Peterborough-Kawartha MP-elect Michelle Ferreri told North Kawartha Township council on Tuesday that she plans to work closely with the provincial government to address the need for improved access to high-speed internet in the area.
“This is critical. I think we saw lots of announcements come in from the federal government and a lot of money was put out. But unfortunately … money doesn’t always equal solutions, so there has to be a strategy in place, and where is that money actually being distributed is a really key thing,” Ferreri told councillors.
“There has to be a strategy in place. We’re going to be working with the province and (Peterborough-Kawartha MPP) Dave Smith is going to be a huge aspect of this, as well as Peterborough County.”
Ferreri said she also aims to strengthen relationships between government levels locally.
“I think what we’ve seen in the past is we didn’t have an MP and an MPP who really worked together. So hopefully we’ll be able to achieve a lot more … working with (North Kawartha Township’s mayor) and the county to make sure this is done,” Ferreri said.
To address the issue of underserved communities in need of reliable, quality internet access across Peterborough County, both the provincial and federal governments have made recent commitments to bolster broadband connectivity.
A joint funding effort from the province and the federal government — announced in July — promises to bring quality internet to 8,700 households in underserved Peterborough-Kawartha riding communities, including Selwyn Township. It’s part of a bid to connect all Ontarians with access to high-speed internet by 2025. Ottawa aims to establish quality internet nation-wide by the end of the decade.
Last week, Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini pledged to boost broadband connectivity locally by bringing high-speed internet access to some 174 homes and businesses in Hiawatha First Nation.
The expansion project will break ground within the next 12 months, according to Piccini.
Calling access to reliable and quality internet “sporadic” within North Kawartha Township, Mayor Carolyn Amyotte said there’s a need to establish “critical infrastructure” to facilitate broadband expansion projects.
Amyotte said ensuring North Kawartha residents have access to dependable internet is a top priority for her as mayor — one she wants Ottawa to take note of.
“If I had to say one thing, it’s the internet. It’s becoming more and more obvious,” Amyotte said.
Assuring Amyotte and township councillors the issue is on her “radar,” Ferreri said the pandemic underscored the importance of staying connected online.
“If we’re not connected, we can’t get our work done. This is of grave concern and we need to get on it as soon as possible,” she said.
Ferreri, who will head to the nation’s capital next month when Parliament resumes, said communicating actively with all of the county’s lower tier municipalities is another top priority for her.
“It’s really important that I stay connected to all of our municipalities and our county. I think sometimes when we have such a large geographical region, sometimes some of the residents often feel disconnected from their member of Parliament on the federal level and I’m making a very conscious effort moving forward to make sure that I’m not that MP,” Ferreri said.
“We are really thinking about how to do things a little differently to make sure people feel connected and have sort of an open line to the member Parliament and our office, so we will be having sort of an outreach approach.”
Ferreri said she plans on making sure her staff engages with constituents in townships across the county, suggesting municipalities could use office spaces to speak with constituents and pass on their thoughts and concerns — establishing a “direct line” to Parliament Hill.
Ferreri also addressed some of the criticism she’s received as Peterborough-Kawartha’s newly elected representative on the Hill. Deputy Mayor Jim Whelan said he recently ran into a constituent who referred to Ferreri as “just a blogger.”
“Definitely there’s a lot of criticism for those who are not on ‘Team Michelle’, (not only people who aren’t Conservative) that I don’t bring experience to the table to be a member of Parliament, which I find quite funny, now that I’m doing the job as well,” Ferreri said.
“The number one skill set I think you need to do this job is communications; and I’m a communications specialist.”
Ferreri is expected to address county council Wednesday.
Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.
Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner