Ministerial Question Period: Digital Readiness

By: The Hon. Marty Klyne

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Hon. Marty Klyne: Minister, my question focuses on digital transformation north of the fifty-fifth parallel, in rural and remote communities, not to mention the Indigenous reserves across this country in rural Canada, too many of which have poor or no internet connectivity.

As broadband internet connectivity continues to advance in these rural and remote communities, it will be incumbent on the government to ensure that young Indigenous adults have access to digital skills and training opportunities, skills that they will need to participate and compete in the new economy. Digital transformation goes beyond just providing broadband internet access.

Minister, does this government know what level of digital skills our young Indigenous youth have in these rural and remote communities? Will they be ready to participate and compete in the new economy? What measures are being taken to ensure the gap is being closed to ensure Indigenous youth can make valuable contributions that benefit rural communities?

Hon. Gudie Hutchings, P.C., M.P., Minister of Rural Economic Development: That is a phenomenal question. All your questions have been phenomenal.

Senator, I had a chat with the U.S. ambassador a few months ago. He has a passion for broadband and connectivity. That was his question to me. He said, “It’s great to have the connection in the community, but do people have the skill set and do Indigenous communities have the skill set to use it?”

I’m delighted to tell you that through my department and ISED — Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada — there is a Digital Skills for Youth Program, and it’s over $100 million. That was announced in the 2021 budget. There is also digital transformation money to help businesses and communities learn this new digital world that we’re in.

It’s a proven fact that when you do have that training, as we saw through COVID-19 when businesses went from in person to online, how in many cases that scaled up and their sales just exploded. But we need to make sure we’re training the skill set there.

I hear you, sir. That money is there. If you need help finding some more, you reach out and we will do our best to make sure our Indigenous communities get their share and more. Because you’re right: It is in the rural, remote and Indigenous communities that we need this work done more than ever.

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