House of Commons Hansard #220 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.


Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, Canada has some very aggressive climate targets that we want to be able to achieve. We passed legislation not that long ago regarding that, and this legislation ultimately will help Canada address those targets. What we have found over the years, with all the disasters that have taken place, is even more and more Canadians are looking to governments to show leadership on the issue of climate.

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, as always, it is an honour to be able to enter into debate in this place about the important issues facing Canadians, and to be back after a summer break. I am sure I am not alone, but I would like to take a moment to specifically talk about the fact I had the opportunity to travel across Battle River—Crowfoot and the more than 60 municipalities I have the honour of representing; over 53,000 square kilometres of beautiful east country Alberta real estate.

Although I make it home every weekend, it is always good to spend a little more focused time chatting with those good common-sense thinking Canadians who make up those communities across east central Alberta. I can tell the House that what I heard from so many of them emphasizes exactly what I am going to talk about regarding this bill. It comes back to the basic foundation of trust.

One needs to be able to trust, whether it is a bill like we see before us in Bill C-49, whether it is the words of a Prime Minister or whether it is the actions of a cabinet behind closed doors and the cabinet confidences associated with that and the whole range of other elements that make up our institutions within this country. From the thousands of kilometres I drove across east central Alberta, communities where there is no such thing as public transit, from small hamlets to the small city of Camrose, I know these folks are ready for somebody they can trust. Definitively, I can say they do not trust these Liberals. They do not trust their agenda. They do not trust what they say. The unfortunate reality is that history proves that point.

I bring it back now specifically to Bill C-49. We are talking about, in broad strokes, a bill that brings forward a whole host of changes that have the intent, and I use the word “intent” specifically, to provide that framework to allow for renewable development in two of Canada's Atlantic provinces.

I heard the previous speaker, who I do not think actually spent much time listening to some of the concerns Conservatives brought forward over the course of this debate. It is a laudable goal. What is unfortunate is the Liberals, the NDP and I think the Bloc as well are so blinded by the politics of these energy issues that they refuse to acknowledge the reality that exists. I am proud to represent a constituency that is, and I am not sure it is the most but certainly one of the most, bullish on renewable development. There are wind farms being built.

I also am proud to be involved in my family farm. I could go on a lot about some of the complaints I heard from farmers, but I will save that for another day. What is interesting is about the vehicles driving by. In fact, we had to time some of the moving from one field to another and moving large equipment on the roads because of the shift change that was being dealt with at some of these renewable developments.

People in Alberta get energy. We get oil and gas and we get renewables. We get the whole spectrum of it, but the unfortunate reality is the government does not.

I brought forward the issue of trust. I heard about it constantly over the course of the summer. The reason that is so key when it comes to the debate surrounding Bill C-49 is because the government is saying it wants to accomplish all of these things. It is saying it wants to model these regulations and have these objectives, but by the way, it is allowed to interfere in the process, so to just trust it. It is going to model it after the Impact Assessment Act, Bill C-69, so it is saying to just trust it on that.

They have dealt with the consultation of the provinces, and I heard many times from members of the Liberal Party that we should support this because there is provincial support. I acknowledge this fully. I am glad there was that consultation that took place and I am glad they were able to come to some sort of consensus.

However, what I find absolutely tragic is that we cannot trust what the Liberals say because, time and time again, when it fits their political narrative, they will throw their provincial partners under the bus. Bill C-69 is referenced in the context of this bill. All 10 provinces in this country wanted that repealed, so how dare the government stand up and righteously say that provinces support the bill? There are not many issues that all 10 provinces of this country will agree upon unanimously, but the Prime Minister accomplished it with the opposition to one of the most absurd pieces of legislation to cross the floor of this place. Forgive me if I come back to the basic premise that we simply cannot trust the Liberals.

When it comes to many of the details of this bill, we look at how it could add red tape. Liberals say that it is okay because they will create a framework and it will be dealt with in regulations. The unfortunate reality is that, when those words are uttered by Liberals, it effectively means that they will accomplish nothing.

I will sum up the energy situation in our country after eight years of a Prime Minister who is absolutely clueless on energy. If I could sum up the conversation of those eight years, I would sum it up in two words: missed opportunity. Why is that? We have seen the untold cost of these additional delays, the red tape, the impacts of Bill C-69, the carbon tax and the fact that the Liberals seem to care more about piling things on their desks than actually dealing with these problems. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investment are gone. That is a missed opportunity, and I will say why it is so significant and why I highlight it here.

We talk often about the fiscal situation of the country, the debt and the deficit. I know provinces talk a lot about investing in schools and hospitals. Municipalities will talk about paving roads and water infrastructure, the whole deal. However, when it comes down to it, the missed opportunity here is the hundreds of billions of dollars that did not get invested in our economy. That means fewer schools, fewer hospitals, fewer paved roads. That means fewer resources to invest in the benefits that the Liberals talk so much about. It is a missed opportunity.

There are the situations around wind, solar, battery production, minerals and resources. These are all very real issues. Once again, I would sum up the last eight years as a missed opportunity. The American president came to this very House and said he wanted to partner, but why would any company invest in a country that it cannot trust would ever be able to build a mine? Once again, I ask the question about trust. There is a whole host of questions on whether the Liberals can be trusted, and their history shows otherwise.

When it comes to the development of renewables, a tidal project got cancelled because the government cannot be trusted when it comes to dealing with the economy. Specifically, that project was cancelled because of cost overruns. Again, we come down to a very fundamental premise: Can we trust that Bill C-49 would build renewable energy projects in Atlantic Canada? The Liberals' history makes that very question one that we cannot answer. The Liberals stand and say a lot of things about that, but the reality speaks otherwise. We need to make sure that we are pragmatic in the way we approach energy issues. There is one way that I think we should be able and willing to do that.

I often hear from my NDP colleagues, and there are only two here from Alberta. They seem quite quick to diminish our oil and gas sector. Sometimes when I listen to them speak in this place, I wonder if they have forgotten that they ran for federal office and not provincial office. I certainly hear quite often from my constituents after they have listened to either question period or some of the debates, and they ask that very question.

We need to be pragmatic and realistic about energy. We need to ensure that, when we are talking about solutions, we understand the impacts that exist. I know there has been a whole host of conversations about renewable projects in Alberta. I did talk about how there are those investments being made, and I know there are other investments.

I had the opportunity for a couple of years, and it was truly an honour and a privilege, to work with former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. He was proud to be leading at a time when Alberta had fallen into a deep socialist chasm where it had a government that was so clueless that it tried to tell farmers that, if they set foot outside their front door, they might be subject to the rules and regulations put forward by a bureaucrat in the province's capital. Can members believe that? It was a dark time for the province of Alberta and one that I am very thankful the people of Alberta resoundingly rejected only a number of months ago.

However, when it comes to the energy reality we have to face, costs are up. On that subject I hear two things, and quite often they are disconnected. We hear Liberals talk about wanting to address things such as the cost of living crisis, but they also want to increase costs.

