed and the program finally rolls out, it is already obsolete and fails to meet current needs.

I would also like to have seen something else in this motion. It makes no mention of the different areas in which wireless communications are especially important, particularly telemedicine. Telemedicine is an important technology that enables people to communicate with specialists, particularly people in rural areas, where access is limited. High-resolution videos make it possible to transmit live images of an X-ray, for example. Different things can be done and people can have access to specialists who will advise their local health care providers.

Education is another important aspect of wireless communications and high-speed Internet. Many people take distance education courses from Laval University, for example. They do the courses from home. Unfortunately, that requires quite a bit of bandwidth. Many people do not have high-speed Internet and are unable to take distance education courses because their Internet is too slow. Sometimes they do manage it, but they then have to pay exorbitant amounts for their data usage.

At the end of a session, it is not uncommon for students to receive monthly bills of $200 or $300 for watching the various videos required by their courses. I think there is a problem if people living in rural areas do not have the same access to education as those living in urban areas.

I appreciate my colleague's efforts, but I believe that this motion could have been better had it been drafted differently. That is why I would like to move, seconded by the member for North Island—Powell River, that Motion No. 208 be amended by: (a) deleting the words “, particularly wireless telecommunications infrastructure,”; (b) replacing the words “caused by extreme weather events” with the words “and for telemedicine purposes”; (c) adding, after the words “fundamental fairness; (d)”, the words “reliable and accessible digital infrastructure is critical to education given the development of distance learning, to access to government services and to full participation in cultural life;”; (d) by replacing the words “(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;” with the words “(e) the government should (i) continue in its efforts to support Canadians, especially those in rural regions, in accessing the digital infrastructure they need, (ii) ensure value for money from investments of public funds in rural digital infrastructure, including by reviewing the terms and conditions of the Connect to Innovate program to include wireless in the program and reduce the risk that public funds replace private-sector investments, (iii) continue to work with telecommunication companies, provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous communities and relevant emergency response organizations to enhance rural connectivity;”; (e) replacing the words “(e) the Standing Committee on Industry” with the words “(f) the Standing Committee on Industry”; (f) deleting the word “significant”; and (g) deleting the words “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”.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It is my duty to inform the hon. member that, pursuant to Standing Order 93(3), no amendment may be proposed to a private member's motion or to the motion for second reading of a private member's bill unless the sponsor of the item indicates his or her consent. I therefore ask the hon. member for Pontiac if he consents to the proposed amendment.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

No, Mr. Speaker.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

There is no consent; therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 93(3), the amendment cannot be moved at this time.

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Rural Economic Development.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Nickel Belt Ontario


Marc Serré LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Rural Economic Development

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Pontiac for his work on Motion No. 208 and for all the work he has done in the community with respect to Internet services.

I rise in the House today to speak to the government's position on Motion No. 208. As members know, my riding of Nickel Belt is in rural northern Ontario, and I am Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Rural Economic Development, so I have a direct and personal understanding of the needs of rural communities.

It is an honour to rise in the House today to speak about this issue that is really important to my constituents. They are already very familiar with high-speed Internet access in rural areas. Reliable access to digital infrastructure is essential not only for economic development but for a better quality of life for rural Canadians. That is why our government has already made significant investments to extend reliable, high-speed Internet and wireless services to rural communities across the country.

There is, however, still a lot of work to do. We know that local leaders are the ones who best understand their communities' needs.

That is why my hon. colleague, the newly appointed Minister of Rural Economic Development, has embarked upon a cross-country listening tour, after the Conservatives cut the rural secretariat in 2012. It is part of her mandate to develop an economic development strategy made for rural Canada through consultations with Canadians in all provinces and territories on how best to foster economic development in rural and remote communities through a whole-of-government approach. We are committed to sharing the strategy with Canadians by June 2019.

We have been meeting with community leaders from across Canada since last week to hear about their needs and priorities.

Engaging with our partners is a key step as our government works to put forward an economic development strategy that will reflect the needs and priorities of rural communities.

