LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Thursday 10 March 2022 Jeudi 10 mars 2022
Getting Ontario Connected Act, 2022 / Loi de 2022 pour un Ontario connecté
Report continued from volume A.
Getting Ontario Connected Act, 2022 / Loi de 2022 pour un Ontario connecté
Continuation of debate on the motion for second reading of the following bill:
Bill 93, An Act to amend the Building Broadband Faster Act, 2021 and the Ontario Underground Infrastructure Notification System Act, 2012 / Projet de loi 93, Loi modifiant la Loi de 2021 sur la réalisation accélérée de projets d’Internet à haut débit et la Loi de 2012 sur un système d’information sur les infrastructures souterraines en Ontario.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Questions?
Mr. John Vanthof: I listened intently to the member across the way, especially about the reverse auction. But the way we read it, from our FOI, it was a reverse auction on a lot, on an area; the government hasn’t released what the areas are. What’s going to happen in areas where there is no profit to be made and there are no bids—which could very well conceivably happen, because that’s the problem we have in true northern Ontario now. So, there’s money going out the door, with no guarantee of infrastructure coming back, because you’re not bidding for one piece of line and a second piece of line; you’re bidding on a total area in a reverse auction. How is that going to work?
Mr. Dave Smith: Thank you very much, to the member opposite, for bringing that point forward. He’s absolutely correct.
What we’re saying is, here is a service area that needs to be serviced; how much is it going to cost for someone to do it? We’ve got money to do this, and we are prepared to build in this area. Come forward and give us the ideas on how we can do that. We have multiple ways of doing it. It’s not just running a fibre optic line in there, going with wireless Internet in that area, putting up towers to send a signal across. There’s also low-altitude satellite. There is also high-altitude satellite. There’s a whole range of different ways that this can all be accomplished.
What we’re doing with this bill, what we’re doing with our plan on high-speed Internet, high-speed broadband to everyone, is, we’re taking all of the different technologies. We’re not saying you are stuck with one technology and only one technology. We’re opening it up to all of the different types of technology, so that we can get the one that fits best for that specific area.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Next question.
Mr. Sheref Sabawy: I would like to thank you for the presentation and the detailed information about the process and everything on that. That’s going to give all the members some idea about how things run when it comes to that.
Again, I understand the concerns from the opposition, because not all the areas are the same. Even the density—where exactly in the area will the population be, how much population is it, and how many connections per month? There are all kinds of details.
My question for the member—and the member looks like he has the same background in technology, like me. How hard is it to find a homegrown, local provider who is able to build something, unless we, as a government, can give them some money to start or seed that process and build that infrastructure, and they can sell services after that?
Mr. Dave Smith: Thank you very much for the question on that.
With any type of technology, you have large companies that come in and try to flood the market with something. What we’re doing, though, is opening up that entire process for everybody in Ontario.
We recognize that there are unique situations with smaller companies. I’m going to talk specifically about one in my region, and that’s Nexicom. Nexicom is a small Internet provider based out of Millbrook. Their head office is in a different riding than mine. What they’ve done is filled in all of those gaps. They have found that niche market to do it. They’ve offered direct fibre optics to different businesses, to different homes. They’ve also offered wireless to different homes and cellular service to different homes. They have been able to fill in all of those things as a small, local company.
Going back to what the member from Timiskaming–Cochrane said: When you’ve got a lot that you’re putting out there, it may not be the area that the Bells of the world or the Rogers of the world or the Shaw Internets of the world want to go into. But we’ve got these smaller companies, we’ve got the Nexicoms of the world, who want to do it, who are small and community-based, who are doing those things for their local community. This provides them, then, with the opportunities to do it. They can expand, and they will be providing the services to those communities that they already serve.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Brampton North.
Mr. Kevin Yarde: I want to thank the member for his speech. I also want to thank the member from Kiiwetinoong for his comments a little bit earlier.
I want you to address the comments from the member from Kiiwetinoong. As the member from Brampton North, we don’t have this problem. We’re fortunate to have high-speed Internet and broadband in most of Brampton and Brampton North. I heard one of the members earlier say, “We flew up there, and we spoke to the people.” But they’ve been doing that for the last four years—photo ops and promises and promises—and we still don’t have broadband in the north.
I believe the number was 17% of First Nations communities have broadband—only 17%. We could talk about the boil-water issue as well. There are so many things that we need in the north that we’re not getting.
My question to the government: Will you commit today to getting these communities broadband access and getting them into the digital world in the timeline? I mean, 2025—we should be doing it now. What is the timeline? We’ve heard enough promises. We need to make these changes now.
Mr. Dave Smith: It’s really interesting that that’s one of the questions that has been brought up, because as the member said, he’s in Brampton North. He’s in Toronto. He’s in that area where there is all of that technology. If he had listened to my speech—I’m in Peterborough. I’m 150 kilometres from Toronto. I don’t have cell service with one of my cellphones at the front of my house and I don’t have cell service with one of the other phones I have at the back of my house. I have a dead zone. I talked about the dead zone between Lakefield and Apsley. What’s between Lakefield and Apsley? Curve Lake First Nation.
We’re addressing this right now. We’re building it right now, because no other government has done that. We’ve made the commitment. We’re spending $4 billion to make sure that every community in Ontario has equal access to high-speed broadband Internet. Others talked about it; we’re doing it.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The next question?
Mr. Lorne Coe: I want to thank the member from Peterborough–Kawartha for his presentation.
Speaker, what this legislation does and one of the key pillars of this legislation is strengthening our communities and, in the process, laying down a foundation for longer-term economic growth and prosperity, making life more affordable for hard-working Ontario families, in particular in Peterborough–Kawartha.