Let us look at the former of those two. The Liberals want to address the cost of living crisis, often in the form of government payments. There was support, and I believe it was unanimous support, to increase the GST rebate, which the Liberals renamed the “grocery rebate”. I am not sure the Prime Minister should be bragging that his economic management has led us to so many Canadians not being able to afford groceries without the help of the government. That is a whole other conversation, though.

The cost of living crisis is real. I was replying to some constituents' emails today, and seniors are talking about how they cannot afford energy. They just got a power bill, and they are scared about their upcoming gas bill, not to mention the fact that winter is coming. That is part of it, but let us look at why. Let us have a realistic, pragmatic look at why that is the case.

Part of the reality is a carbon tax. The Liberals do not like it when we bring this up to bridge the connection I am about to make because the reality is that they want costs to go up. The carbon tax, by its very design, is made to increase costs, yet we have the government talking about how one has to address affordability. Can members believe that? The Liberals are intentionally making costs rise, yet they talk a whole host about affordability. That is part one.

Now here is the latter of the two points I made, and it is related to the environment. Let us be real here. The carbon tax and the Liberals' environmental plan are not accomplishing the objectives that they set out to, nor are they truly even an environmental plan. The Liberals talk often about needing to address climate challenges, yet they have failed to do so every step of the way. It is terribly ironic how they laud an increase in costs, yet they are not accomplishing anything. They are subjecting Canadians to so much pain, yet there is no gain. I said that we needed to be real here, and it is that lived reality that so many Canadians are facing.

When it comes to the realistic nature, we need to be a country that can say yes to development. Processes and structures have to be in place to ensure we respect the environment and to ensure human rights. Alberta specifically, but our nation generally, is a leader in this. I applaud my provincial counterparts in Newfoundland.

I spent close to a decade batching wells and throwing pigs. That may be a strange reference to many in the House, but basically that is doing environmental work in the oil patch. If members have questions about that, I would be happy to talk to them about what batching wells and throwing pigs is all about.

The lived reality of what Alberta is, and the unprecedented prosperity in the western world, quite frankly, that we have seen, is an example for so many. I applaud Newfoundland and Labrador. They are visionaries in being able to continue to use their resources, to look at the opportunities that exist and be a leader.

I believe the press conference was in Newfoundland. I may stand corrected on that. When the German chancellor came to Canada with a metaphorical cheque in hand, saying they want our LNG, what did our illustrious Prime Minister say? He said, “Sorry, there is no market for it.” What he forgot to add is that was because he had closed down the market. It is that reality that exists.

I have had conversations with constituents. One constituent called me a number of weeks ago. I want to bring this up because I think it is an interesting idea. Often what happens is that the thinking that takes place in Ottawa, our nation's capital, and sometimes even in corporate headquarters and whatnot, is a little blinded to the reality that exists. Let me throw a couple of things out there.

For those who have seen wind development, they are impressive machines. They are absolutely massive. For those who have seen them moved on trains and trucks, I would note the resources that are required to move them. They are massive machines. I had a constituent bring up an interesting point the other day. They asked, “Why not put solar panels on a windmill?” Why not? Maybe there is something that could be practical about that.

I had another constituent who was frustrated because a solar project was being built without adequate consultation. I am paraphrasing, but he basically shared how frustrated he was that 160 acres, a quarter section, was going to be gravelled over and have solar panels built on it. A quarter section of land was going to be gravelled over, productive ranch land. This constituent brought up to me something that was really interesting. He asked, “Why do they not build the panels an extra three feet tall, and then at least goats or sheep could be run on the land?”

The reason I wanted to bring those things up is that, so often, in what is being discussed in this place, we lose sight of what matters to Canadians. We lose sight of regular folks going about their business, the individuals who are hard at work. They are those who are working in the oil patch, those who are building the wind turbines, those who are driving the trucks and those farmers who are currently, in many places, in the field, including my father. I will say hello to my dad, and I think my wife was in the grain cart today, so I will say hello, sweetheart.

So often, we forget the reason why all of us are here is not for some ideological objective. It is not for some nuanced, political whatever. We are here because of the people. Let us make sure we work for the people. When I spoke to many people across my constituency this summer, they said that they could not trust the Liberals. I stand here today in this place and say history proves that right.

Therefore, we need to work at bringing back trust to our institutions. When it comes to making sure there is energy development in this country, let us get it right, because whether it is traditional energy or new energy, Canadians deserve better than what they have been getting from the Liberals.

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Michael Coteau Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, the member said something about making sure that when we are in this House, we should not lose sight of what is important to people. In my community of Don Valley East, as in many communities across this country, climate change is real. People are feeling the impact of climate change. I just did a survey. It was among the top three issues, so I know it matters to people in my neighbourhood.

As to my question for the member opposite, he talked a lot about the environment and keeping our environment healthy and clean with renewables. I would like to know if the member believes in climate change. I know his party, at its previous convention, voted against accepting climate change as real. I would like to know from the member if he and his party actually believe in climate change.

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, do members know how rich it is for a Liberal MP to ask a farmer whether he believes that climate change is real? I can tell him that for more than five generations my family has not only dealt with the realities of climate, but has understood it better, I would submit, than the vast majority of members on that side of the House, who try to politicize and dictate to Canadians.

The member specifically said that climate change and the concerns associated with that issue were among the top three concerns raised by his constituents. I am sure it was, so let us have a plan that actually addresses it. What he conveniently forgot to mention in the question was that affordability and housing were probably the first two.

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, it is my first time standing in the House this session, so I just want to welcome you back and welcome all of my colleagues back.

My colleague's speech was entertaining. I have to say that he spoke more about goats than he did about climate change, so I have a bit of concern about the priorities there.

He did talk about reducing red tape and about costly delays, and he did talk about missed opportunities. A large part of his conversation today was about missed opportunities, so he will not be surprised that I am going to ask some questions about missed opportunities in our province, in the province of Alberta, where the leader has stopped renewable projects. We have a Conservative leader who has stopped renewable projects in the province, costing $33 billion and thousands and thousands of Alberta jobs.

The member can talk about how the trucks got in the way for him, but realistically, if he wants to talk about missed opportunities, that has to be one of the biggest missed opportunities in this country. I would like to hear his thoughts on that.

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, it is interesting that the member would so selectively listen to what I said. Here is the reality. If the member understood the pragmatic realities that energy is facing, she would understand that the point I was making about goats, which bears specific emphasis, is that they are blinded by ideology and refuse to recognize practical reality. It is why her party and its sibling party, or whatever they would call it, their officially connected Alberta party, were so resoundingly rejected in the last election.

When it comes to the issue of where Alberta stands on renewable development, here is the reality. We have the most renewable development in this country. We are proud of that and there will be more. What we also need to ensure is that there is a firm regulatory framework to allow that to happen. We have done it with oil and gas and we will do it with renewable energy. The fact that her party is so blinded by politics speaks to why it was rejected in the last Alberta election.

