That, in the opinion of the House: (a) a reliable and accessible digital infrastructure, from broadband Internet to wireless telecommunications and beyond, is essential and enables Canadians to seize new business opportunities, create jobs and connect with the global economy; (b) a reliable and accessible digital infrastructure, particularly wireless telecommunications infrastructure, plays a critical role in securing the health and safety of Canadians, notably during emergency situations caused by extreme weather events; (c) innovation occurs everywhere, in rural and remote regions just as much as in urban centres, and all Canadians deserve an equal opportunity to succeed in the digital economy as a matter of fundamental fairness; (d) the government should (i) continue in its efforts to support Canadians, especially those in rural regions, in accessing the digital infrastructure they need to innovate, create economic opportunity and maintain public safety, (ii) examine the possibility of enabling further investments in rural digital infrastructure, including by reviewing the terms and conditions of the federal infrastructure program Investing in Canada, to incentivize investments in rural connectivity by the private sector and by leveraging funds from other orders of government, (iii) continue to work with telecommunication companies, provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous communities and relevant emergency response organizations to enhance rural connectivity and ensure maximum preparedness in emergency situations; (e) the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology should be instructed to undertake a comprehensive study on rural wireless infrastructure, focusing particularly on (i) the underlying causes of, and prospective solutions to the gaps in wireless infrastructure deployment in rural Canada, (ii) the regulatory role of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, (iii) the fiscal and regulatory approaches to incentivize more significant investments in rural wireless infrastructure, and report to the House at its earliest convenience; and (f) the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security should be instructed to undertake a comprehensive study on the public safety dimensions of wireless infrastructure deployment in rural Canada, and report to the House at its earliest convenience.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased and proud to rise today to speak to my motion, Motion No. 208. I look forward to hearing my colleagues' constructive comments on the future of digital infrastructure in rural Canada.
Can anyone today, in 2019, imagine living in a Canadian community with no Internet access or cellphone coverage?
In this day and age, Internet access is a necessity. We live in a technology-driven universe. The world around us is a tech world. The world has changed and evolved, but sadly, some Canadians are being left behind because of where they live.
Whether they are close to big cities or in more remote areas, Canadians living in small communities across Canada want reliable high-speed Internet, but all too often, it is unavailable.
What I hear from residents throughout the regional county municipalities of Pontiac, La Vallée-de-la-Gatineau and Collines-de-l'Outaouais chimes with the comments of my parliamentary colleagues in the government and in the opposition, as well as their constituents across Canada.
What I hear from my Pontiac constituents resonates across political parties and across rural Canada. This is not a partisan issue. Rural Canada wants the same high-speed Internet as the rest of Canada; the same reliable cellphone coverage; the same opportunities to build their economies through small business innovation to create local jobs; to enjoy digital culture, whether that is Facebook, Netflix or online gaming; to attract young families to their communities; to participate in democracy; to do online schoolwork with their children—and as a young father I know exactly how that feels—and to receive government services.
Rural Canada speaks with one voice when it demands that digital infrastructure investments be accelerated right now. From high-speed Internet fibre to cellphone towers, the needs are great, and patience is wearing thin. These have become essential services that we all rely on.
To give an example, thousands of my constituents living in the municipalities of Cantley, La Pêche and Val-des-Monts, just 25 minutes away from the national capital of a G7 country, are unable to make their small businesses as successful as they should be or even telework for the federal public service.
Here is another example. The day after the 2018 tornado, I met up with Joanne Labadie, the mayor of the municipality of Pontiac, a suburb of Breckenridge. Seeing the damaged homes, I wondered how it was possible that there was no cellphone signal. At a time of crisis, I could not get a signal on my cellphone. That is not normal.
I stand before this House on behalf of the constituents of Pontiac, but I am also here on behalf of all rural Canadians, who agree that we need more parliamentary debate on this issue. I am here to argue in favour of passing Motion No. 208 and to bring rural Internet and cellphone issues onto the national stage.
Motion No. 208 invites Parliament to confront Canada's rural-urban digital divide and to dive deeper into those nitty-gritty regulatory, economic and public safety dimensions of the issue. It focuses on how we can do more to ensure a reliable, accessible and affordable digital infrastructure for rural communities all across Canada, from broadband Internet to wireless telecom and beyond.