Can the member from Peterborough–Kawartha talk about the effects of this legislation in his communities, in lifting people up and moving forward rather than backward?
Mr. Dave Smith: It’s really simple things. When you talk about going into a store in Toronto, when you talk about going to a store in Brampton North and you pull out your debit card and you tap, you think nothing of it. When you go up to Apsley and you pull out your debit card, you wait and you wait and you wait, because their debit machine is a dial-up debit machine, because they don’t have high-speed Internet.
If you want to go to one of the resorts in my riding and you pull up their website—you’re in Brampton North, so it’s instantaneous, it pops up. That resort is waiting what seems like an infinite amount of time to bring up their main page for themselves, because they don’t have high-speed broadband Internet. We’re addressing it.
This is an equalizer. I talked about it in my speech. You’ll have the ability to sit on your deck or on your dock on Stoney Lake, on Lower Buckhorn, on Chemong, on any of the beautiful lakes that we have, you name it—Jack Lake, Cordova Lake—and have a lifestyle that you can’t have in the city. This is the equalizer.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): We have time for one quick question to finish things up.
Ms. Doly Begum: I want to thank the member for his passion, I should say.
My question is very simple, Speaker. In the past years, when the government actually committed some funding—it looks like they have actually spent less than 2% of its $45.7 million of broadband infrastructure budget between the years 2020 and 2021. My question is, why?
Mr. Dave Smith: If you take a look at the universal broadband announcement that we made with the federal government, that was something that was done in conjunction with them, and we had to allocate money that was going to be used with it, but we had to wait for the feds to actually make the announcement with us. And what did they do? They came to my riding for it, and they even delayed it from there. So yes, we committed the money because we had to, to make sure that it was there for when we did the universal broadband announcement—
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you. Further debate?
Mr. Gilles Bisson: Mr. Speaker, to the honourable member across the way: You can blame the feds all you want; you’ve been government for four years. Where have you been? Did somebody turn off the lights in the cabinet room or the caucus room? What really happened? You can blame the feds, and we’re both going to agree. Do I like what Justin Trudeau is doing in Ottawa? Absolutely not. But you can’t blame him for everything, because you haven’t done it. So I would just say, be careful where you throw the blame.
There are a couple of things that I want to cover in this debate which have already been covered, but I want to cover them nonetheless. There’s a real issue here. There was a time, back in the time when the Liberals were in government, when we used to have an organization called ONTel. It was the Ontario northern telecommunications arm of the ONTC, and they offered the backbone when it comes to the Internet across northern Ontario and Highway 11. It didn’t do the northwest, in fairness, but it did the northeast.
Mr. Speaker, one of the things that the former Minister of Finance, Mr. Duncan, the member for Windsor or whatever riding he was at the time—the Liberal finance minister decided that he was going to fire-sale that particular organization and privatize it. And big promises, as we’re hearing today from the government across the way—“Oh, this is going to work because the private sector does it so much better.” In some cases, they do. I want the private sector to run a farm. I don’t want governments running farms. I want the private sector to run the sawmill, to run things that they are good at doing.
But with infrastructure, there’s a role for both government and the private sector. In this case, because we didn’t have a market in northern Ontario—and that was the point the member from Timiskaming–Cochrane was trying to make—ONTC stood in with ONTel in order to provide infrastructure to have, first, the Internet brought to northeastern Ontario, as far as ground-based Internet, as far as connectivity, and eventually to be able to bring high-speed broadband to northeastern Ontario. Why did ONTel do that? Because the private sector couldn’t make a go of it. The market is small, and the geography is big. You can create all the competitive models you want; if a private company, large or small, has to bid on something that has a geography as big as we have in northern Ontario—I don’t care if the company is Rogers cable or I don’t care if it’s Joe-tel communications. It’s the same thing. If there’s not enough of a market for the size that you’re trying to provide as far as service, it ain’t going to happen.
The Liberals brought us down this path before. Liberal, Tory, same old story. They believe in the same things. They get mad at the Liberals when they’re in government, then they get mad at the Tories when they’re in government. And we keep on changing: Liberal, Tory, Liberal, Tory. Every now and then you put in the NDP. And you guys essentially do the same thing.
The Liberals privatized ONTel; they got rid of it. What has been the experience of that privatization? Services have not gotten better. Services have actually gotten worse, as my friend from Timiskaming–Cochrane was just saying. So much for saying, “Oh, the private sector can solve all our problems.” Yes, the private sector has a role to play in the economy, and a very large one. But where you have a geography as we do in northern Ontario and you have small population bases, it’s pretty hard for the private sector to make money.
Imagine if you’re a resident in a town called Opasatika. Does anybody know where Opasatika is? I don’t expect you to know. It’s a small community between Hearst and Kapuskasing. Probably 600, 800 people live there. Tell me what private sector company is going to be able to put in place the type of Internet infrastructure that we all want with a small population base like that.
That’s why government has to play a role. I suppose part of the reason why you budgeted money for the last three or four years since you’ve been there is to try to spur that investment in the private sector. Unfortunately, it really hasn’t happened. I think we need to have a serious discussion—and this debate is a place we can do that—in order to say what role government can play.
Mr. Speaker, when you look back at the establishment of a transcontinental railway that went from the east coast to the west coast in this country, which was built in the 1800s, yes, there were some private corporations that were involved in that, but government ran the project, essentially. Why? Because infrastructure wasn’t going to be built haphazard. You had to have planning to be able to do that. You had to have deep pockets to be able to do that. You had to have the political will to be able to do that. At the time, John A. and others understood that if we didn’t have an east-west connection in Canada when it comes to rail, we would end up having links north-south, which would undermine Canadian sovereignty when it comes to our economy—and it’s the same in a whole bunch of others.