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I am so happy to see my friend from Battle River—Crowfoot. I am going to hone in on something he said in his speech about transportation needs, because it is critical.

Because of having a stroke, I could not take a plane to Ottawa, and as I needed to pursue foreign interference, I took the train. I thought of him while crossing the trestle bridge over Battle River. I thought, “I know who the member of Parliament for Battle River—Crowfoot is.” I want to let him know exactly how often one can get public transit from Vancouver to Kamloops. It is a shockingly poor two times a week that someone can get Via Rail out of Vancouver to get to Kamloops and Edmonton.

By the way, we took the train back and we were stopped. Edmonton was as far west as we could go because Via Rail cancelled the train due to the fires, so we rented a U-Haul truck out of Edmonton and drove to Kamloops. It is a long story, but would the hon. member join our passenger rail caucus so we can do everything we can to boost accessibility, for particularly low-income Canadians, to reliable public transit in rural and remote areas because all of the buses packed up and left? Any comments would be welcome.

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question because it highlights that we need to ensure that we provide opportunity in our country, and that includes for rail development. I have in my constituency one of those Via Rail stations, in the community of Wainwright, and it is unfortunate that there has been reduced service. Although the Liberals brag a lot about investing in transportation, it certainly has not come to Battle River—Crowfoot, nor has it been seen in the Via train situation.

We have to acknowledge that we must provide opportunity on all fronts, even if that is passenger rail service. I know the province of Alberta has been leading the country by ensuring that it is opening the door to say that there is potential to have high-speed passenger rail service from major urban area to major urban area. I think the rest of the country could learn from that. In addition to passenger rail, I am proud to have communities that are actively working to ensure that we increase rail capacity, period, because more rail capacity in our country is good for the economy and it is good for industry. Ultimately, if we can get passenger trains on that rail, it is good for passengers as well.

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Marty Morantz Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Madam Speaker, the Liberal-NDP coalition claims it cares about climate change and renewable energy, yet it had its Ottawa gatekeeper bureaucrats cancel a viable tidal wave energy project in Nova Scotia just this year. That company lost close to $40 million.

Why would any company want to invest in renewable energy in Canada when it sees this kind of thing?

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, that is a good and valid question, because the member is right. When it comes to the idea of capital, it goes to markets where it can see a predictable return on investment. Talking about economic terms like that probably flies over the heads of many of the left-leaning members in this place. The reality is that the Liberals have created more boundaries, roadblocks and reasons as to why so few are deciding to invest in Canada on many fronts. Energy is a big part of that, whether it is renewable or traditional.

We need to be a country that says “yes” again, that allows mines to be dug to get rare earth minerals and that allows windmills and solar farms to be built. In addition to those things, we have to be willing to say “yes” to oil and gas and we have to be willing to say “yes” to major infrastructure. However, the sad reality is that—

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I am sorry.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Ryan Williams Conservative Bay of Quinte, ON

moved that Bill S-242, An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, access to high-speed Internet on our phones, tablets or computers has become not just a want but a need and a necessity to participate in today's economy, to go to school, to be educated, to communicate or, even as we saw this summer, for public safety.

The Internet, which was a luxury when I was a kid, has now transformed into a public utility. Nary a function in today's society can be completed without it, yet 40% of rural Canada is not connected to high-speed Internet. Almost 60% of our first nations communities are not connected to high-speed Internet. Especially troublesome is that those in rural areas who are connected find it inadequate and expensive.

In a 2021 poll conducted by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, 68% of people said that the organization they communicate most with online is their bank. A strong Internet connection may also be a factor in determining someone's health care, as 28% of Canadians consulted a doctor virtually in 2021. As this nation faces a shortage of doctors and health care practitioners, that number is only going higher.

There are also simpler conveniences that come with reliable Internet, such as food and grocery delivery, car sharing, social media and online booking portals. Farmers these days now have equipment with software that can only be updated online using the Internet.

Rural Canadians suffer most of all as the world goes more digital and they are stuck in the stone age. Why does this matter? Well, it matters because Canada is rural. Of the 3,700 municipalities in Canada, only 94 are urban or have over 100,000 in population. That means 97% of Canadian municipalities are rural.

Even in my home riding of Bay of Quinte, only a three-hour drive southwest of Ottawa, with Belleville, Prince Edward County and Quinte West, when travelling east to west and north to south, we often lose cell coverage. A lot of my residents do not have reliable high-speed Internet, and we are a three-hour drive from over 10 million people in a part of this country that should be considered urban and have reliable and cheap high-speed Internet.

The answer to those problems is to have more competition with more companies competing, and especially to have more Canadian companies competing and filling in the gaps when it comes to technology and spectrum. We must get more rural Canadians connected to the Internet and get more cellphone towers in Canada. The government's role is to ensure that the rules and regulations in place benefit rural Canada as much as they do urban Canada.

This bill is for rural Canada to ensure that when Canada gives a public utility resource like spectrum or spectrum licensing to a company, the company uses the spectrum to connect rural parts of this country and its over seven million people to high-speed Internet. The bill is entitled “use it or lose it”, and it will mean that if a telco buys spectrum intended to service a geographic region in Canada and within three years does not service 50% of that geographic area, the minister has legislative options to ensure that another company will.

I would like to personally thank Senator Patterson from the great Nunavut and his incredible staff, who have already passed this bill and shepherded it through the Senate. When discussing this bill, the senator revealed that this is his last year in the Senate. He actually turned 75 on almost the last day of the year that he can serve as a senator. He told me that if his generation is going to be remembered for anything, it will be the last one that remembers the world before the Internet. Can members imagine that? With this bill, Senator Patterson will be remembered for protecting this public utility for all of rural Canada.

The senator talked to me about the importance of this bill in the north, in the Northwest Territories, in Nunavut and in the Yukon. When it comes to the Internet, we are either five years ahead or five years behind. In rural Canada, we are certainly five years behind.

In the north, Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane, during a recent wildfire when phone and Internet lines were out, stressed that they had been asking for upgrades for decades, with no response. She said, “It angered me that we have been pleading and begging to have the same infrastructure that people in the south take for granted. Not extra, just basic infrastructure.”

P.E.I. resident Julie Lauren pays $161 per month for her home Internet service. Just for context, that is more than eight times what Australians pay. She lives in Bonshaw, P.E.I., a rural community just 30 minutes outside of Charlottetown. To have high-speed Internet at home, Lauren says that the only company she found that provides reliable service in her area is Starlink, a United States-based satellite Internet provider operated by the American company SpaceX. Most Canadians either cannot afford Internet or cannot get it because it has not rolled out yet.