In tabling Motion No. 208, I stand for the idea that Canadians everywhere should be able to access digital networks that play a critical role in securing the health and safety of Canadians, especially during emergency circumstances caused by extreme weather events, for example.
I stand for the idea that rural Canadians must have an equal opportunity to seize new business opportunities in the digital world, to create jobs for their small towns and to connect with the local economy as well as the global economy.
Motion No. 208 constructively expresses broader rural frustrations surrounding the digital divide in Canada and proposes two separate studies to be conducted by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology and the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. This will have a significant positive impact on the process that is already under way to reform the Telecommunications Act.
Our government has already indicated how this reform of the Telecommunications Act will focus on universal access:
Universal access to high-quality and affordable telecommunications services has never been more important. This importance is currently reflected in legislative provisions and the CRTC's basic service regulatory framework, which was recently updated to include modern broadband and mobile services.
I would like us to focus specifically on the reform of that act and on how we can achieve better results on the ground in rural Canada. Improving access to these services for Canadians in remote areas, including indigenous communities, is a national priority.
Put simply, as we look at amending the Telecommunications Act, are the right legislative tools in place to further the objectives of affordable, high-quality access for all Canadians, including those in rural, remote and indigenous communities? This is just such an important question.
We all know this is not a new issue. Since the advent of the Internet, rural Canadians have had less Internet access than urban areas. High-speed fibre connections are less common, and wireless cellphone signals are weaker than in cities or oftentimes absent altogether.
Telecommunications companies invest less in digital infrastructure in rural Canada for reasons related to geography, cost and population density.
Although Internet service speeds and cellular services have improved in rural Canada, the problem remains: digital services and infrastructure in urban Canada have improved at a faster pace, which again puts rural communities at a relative disadvantage.
This has serious negative repercussions, which tend to snowball at all economic, social, democratic, public safety and demographic levels.
The digital divide is real. Rural Canadians have fewer choices of Internet service providers and wireless service providers, and they often pay higher prices for lower-quality services, despite lower per capita incomes. Closing the gap in broadband Internet and wireless service availability in Canada presents an enormous set of financial challenges requiring billions of dollars in funding and investments, challenges that can only be overcome through shared responsibility.
Federal programs such as connect to innovate and connecting families are helping to provide affordable broadband access to some Canadians in rural regions, but to date, there is nothing to address the issue of wireless access.
We have already made major investments, and I credit the Government of Canada for these major investments. Significant progress has been made. For example, in Pontiac, in 2018 I announced $13.4 million in investments in backbone fibre in the MRCs of Pontiac, La Vallée-de-la-Gatineau and des Collines-de-l'Outaouais, and just a couple of weeks ago, another $7 million in the municipality of Cantley. That is a total of over $20 million. These are unheard-of, historic investments, and I am very thankful that both the federal government and the Province of Quebec stepped up.
By comparison, between 2006 and 2016, barely over $1 million was invested by the previous administration in Pontiac's Internet infrastructure. It is no wonder that we are playing catch-up here.
I could go through a list of towns and small communities that are going to be better served by high-speed Internet. I will name a few of them, because it is important that they be recognized for the challenges that they face right now, and they are waiting:
Here are some: Montcerf-Lytton, Bois-Franc, Aumond, Egan-Sud, Grand-Remous, Cayamant, Gracefield, Kazabazua, Denholm, Low. In the MRC Pontiac, there are Chapeau, Danford Lake, Portage-du-Fort, Ladysmith, Alleyn-et-Cawood, Thorne, Bristol, Rapides-des-Joachims, Sheenboro, Norway Bay, Sand Bay, Waltham, Chichester and Plage-Baie-Noire.
These are just some of the communities that are going to have far better Internet access as the investments are brought to bear.
These investments mean that over 4,000 households will be able to connect to the Internet.
I agree with my constituents and I agree with our mayors and our municipal councillors: We need to act fast. We need these projects implemented.
That is one of the reasons I recently organized meetings between the telecommunications company responsible for a large portion of the projects in our riding and the mayors. It was so we could encourage them to get these projects in the ground, on the poles, as fast as possible. We know that the projects are going to be implemented, starting this year and through 2021.