By working with our partners, the government will be able to help rural communities in Canada thrive for generations to come. This collaboration will also help create jobs and opportunities for all Canadians in rural communities.

Reliable and affordable access to digital services is one of the foundations of our government's strategy.

As members of the House know, rural Canadians need access to high-speed Internet wireless services to participate fully in the digital global economy. They need digital connectivity to attract talent, businesses and the investments needed to compete on the global stage.

According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, over five million Canadians, particularly in rural areas, still do not have access to Internet services that meet the the federal regulator's baseline service standards.

In order to address this problem, the CRTC set the following objective: all Canadians must have access to voice and broadband Internet service on both fixed and mobile wireless networks.

To meet this goal, the CRTC has established a $750-million fund to support the construction of telecommunications infrastructure in underserviced communities. This will ensure that Canadians living in rural and remote areas will have access to these services.

Our government is doing its part. We have undertaken a number of initiatives that underscore our commitment to meeting the CRTC's objective.

For example, as part of the connect to innovate program, we are investing $500 million to bring broadband Internet to 900 rural and remote communities. Our objective was 300 communities, but we have expanded this initiative to 900 communities, including 190 indigenous communities across Canada.

An additional 300,000 households in rural and remote communities are benefiting from high-speed broadband Internet access through the connecting Canadians program. An additional $2 billion is available through a funding stream dedicated to renewing infrastructure in rural and remote northern communities.

High-speed Internet is essential to help Canadians in rural regions grow their businesses, access services, acquire new skills and keep in touch with their family and friends across Canada.

That is why our government invested historic amounts in broadband infrastructure. Budget 2019 make ambitious new commitments to ensure that 95% of Canadians have access to high-speed Internet by 2026 and that 90% have access by 2021. What is more, to achieve the CRTC's objective, the budget seeks to ensure that every home and every business in Canada has high-speed Internet by 2030.

Budget 2019 provides for new support for northern communities, including support for rural tourism and skills training. It also provides for $1.7 billion in new funding to get every Canadian connected to high-speed Internet by 2030, regardless of where they live.

The budget lays out the creation of the new universal broadband fund of up to $1.7 billion over 13 years to build on the success of the connect to innovate program by extending backbone infrastructure in underserviced communities and securing the new low-latency low earth orbit satellite capacity to serve our most rural communities.

We will also work with the Canada Infrastructure Bank to identify ways to apply its innovative financing tools to stimulate private sector investments in high-speed Internet infrastructure in underserviced communities.

The introduction in the fall economic statement by the Minister of Finance of the accelerated investment incentive fund is allowing telecommunication companies to write off a larger share of the costs of new capital assets in the same year the investment is made, providing the benefit that they are expanding connectivity in rural Canada.

Thanks to these investments, our government is making sure that Canadians in rural areas have access to the health care services and education that all Canadians deserve.

These investments are giving rural Canadians opportunities to turn ideas into promises, goods and services and to expand their businesses. These investments are also enabling rural Canadians to start new businesses and grow them into globally competitive businesses without having to leave their rural communities.

Our government has made it clear that partnerships are crucial to succeeding in our work. We have to work together. That is why our government is doing this work hand in hand with provinces that want to partner with us and with territories, municipalities, indigenous peoples and the private sector.

My colleague's Motion No. 208 builds on the outstanding work that has already been done, which is why I am proud that our government supports this motion and has continued to work hard to address issues that matter to rural Canadians. I look forward to continuing to work with all members of this House on this very important issue to all rural Canadians.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to join the debate today on Motion No. 208, which addresses rural digital infrastructure.

As all rural colleagues will know, reliable high-speed Internet is absolutely essential for rural communities, families, farmers and agribusinesses. From general communication to managing supply chains in our businesses to research in our schools to entertainment in our homes, Canadians rely on the Internet no matter where they live.