Worse, how many times in the past have telcos abused the Internet spectrum, a public utility, as their own real estate and asset and profited from it? There are many examples of this very thing having happened. In 2008, after a competitive auction that lasted 331 rounds, Quebecor Media and Videotron Ltd. shelled out $96.4 million for the exclusive rights to a block of wireless airwaves in Toronto, outside of its own market of Quebec. However, the telco never built a wireless network in Canada's most populous city, and in June 2017 sold the unused licences to Rogers Communications for $184.2 million, netting an $87.8-million profit. A month later, Videotron earned an even larger windfall of $243.1 million by selling a handful of spectrum licences to western Canadian telecom company Shaw Communications Inc. In 2013, after scrapping its on again, off again plans to launch wireless services, Shaw sold 18 licences to Rogers for $350 million, nearly twice the $189.5 million it bought them for in 2008.

The message could not be clearer. Spectrum is a public utility, a public good. The government owns it and leases it to companies with the idea that they will use it. Spectrum should not be flipped like a piece of real estate; it should be developed. It should be given to companies to develop, especially in rural Canada so it can get the high-speed Internet it needs.

Although the government says it can do just that by law, there has been very little done about it. This bill would give the minister powers to do something about it. The minister's new powers would include repealing licences that do not meet the geographic deployment conditions. Right now they are met only by population. A lot of the time what will happen to spectrum licences if the licence holder fulfills the population conditions, which in tiers two to four include an urban component, so, for example, if a licensee fulfills the Toronto component but not the northern King region or Vaughan component, is that it can still hold on to that licence even though those rural users do not have Internet. This would make sure it is geographic, that 50% of the geographic area must be met, not just the urban area. It would include consent to an agreement to transfer the licence to a new provider if the original owner has partially deployed service.

Therefore, there would be a provision to use it or share it, so it would not be as cruel for those who are actively trying to deploy spectrum. It would give the minister the power to make a decision to work with that provider as long as it is working with the ministry and the minister. It would allow a spectrum licence to be shared among two or more companies to deliver the service through an assigned geographic area, which is not just use it or lose it but, if need be, use it or share it, which I think is very innovative.

These amendments came from the Senate. I would like to congratulate the senators on the many important amendments to the bill. There were many great improvements to its original form. One of the amendments was to ensure that those buying tier one to tier four licences would not be able to meet deployment conditions by simply deploying to the urban areas with those large geographic tiers, but would also be required to provide service to smaller rural and remote areas nestled within, in order to meet the obligations under this legislation. We are trying to work with those providers.

It also laid the foundation for other amendments focusing on the use-it-or-share-it regime, which would allow the minister to make the decision to share parts of the spectrum with companies that could fulfill the obligations of the spectrum rollout. In addition, it would provide ministerial flexibility to either outright revoke the licence or reallocate tier five areas, which are rural, within the licence, to other providers who are already able and ready to service the underserviced areas. A lot of those were independent service providers, like a company called Storm, which is actively working on that.

The amendments also include a provision that would clarify the intent to ensure that licence holders cannot sell the licence up to and including three years minus a day, in an effort to avoid penalties for not complying with licence conditions. We would be giving the minister the power also to ensure that companies, on the 299th day prior to the 300 days the government has to revoke this, are complying. We would be giving the power to the minister, which is very important.

Another amendment would require the minister to start a competitive bidding process within 60 days not only of the revocation of a spectrum licence but also where the licence holder has voluntarily surrendered the licence as a result of not being able to meet its licensing obligations.

A further amendment addressed the concerns over the ability of smaller proponents, small companies, to raise the required capital to participate in the competitive bidding process, giving the minister the flexibility to use competitive bidding or other reallocation processes such as a first-come, first-served model when a licence is revoked or surrendered. Again, we have many small businesses that want to participate in this licence process. Let us give the minister the power to select those smaller companies, especially when it comes to rural Canada and the north.

Not all companies are bad, and spectrum auctioning is a necessary process where there is much demand and little supply like in urban Canada, but in rural Canada there is less supply, and this bill is awfully needed to fix that. Therefore, this bill would be a small start in the spectrum policy review in Canada, especially in rural Canada.

Senator Patterson noticed the importance of this bill in raising awareness of the major problem of connectivity including in indigenous communities, and the impact this plays on Canada's reconciliation process, especially as it pertains to enhancing the language and culture of those in remote communities. The senator also made many comments close to my heart on how the government should develop incentives and policies that foster competition and facilitate the entry of Canadian companies into the competitive market.

Canadians have had bad or worse connectivity in rural and remote areas in Canada. The really bad news is that most of Canada is rural and that 40% of rural Canadians do not even have access to high-speed Internet. That number is almost 60% for our first nations peoples. This is at a time when Canadians need fast, reliable Internet and cellphone coverage for their economic well-being, for their kids' education and perhaps, most important, for their safety.

This bill would ensure that those companies that win spectrum auctions actually use the spectrum they are buying in rural areas of Canada that need it. This is, with no small effect, to work on ensuring that the Canadian government and its minister of industry have a role to play in ensuring that the spectrum licences in this public utility purchased by companies are being put towards providing good, fast, reliable Internet for Canadians, or that a use-it-or-lose-it provision would ensure that, at the very least, the asset owned by the Canadian public is not just speculative for companies trying to earn another buck.

I want to thank Senator Patterson of Nunavut for putting forward this very important bill, a very timely one for when he retires. It is my hope that we in this place can support the work he has done in the Senate and this great first step to address rural connectivity in Canada.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Michael Coteau Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, without question, this is a very important issue. I am thankful the senator raised this issue. We know that when it comes to rural and northern communities, there are still big challenges.

The member spoke about other levels of government. I would like to know what role the member sees when it comes to building more capacity in regard to municipalities and provincial and territorial governments. What roles do other levels of government have to play?

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Ryan Williams Conservative Bay of Quinte, ON

Madam Speaker, the federal government takes the lead. Certainly, we have given the role to municipalities and provinces in terms of also fulfilling these obligations. However, it ultimately comes down to the company. The company is the one responsible for that spectrum, which is a taxpayer-owned entity, and for rolling that entity out in a timely and affordable fashion.

We realize that Canada is a large geographic area, so perhaps one of those answers is that we need more companies. The answer we have stated all along from this side of the House is that we need less government and more people in order to fix a lot of the problems here. We need more Canadian companies that can provide those services, provide spectrum and Internet to Canadians so Canadians have cheaper Internet and so they have Internet as a whole.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by acknowledging the leadership of my colleague from the Bay of Quinte on the issue of affordability of telecommunications services. We have seen him take strong action a number of times in the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology, and I want to point that out.

In this context, does he acknowledge that Bill S‑242 would still cause some market disruption? Reducing time limits could result in licences being auctioned off, which could increase rates, and that increase could be passed on to consumers.

This disruption to the industry may not be desirable, especially in rural and remote areas in a riding like mine. Therefore, will the member support the motion I moved at the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology, which he witnessed earlier, so that we can do an in-depth study on the elements related to the convergence and the modernization of the act?

How can we ensure that we create programs that are much better suited to building cell towers, for example, in remote rural areas?

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Ryan Williams Conservative Bay of Quinte, ON

Madam Speaker, when this bill gets to committee, I will definitely be in favour of any amendment that is going to improve it.