As we debate Motion No. 208, let us recognize the great investments that are already happening in Canada, not just in Pontiac but across the country, and let us see what we can do to go much, much further.
The pace and scope of these investments, made possible through tax measures or CRTC regulatory requirements, must be significantly accelerated to address the impact of inequalities in digital infrastructure and distribution of services on areas such as health and public safety.
This is what Motion No. 208 is all about.
I am proud to announce here in the House of Commons that this motion has the support of key municipal organizations: the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the rural caucus of the Union des municipalités du Québec.
Vicki-May Hamm, mayor of the City of Magog and president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, sent me a letter of support in which she wrote:
In Canada today, fast, reliable Internet access is an essential service that should be available to all, no matter where they live.
She goes on to say this:
That is why I am writing to you today in support of your motion on rural digital infrastructure. The FCM recognizes that reliable, accessible digital infrastructure is essential to Canada's rural communities and would enable people across the country to benefit from new business opportunities and participate in the digital economy.
I am extremely pleased to have the FCM's support.
The same goes for the rural caucus of the Union des municipalités du Québec.
In a letter signed by the mayor of Chelsea, my mayor, it says:
Like you, the Union des municipalités du Québec or UMQ recognizes the strategic importance of digital infrastructure networks to community development. The deployment of digital infrastructure networks is a matter of principle and of equal opportunities for Canadians. It is essential to Quebec's economic development.
The UMQ's local municipalities caucus hereby officially offers its support for Motion No. 208 on rural digital infrastructure. Rest assured that you can always count on the support of local governments when it comes to giving everyone access to quality digital infrastructure.
I know I need to conclude now. I will very quickly thank all the municipalities across the Pontiac for stepping up and passing resolutions in support of Motion No. 208: Fort-Coulonge, Kazabazua, Sainte-Thérèse-de-la-Gatineau, Campbell's Bay, Gracefield, Chelsea, Low and the MRC of Pontiac.
In conclusion, I just want to make clear that this is a national priority. Although our government has done so much, we have to do more and that is what Motion No. 208 is all about.
Madam Speaker, I would like to speak to Motion No. 208, put forward by the member for . I certainly am pleased to stand up not just for my constituents of Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola but to talk about an issue that is very near and dear to many people in rural and remote areas throughout this great country. I will go through it and address some of the points that have been raised.
I think it is important to spotlight that this motion highlights the Liberal government's failure to ensure that rural and remote Canadians have access to high-speed Internet. As confirmed last year by the Auditor General, the current Liberal government has no plan to meet the connectivity needs of Canadians living in rural and remote communities. In fact, the report found that the government's current programs do not ensure maximum expansion for public money spent. This is well documented in the report by the Auditor General. One of the most fundamental issues is that it has not addressed getting full value for money that has been spent.
Canadians deserve better than just vague promises and commitments to get a plan to have a plan. That was the government's response to the Auditor General.
The Liberals have added a new minister for rural economic development. However, having a minister address an issue that she has no formal authority over, with a mandate letter stating that she needs to coordinate with the , among two other ministers, to see any progress on this file, to me points to the fact that this is an eleventh-hour effort.
Going to the actual text of the motion, it states:
(a) a reliable and accessible digital infrastructure, from broadband Internet to wireless telecommunications and beyond, is essential and enables Canadians to seize new business opportunities, create jobs and connect with the global economy;
The Conservatives absolutely agree with that.
(b) a reliable and accessible digital infrastructure, particularly wireless telecommunications infrastructure, plays a critical role in securing the health and safety of Canadians, notably during emergency situations caused by extreme weather events;
When we had the tornado last year in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, there was a lot of public outcry, because in many cases, people were not able to communicate via their cellphones. Because the Conservative members of the industry committee and I had concerns, we put forward a motion to study this area. Unfortunately, the Liberals did not find it noteworthy. I will give the member for a tip of the hat for taking on a serious issue, because I know there was quite a lot of concern. Canadians deserve to know a bit more about this area, so I hope the Liberal members will allow for a thorough study of this.
