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Results: 1 - 7 of 7
View Gudie Hutchings Profile
Lib. (NL)
Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable colleagues. It's wonderful to be with you today in this exciting committee.
I am honoured to appear before you as the Minister of Rural Economic Development, but foremost, as the member for Long Range Mountains in the magnificent province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
For those who don't know, my riding is what I call really rural. Believe it or not, it's the size of Switzerland and I'm honoured to represent over 200 communities. It even has amazing chocolatiers and I would argue they are way better than Swiss chocolate.
It's important to highlight this, as I understand the challenges rural communities face. However, more important are those communities' resiliency and strength.
Rural Canada makes up approximately 20% of our population and contributes nearly 30% of our country's gross domestic product, yet we know that Canadians living in rural and remote communities face unique realities, challenges and opportunities that must be considered when designing federal policies.
We have been listening to rural Canadians. We have heard consistently that the number one priority is to address the critical need for reliable and affordable high-speed Internet for all Canadians, regardless of where they live.
Since 2015, our Liberal government has made a total of $7.2 billion available for broadband connectivity. This investment is more than all other previous governments' investments combined. We launched a universal broadband fund in November 2020, supported by $2.75 billion to bring high-speed Internet to rural, remote and indigenous communities.
I'm proud to share with the committee that since 2015, we have approved programs and projects to connect 1.7 million Canadian households. By 2026 we will connect another 1.2 million Canadian families with better, faster and affordable Internet. We're investing in broadband projects in rural communities throughout Yellowhead County in Alberta, Eagle Ridge County Estates in Saskatchewan, and my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
I can assure members of this committee and all Canadians that we are on track to connect 98% of Canadians by 2026 and 100% by 2030. We know that high-speed Internet is essential for Canadians in rural and remote areas to connect with loved ones, use virtual health, manage their farm, do their banking, access online education, work from home or run their business.
I have also been tasked to lead the continued implementation of the rural economic development strategy. Our government will build on existing investments, improve community-level rural and data reporting and identify improvements that could be made to programs, policies and future investments all to benefit rural communities.
Simply put, we need to develop solutions that are outside the box and outside the Ottawa bubble. Our Liberal government is focused on building a stronger, more resilient and inclusive economy for everyone, from Canadians living in our smallest remote communities to those in our largest urban centres.
To that end, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Through the enhanced GBA+, rurality is one of the indicators for consideration in development of federal policy now. We will continue to make this GBA+ analysis an even better tool.
We're making sure that our decisions, policies and programs are tailored to smaller and remote communities to address critical rural needs like connectivity, housing, climate change, health, tourism, community infrastructure, immigration and, of course, the workforce.
We are aware of the lack of rural data, so we have established agreements with Statistics Canada to improve the availability of information. With this, our government is better equipped to deliver results for rural Canada.
We are committed to ensuring that the services your federal government delivers reflect the needs of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Specifically, I have been directed to focus on issues surrounding rural transit, mental health services and housing, and the visibility and accessibility of all these services.
Working with my cabinet colleagues, I'm confident in our ability to make real practical differences in the lives of rural Canadians. It's for those seniors living in small towns who are an hour away from the closest grocery store without access to public transit. It's for the parents of a child who needs to see a specialist and the hospital is 10 hours away, or for the newly arrived family in Canada who wants to settle in one of our small, beautiful towns, but can't find a place to call home.
I'm also working with my cabinet colleagues to ensure that Canada Post service better reaches Canadians in rural and remote areas. Working with my colleague, Minister Ng, I'm designing a new futures fund for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador, which supports local and regional economic diversification and employs place-based strategies.
All of these efforts are critical and timely as we all work together to end the fight against COVID-19 and build back an economy that works for everyone.
Rural communities are the backbone of our economy. When rural Canada succeeds, all of Canada is stronger.
To conclude, I welcome the opportunity to work with you as we strive to achieve progress for all Canadians living in the rural communities of our great and beautiful country.
I look forward to your questions, my friends.
Thank you.
View Gudie Hutchings Profile
Lib. (NL)
Thank you for your question.
First of all, I want to thank the Government of Quebec, because it was the first to come to the table to negotiate a deal on broadband. Thanks to that, Quebec is going to be one of the first. We have four provinces now, and Quebec was the first to get it over the wall. I think it's just a matter of a couple of years that you're going to have all Quebec communities connected, so hat's off to that.
We also know the importance of cell coverage. Under the universal broadband fund, there's $50 million that's been carved out for indigenous communities. We all know how important that is as we all walk the path of reconciliation. One project that's dear to my heart is the Highway of Tears in British Columbia, and I know you have some indigenous communities in your area.
The other thing is the CRTC. The CRTC broadband fund does have application availability there for wireless and cellular broadband.
I hear you. It's an issue I hear in my riding, as well. Once we get the country connected with broadband high-speed Internet, trust me, cellular will be next.
View Gudie Hutchings Profile
Lib. (NL)
There are many solutions to get everybody connected with high-speed Internet and, of course, with cellular service.
Under the universal broadband fund, nearly 2,000 applications have been received, and the department is doing an incredible job of assessing all of those. Some of them will touch on cell service and wireless, but my job is to get the country connected with high-speed Internet.
I can promise you, my friend, that cell will be next.
View Gudie Hutchings Profile
Lib. (NL)
Thank you, my friend and colleague. It's always great to see you, and it's been wonderful spending these seven years with you.
First, I want to give a little history lesson. The previous government used to have a rural secretariat, and our government believes in rural so passionately that we now have a fully funded department of which I am honoured and humbled to be the minister.