For the most part, the amendments in the Senate have already satisfied some of my colleagues' concerns, including the effects on rural Canada and those companies, specifically with respect to the fact that the minister would have all the power to determine what happens if spectrum is unused. The biggest provision of this bill would be that of punishing only those who are grossly negligent in terms of not using spectrum that they said they were going to sell, in other words, using spectrum only for speculative activities by buying and selling it for more profit. If companies want to develop that spectrum in a rural area, I think they are going to find support from the minister in ensuring not only a use-it-or-lose-it provision but also the use-it-or-share-it provision that is in this bill.

We are going to be happy to discuss that at committee and make this bill the best it can be going forward.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, one of the differences with the New Democrats' policy on Internet broadband is to actually have spectrum fund the build-out, which right now requires about $6 billion.

I would ask my colleague if there are any regrets through the process we have had, in which $21 billion has been raised through spectrum auctions since 2001. Conservative and Liberal governments have taken that money in. At the same time, there has not been oversight, and we have some of the highest prices. What are the member's thoughts in terms of why we have taken in so much money and have not had any type of connection with our spectrum auction policy with the $21 billion that the governments have collected from Canadians?

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Ryan Williams Conservative Bay of Quinte, ON

Madam Speaker, the simple answer is, yes, the government has taken all this money in, and at the end of the day, Canadians have paid more for Internet and cellphone than ever before. Canadians pay the highest cellphone bills in the whole world and they pay double for the Internet what the Americans and Australians do.

The answer from our side is to make sure there is more competition. Perhaps we should also ensure that when we are collecting all that money for spectrum, we should be looking at an urban component and a rural component, because the rural component needs help and the urban component is doing just fine.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Arielle Kayabaga Liberal London West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House as our parliamentary work resumes to represent the people of London West. Today I am pleased to speak to the important role that spectrum plays in the Canadian economy and in the daily lives of Canadians.

I am pleased to see Bill S-242 draw attention to this important issue, and I look forward to studying this matter. Spectrum is a finite public resource and important enabler of economic activity, and Bill S-242 seeks to ensure that unused spectrum is being put to work. I think we can all agree on this goal.

As we conduct our study of this bill, it is very important that we reflect on the way it takes spectrum into account. Spectrum is increasingly having to support a wide range of economic and social activities, including mobile connectivity. Spectrum supports public safety networks, research, industrial applications, national defence and satellite services. The rules on spectrum also have to ensure that Canadian institutions and businesses can take advantage of smart technologies that can allow businesses to be more efficient, productive and innovative.

By supporting the use of automated, robotic and remote operations in industries such as mining, agriculture and manufacturing, spectrum can support business growth and economic development in remote rural regions and even in southwestern Ontario.

The government recognizes this and is supporting innovation through its spectrum licensing processes. For example, our recently announced non-competitive licensing framework will support the adoption of innovative technologies that our economy's productivity will ultimately depend on. My hope is that Bill S-242 can accommodate important spectrum measures such as these.

Bill S-242 has an important goal to put spectrum to work and get Canadians connected. Every Canadian, regardless of where they live or work, deserves access to reliable and affordable high-speed Internet. We saw the importance of this during the pandemic, when everybody had to work from home and figure out ways to continue to be productive. Furthermore, further study of this bill should be considered, including its interaction with existing and planned policies, and focus on ensuring that it would accelerate the objectives of universal broadband access and efficient spectrum use.

The Government of Canada has already committed to connecting 98% of Canadians to high-speed Internet by 2026 and 100% of Canadians by 2030. This is ambitious. We have made available over $7.6 billion to expand access to high-speed Internet in underserved areas. Through our universal broadband fund, we have already helped connect over 200,000 underserved homes to high-speed Internet. With an additional 80,000 homes getting connected by the end of this year, that is a total of 750,000 homes to come.

The main proposal in Bill S‑242 is to implement an overall target of 50% deployment in each spectrum band. Further study should examine how that objective will help us address this gap to achieve universal broadband coverage.

Most of these sectors are on track to be connected soon through our funding programs and 5G spectrum rules, which already require wireless services to be deployed to more than 97% of the population. At the same time, this bill must still allow for innovative approaches that improve access to spectrum in rural areas, for diversity of use. For example, the non-competitive licensing framework I mentioned earlier takes an innovative approach to spectrum licensing. It enables access to shared 5G spectrum for a wider range of users and utilities than ever before, and allows small providers and non-traditional licensees to cover small specific-licence areas that are suitable for business cases. This could be a private network within a plant or a mine, coverage to support aquaculture, precision agriculture, or wireless broadband services for consumers. This framework will provide small Internet service providers, innovative industries, remote rural communities and indigenous peoples with quick and easy spectrum access.

However, it is licensed spectrum; it is a public resource, and it needs to be used. That is why we are already putting strong “use it or lose it” policies in place as part of our licensing policies in our spectrum auctions. As we release more spectrum, we continue to increase our deployment requirements using more ambitious targets, as well as smaller licence areas to ensure that coverage is targeted to rural communities. Our upcoming 5G spectrum auction later this year will feature our most ambitious deployment requirements to date, which will require operators to increase their coverage over time and expand into rural communities to meet our targets.

We are also strengthening older deployment requirements and pursuing policies that will provide new users with access to unused spectrum. This will also be in areas where deployment conditions have been met. As these processes come online, we will see even further progress in closing the connectivity gap across the country.

Finally, I believe that the potential impact of this bill on investment and implementation is worth studying. Bill S‑242's deployment objectives will be implemented as quickly as the bids that could face significant uncertainty about exactly what is being sold during the next 5G auction.

We also have to look at the potential impact of the bill on planned and existing investments, the 5G spectrum, and whether the rules for spectrum holders have now been changed. As the bill is drafted, operators will have to significantly modify their multi-year investment plan to comply with all the new deployment conditions. This could cause major upheaval in the sector. I am sure that is not the intent of the bill. The study can be more thorough and must look at the best way to maintain and improve existing investments in the network.

This is an important bill, and it is an important topic. I look forward to hearing the discussions of my colleagues and how we can continue to make sure that every home in Canada is connected and deployment is supported. The government has already started to connect families, and 750,000 families will be connected through our connectivity plan.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, to begin, I want to take a moment to extend my condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of my friend Mathieu Leblanc, who passed away recently. Mathieu was a colleague of mine from FAECUM and the University of Montreal and Quebec student movements. He was a supporter of the labour movement. It was very touching to see all of the things his family and friends had to say about him on social media over the past few days. Beer always tasted better when I drank it with him. I offer my condolences to his family. We will all miss him.

I am rising today to speak to a subject that is of vital importance to my region of Abitibi-Témiscamingue and all of the regions of Quebec. Cell coverage is becoming a critical issue for all communities. The smart phone that we all carry in our pockets is a tool that enables us to be in contact with our family, friends, jobs, businesses and institutions. Landlines do the same thing for those who still have them at home, but they are a tool that is being used less and less frequently.