Unfortunately, there are still too many rural communities, including those in Perth—Wellington, that simply do not have access to high-speed Internet. It is unfortunate, because in the communities in my riding, rural municipalities are working hard to attract new families to fill jobs and rejuvenate the communities, but that cannot be done without reliable high-speed Internet.

Service in the communities in my riding is particularly bad where the major telecoms are the incumbents. Where there are local independent service providers, they are leading the way in terms of rural broadband. They are putting fibre down the country roads. In some areas, the local incumbent has provided fibre high-speed Internet to every single farm and home within its area. That is impressive.

However, to move beyond that into the areas where the major telecoms are the incumbents is impossible and not financially viable, so local ISPs are relying on the government to fund them. Unfortunately, that is not happening. What we have seen with the Connect to Innovate program has been a complete ignoring of rural communities in Perth—Wellington.

There are at least three projects in my riding that applied for the Connect to Innovate program in November 2016. Here we are in May of 2019, and what do we hear from the Liberal government? Crickets. There is no response. They applied in November 2016. These are the independent service providers that are leading the way in terms of connecting our rural communities to high-speed Internet, yet here they are, still waiting for an answer one way or the other from the Connect to Innovate program. That complete and blatant disrespect for rural communities and for these hard-working independent Internet service providers is completely unacceptable.

In fact, I dare say that the speed with which the government is acting on high-speed Internet has been slower than dial-up. That is my staff's one joke for the day.

The government talks a big game when it comes to rural broadband and makes long-term commitments, yet does not actually succeed in acting on this matter. We have to question how much of a priority this is for the government when in the dying days of the government, it decides to introduce a private member's motion directing a committee to undertake a study to look at rural digital infrastructure. The rhetoric does not match the reality of what we hear on the ground.

I want to highlight some of the independent work being done by different communities within my riding, including the SWIFT program, an amazing program that is working with municipalities, independent Internet service providers and the communities to bring rural high speed. It is waiting as well for an answer one way or the other as to whether its projects can go ahead through the SWIFT program.

When it comes to last-mile connectivity, so often the government is not funding it. That last mile is so critical to rural communities like mine in Perth—Wellington.

This is not the first time I have raised these issues in this House. This is at least the third time I have raised the need for reliable high-speed Internet in rural communities like mine in Perth—Wellington.

In fact, just last November, I asked a question of the government during question period related to the Auditor General's report. The response I received at the time from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development was nothing more than empty promises, so I followed it up with an adjournment debate. At the next opportunity, I once again asked for a response on why the government was failing rural communities when it came to high-speed Internet. Again I received the same empty rhetoric, this time from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Rural Economic Development.

At the time, I quoted the Auditor General's report, which clearly stated that the AG's office examined the issue and found that Innovation, Science and Economic Development “did not have a strategy in place to improve access for almost 3.7 million Canadians.”

That is still the case. There is no coherent plan in place to get Canadians connected. The government quoted a target, that every Canadian will have access by 2030. However, without a plan to get them there, it is not going to happen. If the government cannot process simple applications over a three-year program, how can anyone believe that it will get Internet service to 3.7 million Canadians within the next 11 years?

It goes back to the motivation of the private member's motion. Again, it is instructing two standing committees to undertake comprehensive studies on this issue. We have 30 sitting days remaining in this Parliament. At most, there are 12 committee meetings left for each of the two committees mentioned in this motion, yet here we are debating this and asking these committees to undertake these comprehensive studies in 30 days and to report back to the House.

I would remind the Liberal member for Pontiac that his party has a majority on every committee in this House. If the Liberals wanted to undertake a study on rural broadband, on rural digital infrastructure, they could have, at any time over the past three and a half years of this mandate, done so, yet the Liberals have come here, in the dying days of this Parliament, to instruct two committees to undertake meaningful studies and report back by the end of this Parliament. Again, we have 30 sitting days remaining, at most.

I would further point out that the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology tabled a report last April entitled “Broadband Connectivity in Rural Canada: Overcoming the Digital Divide”. I am curious. What is it in that report the member for Pontiac found was not up to snuff so he needed to have another report on the same matter?