A very successful Conservative, back in the 1900s, created what we know today as Ontario Hydro. It was a hodgepodge of different little hydro companies all over Ontario that were trying to set up. There was bad interconnectivity and, depending on where you lived, you didn’t get much when it came to hydro infrastructure. So they understood that there had to be some sort of a crown corporation created in order to build the infrastructure and to service it. And yes, government ran it. We ran it for years, until Kathleen Wynne, the former Premier of Ontario, came in and decided that she could privatize just over half of it.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I’ll remind the member that we refer to each other by the riding name or the ministerial title, as applicable.
Mr. Gilles Bisson: I take that, and that’s what I was saying—the Premier of Ontario. But I wanted to specify which Premier it was.
My point is, it was partially privatized under Premier Wynne. And did that serve us well? Have you looked at your hydro bill lately, Mr. Speaker? I’ve looked at my hydro bill. I live out in the country. I’m very fortunate. I live by a lake in northern Ontario. I have to heat with electricity. Why? Because there is no natural gas where I live. And these days, if you have propane, I imagine the price is going to shoot up, but that’s a whole other story. My hydro bill to heat my place in January was 1,200 bucks. That’s what people are having to pay. Or they go out in the bush and cut some trees and end up burning firewood. Even then, you don’t save a lot of money, because the insurance company gets you on the other side.
A little side story: I used to have a wood-electric furnace to heat my house out at the lake, and by the time I paid the difference in the insurance—it was $1,200 without wood-burning, $3,100 if I did burn wood. By the time I paid the difference in the insurance and I bought the wood and did all the work, I may as well pay Uncle Ontario Hydro to come in and wheel hydro into my house. It was a heck of a lot simpler.
My point is, government has a role to play. I think the government, in fairness, is recognizing this to a degree, because they have put some money forward. Unfortunately, they haven’t spent almost any of it—I’ll go through those numbers a little bit later—and it hasn’t fixed the problem. Ideologically, I hear the speeches, and it would be wonderful if all of our ridings had the population density of Mississauga or Ottawa or Kingston or wherever it might be—in Algoma–Manitoulin; Timiskaming–Cochrane; Kiiwetinoong; Timmins; what used to be Timmins–James Bay, now Mushkegowuk–James Bay. We probably would have better broadband infrastructure in our communities. But the reality is that it doesn’t happen strictly with the private sector. Government has to step in and provide the infrastructure, and that’s not what’s happening here.
The government made some choices—and I’ve sat here with you and listened to many a budget over the years. As a matter of fact, the Speaker and I have listened to an equal number of budgets over 32 years—enough to fall asleep, I agree. My point is, the government, rightfully so, attributed money in their provincial budgets over the last three or four years—$30 million here or $40 million there. Then, they cut it by half, the original announcement, and some 200-million-odd dollars there in various different years. And those are great, man. You can run out and you can have a press conference and you can go to Sault Ste. Marie or you can go to Kirkland Lake or Kapuskasing—“Look at us. We’ve put forward X million dollars for broadband”—and everybody applauds, rightfully so. Why wouldn’t you applaud?
Here’s the dirty little secret: None of it was spent. Less than 2% of the money that was attributed over the last three or four years to expanding the Internet services in northern Ontario were spent. Why? I think part of the reason is, the private sector didn’t see that there was any money in it, so they didn’t bid.
So to argue that we have areas and we have—what is it called? Reverse what?
Mr. John Vanthof: Yes, it’s a reverse auction with lots.
Mr. Gilles Bisson: A reverse auction with lots is going to fix the problem—oh, boy, am I hoping you’re right, but I very much doubt you are. I think Elon Musk has done more to bring Internet to northern Ontario than what this government did, or the government before them.
Mr. John Vanthof: He can bid.
Mr. Gilles Bisson: Yes, he can bid. Exactly. He’s got the money. But the point is, he doesn’t have to put ground infrastructure in; he has already put the low-level orbiting satellites in place. In fact, he’s actually providing Internet access to the people of Ukraine during this military invasion on the part of the old—well, it’s actually Russia, not the Soviet Union.
The private sector has a role to play, and I’m not arguing for two seconds they don’t. But sometimes, in certain regions where you don’t have the population density and the geography is way too big, as we have here in this province—this is a pretty big province—it makes it really difficult to make those types of investments happen.
I’m certain that if we’re fortunate enough to form government in June, it’s something we’re going to look at. If the private sector can do it, sure, we’ll work with them. But if they don’t, I think at one point we need to start thinking, do we re-create something, as a public entity, in order to be able to develop that infrastructure across northern Ontario? And it might be different things. So that’s the first part.
The other thing is, the problem with our Internet service in northern Ontario—in some places, like in the city of Timmins, it ain’t so bad. We’ve got pretty good Internet connectivity. We’ve got broadband in most places. Is it expensive? Of course it is. My God, Mr. Speaker, you must be hearing from your constituents. With the price of gas, the price of food, the price of hydro, the price of everything going up, people are just saying, “Ugh.” They just can’t afford it.
The point I make here is that the government has to find a way to be able to provide the investment necessary to be able to do it, but also, they’re probably going to have to take some kind of a role.