I had mentioned this in my question to the member opposite. The motion states:
(c) innovation occurs everywhere, in rural and remote regions just as much as in urban centres, and all Canadians deserve an equal opportunity to succeed in the digital economy as a matter of fundamental fairness;
We heard about the clawback from the deputy minister when I asked at committee about the 3,500 megahertz. I asked if he would make a commitment to the Canadian people, particularly those who would be affected by such a clawback, that he would not jeopardize their connectivity and claw it back and give to someone else in a way that would put rural and remote people in a tenuous situation. He said he would do his darnedest.
The current government has a tendency to over-promise and under-deliver. I have to say that while it is really good to hear members talk about rural Canadians and remote areas, it is not so much a matter of what we say in this place but what the government does. Therefore, it is incredibly important that the government start listening to members of Parliament on this issue.
Obviously, I will not be able to go through the whole motion. However, I want to also talk a bit about (e), which states:
the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology should be instructed to undertake a comprehensive study on rural wireless infrastructure, focusing...on (i) the underlying causes of, and prospective solutions to the gaps in wireless infrastructure deployment in rural Canada,
This is a noteworthy item for us to study, but, again, I would go back to what a member from the NDP raised earlier. When the CRTC put forward its own standard of a download speed of 50 megabits throughout Canada, curiously enough the $750-million fund being paid for by telecommunication companies changed when they looked at starting to roll it out. By the way, the companies take that money from consumers, which is an important point. In fact, the standard will not be at 50 megabits for rural areas. In some cases, the CRTC said that 25 megabits was acceptable. This is an area we need to really look into. Also, the 's report requires us to look into these things more.
I have talked a little about the late hour of this. I am sure both committees will do a study on this as it is a complex issue. We have good people who we can call upon to present possible solutions. However, by the time we table these reports, if they are successfully done, summer already will be starting. Obviously, this is an election year. The study will probably end up on a shelf and it will be up to the next government to deal with it. Of course, I believe it will be a government led by the member for .
To me, it seems the Liberals are simply going to use this as a bit of a staging process for electoral promises. We know about the government's inability to keep most of its promises from the last election. To make this an electoral issue would be unsatisfying for everyone here. If we are taking the time and energy to work on a complex issue, we hope to see some action.
All aspects of our modern interconnected economy require stable Internet access. As I have said, the government has failed in its responsibility to support rural and remote Canadians. It has left people in rural and remote communities to fend for themselves when it comes to connectivity. I think all of us believe that needs to change.
The Conservative Party will support the motion because it is essential to find solutions to address Liberal failures on rural and remote Internet access. Canadians cannot continue to pay for the 's mistakes.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, I look forward to this study. I hope the public safety committee is also able to look at the issue of emergency preparedness and how it relates.
All of us can imagine the sheer powerlessness we would feel if we gave a phone to our children and we were unable to connect with them during an emergency such as an earthquake or, as we saw in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, a tornado. I hope we are able to look into that issue and bring some strong resolutions forward.
Again, I point out that this seems to be a late in the hour Hail Mary pass by the government. It has stalled on so many of aspects of its promises, and Canadians deserve better. They should not have to be constantly paying for the 's mistakes. I look forward to hearing the debate unfold tonight.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to the importance of high-speed Internet to the people living in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia, and to all Canadians.
The Internet has become an integral part of modern life and an essential driver of the knowledge economy, yet there is a digital divide preventing Canadians in rural and remote areas from getting the full benefits of new technologies.
The failure of the federal government to make sufficient investments in digital infrastructure impacts Canadians' quality of life, compromises public safety and limits innovation and economic growth. In 2019, reliable high-speed Internet should be an essential service, available to everyone no matter their address.
As a former mayor of Cranbrook, I understand municipal infrastructure needs and the funding models local governments are working with. While infrastructure programs have traditionally focused on sewer, water, roads and storm drains, it was evident even a decade ago that high-speed Internet access needs to be considered as fundamental infrastructure. Unfortunately, in rural and remote areas the private sector business case for investing in digital infrastructure is not the same as it is for higher density urban areas. With market forces failing to connect rural Canada, it falls to government to provide this essential service.
The Canadian Federation of Municipalities represents municipalities making up more than 90% of the population, and almost 80% of its members have fewer than 10,000 residents. It is championing rural connectivity and is calling on the federal government to do its part.