Rural Canadians do not need another study. They need action. They need the government to actually process applications and make approvals in programs that are already in place.

I will again reference the report from Auditor General from last fall, which stated:

In its April 2018 report, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology recommended that Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada develop a comprehensive rural broadband strategy in collaboration with key stakeholders, including but not limited to governments at all levels, civil society groups, Internet service providers, First Nations, and non-profit organizations.

It goes on to say, about the federal government’s response to the committee:

The government responded to the Standing Committee’s recommendation of a comprehensive rural broadband strategy. However, the response did not mention a strategy.

The Auditor General criticized the government for not having a strategy. A standing committee recommended that there should be a strategy. Now we have a motion in this House instructing a committee to undertake a study to recommend a strategy for rural Internet.

We wonder why Canadians get frustrated with government, when we see this type of circular thinking from the Liberal government. Canadians are tired of more and more reports telling them what they already know. They know that we lack high-speed rural Internet. They know that action is not happening, and it is not coming from our major telecoms. It is our independent local Internet service providers that are leading the way. Those are the ones we should be supporting. Those are the ones we should be working with. Those are the ones who should be provided with the resources necessary to connect to that last mile of high-speed Internet in rural communities, in my riding of Perth—Wellington and across Canada.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I definitely share the former speaker's passion on this issue. I am the proud representative of North Island—Powell River. My job is always to come to this place and reflect the realities of rural and remote communities. Motion No. 208 focuses on a concern that many of my constituents share around rural digital infrastructure.

There are many communities across my riding where there is limited internet access and many areas with no cell service at all. There are communities and regions in our area that only have dial-up access. Several petitions have come from my region informing the government about how important cell reception is to the people who live there. The availability is so low. I continue to table them in the House as they arrive.

I want to thank the member for Pontiac for bringing this important motion to the House so I have an opportunity to speak to it. I work with him on the indigenous and northern affairs committee.

However, I will also reiterate that this is a bit frustrating to be in the place of reiterating again and again the need. I think we all know how strong the need is for rural and remote communities to have high-speed internet, to have access to cell reception. We know those communities are having certain challenge because they do not have that access.

The member's motion also looks at a gap. From the outset, we knew what those problems were. I think the House knows in detail what those problems and limitations are for maintaining and developing a digital network in remote areas.

I am concerned as well that we are standing here at the end of the 42nd Parliament having this discussion when the House standing committees are very busy doing the work they need to do. I do not think they need to reiterate again the needs of these communities. That need has been established. It is very clear. There is a record of it in this place. It is time that we see some action.

1 understand the concern of identifying major issues of safety, that lack of rural digital infrastructure and what that does to those regions in Canada. In November of last year, my riding had a horrific example of what the lack of cell service meant in the communities. People who have not come to my riding and done the beautiful drive to the real north of the north Vancouver Island region should do so. It is a beautiful area, but it is also a very isolated area with no cell reception.

Duncan Moffat is a 23-year-old man. He was driving and he went off of Highway 19 just south of Sayward. His truck dropped down about 12 metres on a slope. He was pinned inside and not visible from the road. In fact, no one saw him. He survived off the apples and Gatorade that he had in the vehicle with him and he was kept warm with cardboard boxes.

I want to just note that November of last year it was quite cold. I know I live on Vancouver Island and it does not get to -20° very often like it does in this area, but it was very cold. The phone was sitting right next to him, but because there was no phone reception, he could not make that call. He was found nearly a week later, simply by chance. A hunter was out in the area, saw the wreck.

What was most ironic, startling and sad was that when his mother was called to be told that her son, who she had been looking for desperately, had been found, she was just out of cell service area, putting up posters to help hunters know to look for him. lt was not until she came back to where she was in range that she got the information.

