In October 2007, Trevor Taylor — then Newfoundland and Labrador’s minister of innovation, trade and rural development — signed an agreement with the three other Atlantic provinces and the federal government to develop the roads, railways and ports necessary to make the region a hub of international trade.
Peter MacKay, the Nova Scotia Member of Parliament and minister responsible for what was called the Atlantic Gateway, called the concept a “smarter approach.”
“Atlantic Canada has some very able people here now that are going to put their shoulder to the wheel and get the gateway rolling,” he said at the time.
“All four Atlantic provinces are working together, pulling together and moving in the same direction with the federal government.”
Three and a half years later, the gateway is rolling, with projects underway or approved, 17 in all, worth a total of $229.2 million. In New Brunswick: seven projects, $126.2 million. In Nova Scotia: six projects, $92.5 million. In Prince Edward Island: four projects, $10.5 million. In Newfoundland and Labrador: zero projects, zero dollars.
The list of projects funded through the Gateways and Board Crossings Fund, obtained Tuesday from Transport Canada through a request made by members of the standing committee on transportation, infrastructure and communities, lists the individual projects and their costs.
That includes $87.5 million to twin 55 kilometres of Route 1 in New Brunswick, $36.5 million to upgrade and expand cargo handling services at the Port of Halifax, and $4.5 million for Route 1 realignment and intersection installation on Prince Edward Island.
Gerry Byrne, the Liberal MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte and a member of the standing committee, called Newfoundland and Labrador’s exclusion disturbing. He said he obtained the list when he and two other Liberal members of the committee requested an update on the strategy for the fund — which he said is about $800 million out of $2.1 billion in a broader fund that includes Ontario and Quebec.
The response, from Yaprak Baltacioǧlu, deputy minister of Transport Canada, includes information on committee and research work to identify infrastructure, policy, regulatory and operational issues.
“The Government of Canada is actively working with the Atlantic Provinces to finalize the draft and it is anticipated that we will soon have approval of all parties on a comprehensive and viable strategy,” reads the reply. Byrne said it’s not good enough to not yet have a strategy in place when funds are already being committed.
“The reply that we got back, and this is very important, I think, is that there is no strategy developed yet. They’re still working on the strategy,” he said. “But flowing from this information that we got, is one-quarter of the money is now spent, and they don’t even have a strategy.”
The list of projects include airport work in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick, announced late last month while the St. John’s Airport Authority’s 2009 request for help funding a new $25-million instrumentation landing system, which would help more planes land in foggy weather, has been unfulfilled.
Fraser Edison, chairman of the airport authority’s board of directors, said the economic benefits of getting the work done at the St. John’s airport should be clear, but they’ve been stymied for funding.
“As of today, nothing. No word whatsoever on it,” he said. “This would increase five per cent in the accessibility of the airport, and five per cent represents 70,000 passengers and 700 flights (a year).”
Likewise, the lack of roadwork approved is a sore spot for the Newfoundland and Labrador Road Builders’ Association, too.
Austin Sheppard, the association's business manager, says the province’s exclusion “leaves a sour taste.”
“I am heading off to meetings in Moncton in early May for the Atlantic Road Builders, and that’s one topic that always comes up for discussion,” he said.
The briefing notes from the deputy minister mentions federal commitments to Marine Atlantic, about $521 million, and Byrne says it seems as though the federal government considers that Newfoundland’s share of the Gateway fund.
“If that’s the case, that’s completely unacceptable. We have a constitutional right to that ferry service. The Atlantic Gateway funding is a discretionary program to build up Atlantic Canadian export capacity through improved transportation mechanisms,” he said.
“I think within the department they are actually building in the Marine Atlantic funding as Newfoundland and Labrador’s share. That’s not acceptable. … That ferry service is not a discretionary service of the government of Canada.”
Byrne said there are deserving projects — including airports and ferry systems — across the province that, judging from projects already approved, would be eligible for the federal funding. He wants an immediate reprioritization for Newfoundland and Labrador projects to be given the green light.
“I want to see money spent in Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said. “I want to see a couple of things: that the government actually acknowledge that Marine Atlantic money has nothing to do with the Gateway — Marine Atlantic has all to do with Newfoundland and Labrador’s gateway to exports, but it’s under a separate envelope. … Second, I want to see projects which have been awaiting funding in Newfoundland and Labrador funded immediately. The St. John’s airport navigational improvements have been waiting for approval for months.”
Federal and provincial officials declined requests for comment on the funding, but provided emailed statements.
Mélanie Quesnel, spokeswoman for Transport Canada, said, “The federal government is still in discussions with Newfoundland and Labrador on transportation to identify the key infrastructure investments for that province.”
Susan Sullivan, the minister of innovation, trade and rural development, said in a written statement provided to the Telegram that there are currently several provincial projects under consideration for funding.
“These projects are large and require a detailed analysis and negotiations with the federal government. We do not want to announce projects piecemeal. Talks are progressing favourably with the federal government, and announcements will be made when these negotiations conclude,” wrote the minister.
But Byrne doesn’t accept the idea that there are currently projects in the works for Newfoundland.
“Something has been in the wings while 17 projects, valued at $230 million, have been approved in the Maritime provinces, the three Maritime provinces. Not a penny has been approved in Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said. “Is it really the Maritime Gateway? Or is it the Atlantic Gateway?”