Mr. Speaker, I rise today with great appreciation for my colleague, the hon. member for Windsor West, for bringing this motion to the House today.
As members know, I have the honour of representing the people of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, which includes the entirety of northern Saskatchewan. My riding is about the same size as the nation of Poland, and people come from all walks of life. People live in bigger cities like Meadow Lake; they farm products like canola or grain and work in small businesses. On the east side of my riding, where I just had the opportunity to attend the high school graduation in Pelican Narrows, the story is very much the same, where people work hard to raise their families, practise their Cree traditions and protect the environment. In the far north, in communities like Fond Du Lac and Black Lake, communities gather together for feasts and celebrations while working in the resource industry.
However, what is true everywhere I go, whether it is Waterhen Lake First Nation, Hatchet Lake, Cumberland House or La Ronge, is that people want to be connected, just like everyone else in Canada. People in my riding want to use the Internet to connect with their friends and families, to connect with the world to know what is happening and to gain better access to education so that they can carry new skills into the working world.
Having a better connected north would mean that the north is able to attract new talent in doctors, new investments for companies, new jobs for our youth. Being better connected means that we can show the rest of Canada what makes us great. We can show the homegrown talent of jiggers in Île-à-la-Crosse, share photos of the beautiful Saskatchewan River delta, or sell our bead work and crafts so that a little part of the north can be present somewhere else.
Being better connected also means better support from the RCMP and community safety officers who could more quickly respond to dangerous situations. It means better ways of calling for ambulances in an emergency or contacting a neighbour for a cup of tea or a loved one who has gone into the city.
In fact, it may even be easier for people to contact their member of Parliament. In my office, far more people reach out to me through Facebook than by email or mail. For these reasons, I must support this motion to guarantee that northerners have the same level of service as many others in Canada at a much more affordable rate.
What I particularly like about this motion is how it recognizes the substandard service that communities across my riding are receiving. In my province, there are only two major Internet service providers in a province that has a dedicated Crown corporation that exists to ensure that everyone in the province can have service on their cellphone or Internet in their home. Many in my riding still do not get reception in their house or have come to expect long periods of time when their Internet does not work. With unreliable cellphone and Internet service, northerners are still paying significantly high bills each and every month.
I recently heard from several of my constituents over the past few weeks about their Internet and cellphone service. For many of them, the unreliability of the service affects them the most. Towns and villages in my riding are very spread out, and I often spend hours on the road driving between community visits. In between major population centres, there is virtually no cellular service, and along the highways, service is spotty and causes major anxiety for people who travel those roads every day.
I recently drove from Creighton to Pelican Narrows and for the two and a half hours of driving in the rain and mud, we did not have any cellular service and there were no gas stations if we needed help. Also, two of my constituents, Lyle and Muriel Sundbo, live in Candle Lake and they do not get any cellular service for 20 kilometres between their home and Prince Albert, where I am told many people go to buy their groceries or to visit their doctor. North of where the Sundbos live, there is no cell service at all.
While we speak a lot about sharing photos on Facebook or checking our emails, we cannot undermine just how essential being connected to the Internet or getting reception on a cellphone is. The world is moving faster than ever. Even though our small towns take pride in their charm and how unlike the big cities we are, that does not mean we do not need the services of the modern world.
Our northern communities are very quickly being left behind because of big corporations and governments that are unwilling or unable to see what our communities have to offer. It is not just the north that is suffering as a consequence. When the Internet has become an essential service in Canada, it is completely unacceptable that northerners have to settle for less or accept nothing at all.
What have we seen from consecutive Conservative and Liberal governments? Why is there such an urgent need to change the conversation about access to these essential services for northerners? So far, the answer from the Harper government and the current Liberal government has been that the market will decide a price, and access will be provided based on supply and demand.
Essentially, if there is enough demand in the north for better Internet and there is a profit to be made, my constituents will see better services. Without a doubt, the demand is there for better and cheaper service. What is not there is the profit, so companies will not invest the capital needed to build better cellphone towers or invest in Internet infrastructure. When they do, the rates that are charged to northerners are so high that many northerners cannot afford the services and all they are told is that it is the cost of doing business.
To address this, the government announced its intention to use the infrastructure bank to provide a minimal level of high-speed Internet for all Canadians including northerners. However, the government's plan once again relies on the goodwill and significant investment from the private sector in order to adequately fund better services. The Liberals' plan is to provide tax breaks to giant telecom companies to invest in infrastructure, but there is no guarantee that those investments will be made in rural or remote areas.
Budget 2019 also promised $1.7 billion over 13 years to go toward investment in telecom infrastructure to give Canadians better access to the Internet. However, the government's own estimate is that it would cost $6 billion to provide every Canadian with a broadband connection. From experience, I know that when services are underfunded, it tends to be the people in northern Saskatchewan and the people in rural and remote areas who are left behind by the Liberals and the Conservatives.
The status quo is to invest in northern communities so that Internet speeds of 50 megabytes per second are the new normal and that normal will be in place by 2026. In other places in Canada, like Ottawa, major telecom companies are offering service plans of 100 to 5,500 megabytes per second. In many homes, speeds up to one gigabyte per second are now available.
Seven years from now, northern Saskatchewan will still be at a level of service lower than what is available today, while service will only continue to get faster and better for people in more populated areas. People in my riding will always be playing catch-up to the technology of urban centres, but they will continue paying as if they already have the best service.
It does not have to be this way. We can do better. We in government can call for better consumer protections by ending predatory sales practices. We can invest in infrastructure to provide our communities with services at internationally recognized levels. By doing so, we can create jobs for northerners, who are always willing to work hard to better their community. We can set price caps to ensure affordability because price gouging is immoral and does not lead to the investments we expect.
Northern Saskatchewan is looking for better service, and we have the ability to help so many families and workers in the north. The NDP, through this motion, has shown we have the will to help northerners because it is time to treat the north with the respect it deserves.