Question re: Internet connectivity - November 4th, 2014

Mr. Silver:   For two years now, I’ve been asking questions of this government’s plan to improve our Internet connections to the rest of the world. We have known what happens when our fibre optic line to the Outside is cut. The government’s preferred option for a secondary Internet connection would see a link from Whitehorse though Skagway to Juneau and then on to Seattle. The minister said this spring that this was his preferred option and the Premier reiterated their support in a letter to the editor recently.

Yesterday, the government of N.W.T. announced the construction of a fibre optic line from High Level, Alberta to Inuvik. This opens the possibility of creating a link from the Dempster corner through Inuvik instead of going through Seattle.

Mr. Speaker, is the government open to considering this all-Canadian option?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         The member opposite is quite correct that we are very much interested in improving Yukon’s redundancy when it comes to telecommunications, in particular our fibre optic cables. We’ve done a lot of work on this file to date so far, and we indicated previously that we are willing to invest in this kind of project at a capital level. I have to say that our intent with this project is to be outcomes-based. What we want is fast, affordable, reliable telecommunications for Yukoners, and we want it at a level that’s comparable to the rest of Canada. That is the outcome we are seeking in this project. Which route we choose and how we go about achieving that has yet to be determined, and we are doing the work right now to determine the best course of action.

To answer the member’s question directly, yes, we are absolutely open to that option and we have had discussions with Northwestel and a number of other consultants about that option. It’s still very much on the table but, as I’ve indicated previously, up until this point the Skagway-Juneau option has looked a little bit more attractive but, with what’s going on in the Northwest Territories, that may cause us to reconsider the Dempster alternative.

Mr. Silver:   I guess the question now is how far down the Juneau rabbit hole we’ve gone. A great deal has changed in this file since the last time we discussed it in the spring. The project in the Northwest Territories is now a go and it certainly changes the economies for the entire discussion. A link through Inuvik would also ensure that there’s redundancy for communities north of Whitehorse, whereas the minister’s preferred option — as he called it before — through Juneau does not, other than a few communities.

Another advantage of this route through Inuvik is obviously that it’s all-Canadian and it avoids the United States altogether. We know the government is spending approximately $600,000 on this project this year. I guess the question is: Is the all-Canadian route going to be looked at as well? Also, does the minister acknowledge that an all-Canadian route could have more opportunities for partnerships with various levels of Canadian businesses and governments?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         Mr. Speaker, both options — whether it’s the Juneau route or the Dempster route — provide the opportunity for investment by the Yukon government, by First Nation development corporations and by a range of businesses, including Northwestel, which is the main player when it comes to telecommunications in Yukon.

We haven’t ruled out any option. I know the member has a very derogatory opinion of the Juneau option so I’ll take that into consideration. I should note that —

Some Hon. Member:         (inaudible)

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         Mr. Speaker, I’m sorry. I’m a little distracted by the heckling from the Liberal leader here.

We haven’t ruled out any option. We have undertaken a number of studies of both options. We are currently advancing that work, and we look forward to presenting that work in due course and making a decision that makes sense for Yukoners. But, as I said, our primary concern is the outcome of this project. We want fast, affordable and reliable telecommunications for Yukoners because we know that will make us more economically competitive and will diversify our economy to a greater extent than it is currently.

Mr. Silver:   I must apologize to the minister responsible. I’m not picking a plan one way or the other. I’m just wondering if he went too far in one direction so far with this new information — that’s all.

An all-Canadian route opens the door to partnerships with Yukon First Nations, funding opportunities with the Government of Canada and, as I mentioned previously, redundancy for communities north of Whitehorse, including Dawson City. The Juneau option enjoys none of these benefits and limits the benefits of redundancies to only a handful of communities. Let’s move on.

The consultants’ report on this project is due in December of this year. Will the minister commit to making that report public when he receives it?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         I guess I misinterpreted the question when he said that we had gone too far down the foxhole in the project in Skagway —

Some Hon. Member:         (inaudible)

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         Sorry — rabbit hole. Whichever animal’s hole he used to characterize that project, I think it’s clear that he has an unfavourable opinion of that particular route.

In any case, he is quite correct. We have engaged Stantec Canada to provide us with some expertise and some opinions on how to move forward on this project. They are going to consider all options that are on the table and the communication that we have given to them so far is that the Yukon government’s position is that we are outcome-based. We want fast, affordable and reliable Internet and telecommunications available to Yukoners. That is the goal of this project; that is the goal of this government. Now, which route we ultimately choose will be one we give careful consideration to and we will take into consideration all of what is going on in the Northwest Territories, what is going on in Alaska and what is going on in points elsewhere. I will obviously commit to making that decision public. How we make that decision will happen in due course, and I look forward to sharing it with Yukoners.