By Chad Ingram
Published Oct. 26 2017
Members of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC) met with Premier Kathleen Wynne at Queen’s Park last week and Haliburton County Warden Brent Devolin told the paper the mobile broadband expansion project by the Eastern Ontario Regional Network was a major topic of discussion.
The wardens’ caucus is comprised of the wardens of 13 municipalities and Devolin said the wardens some of their staff MPPs as well as Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli were present for the meeting at the provincial legislature on Oct. 19.
“It was primarily her listening” Devolin said of the premier.
It is anticipated that a project to fill mobile broadband service gaps throughout Eastern Ontario will cost some $300 million. Constructing towers to connect homes and businesses throughout the area to wireless high-speed internet is expected to cost about $212 million. A secure network for first responders is expected to cost $113 and if the projects are combined to share towers it’s anticipated the combined price tag would be about $280 million.
EORN owned by the EOWC has applied for provincial and federal funding for the project and Devolin said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the success of those funding applications after last week’s meeting.
It’s clear Devolin said that the budget for the project could not be contained within one ministry but could be borne across a number of ministries such as the ministries of infrastructure transportation and health.
Devolin told the paper provincial reps seem impressed by EORN’s business plan.
“I get the feeling the EORN project could be a sort of beta test for them” he said.
EORN has been approached by reps from regions of New Brunswick and Alberta to work on similar projects.
Devolin brought up the interruption of fibre internet and telephone lines that occurred in Haliburton County last week as an example of the fragility of rural systems.
“There was acknowledgment from her that in rural areas we have to have backup” he said of Wynne’s response.
There is an estimated infrastructure gap – a shortfall of money needed to repair infrastructure that has come to the end of its lifespan – of approximately $5 billion a year in Ontario. As a result the Association of Municipalities of Ontario was advocating a jump in HST from 13 to 14 per cent that extra percentage point – the equivalent of about $2.5 billion a year – to be earmarked specifically for municipal infrastructure.
That idea was rejected by the province at the AMO conference in August and Devolin said there wasn’t much progress on that issue at last week’s meeting.
“We heard loud and clear at AMO that the infrastructure solutions we had were a no-go” he said.
Devolin said it’s obvious there is a provincial election on the horizon noting that normally the premier herself would not have been present at the EOWC meeting.
“We’re solidly in election mode” he said adding he gets the feeling the Liberal party’s election platform is largely in place but said government reps weren’t tipping their hands on what sort of policy details it might contain.
“The wardens’ caucus is a wonderful thing” Devolin said adding it allows small communities to speak together in a unified voice. “So we can punch well above our weight in terms of things we need to do here in the county.”