I want to thank Duncan and his family for sharing this experience. I am really proud to come to this place and share that stark reality. This is what it means for too many rural and remote communities across the country, where people are put in situations that are simply not safe. It is not right that some parts of Canada have a lot of access and other parts do not.

I am really interested in seeing action. The understanding and knowledge of the issues around the lack of a cellular network is a public safety issue and we know this. I outlined it just now. The government has the information. Let us just move toward actually implementing an effective rural digital strategy immediately. The communities in my riding have waited long enough and it is time.

I am pleased that some of the Connect to Innovate funding has been tagged for the region that I represent. This funding will support communities and their needs, and I am very happy to see that.

The local ISPs are ready to go to work, but I will also note here that although this funding was announced and made public, they are still waiting for the next step so that the project can actually move forward. This is backbone infrastructure that is much needed in our region, and it will provide great opportunities for our communities, which have been desperately calling for it. However, it is not cellphone infrastructure, and that is important. I am glad that this step is being taken and I am glad that it is going to improve cell reception in the future, but it is still not the cellphone infrastructure that we need.

Innovation lives in all communities across Canada, and small and remote communities are actively working on solutions to diversify and broaden their local economies. I have recently spent time with both the Port McNeill and District Chamber of Commerce and the Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce. Connectivity continues to be a significant concern in the work that they are doing in their regions with local businesses.

I would like to outline here that recently the largest community that I represent, Campbell River, with a population of just over 34,000, in the last couple of years put up its own infrastructure within the city centre so that we could attract more businesses that have a need for very high-speed Internet. It came to the point that the city itself had to build that infrastructure so that we could attract businesses to our region. When that is happening, I hope that this place understands how serious the need is. Even though there is some connectivity, if it is not the very high-speed Internet that so many businesses need, that lack provides yet another barrier to those small communities. A lot of my communities are seeing extensive interest from people and businesses outside of our region, but the limited access to Internet and the limited cell reception are huge barriers.

I spend a lot of time in my riding speaking with indigenous leaders, mayors and regional district representatives from communities like Gold River, Sayward, Mowachaht Muchalaht, Gwa'sala-Nakwaxda, Dzawada'enuxw in Kingcome Inlet, Holberg, Port Hardy, Port McNeill, Alert Bay and Port Alice. If I listed them all, we would be here a lot longer. I have not had a chance to mention them all, but the need is very clear, as we can tell just from that short list of people and communities in my riding.

While the Connect to Innovate government program was put in place to improve broadband Internet connectivity for rural Canadians, these programs focused exclusively on Internet and did not cover cellular network development. The issue of cellular access must be addressed. It is for the safety and the potential financial well-being of the people for whom I am here and honoured to represent.

Rural and remote communities are strong, and as a result of the many ups and downs we have faced, we are adaptable. Ups and downs breed tenacity and innovation. As rural and remote communities across Canada look at how to build strength in their communities, this infrastructure is imperative. It is also imperative that the Canadian government step up to the plate. We want to see rural and remote communities do well. That work needs to be supported.

The NDP is calling, first and foremost, for cellphone infrastructure to be included immediately in the communications development strategies. Beyond this vital improvement, I support the development of the best communications systems in the world for Canada, a country that relies entirely on innovation to maintain its enviable position among wealthy countries. Connectivity is essential to efficient internal and international trade, and communities like mine want to be included.

They are ready and willing to do the work; we just need that bit of support. The government must be part of the solution. Already in Canada, Internet and cell costs are some of the highest in the world. These barriers are only felt that much harder in small and rural communities like the ones that I represent.

I will support Motion No. 208. I hope to see that if this motion actually gets to committee, action is taken very promptly. My constituents deserve nothing less.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country B.C.


Pam Goldsmith-Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Consular Affairs)

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have the opportunity to speak today about the importance of rural digital infrastructure and to underscore the importance of the work my hon. colleague from Pontiac has done in championing access for rural communities to digital infrastructure.