In my region, like many others in Quebec, insufficient cell coverage can cause all sorts of problems.

To start with, I should mention our diminished capacity to attract residents, especially in rural communities. This hits close to home for me. My office manager, Christian, lives in Destor, a rural neighbourhood of Rouyn‑Noranda. It can be hard if not impossible to reach him at home on a cell phone. The only option is to contact him through an Internet application, even though he lives just 45 minutes from downtown Rouyn‑Noranda. Many other Abitibi-Témiscamingue residents face the same situation: they can only be reached using technologies other than cell phones. With the advent of telework, being unable to get a clear cell phone signal means that residents living in rural neighbourhoods far from large towns or cities become second-class citizens, unable to reap the benefits of this new work arrangement.

There is also, and perhaps most importantly, the issue of safety. Accidents happen. For example, on the road to Duparquet, at “9 Milles”, as it is known in the area, cell coverage is spotty. Inevitably, that increases the risk in the event of an accident. Crucial life-saving minutes are lost simply because there is insufficient cell coverage on our main roads. This is just one example of the many cell coverage dead zones on our main roads. They can stretch for 15 to 20 kilometres and, in some places, even further. La Vérendrye park, which I visit every week, presents this same challenge.

Regarding the conditions for issuing spectrum licenses, Bill S‑242 says that the promoter must undertake to “deploy the spectrum to provide service to at least 50% of the population.” That is not enough. If a promoter is only required to connect a minimum of 50% of the population, as the bill states, they will favour the most profitable areas of the spectrum. This will leave a large number of citizens without cell coverage, creating second-class citizens, as was the case with Internet coverage until recently. Let us just say that, in the context of the cellular network, those who make the company money were already connected.

The bill has to be able to offer the service to those who do not yet have it. What we are seeing is that it is the same companies and the same geographic realities as for the Internet. Before talking about competition, we need to talk about connecting more people in rural areas, in other words accessibility. It is a matter of equality of opportunity for rural and remote communities that are currently not well served.

People who opt for a rural lifestyle are being penalized right now. We are undermining land use, a core value. Our villages, our rural and remote communities deserve better. We must use legislative and financial incentives to encourage the full use of the spectrum allocated for rural and remote regions. Getting connectivity to keep pace with supply and demand, and the realities of competition, is rather slow and has reached a limit in the rural and remote regions. It is simple: companies do not serve places where it is not profitable.

We also need to limit the reassignment of a spectrum licence, because transferring licences from company to company only adds to the connectivity delays. This also creates uncertainty and this uncertainty can have a rather dramatic impact on price increases.

The government needs to fund the deployment of infrastructure to connect residents in unserved areas. Telecommunications companies must be required by law to serve as many residents as possible and share infrastructure more effectively to avoid building too much infrastructure.

Forcing telecommunications companies to serve as many residents as possible and share infrastructure more effectively means that the majority of people will be connected, but there will always be residents in areas where there is no access, and the government will have to act for the benefit of these people.

That is why adequate funding is needed to connect these Quebeckers and Canadians as quickly as possible. We need only look at the Quebec government's operation high speed. Since the money was sent to Quebec City, the plan was put in place quickly. Since 2021, the trucks of the employees installing the network have been everywhere, and the network is being rolled out at lightning speed. This is particularly true in Abitibi—Témiscamingue, where Videotron works.

By sending the money now to Quebec City, which is already prepared to act on this issue, cell coverage can be improved more quickly. I especially commend Quebec City for its leadership. This crucial and critical infrastructure will be built quickly in sparsely populated areas if we can count on the government.

The fact is that any debate on Internet and cellphone coverage always comes down to this: Do we want to occupy more of our land or do we want to concentrate people in and around big cities and major arteries? That is implicit in this debate. Choosing to live in the regions, choosing to live in rural areas, means using our lands and bringing them to life. Competition exists in our big cities, and to a certain extent in our towns, but the issue is not whether there is competition; the issue is access to services. To develop competition, we must have at least one player already on the ground. It is a matter of equal opportunity for rural communities, which are often underserved.

The issue of duration is relevant in itself and is raised in Bill S-242. Should we impose a deadline or not, and what deadline would be acceptable? Take, for example, the deployment of high-speed Internet in Quebec, launched in 2021. Even today, two years later, most of the connections are fast because the operation was subsidized. It is important to understand that this deployment will not happen overnight. This timeframe calls for consultation with the community to ensure that this time requirement can be met. It is one thing to demand this of a major player in the industry. It is quite another to demand it of a new or smaller player in the field.

The issues of Internet access, cell service in rural areas and cell network convergence deserve to be studied in greater depth. Can the government create a program to build cell towers in regions where there is no service?

That is why I decided to move a motion a few minutes ago at the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology. My motion addresses these issues and will enable us to study them with various industry players. It will also allow for in-depth consideration of the accessibility and affordability of wired and wireless products. The committee could seek input from the CRTC, the Competition Bureau, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry or the Minister of Rural Economic Development, all of which could be of interest here. That will give us the data and recommendations we need to ensure that we respond appropriately to consumers' concerns and needs.

People are using wired services less and less, and wireless communications are taking over, so we have to study this issue in depth. I truly believe that a committee study is the best way to develop a regulatory framework that will meet the needs of Quebeckers from Gaspé to Rouyn-Noranda.

The Bloc Québécois will vote against this legislation. We ask that the House engage in a much deeper process of reflection, similar to the one followed for high speed Internet. This issue has been a key commitment for me, and the reason I entered politics in 2019. If I may use a redundant expression, it was the priority priority of my election campaign.

Back then, in the kind of rural area where I live, it became clear that existing services could not provide Internet access. The programs in place planned to take five years to install 50 kilometres of fibre optic cable, during which time no one would be able to connect to the Internet. It was a major problem. Seven, eight, even ten types of programs were being operated by different service providers to provide Internet access in certain regions, but none of them were compatible. We complained loudly to the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology.

COVID‑19 also sped up the process, as people found themselves teleworking or studying from home. I think that the federal government has realized its program's shortcomings because we pressed the matter. At the same time, following the example of Abitibi-Ouest, the Quebec government created operation high speed. They mapped the area, figured out the needs and awarded the grants. I commend their leadership, and I hope the same will happen with the cellular network very soon.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to talk about this issue. I also want to thank Senator Patterson for putting forth the legislation, which we will hopefully move to the industry committee.

It is really important to understand a couple of things about the spectrum auction. I know that, when we talk about these things, people's eyes usually glass over; they do not see this as something that connects to them and their family on a regular basis. However, it is at the root of the problem in terms of the reason we have high prices. I say that because, from Jean Chrétien to Paul Martin, Stephen Harper and our current Prime Minister, the philosophy has been to grab the cash from these companies and then have no terms and conditions related to pricing, consumer rights or any of those things. The profits these companies have and the way they treat the general public would make a robber baron blush.

