Pair of Federal funding announcements made in Sioux Lookout
Tim Brody - Editor
Six northern Indigenous communities and up to 58 northern Ontario institutions will soon benefit from new or improved high-speed Internet access, thanks to federal funding announced on August 2 in Sioux Lookout.
Kenora MP Bob Nault, along with David Lametti, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, made the $7.03 million announcement at the Keewaytinook Okimakanak office.
“Northerners need access to high-speed Internet to fully participate in our economy, democracy and way of life,” said Nault. “I strongly believe that reliable high-speed Internet will be an economic driving force in rural and remote communities.”
“In many rural and remote communities, challenging geography and small populations present barriers to private sector investment in building and maintaining high-speed Internet infrastructure. This investment will help residents of these communities connect with family and friends, do business online, access telemedicine, participate in distance education and take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the digital age,” a news release issued by Nault informed.
“In total, $8.89 million is being invested in Northern Ontario communities: $7.03 million from the Connect to Innovate program, along with a combined contribution from K-Net and the Western James Bay Telecom Network of $1.76 million and $100,000 from other contributors,” the news release further informed.
Fort Severn First Nation, along with Peawanuk will benefit from the funding.
Lametti said of the announcement, “It’s a way to keep northern communities, and in particular six Indigenous communities, plugged in. And again, we’re doing this across Canada, but it’s absolutely critical in this day and age for people to be connected. Socially, economically, it’s the only way you can participate in many economic activities these days and develop your local economies, keep people at home, attract people to various parts of the country by having broadband access so they can work and play, and it’s also important socially. It’s the way we keep in touch with people now.”
“Internet access is more than just a convenience: communities, businesses and institutions need it to find information, offer services and create opportunities,” added Nault. “Today’s announcement is essential in connecting these communities so they can grow and prosper.”
“Fort Severn First Nation is the most northern community in Ontario, located along the Hudson Bay coast. Fort Severn currently uses satellite bandwidth, but the current limit does not meet the demands of the community. Visiting doctors need to open their electronic medical records to support health services, school classrooms are limited in their use of 21st-century learning technologies, and in our band office it takes hours to open any document or up to two days to update software. This greatly reduces our capabilities in an age when everything is lectronically transmitted.
“We are thrilled to receive this funding and are looking forward to accessing high-speed Internet comparable to that in the rest of Canada. This will assist our community in being more connected, it will help with service delivery, and our young people can take advantage of the technology for work and education,” commented Paul Burke, Chief, Fort Severn First Nation.
Burke added, “The doors are just going to open. Right now we’re developing alongside KiHS (Keewaytinook Internet High School), our elementary school; we’re developing a program for young mothers to go back to school. That’s all done online.”
The announcement, he said, also means members of his community of approximately 500 people shouldn’t have to travel out of the community as often for medical appointments.
“You can do it all on video,” he said.
“For economic development this is going to be a game changer for us,” he added.
The announcement is also about quality of life improvements he said, noting his youngest son would like to be able to play video games online, like other children across Canada.
The six communities benefiting from the announcement are Fort Severn, Peawanuck (Weenusk), Attawapiskat, Fort Albany (Albany), Kashechewan and Ojibway Nation of Saugeen.
Expanding broadband Internet across the Kenora Riding is something Nault has been advocating for.
“The recognition by the Federal Government that rural Canadians, northerners, need broadband, need the best internet service that we can get if we want to be competitive if we want to make a living, living where we want to live - I get a lot of satisfaction when I see these announcements. We’re pleased the communities are going to get either fiber optic connectivity or use satellite; we’re just trying to stay abreast of all the new technology that’s going on. This is a good day because it will make a large difference in our success in the long run.”
While they were in Sioux Lookout, Nault and Lametti also announced a Government of Canada investment of $229,600.
The FedNor funding will enable the Municipality of Sioux Lookout to explore the potential of green energy solutions for the local forest industry, as well as the establishment of a transload facility in the community.
A news release issued by FedNor explained, “As part of this investment, $129,600 will support the development of a pre-feasibility study on the concept of a complete wood-based bio-energy chain, from forest harvesting to construction, involving communities, institutions and industry throughout the region.
“Wood-based bio-energy has the potential to reduce energy costs for businesses and communities throughout Northern Ontario. The feasibility study will also be used by Sioux Lookout and its partner Lac Seul First Nation to promote solutions to other remote communities in Canada and provide an alternative to diesel dependency.”
Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance said the funding would be used for a wood-based bio-energy heating system for the five to 10 house demonstration project announced during the Northern Housing Summit in Sioux Lookout.
The news release added, “A further $100,000 will enable the Municipality to study opportunities related to an integrated transportation system from Pickle Lake to Sioux Lookout to help prepare these communities for growth in the mineral exploration and energy sectors in Ontario’s Far North. Both communities have been identified as potential staging areas for these sectors. The study will also provide valuable information on the feasibility, location, cost and desirability of a transload facility that would link transportation networks such as roads, rail and air cargo.”
Lametti commented, “The Government of Canada is proud to invest in strategic initiatives that fuel the economy of Northern Ontario and create well-paying, middle-class jobs. Today’s announcement will assist local decision makers and support their efforts to diversify and green their economy.”
He added, “Sioux Lookout looks at itself as a hub, the Hub of the North, so the transport question is important, particular to again, attract and retain people to work.”
Nault stated, “Our government is committed to helping communities grow, create jobs and strengthen their economy. This investment will assist the Municipality of Sioux Lookout, in partnership with local communities and companies, to capitalize on their strengths and assets, and create opportunities for the entire region to succeed.”
Lawrance shared, “We are pleased about this Government of Canada investment, through FedNor, in support of our strategic community and business planning initiatives. These two studies are crucial to helping our community identify, develop and implement realistic opportunities for growth that capitalize on our inherent strengths.”
Lawrance further stated, “Based on the premise that we are the Hub of the North, and want to continue to be that in many ways, certainly this gives us an opportunity to increase our industrial sector here, industrial tax base and hopefully lighten the load on the residential tax base.
“You don’t get anything unless you plan for it. The Ring of Fire might still be four, five years away and gold mines that First Mining is planning might be four, five years away, but the preparation from a municipal level has to start now.”
Morgan Fuels president Darrell Morgan attended the announcement stating, “This a great announcement from FedNor today for the Municipality to get the feasibility study done and keep advancing this and trying to make things better for delivering products and goods up north as well as future developments coming south out of the north. Excited to be part of it.”
Morgan Fuels is a partner in the proposed transload facility project to be located east of town along Highway 642.
Nault concluded of the funding, “We had a roundtable discussion after the announcement this morning and one of the things that’s pretty clear is trying to connect all those dots – we start with things like obviously if you don’t have housing, you can have the best plans for economic development - so we had a long conversation about that.
“The transload facility, for me, is by far the nicest thinking that I’ve seen as it relates to what is going to happen with the Ring of Fire, what is going to happen with all-weather road construction, and what is going to happen with resource development, so I’d like to see that study completed soon because we’re moving fairly quickly on all-weather roads in the region where the Ring of Fire is. It’s not so much about resource extraction as it is about connecting the communities and then making economic opportunity become more relevant and a bigger possibility.”