The last voyages of public service

Michael Johansen
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Somewhere in the forests south of the Mealy Mountains, the final link of the Trans-Labrador Highway is being forged.
Despite repeated delays on other phases of the road construction, Phase 3 from Black Rock to the Cartwright junction is only a little behind schedule. The road won't actually be finished this year, but the right-of-way may be passable in the frozen winter months.
The opening will be welcomed by many, but not by everyone - and not wholeheartedly by anyone.
Everyone with experience driving in Labrador can only dread the toll the further hundreds of kilometres of poorly maintained dirt and gravel will take on their shocks, their tires and their nerves (let alone the damage small flying stones are bound to cause to their vehicle's windshields, headlights and paint jobs).

Convenience welcomed
But few will deny the new road's gift of convenience. While many don't
like Phase 3 because they think it
was routed solely to give island-
based lumber mills (such as there are) the ability to truck Labrador trees south as fast as possible, they still look forward to being able to visit friends and family on the coast or in the upper Lake Melville area without paying at least $600 for a short plane ride.
The problem isn't the road itself, but the provincial government's long-standing intention to get rid of as many ferries as possible once the TLH's final link is open. Next year is to be the last year the MV Sir Robert Bond is supposed to carry passengers, vehicles and freight between Labrador and Newfoundland. While cutting this public service might save the government some money, it's going to be expensive for residents and businesses in at least three communities: Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Cartwright and Lewisporte.
Doors will close.
Jobs will be lost.
The Bond, as inadequate for tourists as it is, is not only the biggest customer for several service companies (like the one in Happy Valley-Goose Bay that cleans all the
boat's voluminous laundry), but for Lewisporte and Cartwright it could even be considered the biggest industry in town.
Overnight, both places will find themselves at the poor ends of dead- ends - Cartwright will be a full 90-kilometre, unpaved detour off the main road.
But traveller-serving, job-creating powerhouse or not, the Bond (if the provincial government isn't persuaded against following its current course of action) will be gone by 2011 and it won't be replaced.

Little appreciation of the sea
Strangely, while Premier Danny Williams is the leader of an island nation, he seems to have little appreciation for the sea that surrounds him. He treats it as a liability, as a barrier to oil exploration and as just a lot of wet stuff that makes it hard for him to drive to the mainland.
His government's oceans policy seems to consist only of complaining about how Ottawa mismanages both the fishery and the ferry service under its jurisdiction.
As usual, the government in St. John's is extremely sensitive to how poorly the federal government serves the island, but is blind to how poorly it serves Labrador: one boat service is vital to the province, but the other is deemed unnecessary.

Benefit workers
Perhaps if Williams rethought matters, he could learn to see the sea as an asset and come to realize that if he kept the endangered marine link running, he would benefit many workers in both parts of the province by letting them keep their jobs, instead
of laying them off as he's now planning.
After all, if he's got public money to give to Rolls Royce, or to help out the oil companies by drilling their holes for them, he should be able to find enough bucks to keep a valuable public service operating, or maybe even a few more to help improve it.
The better the ferry service between Lewisporte, Cartwright and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the more it will be used and the more jobs it will create throughout the province.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Trans-Labrador Highway, Rolls Royce

Geographic location: Labrador, Mealy Mountains, Happy Valley Goose Bay Lewisporte Black Rock Lake Melville Ottawa St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Dave
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    They should put the Bond on as a second Straits ferry, increase the frequency of that service, and then actually talk to Quebec about improving the road connections between the two provinces.

  • Dave
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    They should put the Bond on as a second Straits ferry, increase the frequency of that service, and then actually talk to Quebec about improving the road connections between the two provinces.