Nault hears concerns on border issues, Internet service

Border issues and the lack of broadband services were some of the barriers to business expansion discussed during the “Building a diversified economy in your community” information session last Wednesday.
More than 60 people turned out at the Red Dog for Indian and Northern Affairs Minister and local MP Robert Nault’s information session on strengthening local economy.
Representatives from Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Industry Canada/FedNor, and Public Works and Government Services made presentations to the town representatives, and aboriginal and business leaders gathered at the Red Dog.
Nault said the main point of the session was to let local businesses know how they can better access government services and funding.
“There’s more than $8 billion a year in government contracts and we get virtually none in Kenora-Rainy River riding,” he said.
A number of issues facing local businesses were discussed during the open forum including concerns over customers being turned back at the border.
Randy Hanson of the Northwest Ontario Tourist Association said that last year $9.9 million worth of tourist dollars were turned away at the Ontario portion of the border and that 71 percent of those didn’t come through Fort Frances.
One of the reasons people were turned away was that they were caught with an driving while impaired conviction on their records. Some of these convictions occurred over 25 years ago.
He asked why more people were being stopped than before.
“We have an obligation to make our country safe and secure for the population that lives here,” responded Nault. “It has to balance the needs of obviously doing business, but security has to take precedent over every other matter.”
“We’ve been doing this for a number of years, this policy has been in existence,” he continued. “Yes, our technology and our tools are stronger so that maybe more people are getting caught than they were before but people should be happy and pleased, and see that as a positive.”
A representative from Citizenship and Immigration said that after five years, people with minor convictions such as impaired driving could apply for rehabilitation. If accepted, and the $200 processing fee is paid, that person could be allowed into the country.
A change in the policy is to take effect this summer, where people automatically will be considered rehabilitated ten years after the conviction.
Being turned back at the border wasn’t the only potential hindrance to business expansion discussed. Those in attendance asked if high bridge tolls were deterring tourists.
Nault agreed tolls were a concern and said that Industry Canada has been researching its responsibility in the matter. If they have any jurisdiction in setting toll prices they would look into the matter, if not Nault said he would speak to Abitibi-Consolidated and Boise Cascade who own the structure.
“My only obligation is one to be fair to the bridge owner and make sure their costs are reimbursed. But we want to be sure that it’s not incompatible to tourists and other industry,” he said.
Frustration over lack of broadband, high-speed Internet access for businesses and the public in Northwestern Ontario was also mentioned.
“One of our objectives as the government is to be the leader in the world in connectivity,” Nault told the crowd, explaining that the government has committed to a national broadband study to explore the issue. “That’s the objective and that policy is still there and we will go forward as quickly as we can based on our financial resources.”
“I’m a little surprised that we haven’t made much progress on the information highway and the Internet and the technology necessary to be competitive.” he said after the meeting. “We can’t afford to be left behind.”
Overall Nault said he was pleased with the information session and the issues discussed.
“I’ll have a better idea of the direction they want to see their member of Parliament going,” he said.