Rural connectivity should be priority: Schmale
By Darren Lum
More than just bacon and scrambled eggs was served at the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Feb. 11 at West Guilford’s Medeba.
Chamber Connection featured keynote speaker Jamie Schmale, Member of Parliament of Haliburton – Kawartha Lakes – Brock, who met with members, faced questions and heard comments about internet connectivity, issues with the Canada Revenue Agency, how government regulations hinder small businesses, insurance concerns, the local economy, the cost of living, housing and how changing the national building code would bring higher standards and greater energy efficiency. Schmale also talked about his role as shadow minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
Jennifer Locke, the chamber’s executive director, led the event and asked Schmale questions related to concerns by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, followed by questions and comments from the audience. Among the most discussed: taxes, connectivity, liability and standard of living.
Locke asked Schmale if he would support an audit of the Canada Revenue Agency to improve its service, particularly for small business owners. Schmale agreed, sharing his own frustrations.
“Most of the work that my constituency office does is because of problems with the Canada Revenue Agency,” he said.
Schmale said the CRA is long overdue for a “top to bottom review on their operations.”
Locke said the Canadian Chamber is asking all federal parties to commit to having a Royal Commission review of the federal tax system guided by the principles of competitiveness, simplicity and fairness.
“If I had my way and I were king, you would have a flat tax at least on the federal level and make it very simple for you,” he said.
A review like this would require five to seven years, he said.
Locke asked about the likelihood of a review and Schmale said “On one side of the aisle I don’t know, but on the other side it’s being talked about.”
Plenty of concerns were raised about internet access for the area including high-speed connectivity, its availability, effectiveness and its high price, owed to lack of competition, some said.
Schmale acknowledged the challenges of connectivity and admitted he didn’t know the technicalities pertaining to rural access.
Schmale thought the federal government lost an opportunity to ensure rural Canada was part of any planning for connectivity when it auctioned off parts of spectrum – a radio frequency delivering wireless services. He said it should have been rented with stipulations, prioritizing rural areas.
“If you had a heritage building, you wouldn’t sell off that heritage building. You would rent it. What if we said to these companies we’ll auction off the spectrum, but you won’t get to keep it. You rent it from us, but as a promise of this rental agreement rural connectivity has to be a priority or a key point in that,” he said.
He said with 5G technology you will be able to download a high definition film within seconds (now it takes several minutes), and it is expected to power autonomous driving vehicles and farm equipment.
“The power the 5G has is something that I don’t think many people, including myself, can just grasp so if we don’t even have 4G (we’re not even talking 5G, which includes a lot more infrastructure) some reports have said that rural areas could have in the future going forward a recessionary type [of] growth and that’s pretty scary,” he said, adding he wouldn’t let that happen. “So, that is why it is so important to change this conversation on let’s just knock off spectrum or walk away and hope it gets done or come up with a plan years down the road. Let’s change the way we’re doing things a bit and ensure that rural parts and that connectivity to areas such as ours ... becomes a priority rather than an after-thought.”
He said HCDC, the County of Haliburton and its municipalities are working to keep rural communities connected.
Locke asked what people can do to ensure rural communities are in line for better connectivity.
“The conversation obviously needs to happen on a grassroots level, but also that’s something I advocate for on your behalf. I’m on the right track, but I know everyone is being patient, but at some point your patience wears out, especially when you see areas not too far from us having better service and [not having the connectivity] is hampering your enjoyment of life or the growth of your business.
Once 5G happens and you don’t have internet, it’s going to remain challenging,” he said.
Connectivity affects communities other ways too, he said, pointing to the importance of internet in attracting doctors and other professionals.
Another area of concern for businesses was raised by Keith Thomas of Thomas Contracting, who is considering getting out of snow removal in light of liability concerns with the increasing complications of insurance coverage. Currently, a person who claims personal injury caused by snow or ice against an occupier, an independent contractor employed by the occupier, or landlord, has up to two years to submit a claim. Thomas said documents in that time can be lost or discarded, making it challenging.
Schmale said this could change. Private member’s Bill 118, Occupiers’ Liability Amendment Act, brought forward by Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller, will reduce that to only 10 days. Schmale said it has wide support and he encourages people to send emails of support.
“If you are able to send an email to Laurie Scott or Norm Miller and let them know that you are supportive of this as small business owners that does help them,” he said.
Thomas said the paperwork required by insurance companies is much greater than it used to be despite never making a claim. He believes there will be just one company that does all the snow removal or there will be cash transactions.
At the conclusion of the event, Locke reminded the audience of chamber members about nominating people for the upcoming 14th annual Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce Gala on April 4 at the Royal Canadian Legion in Haliburton. Nominations will be open until March 2.
New this year will be an after-gala party to be held in the lower level of the Legion.