Across Canada, for every dollar collected in taxes roughly 50¢ goes to the federal government, 42¢ to provincial governments and 8¢ to municipalities, yet municipalities are responsible for 70% of all infrastructure. This is not sustainable for meeting traditional infrastructure needs, nor for meeting the digital infrastructure needs of the 21st century.
When municipalities seek infrastructure funding from higher levels of government they are generally required to match funds. The typical breakdown is one-third federal, one-third provincial and one-third municipal funding. This poses a major challenge. For small communities like Cranbrook, which has about 20,000 people, generating $1 million of new funds for a capital project could mean a 4% increase in property taxes. Even generating the funds to produce shelf-ready plans required for government grants is a barrier.
The burden for getting rural communities connected with high-speed Internet should not fall mostly on these communities. The federal government needs to step up and give this issue the priority it deserves if Canada is to be able to compete in the knowledge economy.
In 2016, the CRTC set a standard for adequate download and upload speeds. While 96% of urban Canadians had access to those speeds, only 39% of those in rural and remote areas did, and 5.4 million Canadians were paying for substandard service. While some progress has been made, there is much work to be done. The Canadian Federation of Municipalities estimates more than two million Canadians cannot access a reliable Internet connection.
However, an Internet connection alone is no longer enough. Many of the technologies moving society forward require high-speed Internet. Traditional sectors like forestry, mining and hydro need to go high tech to stay competitive. Farmers too are looking to new technologies. High-speed Internet is becoming key to maximizing crop production and reducing climate change impacts. Online learning has become increasingly popular for retraining or upgrading credentials. Also, e-health delivery is expected to be utilized more in the coming years and could greatly benefit those who would need to travel long distances to access care and those who cannot find a family doctor.
While house prices have increased in urban centres, the lack of digital infrastructure may present a barrier to young Canadians considering relocating to rural communities. By contrast, adequate digital infrastructure can improve telework opportunities and promote work-life balance for young families.
In 2016-17, I conducted a series of small business forums in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia where owners identified the need for improved broadband connectivity for day-to-day business operations.
Paul, who manages a self-employment program in Nelson, recently explained the challenge of inadequate Internet in the area. The program's federal funding has been substantially reduced, however, video broadcasting and conferencing cannot be delivered in much of its operating area where some clients rely on dial-up or spotty over-air Internet connections.
This is not just a problem for businesses, though. One of my staff, Trina, is a school board trustee. She says that rural Internet is a challenge for many school districts across the province. Inadequate Internet access negatively impacts the technologies teachers can use in the classroom and limits the ability of students to complete homework.
Meanwhile, David from Wardner wrote me simply to say that he wanted the same unlimited data packages available for rural Internet customers that were offered in urban communities.
Lack of cellphone coverage has also been repeatedly raised by local governments and constituents. In rural British Columbia, it represents a public safety issue for those travelling remote, mountainous terrain who may need emergency help.
The St. Mary's Valley Rural Residents Association wrote me to advocate for improved wireless phone service in the area which was used for recreation, small businesses, logging and mining. The need to call for emergency assistance can arise from auto or industrial accidents, avalanches, etc. The ability to promptly report forest fires is also a concern.
While I support the intent of the member for 's Motion No. 208 and will vote in favour of it, we do not need more studies on rural digital infrastructure.
The chair of the Kootenay Boundary Regional Broadband Committee, Rob Gay, recently told me that around 60% of the region was currently covered by high-speed internet, mostly in the more urban communities. He said that in Kootenay Columbia they did not need another study, that they knew what needed to happen, which was they needed the federal government to continue to provide funding.
In the final year of the government's mandate, directing two standing committees to study this issue only serves to delay the action rural Canadians need now. These Canadians want a strategy, with timelines for getting people connected and the funding to make it happen.
In April 2018, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology presented a report titled, “Broadband Connectivity in Rural Canada: Overcoming the Digital Divide.” This report was two years in the making and resulted in 12 recommendations to improve connectivity in rural Canada. There are sensible recommendations in this report, such as simplifying access to federal funding for non-traditional network operators, like local governments.
Last fall, the Auditor General released a report, “Connectivity in Rural and Remote Areas” which found Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada had accurate and detailed information on the current state of connectivity in Canada. The report found that the department did not have a strategy for working towards universal connectivity.
The Auditor General highlighted the need for a national strategy with timelines. The standing committee's report also called for the development of a strategy as well as the need to integrate issues such as affordability and digital literacy. Despite repeated calls for a national strategy, the Auditor General found the department was reluctant to do so without the funding to implement it.
This leads to the other critical piece of the puzzle, which is adequate funding is needed to fill in where market forces will not. The CRTC estimates it will cost about $7 billion to achieve universal connectivity. The Canadian Federation of Municipalities has called on the federal government to commit $4 billion over the next 10 years.
The government has so far committed $500 million through its connect to innovate program, which is appreciated but falls far short of what is needed. Meanwhile, the same government purchased an aging pipeline for $4.5 billion.
The CRTC recently launched another fund aimed at improving rural connectivity, but set the minimum speeds for eligible projects at half the basic service objectives established in 2016. An overarching goal should be to reduce the disparity between urban and rural Canadians.
The 2018 budget focused on strategic innovation, but did little to promote the growth of broadband in rural communities. The more the digital divide grows due to inaction, the greater the economic and social costs.
While I support the member for 's efforts to bring attention to this issue, the NDP calls on the government to make the overdue substantial investment in rural connectivity a priority in the 2019 federal budget. Rural Canadians deserve no less.
Mr. Speaker, in 1983, my parents had an Osborne laptop with a detachable keyboard, a four-inch screen and dual five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy disk drives that could read 90-kilobyte disks.
In 1987, their company, Immeubles Doncaster in Saint-Agathe-des-Monts, got one of the first fax machines in the region. Since Bell Canada did not know quite what to do with this new technology, it gave every company nearly identical fax numbers. One company's fax number was 326-8819, ours was 326-8829, and another company's was 326-8839. I do not know what we would have done if there had been more fax machines.
Around 1988, my father had a Cantel car phone installed in his 1985 Chevette. The phone cost almost as much as the car. It had to be installed semi-permanently in the trunk with an antenna attached to the rear window. We always had the latest technology at home. We got email when it was first introduced to the market by CompuServe in the 1990s. We were able to communicate with other users through a dial-up connection. We had to make a long-distance call to Montreal to get it to work, but it worked. I still have our first family email address memorized. It was firstname.lastname@example.org.
Analog cell service was good enough to meet our needs. The signal dropped from time to time, but we could make calls. With our antenna, we could listen to CBC and Radio-Canada radio stations fairly well and watch a few television channels. To change the channel, my father would climb the ladder and turn the antenna with pliers, and we would use two-way radios to tell him when the signal came in.
We lived in a rural area, in Sainte-Lucie-des-Laurentides. That is where I grew up and where I still live today. My family was fully connected to the latest technology. Life was good. At the end of 1994, the digital divide had not yet affected the regions entirely.
Fast forward to 2000, the Internet was still on dial-up. The first satellite services had not yet arrived. I moved to Ontario to study computer science at the University of Guelph. I had learned Linux in high school and was involved in the freeware community. I found Rogers cable high-speed Internet readily available. Bell DSL followed a few years later, and at that time I switched over to a small reseller named Magma Communications. In 2004, I was living in a city where high-speed Internet was available, while Xplornet satellite service was starting up in the regions. My parents subscribed to the service after a year of suffering with Internet through ExpressVu, which used dial-up to send and satellite to receive. The digital divide was huge.
In 2001, my family and I visited my grandfather's childhood home in Turkey. When we arrived at Atatürk Airport, I heard cellphones around me going: dot-dot-dot-dash-dash-dot-dot-dot. I knew Morse code, so I wondered what an SMS was and why we did not have them back home. When we returned, my grandfather gave me my first cellphone, a digital analog Qualcomm through Telus.
As I am involved in the world of freeware, as an administrator of IRC networks and a journalist in the sector, I need the power to communicate with colleagues around the world. While everyone was texting internationally, my Telus phone could not send a text outside its own network. When I called customer service, I was told to use the web browser on my phone, which barely worked, and to go the website of the company that provided service to the person to whom I wanted to send a text message, and to use their form.