What does it mean to us in northern Ontario? I live out at Kamiskotia Lake. I am so lucky. I don’t pretend for a second it’s a burden, because I live next to a lake. Literally my picture window is here and the lake is no further than from me to you. It’s a gorgeous place to live. The only reason I have Internet service there—there are two choices I have. There is a private provider of Internet that you can get. I had it before. It was Shaw satellite service. Well, don’t try to have a Zoom call using that, my God. If it was cloudy, you lost your connection. If it rained, you got no connection. And often the bandwidth wasn’t strong enough and wide enough to be able to do the things you had to do.
I’m very fortunate. One day I was out there, and I had my cellphone, and I noticed—“Look at this. My cellphone works here, so I must have Internet.” So I did a—where you use the function of your cellphone to tether your computer so you can make it work and connect it to the Internet, and I found out that works, and the assembly covers that. We have a very good rate here for members of the assembly and our staff to be connected to the Internet, and I’ve used that. But most people can’t afford that, at the rates that we’re paying here in the Legislature. If you had to pay that out of your own pocket, you’re probably paying the better part of 150 to 200 bucks a month. People can’t afford to do that. Your tank of gas that used to cost, let’s say, $120 is now $180. Wait for your propane bill next year. I want to put a propane fireplace out at the lake, and I know I’m going to get dinged when it comes to buying propane, but what is a person to do? People are really, really feeling the pinch out there.
The lack of Internet connectivity creates a problem for all kinds of people in regions of northern Ontario, who are not in the major cities.
I think of my good friend the member for Kiiwetinoong. I would imagine that less than 20% of the communities he represents would have broadband. It has to be something like that.
When I represented the James Bay side, which is now represented by the member for Mushkegowuk–James Bay, we had Internet in many of our communities, but it wasn’t the broadband that I’m used to having in Timmins. As more people got online and looked at Facebook and tried to watch a movie on Netflix, there wasn’t enough bandwidth, and as a result, the entire Internet connection in the community started going down and people were losing their bandwidth for whatever it was that they were doing. The bandwidth wasn’t wide enough.
So what do you do if you’re trying to study? If you live in Attawapiskat and you want to take a distance-education program at Laurentian University, University of Hearst or whatever it is, so that you can better your lot in life, how do you do that living in a community that doesn’t have broadband? You’re sitting there in a lecture, trying to learn something, and all of a sudden you get booted out because there are too many people on the Internet at the same time as you. It’s a real problem that exists in a whole bunch of places across northern Ontario.
I look at my good friend the member from Algoma–Manitoulin: You would have the same situation in your riding, where you have communities that don’t have the type of bandwidth they need to be able to do the basic things.
We just came out of kids being at home for a long period of time, and mommies and daddies working at home as well—let alone that everyone was in the same house trying to study and trying to work at the same time. I’ve had Zoom calls where people go in the washroom—I’m meeting with this person who is part of this organization, and they’ve got two kids in the house, one in the living room, one in the kitchen, and the wife is working in the bedroom, using the Internet there, and this person actually has to use the washroom. But the problem was, a lot of them didn’t have the bandwidth. So when everybody tried to get on, when the kids tried to get onto the Internet to be able to do what they had to do vis-à-vis getting an education through the virtual system that was put in place—a lot of these kids couldn’t do it. As a result, they didn’t get the level of time to be able to keep up with the other kids because the Internet was not strong enough to be able to do it.
So do I welcome that the government wants to do something about it? Absolutely. I think something has to be done, because certainly this is not working. But my point is, if I gauge what’s going to happen next based on what we’ve done over the last four years, I don’t hold out much hope. When you spent less than 2% of all of the millions of dollars that we’ve attributed to building Internet infrastructure in northern Ontario and rural Ontario, what makes me think it’s going to be any better now? That’s why I would ask the government across the way to say, “Let’s try to get the private sector to do it.” I agree with you on that. I think where the private sector can do it—in Timmins, Kapuskasing or Kirkland Lake—it probably makes sense, as there’s a high enough density to make that work. But if you’re in Opasatika or you’re in Jogues—a lot of people wouldn’t know where Jogues is—if you’re in various Far North communities, fly-in communities—
Mr. John Vanthof: Shining Tree.
Mr. Gilles Bisson: Exactly. Who knows where Shining Tree is? I know where all those places are.
My point is, it’s not going to happen in those communities if we just rely on the private sector. So we need to be able to say, “What’s the approach?” Maybe there needs to be a public-utility approach to this, where somebody puts something together that allows us to develop the type of infrastructure we need to be able to get us to where we’ve got to go.
If you live in Cornwall or you live in Kenora, you should be able to access the Internet equally, as far as being able to participate online. Being on the Internet is no longer just a fad or something to do to be cool. We work off the Internet now. Most of our jobs are connected to the Internet in one way or another, and I think we need to do better when it comes to being able to develop that infrastructure.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate. I would invite members for questions and comments, and I look forward to that happening.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Questions to the member for Timmins?
Mr. Michael Parsa: I thank my colleague across for the presentation. One of the things I always pay attention to, Speaker, are the members who have been here before me with a lot of experience. I listen to them intently just to be able to pick up as much as I can. Certainly, this member has been here for a very, very long time—as you have, and I congratulate both of you on the amount of time that you’ve served the people of Ontario.
In that time, the previous government, from 2007 to 2018, spent less than $530 million to serve on infrastructure for broadband across the province. This member was here. Every single time they had the opportunity to bring down the previous government, as they should have, they didn’t. They voted and they supported them. They kept them in power.
Now you have a government that’s spending over $4 billion to connect all Ontarians across the province, in every corner of the province, by 2025.
So now I’m asking my honourable colleague if he is willing to support our bill that is actually going to help Ontarians in every corner.
