Ontario government to spend $765 million to upgrade public safety radio network

File photo of an OPP vehicle.
File photo of an OPP vehicle. Don Mitchell / Global News

TORONTO – Ontario will spend $765 million to rebuild and replace parts of the province’s aging public safety radio network, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday, saying the upgrades are sorely need to protect public safety.

At an event in Kenora, Ont., Ford said Bell Mobility has been awarded the contract to make the changes and maintain the service for 15 years.

The government announced the project last year, saying the system used by first responders is prone to daily outages and needs to be modernized.

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“It’s absolutely critical that we get this installed,” Ford said Thursday. “It’s long overdue.”

The network covers 750,000 square kilometres – about three quarters of the province’s total area – including areas in the north where cellphone service is not available.

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It helps thousands of first responders communicate and co-ordinate during forest fires, police operations and medical emergencies.

The government said the system was last replaced in 1998 and does not meet public safety radio standards established in 2001.

When the procurement was launched last year, then community safety minister Michael Tibollo said first responders had voiced concerns about the 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 The system is so outdated the Ontario government has had to look on Kijiji to find replacement parts, he added.

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Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Thursday that Ontario’s system remains one of the most complex in North America and is relied upon in situations where constant communication is critical to save lives.

“By rehabilitating and advancing the province’s radio network we can improve connectivity and prevent daily service outages that obstruct frontline and emergency responders and put public safety at risk,” Jones said in a statement.

Transition to the new network will begin in 2021, and it’s expected to be fully operational by June 2023.