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'Honest mistake' sparked library Internet uproar

Stephen Harper's Conservative MPs were told in caucus today that "an honest mistake" led to libraries and community groups being told their public funding for Internet access was ending.

Senior Industry Canada bureaucrats had "misunderstood" the plan, which simply involved moving money to a different pot, according to Tory insiders.

That misunderstanding, however, resulted in much controversy and a huge outcry as letters went out from Industry informing Community Access Program sites that their funding was being cut as of April 1.

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The 16-year-old program helps link rural communities and allows Canadians who can't afford computers access to the Internet. The confusion resulted in some red faces as Industry Minister Tony Clement had to call a press conference to explain the situation.

He said the program was not being cut rather it is being funded for another year. The funding was simply coming from a different pot. The minister has not, however, made any commitments past this year.

In caucus today, Tories were told "that the DM of Industry misunderstood the plan to move the CAP sites to the Rural Broadband Initiative," a source told The Globe. "It was simply moving money to a different pot. We were assured it was an honest mistake."

Mr. Clement refused to comment on the caucus discussion.

The opposition, meanwhile, is accusing the government of flip-flopping.

"When the news hit the media and outrage ensued, Minister Clement yesterday claimed it was all a mistake," Liberal Industry critic Marc Garneau said in a news release.

The NDP, meanwhile, accused the government of trying to take rural Canadians for granted.

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(File photo: Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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