Mr. Gilles Bisson: Mr. Speaker, you will see how we vote soon enough.
I think what I was trying to say is, we need to take a step in the right direction. I think what you’re missing is the public sector entity when it comes to this.
When you talk about, “Oh, the Liberal government didn’t do this and the Liberal government did that,” we’ll agree. The Liberal government was bad. I don’t disagree with you. But they were in a majority government for four years. I didn’t have the ability, as a member, to take down a majority government, and neither do you.
Here’s the other part that you forget. I was here along with the Speaker—Mr. Speaker, you were here. We voted about the same amount of times for different legislation. Sometimes the Conservatives would vote in favour of Liberal legislation, and sometimes we did. The difference was less than about 8%. I think we voted to support government legislation 50-some-odd per cent. The Conservative caucus did almost the same thing, except it was different legislation.
So let’s not build this fallacy that somehow or other because you sit in opposition, you should never vote for a government bill. This place wouldn’t work if you did it that way.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Question?
Mr. Michael Mantha: I really enjoyed the member elaborately going into an explanation about what ONTel, which was an arm of the ONTC, did for northern Ontario. In my area, Algoma–Manitoulin, that’s what we actually need.
If you look like the community of Massey on Lee Valley Road, where you have about 80 households, there’s not a service provider that’s going to go out there and put in the infrastructure and bring in the broadband Internet that is required.
If you look at individuals who are north of Elliot Lake, on Highway 108, again there is no business case for the private sector to come in.
Even if you were to put in those dollars in order to bring in that infrastructure, there still is the question about: Is there an infrastructure or is there a business case to actually bringing the service to those areas? There is a huge role for the government to play in this as far as developing and having something in place so that we can actually bring Internet and broadband to those areas.
I want the member to expand a little bit further on his earlier explanation as to why and where is the role for government to play.
Mr. Gilles Bisson: Speaker, I think you will agree with me: Government can step in where the private sector is unwilling to or incapable because there’s no money for it. So I think there is a role for the government, to step in with some sort of public agency, to say that where it doesn’t make sense economically for the private sector to do this and they’re not bidding on it—the member across the way was saying, “Well, we’ve got the system where everybody is going to bid and we’re going to get lower-sized bids, which is going to mean to say we’re going to have more money to spend on the Internet.” They’re not building it now. Do you think they’re going to bid less? Really, come on.
The reality is, Timmins and large centres will be serviced by the private sector. But for places like Massey and other communities of such, I think you need to admit that, in the end, government has a role to play.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The next one.
Mr. Amarjot Sandhu: Time and time again, the NDP have voted against legislation that will bring high-speed Internet to all Ontarians and make their life easier.
Mr. Speaker, we live in the 21st century. Having a high-speed Internet connection is the basic infrastructure that every Ontarian deserves, the basic infrastructure that was neglected for far, far too long by the previous government, supported by the NDP.
This pandemic has highlighted the importance of having this high-speed Internet connection. Our families were relying on a high-speed Internet connection. Our education system, our health care system and, most importantly, our families were relying on a high-speed Internet connection.
Our government is taking action. We are spending and investing over $4 billion to ensure that every household in the province of Ontario will have access to a high-speed Internet connection. The federal government’s commitment is to connect every household by 2031. We are taking it one step further, because we understand how crucial it is to connect all Ontarians. That’s why we’re connecting every Ontarian with high-speed Internet by 2025.
Mr. Speaker, can the member please explain why their party actively votes against legislation that will connect the people of Ontario to the supports and services they need?
Mr. Gilles Bisson: We voted against your budgets because you budgeted money to build the Internet and you never did. You never spent it. There was over $300 million over a period of years that was made available by way of the budget, and you spent less than 2%. So am I going to vote for something that I know you’re not going to do? Why would I do that? We are trying to send you a message to say, “Be serious about this.”
Do I think what you’re trying to do is a good idea? I think it’s not a bad idea, but you’ve got to make sure that you can deliver on having the actual Internet infrastructure put in place in northern Ontario and rural Ontario.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Brampton North.
Mr. Kevin Yarde: I want to thank the member from Timiskaming—from Timmins–Cochrane—for his speech—
Mr. Gilles Bisson: It’s okay. They mix us up all the time.
Mr. Kevin Yarde: Did I mix you up? From Timmins.
I want to talk a little bit about the broadband wholesale rates across Ontario and how expensive they are. I know they are very expensive in the north. We talked about Kiiwetinoong and how they don’t even—the member has a cellphone from the Legislature, and he can’t even get connected, which is bizarre.
Mr. Dave Smith: Hello, that was me.
Mr. Kevin Yarde: No, it was the member from Timiskaming.
We know that the current broadband wholesale rates in Canada are very expensive, as well as right here in Ontario. The government has made it hard for new Internet service providers to enter the market and compete, which allows the bigger companies—which we’ve seen—to charge as much as they want for home Internet.
The member from Timiskaming—sorry, from Timmins—has mentioned that he pays ridiculous amounts for his Internet service. You talked about that a little bit earlier.
My question is: How can the government make it more affordable for broadband users in Ontario?
Mr. Gilles Bisson: First of all, to be mixed up with the member from Timiskaming–Cochrane, I would say, is an honour. He’s a good friend of mine, and I will take that comparison any time.
I think it’s like everything else, to answer the question, Mr. Speaker. Where the private sector cannot step in and make a profit, first of all, the public sector can do something in order to fill that gap.
