Nfld. & Labrador

Multiple announcements of broadband internet funding criticized as waste of money

Multiple announcements for the same funding is a waste of money and a tired political trick, says the head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

'The only explanation is politicians want to bask in the spotlight,' says Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Several members of the provincial and federal government were on hand Tuesday for an announcement of $40 million to improve internet services in various unnamed areas of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

At least 63 communities in Newfoundland and Labrador have waited since the early 2000s for high-speed internet.

Even after Tuesday's announcement of a $40-million investment into upgrading and expanding internet services in the province, most are still waiting to find out if they will benefit.

Members of Parliament will hold separate announcements in chosen communities over the next few weeks to provide a breakdown.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is calling them out on that.

"When you're making an announcement for funding, why do you need to do it multiple times?" said Aaron Wudrick, the organization's federal director.

"The only explanation is politicians want to bask in the spotlight."

Aaron Wudrick with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says numerous government announcements on the same issue is a waste of money. (CBC)

After Tuesday's press conference, the MP for St. John's South-Mount Pearl Seamus O'Regan was asked if the government had a plan for each of the 70 communities receiving upgrades or being connected for the first time.

"Oh, we've got the list," O'Regan told reporters. "Those [local] MPs will be talking about them in the coming days."

Taxpayers foot the bill

Yvonne Jones, MP for Labrador, was the first to announce specifics of the broadband deal when she held an event on Wednesday. She was joined by the region's provincial representative, Lisa Dempster.

The south coast of Labrador, from Cartwright to L'Anse au Clair, will receive $10.2 million in federal funding to build a fibre network and increase internet speeds.

Labrador Liberal MP Yvonne Jones was the first to announce details of internet upgrades for her region. (CBC)

The area will also get $1.7 million from Bell Canada, and smaller amounts from the province, Indigenous groups and the Labrador Fishermen's Union Shrimp Company.

Looking at the list of communities without high-speed internet, it's conceivable each of the seven MPs in Newfoundland and Labrador could hold their own announcements.

"This is already an expensive undertaking for taxpayers. And now taxpayers also have to foot the bill to do multiple announcements about this," Wudrick said.

"I just don't think that's prudent use of tax money."

Photo ops and fire trucks

It's not unusual for a breakdown of government funding to trickle out in a slow stream of announcements.

For example, money is set aside in each provincial budget for new firefighting equipment in various communities.

Eight times in 2017, at least one government MHA arrived with the truck to give a speech and snap some photos — each time at a cost to citizens.

Each year, there are numerous announcements for new firetrucks across the province, with at least one member of government at each. (CBC File Photo)

It is also not uncommon to have multiple formal announcements featuring several members of government for the same project — the new long-term care facility being built in Corner Brook is just one example.

An announcement was made Jan. 20, 2017 to say construction would begin in the fall.

In the fall, the government held a second event to unveil a few tidbits of information and rehash much of the information that was already available.

"Sometimes the most important announcements aren't that sexy. They certainly don't require multiple events," Wudrick said.

"The fact [information] is being dripped out, I think, just makes people more cynical about the politics behind it rather than the merit of the funding."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Cooke is a journalist in St. John's.

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