It is important for the public to understand this: We control all this. We always have. That is not in dispute. It is something that is not going to change. We issue out the public airwaves. The public space above us, which we own, is a series of different products in terms of speed and the way it can be accessed by companies, but we control it 100%.

There has been $21 billion that has come in to the government coffers under Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, Stephen Harper and now the current Prime Minister. At the same time, these robber barons have been allowed to set up a system with low competition, high charges and fees, and conduct that is not appropriate.

We can remember that, recently, because of their own turf war, these companies failed Canadians who needed to make 911 calls during an emergency. We lost control of emergency services because of two children having a fight in the playground. What was the response? It was not a whole lot. We had to come up with a legislative solution. The minister was actually out of the country and had to call the companies and beg for us to get back online. That is the nature of these companies.

When I came here originally, Bell Canada would not even follow through with the mandate for pay equity for its women workers at the time. We had to bring in the CEO of Bell, who was actually later hired by the Prime Minister for a side job, to get equal pay for women in their own company. We had hearings here in Ottawa on that. This is the routine behaviour of some of the industry toward Canadians on a regular basis.

I can go on with a few other examples. I congratulate the minister for the TTC, but why did it take the minister's intervention to get cellphone service sorted out properly in an area that is dangerous and is used by millions of people each day? Again, the children on the playground had to be brought together to get a solution.

On the Shaw-Rogers takeover, how outrageous is it that the minister still has not responded? I wrote him a letter about it. Our Competition Bureau took that to court, because we would not do the right thing in this place to stop the takeover and have fewer entries into the market. The Competition Bureau, which is the public interest, took them to court to challenge it. It is a routine thing that other countries do.

What did Rogers do? It sued the Competition Bureau, and outrageously, it has to pay Rogers $8 million for the Competition Bureau just to protect Canadians. Meanwhile, the Competition Bureau has to do all kinds of legislative work and other types of work. Basically, the watchdog ends up paying the robber baron at the end of the day.

What would this bill do? There are a couple of things New Democrats have been calling for. Number one is cellphone service as an essential service, flat out, full stop. It is involved in one's life and emergencies. Remember when the government, for immigration, put out that one could get on the immigration file very quickly? With a higher speed of service, one actually got the spots from the government. The government did that, and it was a policy. Therefore, one's speed affects not only that but also one's work, school and the way one can be involved in life.

The rural component is really abused in this country. In fact, since the pandemic, the speeds have not improved very much. Meanwhile, urban speeds are going up again. Again, New Democrats have called for this to be an essential service.

In addition, we called for stopping the cash grab as a policy that ends up putting those profits, or subsidies, back into the companies. An alternative model, which other countries have used, is to demand that when a company gets a spectrum, it has to have some low-cost service fees for seniors, persons with disabilities and low-income earners, and the speeds have to be the same. We can do that through a mandate the way they do the RFP, request for proposal, on how we sell the spectrum.

Instead, we have added diction for the $21 billion and growing. Until we actually change that process, we are going to pass on that $21 billion. This is not only in terms of the cost going to the public, and where it has gone in the past many years is unbelievable, but also in terms of the expense, which will go to consumers. What do the big companies do? They pass on the cost of the spectrum to their customers.

Let us think about this as a Canadian. Our own government takes our resource, gobbles it up, sells it and then tries to squeeze every single cent it can out of the spectrum auction for whatever else it can get. It then passes on that cost back to the people.

I previously mentioned those former prime ministers. The other thing they have in common is that they have cut corporate taxes when these CEOs and these companies are making record profits. There are no terms and conditions, despite the product, the spectrum, being our own. I do not care if someone is a Canadian on Bay Street, up north, in Alberta, in Quebec, in Newfoundland or in Ontario, and I can go on, but we all own this equally.

It is now a toll road in the sky. That is what we have created with our natural asset. By the way, not all toll roads are created equal. If someone is from a rural area, they get a double whammy. Not only is their resource used against them for the price and costing, but they also get a poor product. That is just plain and simple.

This bill stops one of the worst practices we have. I really want to thank Senator Patterson for this. If someone were to buy spectrum, we were allowing the purchaser to then resell it. How stupid is that? It is not in the public interest that we would actually go out there, try to squeeze what we can out of a company and then let the company that got the spectrum sell it for a profit without doing any work, with no terms and conditions.

Where do people think that cost goes? We get a double layer. How about double or triple taxation? This is unacceptable. Again, this goes back to Chrétien, Martin, Harper and now the current PM in terms of the philosophy. Senator Patterson's bill fixes that one problem. Companies will no longer be allowed to go and do that. We are actually ransoming our asset against ourselves.

When we go to committee with this bill, it will only touch on certain things. Not all those things are going to be dealt with, but these are controllables right now. We have to lower the price of cellphones and services, but we need a prime minister and a minister who are willing to put in place terms and conditions as never before to build out our system, as opposed to just trying to do a cash deal, take the money and run.

We are at $21 billion, and right now, it is estimated that to connect all Canadians at a reasonable rate, it should be $6 billion. By the way, the reasonable rate is set by the CRTC, and the NDP says that should be the floor, not the ceiling. It should be the best, not the worst that someone can get. With $6 billion, we could actually roll out the proper coverage and connection. Our policies should be based upon that.

What is really unfortunate about this is that we have done it to ourselves. It is up to us to fix this now. We cannot continue to have a policy that does nothing other than to be a cash grab for the prime minister of the day, with the fallout of high prices, low accountability, and low standards and services from companies that have to be reined in because of the way they aggressively pursue actions against their own customers.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Dan Mazier Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill S-242, an act to amend the Radiocommunication Act. If passed, Bill S-242 would require spectrum holders to significantly increase the deployment of this finite and valuable resource.

Most Canadians will ask what spectrum is, and that is a great question. Spectrum is intangible, but it is an extremely valuable asset worth billions of dollars. In fact, the most expensive auctions in the entire world are for spectrum. Access to spectrum decides who can go online, determines who can use the Internet and can even save a person's life through a call to 911. However, to help understand the importance of spectrum, let us go back over 100 years to April 14, 1912: the day the RMS Titanic crashed into an iceberg over 300 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland. The tragic result was that over 1,500 people perished.

Some will say that it was solely an iceberg responsible for the fatalities of the Titanic, but many experts have pointed out that managing radio interference could have prevented the fatalities the night the Titanic sank.

Radios use spectrum bands to communicate through different frequencies, and back in 1912, radio communication was the most common way to communicate wirelessly. Historians say that the electronics of the wireless telegraph on the Titanic created so much noise that it interfered with the communication systems on ships nearby. In fact, multiple ships warned the Titanic of nearby icebergs the day it encountered its own.

To make matters worse, a ship by the name of the SS Californian, only 16 kilometres away, did not receive the Titanic's urgent call for help on the night of April 14. This was not because it was too far away, but because its only wireless operator had turned off the communication system after an earlier dispute with the Titanic over radio interference. As a result, not one SOS message was received by the Californian, although it was the closest ship to the Titanic.

