MONTREAL -- An ambitious promise that goes back years now seems to be in the final stages of delivery: provincial and federal governments say all of Quebec will have high-speed internet by September 2022.

The announcement was made in Trois-Rivières Monday in a joint press conference by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier François Legault -- their second such announcement in the space of a week, after last Monday's announcement about a new electric vehicle battery factory in the Laurentians

Those back-to-back announcements came after a long hiatus from travelling by Trudeau. Legault gave a nod to their improving relationship, prompted after Trudeau introduced the premier by his first name alone.

"I'm very happy to start the week for a second time with the Prime Minister -- it's a good habit," Legault said. "We've started calling each other François, Justin, François, Justin."

Today's news involves a major funding pool that will make Quebec the country's best-connected province. Ottawa and the province together will invest $826 million to connect nearly 150,000 Quebec homes that still don't have broadband.

However, it's far from out of the blue, as Legault was elected, two and a half years ago, on a promise to deliver high-speed connections across Quebec by the end of his mandate in 2022, the same deadline announced Monday.

"That was his main promise to rural Quebec, and... he was elected by rural Quebec," said Scott Pearce, a vice-president with the Canadian Federation of Municipalities and also the mayor of the township of Gore, in the Laurentians.

"I think for him, look, he staked his political reputation on this in 2018."


The project works through giving subsidies to service providers to lay the new networks. Montreal-based Videotron and Cogeco will each receive more than $200 million and will be expected to connect more than 35,000 households each to high-speed internet.

Bell will receive $161.5 million and be expected to connect nearly 31,000 households, while other large participants include Xplornet, Sogetel and Telus.

Pearce said he believes the funding will be a 50-50 split, and that Ottawa's portion was likely already earmarked for broadband -- though it represents a big sum even within a big federal program.

Until last fall, the Trudeau government had a $1 billion fund to encourage new broadband connections across the country, with the money available through an application process. Service providers would generally be responsible for making the applications.

In fall 2020, Ottawa announced a top-up to that fund, bringing it to $1.7 billion.

"I think we're at a point now where both levels of government understand the necessity," said Pearce.

In the pandemic, that's become even more clear, he said, describing seeing a family parked at night in Gore's community centre parking lot, in mid-winter temperatures, in order to get homework and other tasks done online, since they didn't have wifi at home.

Trudeau and Legault also said the pandemic had made such problems more obvious.

Trudeau said that a good internet connection has now become just another crucial utility, like heat or water, and that installing it in remote regions will also help small businesses recover after the pandemic.

"It'll be even more important in the coming years as our economy comes roaring back."


If the federal money was already tagged for the purpose, said Pearce, Quebec's agreement may just be the first of several deals among the provinces to match Ottawa's funding and do a major push.

The Trudeau government likely jumped at the chance to get one of the biggest provinces squared away, he said: "There's one province that's ready to go right now, they're ready to pay 50 per cent, and let's get 'er done," said Pearce.

Trudeau acknowledged the two recent announcements came close together, but said broadband is a big, long-term project spanning different governments -- though the Liberals' have spent nearly 10 times as much as the Harper government did over a decade, he said.

Legault, when asked if the deal was another sign of an improving relationship with Ottawa, agreed in light terms.

"I hope so," he said. "Yes, they showed flexibility in this program. It wasn't easy to put all the players together, including our two governments, and they showed flexibility for sure, yeah."

Trudeau, asked the same question, said high-speed internet is one of the easiest issues to agree on.

There's an idea across Canada of "standing up for your region by picking a fight with Ottawa," the prime minister said, and there will always be some disagreements, but broadband isn't among them.

"I think one of the things that we've seen through this pandemic," Trudeau added, "is that citizens want... various orders of government to work together."


The program, if carried through by the 2022 deadline, would make Quebec the best-connected Canadian jurisdiction, with 99 per cent high-speed coverage.

The two governments are confident, however, the deadline will be met, the two men said. The deal includes penalties for failing to meet smaller deadlines and a guarantee of 100 per cent coverage of regions lacking broadband.

Why only 99 per cent? The missing 1 per cent represents some 36,000 households, Legault said in the announcement, located in places that are especially hard to access, in very remote, sparsely populated areas.

However, the province isn't giving up on those spots, he said. Technological solutions are being studied, and the province hopes to include those households as well by 2022.

Right now, the Outaouais region is by far the most affected by the lack of high-speed internet, with more than 29,000 households without it.

The Laurentides (16,500 households without), Montérégie (15,700), Lanaudière (13,700), Abitibi-Témiscamingue (13,400) and Estrie (12,300) regions follow.

All regions, however, have some homes without access to broadband, except for Montreal, Laval and Nord-du-Québec.

--With files from The Canadian Press