From: Telecommunities Canada
To: The Hon. Bill Morneau
Minister of Finance

Dear Sir:

Telecommunities Canada, established in 1993, is a community of practice about the uses of online networks for community development. Together with like-minded groups, our goal is to connect theory, policy and practice in ways that expand and improve the ability of communities to design their own future. Below please find our responses to your questions posed on the 2016 budget consultations website: 

1. In your opinion how can we better support our middle class?

A national digital economy strategy is a vital part of federal policy that has been allowed to languish for too long. All Canadians will be supported by a commitment to return to a leadership role in this sector. Growing evidence supports the connection between household income, jobs, and modern information and communications infrastructure. As Prime Minister Trudeau said in his speech to the Davos meetings, Canadians are resourceful. But to harness that resourcefulness, the government must lead with a digital strategy that will build capacity for social and economic innovation at the community level.

We urge the new liberal government to show leadership in this area by acknowledging the following key points:

i) ICT and digital literacy are today’s most powerful catalysts for social and economic innovation, and Canada is falling behind;

ii) Ample, accessible and affordable broadband has become essential to supporting such innovation;

iii) A world-class digital strategy has become essential to maintaining Canada’s social and cultural relevance and economic competitiveness.

2. What infrastructure needs can best help grow the economy, protect our environment and meet your priorities locally?

Economic growth in the 21st century cannot occur without 21st-century tools. A program to support community-driven access and education initiatives across the country would help ensure prosperity is both deep and wide throughout the country. An effective national digital economy strategy will recognize that local/ municipal / community ownership of broadband infrastructure as a public utility is the only route to ensuring that communities are “smart” enough to take charge of their own digital futures. Over the years, this kind of initiative has created jobs and brought new businesses to many areas at very little cost. The government must improve Canada’s communications infrastructure and facilitate access, use, and skills in this area by committing to effective broadband from coast to coast to coast that supports a full range of communications applications.

3. How can we create economic growth, protect the environment and meet local priorities while ensuring that the most vulnerable don't get left behind./p>

Social innovation is the principal catalyst for improving economic inclusion and advancing economic innovation. The most effective role for government is to inspire and support community-level leadership in social innovation, especially innovation that leads to greater economic inclusion and participation on the part of youth. 

Investment should focus on leadership and initiatives that foster collaborative engagement of schools, businesses, local government and the community at large in meeting the present and future economic needs of the community.

National programs that provide access, education, and support for the effective use of new communications technologies in communities should be considered essential investments that generate demand and build human capacity to meet that demand. Reintroduction and expansion of support for public access programs will boost local economies by encouraging Canadians to use new technologies for community development and by offering collaborative tools. When Canadian communities suffer because of major job losses, these programs help provide support in an economic downturn.

4. Is the implementation of these new priorities and initiatives realistic? Will it help us grow our economy?

Affordable high-speed internet access is an indispensable asset for the economic health of communities of all sizes. It attracts businesses, encourages local entrepreneurship, and maintains high standards in education and health services, all of which support local sustainability. Some of the funds earmarked for infrastructure spending in this budget should be channeled into designing and implementing a digital strategy and into extending rural and remote connectivity programs.

Supporting projects that lead to municipally owned fibre as an open public utility will ensure that a community can use ICT to bootstrap local development and to practice digital inclusion techniques so that everyone benefits from the changes.

The federal government should work with provincial authorities to encourage the development of a digitally literate population, and the Minister of Employment, Workforce and Labour should review policies and programs to ensure that priority is given to training in digital skills.

Thanks for the opportunity to contribute.

Marita Moll
for Telecommunities Canada