You raised a very interesting point: At what point does government try to make life more affordable by making sure what you buy is affordable, that you’re not paying more than you need to? I think if you look at the price of gas, it’s a good example. The world price of gas has gone up, and that’s why we’re paying more. There’s no question about that. But you’ve got gouging in the market, and in some cases, you need to regulate that. We regulate hydro. We regulate natural gas. Well, there are certain things like the gasoline that goes in your car that maybe should be regulated to be able to deal with this.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): A quick question, the member for Scarborough–Agincourt.
Mr. Aris Babikian: For 15 years, the Liberal Party sat down and let our province’s infrastructure get in ruin. They didn’t do anything. Now there is a government which is committed to changing that. Of course, the COVID-19 challenge made it more difficult, and we started addressing this issue.
Yesterday I was honoured to join the Minister of Long-Term Care to announce 1,329 long-term-care beds for Ontario.
My question is, why does the party opposite vote against legislation that would connect the people of Ontario to the supports and the services they need?
Mr. Gilles Bisson: I’ll agree with you; the Liberal government didn’t do what needed to be done to fix the problem. Let’s all agree. But you’ve had four years and you haven’t done anything either, so you’re on the same track as them. You can throw rocks all you want at the Liberals, but be careful; you live in a glass house, my friend.
In the end, you have a responsibility, as government, to try to fix this. We’re prepared to work with you to make that happen.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Once again, I’ll remind members to make their comments through the Chair and not directly across the floor.
Mr. Deepak Anand: It is an honour to rise in the Legislature to speak on this important bill—and I actually am enjoying it. While listening to the other members, it was as if my memories were coming back.
Interjection: Childhood memories.
Mr. Deepak Anand: Childhood memories.
I’ll give you an example. We had to go to a friend’s cottage, and as we were driving to the cottage, all of a sudden, my son said, “Where are we going?” I said, “What happened?” He said, “I can’t work anymore.” I said, “What do you mean by ‘I can’t work anymore?’” He said, “There is no Internet.”
Think about it: We grew up when there was no Internet. How was life? I don’t even remember now.
I’ll give you an example. Do you remember how we used to watch videos? VHS tapes.
Mr. Deepak Anand: Yes. That was about 1998.
Mr. Aris Babikian: That was the 1960s.
Mr. Deepak Anand: No, I’m talking about the tapes. From 1998 to 2010, it was DVDs—and then it was about 2010 that digital started to come.
I remember 1995 was the first time I saw the Internet. We were excited about that Hotmail. We got Hotmail in 1995 or 1996, around that time. If you wanted to send one email, you pressed send, and you could prepare a coffee or tea, have a coffee, come back, and if you were lucky it was gone.
I got my first cellphone in 2001. It used to be a rare commodity. You had to be really good to get a cellphone. It was expensive.
We’ve come far from that time. If you look at now, virtually, we have Zoom; we have many other digital—
Mr. Aris Babikian: Instagram.
Mr. Deepak Anand: Yes. We have those kind of apps now.
I was curious to know so I looked at the data to see where we stand. I was surprised. I want to share this with you, as well. In terms of cellular mobile Internet, do you know who is number one, as per this report? I’m not sure how good this report is, but as per this report, Canada is number one. And where does the US stand? Around 11th.
When I looked at the broadband, I was excited, I would be jumping; I would say, “Oh, my goodness, we’re probably going to be number one again.” No. Instead, here we are actually ranked number 19. In broadband, Canada is ranked 19th. We’re not talking about Ontario. If I filtered it down, Ontario would probably be better.
If somebody across the world is thinking of coming here, investing here, growing here, they will look at the infrastructure. Not just for us, not just for the people of Ontario, but also for the prosperity of Ontario, we need to invest into broadband—and for my son, so that when we go to the cottage he can do his homework. For that, we also need to invest in broadband.
I’m proud to support Bill 93. I would like to say thank you to the Minister of Infrastructure and, of course, my good friend the PA of infrastructure, who is representing Brampton West—the best ever, the MPP from Brampton West. You can have a clap for that.
Mr. Deepak Anand: Let’s come to this bill. Mr. Speaker, over the last two years, COVID-19 has changed our lives. Phrases like, “Let’s meet on Zoom,” “I will now be sharing my screen,” “Today’s event will be virtual”—I don’t even remember having a virtual Diwali, celebrating Christmas virtually; now it has become more or less the norm in the last two years.
Do you know the number one sentence which I heard during COVID-19? “What was that? You’re on mute.” That was the word I heard the most. When I saw our whip saying something but I couldn’t hear him, what did I say? “You’re on mute.” That was the word I heard the most.
I know that all of us here today have experienced working virtually—including the children who have been online.
Many of my constituents always write to us and say, “More than ever, we need fast, reliable Internet access.”
My fellow members have already spoken to the need and the significance of the legislation. The new world we live in is a digital one, where high-speed connectivity is now a basic need.
Can you imagine: 12% of Ontarian households do not have access to the Canadian Internet service standard. If you look at that 12%, it’s actually two million people. In this digital world, there are two million people who do not have access to a basic need.
The changes proposed today are going to remove the barriers to participation in work, education and health care, among others. This would provide people with the digital services they need and deserve and would lay the foundation for long-term economic prosperity. That is why this bill is extremely important. By streamlining the process of determining infrastructure locations, this legislation is going to provide the tools needed to get shovels in the ground.
Underserved and unserved communities will benefit most from these changes. I would like to say, if you live in rural Ontario, this bill is going to reduce costly delays to building critical Internet projects, and you will get access to the Internet much faster. You won’t have to travel long distances to access the service. You will have the same opportunities no matter where you live, and comparative to the suburbs. That’s what we’re doing. We’re spreading opportunity through this bill.
