Ford government to upgrade Ontario’s public safety radio network

Premier of Ontario Doug Ford speaks during a media event in Saskatoon, Thursday, October 4, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards

The Ontario government plans to rebuild the aging radio network first responders across the province rely on during emergencies, saying upgrades to the system are sorely needed.

Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that the Public Safety Radio Network is prone to daily outages and must be modernized.

The network covers 750,000 square kilometres across the province, including areas in the north where cellphone service is not available, and helps first responders communicate and co-ordinate during forest fires, police operations and medical emergencies.

“You need modern, reliable equipment,” Ford said while speaking to a group of first responders near Alliston, Ont. “Sadly, Ontario’s public safety radio network is outdated. It’s falling apart.”

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Ford would not say how much the rebuild will cost taxpayers, adding that those details will be released once a competitive bidding process for the project is complete.

Community Safety Minister Michael Tibollo said the radio system is the “lifeblood” of emergency response in the province but was last upgraded 20 years ago.

“Pause for a second and think where communication technology was a generation ago compared with where we are today,” he said.

Tibollo said first responders had voiced concerns about the aging system and noted that it experiences frequent failures. The system is so outdated the Ontario government has had to look on Kijiji to find replacement parts, he added.

“The radios that they use today are obsolete,” he said. “You would have a better chance of walking into a Best Buy today to purchase a tube television than we’ve had replacing those radios.”

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Tibollo said the company that successfully bids for the project will build and service the public radio network for 15 years.

“This is a massive undertaking,” Tibollo said. “The telecommunications towers, antenna and technology that provide essential public safety radio coverage across the province will be rebuilt.”

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The upgraded network is expected to be fully operational by 2023, the government said.

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