This failure to manage spectrum prompted the swift passage of the Radio Act of 1912 in the United States. The Radio Act enabled the federal government to license wireless operations, and although spectrum was mainly used for radio communications in 1912, today, spectrum is the foundation of Internet and cellular connectivity in our digital world.

As such, although times have changed, the consequences of mismanaging spectrum continue to exist. The reality is that Bill S-242 was introduced because of the current government’s mismanagement of spectrum. Rural Canadians in particular suffer as a result of this mismanagement.

As the Conservative shadow minister of rural economic development and connectivity, I will focus on how the current Liberal government's mismanagement of spectrum has failed rural Canadians.

Later this year, the Liberal government is set to auction off the 3,800-megahertz band of spectrum. This spectrum is needed to connect Canadians with high-speed internet and cellular service. However, if telecom companies fail to use the spectrum they purchase, then Canadians will not be connected with the reliable Internet and cellular service they need. Moreover, because the government sets the rules for spectrum auctions, along with the requirements for deploying spectrum, the government directly influences how many Canadians will be connected with this essential service.

Unfortunately, if we examine the deployment requirements of the upcoming spectrum auctions, we can clearly see how little the government cares about connecting Canadians in rural and remote areas. The government has irresponsibly signed off on a plan that will shut rural Canadians out of accessing high-speed Internet and cellular services for decades.

For example, the deployment requirements for most urban regions in the upcoming auctions require a minimum population coverage of 50% over 10 years. Regions that include cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Regina and St. John's all require telecom companies to connect 50% of their population within 10 years. Members may think that 10 years is a long time for only 50% of the population to be covered with the newest technology, and I would agree. However, when we look at the connectivity requirements set by the current Liberal government for the upcoming spectrum auction, a massive discrepancy exists between how quickly urban Canadians and rural Canadians will be connected.

This is shocking in today's digital age when high-speed connectivity is vital to economic and social prosperity. Rural Canadians should be furious that the current Liberal government has signed off on a plan to connect rural Canadians much more slowly than the rest of Canada in the upcoming spectrum option.

For example, the good people of Timmins, Ontario, should be furious to learn that only 35% of them can expect to be connected with the Internet and cellular services needed in today's digital age within a lacklustre 10 years. In Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander, Newfoundland, the government is only requiring telecom companies to connect 10% of the population over 10 years. It is clear how little the Liberal government cares about Smithers, British Columbia, because it will only require telecom companies to connect 20% of the Smithers region with this spectrum band over an outrageously slow time frame of 20 years.

When we look at its plan for connecting Canadians, it is clear how little the government cares about connecting the rural and remote Canadians who need this service the most. The longer the spectrum deployment requirements are, the longer Canadians will wait to be connected. The Liberals love making announcements when it comes to reliable Internet and cellular service, but they have failed to deliver, miserably.

This Prime Minister does not care about rural Canadians. In fact, he has yet to learn what realities they face. I was recently in Yukon where a local first nations development organization told me that predators will deliberately prey on individuals along highways without cellular service because they know their victims cannot call 911 for help. These are the realities of the government's failed connectivity plan.

This Prime Minister pretends that his government has connected rural Canadians with high-speed Internet and cell service, but rural Canadians know he is misleading them. Earlier this year, Canada's independent Auditor General confirmed in her damning report to Parliament what rural Canadians already knew. Despite billions of dollars in announcements and multiple so-called strategies, over one million Canadian households and over 50% of first nations still do not have access to high-speed Internet. This report did not even include the many cellular dead zones across Canada that are threatening the public safety of Canadians, especially those in Atlantic Canada who just faced deadly hurricanes.

However, results do not matter to the current government, because the Liberal government measures success on how much of Canadians' money they announce instead of how many Canadians they can connect. In fact, since the Liberals introduced their universal broadband fund, they announced over $200 million in taxpayer funds for Bell Canada, over $38 million for Telus and over $5 million for Rogers. I cannot forget to mention the Liberals' disastrous Infrastructure Bank. The government announced over $640 million for Bell and $660 million for Rogers through its Infrastructure Bank, which has failed to complete countless projects.

It would be one thing if these billions of dollars resulted in high-speed Internet and cell service for all Canadians, but that is not the case. Connectivity projects across Canada are not getting built because government gatekeepers are slow to approve applications; connectivity projects are not getting built because there are so many bureaucratic programs that organizations are losing track of their applications; and connectivity projects are not being built because there just is not enough competition. The Liberals love announcing billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded money, but fail to connect Canadians.

This is a problem because the government can connect Canadians through better spectrum policy. Rural Canadians cannot afford to wait any longer to receive dependable quality and affordable service. As urban communities become connected at a much faster rate, the future of economic growth in rural Canada is at risk. It has become clearer that the current approach is not working.

In conclusion, sending Bill S-242 to committee is important so it can get studied, and improved if needed. We know the consequences of poor spectrum management. In 1912, it contributed to the sinking of the unsinkable Titanic. Today, it determines whether rural and remote Canadians sink or swim in our economy and our society. Canadians are counting on us to connect them. Let us bring it home.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, it is interesting that the mover of the bill made reference to the fact that he was but a child when the Internet was around. It made me reflect on myself. When I was a child attending school, the Internet did not exist, so there is maybe a bit of a generational gap.

During the eighties the Internet really started to come upon Canadian communities with the old dial-up service, dial tones and so forth. With the advancements in technology that we have witnessed over the last number of decades, today it is safe to say that when we think of the Internet, it is an essential service. It is of critical importance.

When I think of many rural communities, if not all of our rural communities, I think about how they can dramatically benefit from the Internet. We need to understand and appreciate the way in which communities, both rural and urban, can benefit through the Internet. We have heard a number of citations, such as about the economic power of the Internet. We can talk about health services today that are on the Internet, along with the many different types of services that can be acquired. It is truly amazing.

When we talk about the spectrum I can appreciate the fact that over the last couple of decades the spectrum issue has been on the floor of the House of Commons. It is something ministers have had to deal with.

I start to get a little bit offside with some of the comments, whether coming from the Conservatives or my New Democratic friends, in particular, when they start making accusations or expressing concerns about how this government has allegedly been neglecting rural connectivity. I would argue that there has not been a government that has spent more time, energy and financial resources in ensuring that rural communities are being connected. They talk about hundreds of millions of dollars that have been collected through spectrum auctions or the selling off of spectrum, which has been estimated somewhere in the neighbourhood of about $20 billion. It is a significant amount of money.

This government has also invested hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars into rural communities related to Internet access. The government has done that because, as I indicated, we have recognized the importance of rural economic development plus the social benefits of expanding and ensuring rural—

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Unfortunately, the time provided for the consideration of Private Members’ Business has expired. The hon. member will have six minutes and 40 seconds the next time this matter is before this House.

As I said, the time provided for the consideration of Private Members’ Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Pursuant to order made earlier today, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Motion No. 28 under Government Business.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 28, Mrs. Carol Hughes in the chair)