I know there is a need in these regions for faster, reliable Internet, without gaps in coverage. How do I know this? I’ll give you an example of my own. Every time I go to meet the delegates at AMO or ROMA conferences, whenever I talk to the rural municipalities, you can feel the pinch and the pain every time they talk about having slow and patchy Internet, and not just for those meetings. It tells us that for them to work, to have the efficiencies, to have the growth, they need this opportunity so that they can compete with the rest of the world.
The programs proposed today have not just been designed for the people, but they’re actually designed by the people. I applaud the minister and her team for their engagement with the municipalities throughout the process in their efforts to make sure that these municipal partners have the resources they need to meet the goals outlined in this legislation.
Speaking of the minister and PA Sandhu, I just want to again, on the record, talk about one thing. I want to say thank you. In Mississauga, every high school has adequate sports facilities. But Malton has two high schools and we don’t have any track and field. Thanks to the minister and your ministry, we are actually getting track and field, so thank you for giving that. We really appreciate it.
Mr. Speaker, over the last two years, we have seen one thing: Ontario tourism has suffered a lot. When we were talking about going places and we wanted to go in Ontario tourism, one of the challenges, as I said earlier when I was talking about my son, was about not just my son and his homework—but for other things as well. If there are people who want to visit places, they want to have good services—services that include having good accommodations, food and beverages, transportation, recreation and travel services. Along with that, they need Internet.
When we’re going to have better Internet, the businesses in these underserved communities will have access to good Internet for marketing, booking reservations and overall business management. These changes proposed today will expand those benefits to these businesses, which have suffered a lot—benefits so that visitors can come and see the Cyprus Lake grotto or places like the La Cloche Mountains, so that visitors can come see the beauty of Ontario and they can share their experiences online, right from there.
Internet access will help travellers get around easier, improve their safety by informing them about road closures or weather-related issues, and bring them back again and again. Expanded Internet access through this bill will open up Ontario for tourists, businesses and prosperity. That is why this bill is extremely important.
Speaker, it’s not just the people who live in rural Ontario; it’s even the people from Mississauga–Malton, even the people from the region of Peel—I want to give you an example. There are over 200,000 Ontarians who make their livelihood through the trucking sector. Out of those, 8,000 truckers are from Mississauga–Malton. Why does it matter to them? There are 9% of Ontario’s roads that are not covered by mobile technology. This means that these truckers cannot use their GPS systems in these areas, making it harder for them to complete their runs. Think about a situation where there is a snowstorm, they’re driving in one of these places where there is no GPS and they get into trouble. Having faster Internet, having Internet all across will help to make sure that life is not at risk. That’s how this bill is not just going to help the people from rural communities but is going to help every Ontarian.
We know that the way people work here in Ontario and across the world has changed. I want to share with you a recent Ipsos survey conducted on behalf of Ontario’s Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee. It revealed that 89% of Ontarians believe that work has changed permanently due to COVID-19. Speaker, 32% of Canadians aged 15 to 69 were working from home in January 2021, compared to just 4% in 2016. In order for them to work, there is also a need for Internet. Just to give you an example, there are more than 64,000 people who left Toronto for other parts of Ontario between mid-2020 to mid-2021. How does this help? It helps us to spread opportunity widely. That is why our government has promised to give every community in Ontario reliable Internet access by 2025.
Speaker, under the leadership of Premier Ford, we have seen that Ontarians are working harder, and we’re making sure that we are prospering together.
Whenever we talk about Ontario, I always compare Ontario with the—a place in which we have people from over 150 countries, speaking over 200 languages. What does that mean? We are a global village. We’re not only inviting qualified workers and businesses to come to Ontario; we are making it easier for them to live, work and thrive here.
Last fall, we reduced the Canadian experience requirement for individuals in skilled trades and regulated professions so that those people can—
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I apologize to have to interrupt the member, but it is now 6 o’clock.
Second reading debate deemed adjourned.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): There being no business designated for debate during private members’ public business, this House—
Ms. Peggy Sattler: Point of order.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Point of order, the member for London West.
Private members’ public business
Ms. Peggy Sattler: I rise on a point of order under standing order 1(c), which calls on the Speaker to decide on all contingencies not provided for in the standing orders. My concern is the inherent conflict between standing order 77(a) and standing order 101, related not just to the member for York South–Weston, but to private members on all sides of the House.
As you know, Speaker, standing order 1(a) sets out that the business of the chamber and committees shall be regulated through the standing orders. Standing order 1(b) outlines that the purpose of these provisions is “to ensure that proceedings are conducted in a manner that respects the democratic rights of members.” And standing order 1(c) calls on the Speaker to provide guidance where the standing orders are unclear.
The events of the past seven days have brought us to a place where your guidance is required to navigate what we perceive to be a conflict between standing order 77(a) and standing order 101. This has obvious implications for the member who lost his ballot slot today, but it also affects the democratic right of all members to bring forward items for private members’ public business.
Although standing order 77(a) does not distinguish between government bills and items tabled by private members, the standing orders make numerous distinctions about how and when private members’ bills are tabled and debated and who has the ability to move these items for debate, and essentially confers control of these bills to the tabling member until the conclusion of second reading.
Through a combination of written rules, convention and practice, it can be argued that the unique protocols that govern the movement of private members’ public business through the legislative process implicitly differentiate the two types of bills, and the application of standing order 77(a) over the years has largely maintained this distinction between government and private members’ public business. Of the 17 bills referred to committee after first reading since 1999, only four have been private members’ bills. Three of those four were referred either in consultation with or at the request of the private member responsible for the bill. In contrast, Mr. Hassan and his co-sponsors only became aware of the government’s intent to refer Bill 86 when the government House leader rose in his place and moved the motion to send the bill to committee.