All Canadians need access to high-speed Internet so that we may fully participate in our economy, our democracy and daily life. In many rural and remote communities, challenging geography and smaller populations often present a barrier to private sector investment in building and maintaining high-speed Internet infrastructure.

Our government has done groundbreaking work through the connect to innovate program, and the Province of British Columbia has been an important partner as well, especially with the connected coast initiative. Motion No. 208 builds on our strong beginning and envisions a nationwide strategy for rural connectivity.

The importance of digital infrastructure in rural and remote communities cannot be overstated. Canadians living in these communities go about their lives with slower Internet speeds and iffy cellphone coverage. As a result, many Canadians face significant digital barriers to full participation in the marketplace, the workplace, education and community engagement and even in very routine matters.

Rural and remote parts of Canada already experience slower emergency response times, which is exacerbated by less extensive wireless telecommunications networks. During extreme weather events and for everyday travel along rural and remote roads, staying connected to a wireless network is a matter of basic personal and public safety.

In addition to public safety benefits, the economic impacts of digital infrastructure are widespread. Innovation occurs everywhere, obviously, in rural and remote regions just as much as in urban centres, but not without equal opportunity and access to the digital economy.

From an international trade perspective, Internet connectivity gives micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in rural communities across the country access to existing and emerging global markets and the support services that are critical to economic growth and good middle-class jobs.

Motion No. 208 points out that there is still much work to be done so that all Canadians have access to reliable digital infrastructure. Our government's effort is a very strong beginning.

Through the connect to innovate program, the disparity in ridings such as my own is declining by ensuring that communities have equal access. Connect to innovate invested over $45 million in 2018, in partnership with the Government of British Columbia, to bring improved high-speed Internet to rural and remote communities. The program supports new backbone infrastructure to connect institutions, such as schools and hospitals, as well as households and businesses.

The program is providing high-speed Internet access to rural and indigenous communities in the Sea to Sky corridor. With almost $2 million in provincial funding, over $2 million in federal funding and almost $2 million from Shaw, a new fibre optic cable is connecting Whistler to Pemberton to Mount Currie. This has not been easy to achieve. To establish high-speed, high-quality Internet service in the beautiful community of Pemberton, 30 minutes north of Whistler and very connected to Whistler in every other way, local governments and the federal government, together with a lot of discussion between two major telecommunications companies that compete rather than see themselves as complementary, were able to piece together a first-class solution. The process taught us a lot about the value of perseverance and has created a climate of trust, which we are building on to ensure that Pemberton has the same level of service as urban areas that are much easier to support.

In Pemberton, high-speed Internet access is serving a growing community and the municipality's plans for residential development. As mayor Mike Richman, of Pemberton, noted:

This network will enable our local businesses to operate to their fullest potential, while attracting future economic opportunities in the Pemberton area. Residents and home-based businesses will be able to reliably and affordably connect globally allowing us to compete in the digital economy.

Moving further north on Highway 99 to Mount Currie, the connect to innovate program is providing fibre optic infrastructure to institutions such as the newly constructed Ts'zil Learning Centre, where members of the Lil'wat Nation achieve grade 12 diplomas and beyond. With the partnership of Shaw and the Lil'wat Nation, the Ts'zil Learning Centre will now be able to provide new learning opportunities for the Lil'wat Nation and neighbouring communities. This is of particular importance, because when Lil'wat Nation members walk through the doors of Ts'zil to continue with their education, they are also often facing the challenges of the residential school system in their past. Learning outcomes from Ts'zil are exceptional, because the healing process, the process of truth and reconciliation, is foundational. The latest access to digital technology is a big part of continuing success for the Lil'wat Nation.

Connect to innovate also helps to fund British Columbia's connected coast project, bringing new or improved high-speed Internet accessibility to 154 rural and remote coastal communities, 15 of which are in West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, in small, very special places like Gibsons, Halfmoon Bay, Roberts Creek, Secret Cove, Welcome Beach and Wilson Creek, for example.

Egmont, near Skookumchuck Narrows, is a remote community on the Sunshine Coast and presents unique challenges for fibre optic infrastructure due to its topography.