You're right in that the one-size-fits-all doesn't work in rural and urban. We've developed so many programs and policies all throughout our government in various systems, and the ones that you've touched on are so true, like housing. The housing program of 1,000 units in downtown Toronto is not the same as a rural 10 units in my part of the world, so we need to make sure that the programs are tweaked and actually have that rural lens applied to them.
For transit, as you know, we've just announced a rural transit fund, and I think folks have until the middle of March to get their applications in. Rural transit is different. There's no Uber in my province. I have communities that have no taxis, and I have communities that have no bus service at all, which is typical of rural and remote areas. We need to take our time and develop programs and policies that will be effective to address the needs, especially with climate change, especially for aging communities, but especially for growing our communities. We need to make sure that people see, as I do, that rural has phenomenal opportunities.
I think one thing we've learned from COVID-19 is that people want to move. In your home province of Nova Scotia, you've seen a boom in your population. People are moving to rural areas, so we need to help them build these communities and have a strong, healthy infrastructure, which includes housing, transit, waste water, roads and connectivity. If you have high-speed, affordable Internet, you can work from anywhere. That's the number one priority in my department. That's my number one priority. If you have have high-speed Internet, you can work from anywhere.
I challenge this committee when you're looking at other things to study and peruse to make sure you put a rural lens on it, please.
View Gudie Hutchings Profile
Lib. (NL)
Thank you again.
You're right. I could go on and on about the universal broadband fund and connecting the country. As I said, since 2015, we've connected 1.7 million households. By 2026, we're going to connect another 1.2 million households.
We have many tools in our tool box, to use my colleague's term. We have the connect to innovate program. We have the CRTC broadband fund. We have the Canada Infrastructure Bank. Of course, we have the universal broadband fund and we have our low-earth orbit satellite. Between all those programs, we are going to get every Canadian connected by 2030 and 98% by 2026.
With the rapid response stream that we put out in response to the pandemic, we knew we had to get people connected. I'm so proud of the department. The first project went out within six weeks. As I alluded to earlier, they have just under 2,000 programs now and applications that they're assessing. We'll make sure that we put on the affordability lens, the best hardware that can be scalable as our speeds go from 50/10 and higher.
I'm proud of the work that's being done. I know that we are going to honour our commitments to get Canada connected, and I hope we can say it before 2030.
View Gudie Hutchings Profile
Lib. (NL)
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I want to thank my colleague and friend for that.
At the numerous round tables around the country, every time there is a similarity of connectivity, housing, workforce, immigration, but then at each one you pick up other points, which, to me, tell the whole story of the opportunities in rural Canada.
One thing that we did with the rapid response stream was we put in place a pathfinder process. That was a program where the communities, the small Internet service providers, the large Internet service providers, not-for-profits, indigenous groups could reach out and get information to help them, because one thing we heard loud and clear from rural communities is that sometimes they have one or two workers in their...paid employees in their community building.... Sometimes they don't even have that, frankly.
This pathfinder service was a real light to show us how we can do better. The pathfinder service had over 2,000 inquiries. They did online webinars to help communities and Internet service providers get their application into the rapid response stream.
We hear loud and clear that the capacity in rural areas isn't there for them to avail themselves of the numerous government programs that are out there. That's something we're considering: how we can help with capacity.
We have done plenty in rural Canada. Again, it's making sure the rural communities have the tools they need to access all these various programs from coast to coast to coast.
As I talked earlier with my colleague on housing, I've spoken with Minister Fraser on immigration on how we can apply that rural lens on getting people into rural communities. That's how we're going to grow our population. The infrastructure.... I remember a story years ago. I had a round table with some municipal leaders and they were saying, “Oh my golly, we were $10,000 short so we couldn't do one manhole.” That $10,000 meant more, or was as important, to the mayor of that small community than $10 million to a mayor.... We need to get the scope in place, too.
That's why I'm so proud of the work we do with the regional development associations, with the rural infrastructure fund, because that is small community buildings. That's the bridge in your hometown. That's the playground that you need to keep your community safe. That's the waste water and roads.
We have lots of programs. We need to just help communities get access to them better to have healthy, green, vibrant, growing communities, because that's where people are going to want to move to.
View Gudie Hutchings Profile
Lib. (NL)
We've heard loud and clear that housing is an issue in rural Canada. Minister Hussen has done incredible work on the housing issue, but perhaps we need to apply a different lens in some areas of rural. Is there an abandoned school or a vacant business that we can...? We have funding in place. How can we repurpose that for housing initiatives? How can we come up with seniors housing so that the seniors can move out of their large homes and then we have homes available for transient workers who want to move permanently into these rural communities or immigrant families who want to move into these rural communities.
Transit, as I alluded to earlier, is an issue, too. As we turn to a greener economy we have to come up with solutions that fit rural Canada. We have $250 million in a rural transit fund and that's going to discover the projects and programs that can work and the policies, frankly, for rural Canada that can help address that transit need.
On infrastructure, as you know, my friend, we have great bilateral agreements with the provinces where we partner with them on projects. However, it's up to us to make sure that we work with the municipalities so we know what projects the provinces are putting forth. Is it the bridge that's important or is it waste water that's important in their community? Maybe it's a new fire hall that's important in their community. We need to work with the communities on the ground from the bottom up, not from the top down, to see what they need to build healthy, vibrant, safe and growing communities.
Both of my colleagues have talked about the opportunities that are out there. Those opportunities are in rural Canada as well. When we get everybody connected, I can't wait until I can sit down with my colleagues at the table and announce that some of these programs on innovation and growing are really impacting the positive growth for our country. We need to grow that number from 30% GDP in rural Canada. We need to grow that. Connectivity is number one. Infrastructure, housing, healthy communities are numbers two, three and four. When we get that in place, look out, rural. We're ready.
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