Since no other Parliament has utilized this standing order in this fashion, it is difficult to interpret the intent of this provision as providing majority governments with tools to interfere with appropriately tabled private members’ bills or to circumvent the provisions outlined in standing orders 1 and 101. Given that the purpose of standing order 101 is to set out clear guidelines for the consideration of private members’ public business, the interpretation of standing order 77(a), as executed on March 3, 2022, effectively nullifies the entire section.
The member followed all of the rules related to the tabling and designating of private members’ public business for debate, and finds himself in a position where his ballot slot is forfeited as a result of government interference with private members’ public business.
To further complicate matters, the government House leader made it clear both in conversations with me and in his own remarks in the House that the government would only provide consent for the member to bring forward a ballot item chosen by the government. The request for unanimous consent by the government House leader on Monday, March 7 to designate Bill 87 for debate during ballot item 30 was moved without any prior consultation with Mr. Hassan.
In response to a point of order raised on March 9, the government House leader stated, “The decision was made to take the private member’s bill and send it directly to committee for study. We did that with the knowledge that the member also had another bill on the order paper for private members’ business. It was, if I’m not mistaken—the member can correct me—a bill with respect to Black mental health. That was available for the member to debate in his private member’s spot this Thursday.”
Speaker, it is important to note that the decisions referenced by the government House leader, the referral of Bill 86 and the designation of Bill 87, were not made by the assembly, nor in consultation with the affected member, but by the government alone. It should also be noted that the bill on the order paper referenced by the government House leader did not meet the notice deadlines outlined in standing order 101, and draft text of a motion that Mr. Hassan wanted to bring forward in place of the referred bill was shared with the government House leader’s office the day before the surprise UC request. It was refused by the government without explanation. That same motion was tabled on Tuesday, March 8, and currently appears on the order paper.
A member requires the unanimous consent of the House to bring forward an item that fails to meet the notice requirements. It should be troubling to all private members that competing standing orders are being interpreted in a manner that allows the government to nullify standing order 101 on one hand, and then use that same provision to essentially dictate what a member can bring forward for debate during a time specifically and deliberately set aside for the deliberation of non-government business. Should this interpretation of standing order 77(a) stand, this precedent would mean that members face the potential of a government unilaterally disrupting the consideration of a bill as late as the day the bill is scheduled for second reading debate if the standing order, as the current interpretation of the rule suggests, is to be read without any restrictions or contextual parameters.
In keeping with standing order 1(c), we are seeking your clarification, given the implications for the consideration of private members’ public business by this House both now and in future Parliaments. It is our belief that in instances of competing standing orders, due consideration must be given to the intent of the conflicting guidelines and past practice prior to the application of the prevailing rule.
We look forward to your response and thank you for hearing this point of order.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): On the same point of order?
Hon. Paul Calandra: Yes.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The government House leader.
Hon. Paul Calandra: Standing order 77(a) does not distinguish between government public bills and private members’ bills, as other parts of the standing orders do. If the House had intended there to be a distinction, they would have worded it with a distinction, but the House did not.
Standing order 101 provides for a framework under which members may debate private members’ public business, but it does not guarantee an unqualified right to debate any item of business they choose. The notice requirement applies in all cases and is not contingent on the desires of a member or a caucus. Exceptions require unanimous consent. While it is unfortunate the member does not have an eligible item of business to debate tonight, members on this side of the House attempted to grant unanimous consent for another bill which the member had introduced and which is just short of the notice requirement. But the opposition, of course, turned that down.
The fact is, the member does not have an eligible item of business on the order paper and the Speaker cannot allow an exception to the notice requirement simply because circumstances beyond the member’s control prevented him from debating the item, which he intended to do. If this precedent were set, then we could see a scenario where a member intends to introduce an item of business for debate the day before his notice date, but that item is voted down by the House at first reading. In this scenario, the member would also not have an eligible item of business to debate, but surely no exception to the notice requirement would be reasonable.
In both cases before the House, now and in the fictional case I’ve described, the House duly acted in a way affecting a member’s ability to debate a PMB, and surely it was never envisioned in the standing orders that the Speaker could authorize a do-over. In this case, the bill needs study and possible amendment which may not be possible, due to the procedural rules, after second reading. That is why this House chose to refer it to committee now.
The only authority the Speaker would have to provide an exception is under standing order 1(c), in cases of contingencies unprovided for, but the authority surely does not apply in this case. The standing order does not provide the authority for the Speaker to disregard clear standing orders, but only to provide clarity where there is none. In this case, the resolution on this matter is simple: There are many circumstances where a member may not have an eligible item of business, either as a result of their own action or inaction or not, but the outcome is the same, Mr. Speaker.
The fact that standing order 101 provides for a framework of private members’ business—it is, of course, given under a ballot system—does not guarantee that all members will have the right to present a private member’s bill before this House. In fact, many members in this assembly have ballot dates that are beyond the current fixed election date. They are not guaranteed the right to present their bills to this House.
So for all of the arguments that I have set forward, Mr. Speaker, I think you will find that the correct procedure was followed in this case, and I thank you.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I want to thank both members for their submissions on this important matter. I will endeavour to take it under advisement and report back to the House in due course, when I can.
There being no business designated for debate during private members’ public business, this House stands adjourned until Monday, March 21, 2022, at 9 a.m.
The House adjourned at 1809.