Better Internet, cell service top islands wish list

NDP MP Nathan Cullen toured the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding to hear what local infrastructure residents think Ottawa should invest in.

If the Trudeau government wants tips on islands infrastructure, local MP Nathan Cullen has a wish-list ready.

The NDP MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley reported last week on the infrastructure town halls he held on Haida Gwaii and across the riding to see what local people want to see in Ottawa’s $125-billion, 10-year infrastructure plan.

“It’s a really good guide as to what northerners think is important,” he says.

On the mainland, Cullen heard many calls for better roads, bridges, and traffic safety, as well as public buses on Highway 16, known as the Highway of Tears—buses that the B.C. and Canadian governments recently promised to fund.

Here on Haida Gwaii, villages and school officials are also looking at public bussing, mostly to relieve the $500,000 transport budget for public schools.

Another of the 11 spending priorities listed in Cullen’s report is to improve internet and cell phone service.

GwaiiTel, the islands non-profit telecom society, secured a major federal grant to install a $10-million fibre-optic ‘backbone’ for islands internet providers—a network expected to light up in July.

More federal funding may be available to reduce the cost of the “last mile” connections that will actually hook up homes and businesses to the network.

“We were happy to see the initial investment, which is going to improve things, but there’s just that last bit to go,” said Cullen.

“The feds have told us that there is a pot of money available—now it’s just a question of getting a hold of it.”

Other priorities for Skeena-Bulkley Valley include recruiting more permanent family doctors, adapting roads and water systems for climate change, more local food production, fixing aging water and sewer systems, and renovating community halls, parks and trails.

In Houston, a town hard-hit by a sawmill and a mine closure, residents suggested a special federal fund for places hurt by major layoffs.

Cullen also heard several calls for more affordable housing across the northwest, including more rental suites, homeless shelters, and long-term care homes for seniors.