I did not remain a Telus customer for long. I quickly switched to Microcell, a cell company on the GSM worldwide network, which operated under the name Fido and offered the ability to send and receive texts internationally, except with its competitors in Canada. The problem with Fido was that the service was only available in cities. It was not profitable to install towers in rural areas. When I travelled, I could only communicate in the Toronto and Montreal metropolitan areas.
The digital divide also affected telephone service. In 2003, I purchased a PCMCIA card for my laptop. For $50 a month, I had unlimited Internet access on something called the GPRS platform. It was not quick, but it worked. That service also worked in the U.S. at no additional cost. With that technology, I wrote a little program connecting the maritime GPS in my server in order to create a web page tracking my movements with just a few seconds' delay.
In November 2004, Rogers bought Fido and, for an additional fee, provided service in the regions served by Rogers. After that, the Rogers-Fido GPRS system began cutting out after being connected for precisely 12 minutes, except in the Ottawa area, where it did not cut out. Was that so that the legislators in the capital would not notice? Thus began my mistrust in large telecommunications companies.
In 2006 I attended my brother Jonah and sister-in-law Tracy's wedding in Nairobi. After the wedding, our whole family went on safari. In the middle of the Maasai Mara, cellphones worked properly. That was an “a-ha” moment for me.
By 2006, after the digital shift, the cellular service we had in the Laurentians in the 1980s had almost completely disappeared. We were regressing as the digital divide grew wider.
Today, in 2019, I have boosters on both of my cars. At home, we have a booster on the roof to help us get by. What is more, our wireless Internet is expensive, slow and unreliable.
Many communities in my riding of Laurentides—Labelle still do not have any cell service. Telecommunications companies plan to do away with long-standing pager services, which will no longer exist in Canada by next summer. Dial-up, satellite and wireless Internet is available in the region, but it is slow and unreliable.
There is no obvious solution. As a result of spectrum auctions and spectrum management, small companies and local co-operatives cannot access the cell market to fill in those gaps. What is more, the large corporations do not want to see new stakeholders enter the market, even though they are not interested in resolving the issue themselves.
That is causing major problems. Our economic growth is suffering, young people are leaving and businesses and self-employed workers are reluctant to set up shop in the region. Emergency services have to find creative ways of communicating with first responders, volunteer firefighters.
The situation is critical. The study we are talking about in Motion No. 208 is so urgent that I would ask the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, of which I am a member, not to wait for this motion moved by my colleague from to be adopted before beginning its study.
In closing, I would like to read the resolution that I received last week from one of the fire departments in my riding, which urged me to do something about the cell service in the region. They used the example of the Vendée community. Bell Canada is a company that was initially largely funded by the Crown. However, it has completely lost its social conscience. Bell offered to help the community only if the municipality covered 100% of the cost to install a telecommunication tower even though the Bell Canada Act states:
The works of the Company are hereby declared to be works for the general advantage of Canada.
Here is resolution 2019-01-256 in its entirety:
WHEREAS the Northwest Laurentians Fire Department, composed of the territories of the municipalities of the townships of Amherst, Arundel, Huberdeau, La Conception, Lac-Supérieur, La Minerve, Montcalm and Saint-Faustin-Lac—Carré, was created following the signing of an intermunicipal agreement for the organization, operation and administration of a fire service;
WHEREAS the municipality of Amherst, Vendée sector, has been experiencing various problems and deficiencies with cellphone coverage for more than two (2) years;
WHEREAS the pager technology used by firefighters and first responders will no longer be supported as of June;
WHEREAS the only technology that is supported and used by the Fire Department is cellphone technology;
WHEREAS the Vendée sector has close to 1,000 permanent and/or seasonal residents who are being deprived of adequate public safety services;
WHEREAS 80% of the population of Vendée consists of retirees and this demographic is more likely to need emergency services;
WHEREAS the Fire Department has approached Bell Canada and the federal member of Parliament [for Laurentides—Labelle] on this matter;
WHEREAS in 2017 and 2018, the municipality of Amherst approached the federal MP [for Laurentides—Labelle], the then MNA Sylvain Pagé, the department of public safety, the Sûreté du Québec, Bell Canada and the RCM of Laurentides on this matter;
WHEREAS the situation has reached a critical point for public safety for these residents;
THEREFORE it is moved by Steve Perreault, seconded by Richard Pépin, and unanimously resolved by the members present;
THAT the board of directors of the Fire Department support the actions of the municipality of Amherst.
