Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce members grilled Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale for progress on topics ranging from housing to connectivity Feb. 11.

Schmale, who was re-elected in last fall’s election, fielded questions during a chamber breakfast held at Camp Medeba, addressing subjects on the minds of business owners.

When asked, he spoke at length about the issue of internet and cellular connectivity. Schmale has helped push for federal dollars to come to the $213 million Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) project to improve coverage in the area. The project has now been in the works for several months but there is no firm timeline for its completion.

“I know many of you in this area are going without,” Schmale said. “I know it isn’t great. The going forward is how do we stop this piecemeal improvement scale that seems to be happening in many areas, especially rural Canada.”

When asked how people could support and press for better internet infrastructure, Schmale said the County of Haliburton is working hard to push that message.

“The conversation needs to happen on a grassroots level. That’s something I’m advocating for on your behalf,” Schmale said. “I know everyone’s being patient but at some point, your patience wears out.”

Chamber executive director Jennifer Locke also raised issues the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has with the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA). She said the national chamber seeks a service delivery audit of the CRA to address communications problems and other issues.

Schmale said most of the calls his constituency office deals with are CRA complaints and he supports changing it.

“The tax system needs a review,” Schmale said. “If I had my way and I was king, you would have a flat tax, at least at a federal level, and make it fairly simple for you. I don’t think I’m going to get my wish.”

He added his party has had conversations about a large tax review, though those have not stretched on the other side of the aisle.

Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts asked about federal help for the housing problem. She described her daughter posting a place for rent in the area and getting inundated with more than 100 requests including plenty of qualified, working people.

“The municipalities can’t take it (housing) on by themselves,” Roberts said, adding it is harmful to employers trying to attract candidates. “Housing becomes a stumbling block and they can’t find people to come to the area because that person can’t find accommodation.”

Schmale said all levels of government have a role to play. He further said the conditions need to improve to get private developers to build needed rental units.

“Nobody’s going to build rental units if they can’t make a profit. It’s just the way it is, and the government can’t do everything because there’s not enough money,” Schmale said. “We need to ensure the conditions are right … Otherwise, those on the lower end will continue to get squeezed out or live in terrible conditions.”

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