It's starting to look a lot like an election. Canada's Rural Economic Development Minister, Bernadette Jordan, has had a busy week of announcements in her riding of South Shore-St. Margaret's.
On June 27 she visited the community of New Ross to announce a "starting point," while two days earlier she stopped in Bridgewater to say the federal government was taking a "first step" in addressing the Cormorant, the derelict vessel at the Port of Bridgewater.
Standing before municipal officials and the media in the Learning Centre at Ross Farm Museum Jordan launched two national strategies, which she said went hand in hand.
One is a rural economic development strategy, called Rural Opportunities, National Prosperity. The second is our federal connectivity strategy called High Speed Access for All.
Jordan described the former as "a starting point to working with rural Canada and rural Canadians," and key is "ensuring that all communities, no matter how rural or remote, have access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet and cell coverage."
The rural economic development strategy came from consultations she and her parliamentary secretary, Marc Serré, undertook while travelling to each of the provinces and territories.
Rural Canada said "they don't want us to tell them what to do. They don't want a top-down approach to how they grow their economy. They want to work in collaboration with the government," reported the minister.
The rural economic development strategy includes establishing a Rural Economic Development Centre, based at Infrastructure Canada, in Ottawa, to help people from rural communities navigate federal government programs and systems.
Jordan emphasized that during her consultations she heard a lot of concern over rural internet. "Above all else, Canadians told me they needed reliable, affordable high-speed internet and mobile connectivity."
Although it was earmarked in the 2019 federal budget, Jordan announced there was "new" funding in the amount of $1.7 billion for connectivity. This includes a top-up to its Connect to Innovate program and a new Universal Broadband fund.
This is over and above the nearly $5 billion Ottawa has previously committed toward broadband infrastructure, and that it would also go toward research and new technologies such as Low-Earth orbit satellites.
Meanwhile, the minister explained that the government is still working on how the Universal Broadband Fund "is going to roll out."
Rob Moore, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Atlantic Canada, criticized Jordan's announcement, which was live-streamed, for being "about messaging for the election rather than results.
"What we see in this report is really nothing new. It's a compilation of what the government heard, but nothing concrete to move forward," he commented to LighthouseNOW.
He also suggested the attention to rural affairs is a last-minute effort by Ottawa. "And I think they realized they've got a problem in rural Atlantic Canada. And now they're trying to play catch-up," said Moore.