Fed budget contains cash for rural broadband

By Chad Ingram

Published March 26 2019

The federal budget released last week contains money for the expansion of rural broadband internet.

The budget has $1.7 billion allotted for internet infrastructure and satellite technology for under-serviced areas.

Though he’s happy to see the funding Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale noted that while a plan for further rural broadband expansion and improved cellular service in eastern Ontario has been in the works for a couple of years the funding from the feds is only coming now in an election year.

“Although I am pleased to see Budget 2019 will support the expansion of much-needed broadband networks in rural Canada I’m frustrated that a commitment has only been made in an election year” Schmale said in a press release. “This despite a plan for eastern Ontario being on the minister’s desk for two years forcing people in our area to wait needlessly without reliable internet and cellular service.”

The mobile broadband expansion project by the Eastern Ontario Regional Network has an estimated price tag of $213 million and will entail the construction of several new telecommunications towers throughout eastern Ontario. A number of areas within that part of the province including large swaths of Haliburton County remain without reliable wireless internet connectivity.

Of that total cost $10 million is budgeted to come from the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus which owns EORN along with the separated city governments within the area; $71 million from the federal government; $71 million from the provincial government; and $61 million from the mobile provider companies themselves. While the provincial government committed to its $71 million on the project under former premier Kathleen Wynne funding that the Ford government has committed to continue there has been no word on federal funding until now.

At press time it was unclear whether the $71 million that EORN is seeking from the federal government will come from the internet pot in this year’s budget.

“We don’t know that yet” Schmale told the Echo. “We’re waiting for details.”

The MP said in order for the project to proceed in the 2020 construction season EORN would need to know soon whether it’s receiving funding.

“If the government does not decide soon then it goes to the next construction season” Schmale said. “I think the people of the county have been more than patient.”

The government’s goal is for every Canadian regardless of where they live to have reliable internet connectivity by 2030.

The budget contains a number of spending items aimed at improving the lives of middle-class Canadians from a new home-buyers’ incentive program to money for skills retraining to increased coverage for drugs for rare diseases to a number of measures for seniors.

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons is pleased with the federal budget.

“CARP has been calling for significant changes to safeguard Canadians as we age. The government has listened” said Laura Tamblyn Watts CARP’s chief public policy officer in a press release. “CARP applauds the federal government for taking decisive action in reducing the GIS (guaranteed income supplement) claw-back increasing federal pension protections supporting deferred annuities for seniors a new EI caregiving benefit and housing supports for low income seniors.”

Schmale too noted the budget contains positive measures for low-income seniors.

The federal government is also provided $2.2 billion from its gas tax money to municipalities for infrastructure projects which will come in the form of one-time cash infusions.

“They get that one-time stream of funding and they can pretty much do what they want with it” Schmale said adding that with the province providing a similar one-time funding grant to small and rural municipal governments it should be a good year for municipal governments.

The budget contains $41 billion in new spending and runs a deficit of $19.8 billion. The four budgets of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government have all included deficits with an average of about $18 billion a year. Schmale called the scope of spending in the budget irresponsible.

“It’s mostly services so it means locked and permanent” he said of the spending calling it unsustainable and saying it would mean service cuts down the road. “We continue to spend in good times . . . there are some reports saying the economy could start to slow down we’ve racked up the credit card.”

Schmale also noted Trudeau’s broken promise to balance the federal budget in the last year of this term.

The Conservatives have said the big-spending budget is meant to distract Canadians from the ongoing SNC-Lavalin scandal.