I've been following the bouncing ball, as well as looking at the paper trail we have, and I'm still not satisfied that we've got to the nub of this lack of a national broadband strategy, which was recommended time after time after time for 12 years.
When the Auditor General went in and asked why there wasn't one, according to what we've heard today, the department was—and I'm quoting—“reluctant to establish a strategy with an objective that could not be reached with the available funding.”
I didn't hear anything about nuance, about all the problems of trying to bring all the people together. In fact, when it's difficult and tough like this, with multiple dimensions to the complexity of it, there is all the more need for a strategy, even if the first thing you say is that we have to get all the provinces, territories, and federal government on the same page in terms of what we agree on: “This is what we need to do. Here's who's responsible. Here's the process. Here's the time frame.”
Instead, what we're hearing, in my opinion, is from governments who have refused...because they didn't want to face the bill. I get the politics of it, but that doesn't make it right in terms of governance. That strategy needed to be in place, and the response at the time that the Auditor General went in was that they hadn't yet done it. Now they're bragging about the fact that they're doing it.
Let's take a look at the time frame. The audit was done about 18 months ago, which is usually when they begin. The deputy mentioned that there was a meeting in June of last year and on October 26, and between those two meetings that's when it was decided that there needed to be a strategy—just in time to get in front of the public hearing on the auditor's report.
If nothing else, I want to claim victory for the auditing system we have in Canada. After 12 years of governments—plural—dragging their heels on doing the right thing in terms of public policy, it took the Auditor General to roll in there and hold them to account. They then come to this committee where, under the glare of public scrutiny, they now acknowledge that they're going to give us a national strategy. I would submit to you, Chair, that if we'd not had an audit, there still would be no plans for a national strategy.
I have to say that I am rejecting the answers I'm hearing from the deputy.
I understand why you're saying it, and I understand it's part of your role, but you also have a responsibility as an accounting officer now. Unlike when I first got here and the rules weren't clear, now they are clear.
The public interest would only have been served if there was a national strategy, and there wasn't one, because no government wanted to be held to account for not spending the money it would take to implement it. That's what it looks like to me.
The important thing right now for me is that the strategy is on track—at least it's there.
I also want to mention, if I can parenthetically, that again, this is one of the issues that most of us don't get too cranked up about, because we have the best service. Most Canadians live in urban centres and everything is fine.
However, when I listen to my colleague, Carol Hughes, talk about what's going on in her riding, and especially when she ties it to the banks that are closing branches in her rural areas, the need for Internet is not only beyond necessity, but is right up there with housing and health and food.
My question, Mr. Berthelette, is on whether you have had a chance to see the strategy at all.