THAT the board of directors call on the federal government, via the member for Laurentides—Labelle...to intercede with the authorities responsible for the public telephone network to require the implementation of cellular service in the Vendée sector by companies operating in this field.
ADOPTED at the meeting of January 17, 2019
We have work to do, and we cannot wait any longer. Companies are putting the lives of my constituents and rural Canadians at risk. That is unacceptable. 5G is not a magic bullet that will fix everything.
We need to take serious action, starting with this study.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Motion No. 208.
I am also very pleased to see that some people on the other side of the House have had easy access to the Internet their whole lives. However, it is another story in rural areas.
It is now 2019, but it is difficult to access the waves, or signals, in rural areas. It all depends on the lay of the land and on whether you are in a hilly or mountainous area or on flat ground, because that can also affect the signals.
I would like to point out that having wireless Internet infrastructure in rural areas is vital. It is vital to the survival of our communities and of our world and to the economy we want to develop.
Connectivity is an important issue in the riding of Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix. It is just as important in all rural areas. There is an urgent need for access. However, this is not as easy as it seems.
Major companies such as Vidéotron and Bell do not want to go into rural areas because there are not enough potential clients. However, whether there are 10,000 or 50,000, it is now 2019, and everyone relies on high-speed Internet today.
It is clearly an extremely important tool. Everyone is connected to the Internet. That is easy in a place like Ottawa, but in my neck of the woods, in Saint-Urbain, which lies between two mountains, access is not a given.
I was very happy to have my riding host the G7. We got a lovely gift from the party opposite. They government built us some very nice towers. Unfortunately, it does not work in Saint-Urbain because we are between two mountains. Mayors and reeves even contacted the current government to say that their towers are great and everything, but in some parts of Charlevoix there is still no signal. Access is still a challenge.
Infrastructure is clearly of vital importance. I would like to thank the member for moving Motion No. 208, but I just want to point out that a motion was moved at the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology and the Liberals voted against it. Just now, they were talking about how this motion is important, but when a motion was moved at the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, the Liberals voted against it.
I would like someone to explain to my why our colleagues opposite voted against it. It is important. One of their members thinks it is so important he wants to have a debate in the House.
I think we have debated long enough. We need to get on with fixing a problem that has been around for a long time.
Sadly, high-speed Internet moves faster than legislators. We need to catch up to 2018, 2019 and 2020. We need to do better. There are certainly a number of factors to consider, like the CRTC, wireless Internet service providers and governments, which can also implement some things. However, we must move faster than endless debates and committee meetings. We have heard from everyone. We are in rural areas and we hear from businesses and ordinary people. Seniors are less concerned, since they feel they cannot keep pace with the Internet and new technologies. However, members of new generation, the one after ours, need the Internet and new technologies in their everyday lives.
Consequently, I support Motion No. 208. I can hardly be against it, because my riding needs these services. However, this should be automatic. Today, we need to move beyond debates and consultations. Most of the time, when a motion is drafted, on either side of the House, it gets sent to committee and then the people on the other side oppose it. It is time to rise above partisanship and work together to secure Internet access for rural communities from coast to coast to coast so we can catch up to 2019. That is the reality. That is what we need.
I have been the rural affairs critic for a year and a half, and I am still happy to have this job. Two or three weeks ago, the Liberals appointed a Minister of Rural Economic Development. Kudos to them for finally noticing we exist. They have been in office for three and a half years now, and in all that time, they have never talked about rural Canada.
Today, a member representing the regions is talking to us about rural life and the need for all rural Canadians to be connected. I commend him, because that is what rural residents need. This issue transcends partisan politics. Our rural regions need to be connected to the Internet immediately so we can finally catch up to 2019.
If this motion is studied by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, I hope that there will be no partisanship and that we will work together to connect our rural areas to the reality of 2019.