By Cole Parkinson
After his recent spring 2021 constituency tour, which saw a stop in Vauxhall, Bow River MP Martin Shields was virtually in town council chambers to discuss multiple workings happening in Ottawa.
At council’s May 3 regular meeting, Shields updated councillors on what has been happening at the federal level, including pieces of the new budget that would be of interest to rural Albertans.
“There was a budget that had a piece in it that had to do with broadband, which is often something rural municipalities are very interested in, whether you are in a small urban, large urban or rural setting. Under the budget, there was approximately $1 billion designated to broadband,” stated Shields. “The goal under that budget piece was by 2026, 98 per cent of the country would be at the 50/10 (megabits per second) ratio and by 2030, 100 per cent. Some people tell you that are technologically advanced, which is everybody but me, that 50/10 (Mbps) is still not a significant level of speed. We have communities and areas that have more than that already and areas that have much less than that. That’s what was in the budget for broadband specifically.”
Shields also touched on the agriculture sector and how they rely upon high internet speeds.
“I know you’re very well aware of irrigation and the technology there. I was talking to a farmer that you know in the Taber area. He’s running 70 pivots off of his phone and all the intricacies of running a pivot and the things that need to be done. Agriculture is very tech advanced and we need the levels of communication for businesses to operate in rural settings, and agriculture is a piece of that. Also, the businesses that operate in small communities need those kinds of speeds,” he said. “There was very little in the budget in regard to the sector and ag, but the broadband was there.”
Another big focus has been COVID-19 and the vaccination process across the country.
While it has started to speed up in certain areas of the country, the federal government is still trying to acquire more vaccines as they try to reach a 75 per cent vaccination rate.
“At this time, the province is moving on two fronts. One — they have gone into a lockdown, that affects Vauxhall to a certain extent, but they also locked down other areas more restrictively like Lethbridge, Calgary, Airdrie, Edmonton, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray. They have put those under more severe lockdowns as the numbers keep rising,” continued Shields. “As vaccinations become more available, as they come in federally they are distributed to the provinces and at times there have been mismatches in terms of what is available and what gets to the province. I know in the last few weeks, in the riding there wasn’t a lot of vaccinations going on because there wasn’t a lot of vaccines available.”
On top of this, there’s also the issue of travel across the U.S. border.
With Canada utilizing a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a hotel when flying, Shields noted there are several issues in relation to this.
“The border crossing, as you live in an area that is close to the border, there are people who own property and would like to go across who are restricted from doing the land border crossing. Yet, we have a lot of truck traffic essential to what comes into our province and they have an exemption. Then there are people who are travelling for various other reasons and when you cross the land border, you do the home quarantine,” he stated. “If you’re flying in through a major airport, you are required to hotel quarantine until you have been cleared on the first test here. To get here, you would have had to get a negative test to get on the plane before you fly in. Then you have to wait at the quarantine hotel to get the next one, even if you may have been fully vaccinated.”
Another similar issue has been around rapid testing, which Shields says hasn’t been used nearly as much as it has been in other countries.
“Rapid testing is something used in a lot of other countries. Rapid testing hasn’t been used extensively here, which I think should have been done or could still be done. One of the problems is the federal government distributed rapid testing to the provinces and then the provinces had to figure out what they were going to do with it,” he explained. “Most provinces said it had to be administered and supervised by a nurse practitioner at least. We don’t have a lot of nurse practitioners and we are short medical staff workers in a lot of situations as you realize.”
As vaccines have become available to a vast majority of Albertans, questions around travelling have started to surface.
With many countries discussing only allowing those with vaccines, Shields says there are are also many challenges with this.
“At this point, countries are beginning to develop, and if you’ve travelled to certain countries in the world, you will have gotten your certain shots to go to certain countries. If you don’t have proof of that, you can’t get a Visa to go. That kind of rationale is being discussed in countries. I don’t know if we’ll see it but we know cruise lines for cruise ships, they’re already booking again, but they will require vaccine proof. We know airlines will probably be next to requiring it as rumours have it that is what they are considering. Countries are considering it in a sense and it gets complicated because, for example, AstraZeneca is not used in the United States. So does that mean you have to have a specific kind of vaccination for certain countries or will any vaccine work? It’s not an easy issue to deal with,” he said.
“We have very small numbers that have been double dosed — single dosed (was) about 30 per cent. If you go to the States, the numbers on the double dosing, their numbers are significantly high in the sense of about 40 per cent, I believe. As that single and double increases, the rates of spread decrease quickly.”
The final piece brought forward by Shields was the Broadcasting Act.
The amendments to the act revolve around expanding regulations to anything Canadians put on social media including Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.
“This was a piece of legislation that showed up in the House and then the committee that I’m on (Heritage Committee), and the government has already had 120 amendments that they’ve introduced at committee to fix it, which is problematic in the sense that there were some major problems with the legislation that was written. We get bogged down a lot in the sense of what’s the consequences of the amendments that we are making, and there are lots of them,” he continued.
“We’ve got lots of work ahead on this one and it’s a challenging piece of legislation to try to protect charter rights but also deal with social media platforms that have become such an integral part of our lives. Is there good and bad? We couldn’t do this Zoom meeting without them but there are issues out there. It’s trying to find legislation and write. Once we write it, it’s going to be there for many years. The last Broadcast Act was passed 30 years ago.”