When I met with the community there, it was doubtful that we could achieve rural connectivity. Also, people there are desperate for it. One key reason is because Egmont is a spectacular tourist destination, including the Skookumchuck Narrows. It is an awe-inspiring place and very dangerous. From a public safety perspective, connectivity for Egmont is essential.

Motion No. 208 is important because it draws our attention to the entire issue of equity for areas across the country that are underserved.

Bowen Island is another such place, where Shaw is currently working on upgrades to enhance the existing network. Bowen Island's success is a result of successes elsewhere.

Motion No. 208 shines a spotlight on an issue that we are working on together to ensure all Canadians have the same opportunities.

The CRTC has also taken action to support rural coverage. The CRTC released a decision in December 2016, setting out a universal service objective. The objective is for Canadians in urban, rural and remote areas to have equal access to both voice and broadband Internet services on fixed and wireless networks. To support these objectives, the CRTC has created a $750 million fund to support telecommunications infrastructure.

Further, this past October, provincial and territorial ministers for innovation and economic development agreed to make broadband a priority and to develop a long-term strategy. This strategy includes improving access to the latest mobile services along major roads and where Canadians live and work.

Through the leadership of the members for Pontiac, Nickel Belt, Hastings—Lennox and Addington, Tobique—Mactaquac, constant champions for rural Canada, we now have a ministry for rural economic development.

The minister, the member for South Shore—St. Margarets, will develop a rural economic development strategy and is leading our government's further efforts to bring high-speed Internet access to more people and businesses in rural Canada.

Motion No. 208 will help to ensure that Canadians living in these parts of Canada have access to reliable and accessible digital infrastructure and to secure the health and safety of all Canadians no matter where they live. In West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, we have lent our voices to this. We are happy to share our experiences on this important improvement to the lives of Canadians.

Our government is committed to continuing to work to deliver real, meaningful progress for Canadians in all parts of the country.

I am very happy to support Motion No. 208 and to support all my colleagues in the House who are dedicated representatives of rural Canada.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Before I give the hon. member for Salaberry—Suroît the floor, I should let her know that she will have about five minutes before I have to interrupt her.

The hon. member for Salaberry—Suroît.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is very important to me to talk about digital issues in rural areas because 29 of the 30 municipalities in my riding are rural and, like other rural areas, they have serious connectivity problems.

On March 13, I met with Réjean Sauvé, who has been with the Coop CSUR for 12 years. The coop has developed expertise on rural and remote connectivity in several countries and criticized the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC, for giving big corporations preferential treatment and standing in the way of small co-operatives, which exist not to make money but to serve their communities' connectivity needs.

One of the problems is that programs like connect to innovate have been disastrously mismanaged. The Auditor General himself said so in 2018. For instance, one rule says that if a single household within a hexagon covering roughly 25 square kilometres is connected, no other homes in that hexagon can receive other services. In many rural areas like Saint-Télesphore, Sainte-Justine, Sainte-Marthe, Hemmingford and Saint-Anicet, as soon as there is the slightest bit of wind or rain, the Internet connection drops out. However, there are people living in these communities. There are students, business owners and health care workers who need to stay connected to the Internet. Furthermore, the problems affect not just high-speed Internet, but cell service as well.

This problem is so serious that small co-operatives hoping to offer services to rural residents say they are struggling, because they have to contact people in order to compete with a big company like Bell, as is the case in the Soulanges region. They have to contact people to perform periodic speed tests and build their cases. The resources this requires are out of reach for small co-operatives. They do not have engineers to prepare all these files, and it is hard to apply for federal funding to develop these services in rural areas.

The government can boast about its 2019 budget providing billions of dollars over the next 10 years. However, we want people living in rural areas to have a strong economy or access to quality education right now, not in 10 years.

Why does the government treat people living in rural areas like second class citizens? In a G7 country like Canada, there should not be a double standard for connectivity.

For example, in 2018, Bell received funding under the connect to innovate program to provide service in Saint-Télesphore. However, Bell is only serving 83 households at present compared to 400 households that were formerly serviced by Coop CSUR. The big companies only sprinkle money in rural areas. There is no real positive effect in small local communities. It is also impossible to obtain the timeline for the real results of the projects and funds awarded. It is all very nebulous and there is a lack of transparency.

In addition, the CRTC says access to aerial infrastructure should be shared among small and large companies, but that infrastructure is not available to small co-operatives like Coop CSUR. Small co-operatives run up against all kinds of obstacles when they want to help small rural municipalities, but big corporations are not interested in small municipalities, because there is not enough profit to be made off of too few people.

The bill introduced by the member for Pontiac is interesting, but previous Liberal and Conservative governments should have taken steps a long time ago to implement a national digital strategy that requires companies to serve all households in remote areas. That did not happen because those governments lacked any semblance of vision.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member for Pontiac has the right of reply.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I stand before the House not only on behalf of the constituents of Pontiac, but also on behalf of all rural Canadians who want better cellphone and Internet coverage.

Since the advent of the Internet, rural Canadians have had less solid Internet connection than urban Canadians. The cellphone connection has been less strong for rural Canadians than for urban Canadians. High-speed fibre connections are less common, and wireless phone signals are weaker than in cities. We have to address this issue.

Telecommunications companies invest less in digital infrastructure in rural Canada for reasons related to geography, cost and population density. That has to change.

Although Internet service speeds and cellular services have improved in rural Canada, the problem remains that digital services and infrastructure in urban Canada have improved at a faster pace, which again puts rural communities at a relative disadvantage.

The flooding these past few weeks has taught us that good cell coverage and reliable high-speed Internet access are not only an important tool for economic development, but they are also crucial to ensuring public safety.

The response to the crisis caused by flooding in the Pontiac riding and throughout the Outaouais was possible largely thanks to telecommunications technologies. Whether a question of warning neighbours or getting up-to-date information about the flooding, areas looking for volunteers or sandbags and evacuation notices, many people in our communities were relying on social media and their cell phones.

Communities throughout the Pontiac have relied on telecommunications to organize their emergency response. Last night, I met with David Rochon, the mayor of Waltham, a community of 325 souls, give or take a few. It is an hour and a half from the nation's capital, and the cellphone coverage in Waltham is non-existent. People cannot manage an emergency flood without cellphone access. It is so difficult.

It is with the specific interest of offering additional protections to people living in the rural areas of Canada during disasters, during emergency weather situations, that I brought forward Motion No. 208 to the House of Commons in November 2018. The motion promotes the expansion of cellular coverage and reliable Internet access, which would help Canadians better deal with situations like the floods of 2017 and 2019. Last year, we had a tornado as well. In all of these circumstances, more reliable cellphone coverage would have helped us.

I am so grateful for the support for this motion that has been provided by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the rural caucus of the Union of Quebec Municipalities.

The purpose of Motion No. 208 is to ensure that, in future, Canadians living in rural regions are never again caught off guard in crisis situations, unable to contact anyone or call for help.

I was very pleased to see that as a result of the recommendations of the Liberal rural caucus and Motion No. 208, our Liberal government committed in budget 2019 to invest $5 billion over the next 10 years to improve digital infrastructure in the regions and connect all Canadians to high-speed Internet by 2030.

We have never before had a federal government willing to commit to that goal. We are going to get there: 100% rural Internet coverage.

A unanimous vote of the House of Commons would send a clear message to Canadians and telecommunications companies that the safety of our citizens and the vitality of our regions and small communities are important, non-partisan issues.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members



Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

All those opposed will please say nay.

Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


Rural Digital InfrastructurePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 8, immediately before the time provided for Private Members' Business.

It being 2:17 p.m. the House stands adjourned until Monday at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1). Have a good evening and a good weekend, everyone.

(The House adjourned at 2:19 p.m.)