Check­ing the pulse

Com­mu­nity lead­ers bring lo­cal con­cerns to fed­eral govern­ment


Com­mu­nity and busi­ness lead­ers from the Car­bon­ear-Har­bour Grace area took ad­van­tage of a pre-bud­get con­sul­ta­tion last week to fill the ear of a fed­eral cabi­net min­is­ter with their lo­cal con­cerns.

Robert Mer­ri­field, the Min­is­ter of State for Trans­porta­tion, was in Har­bour Grace Tues­day, Jan. 25 to talk about the up­com­ing fed­eral bud­get and hear lo­cal views on how the Stephen Harper Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment should be spend­ing their tax dol­lars.

Mer­ri­field is also the min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for Ma­rine At­lantic, the Crown cor­po­ra­tion that op­er­ates the ferry ser­vice be­tween the is­land of New­found­land and Nova Sco­tia. The cor­po­ra­tion is adding two new fer­ries to its fleet this year, but some of skep­ti­cal, in­cldu­ing Har­bour Grace Coun. Wen­dell Hunt.

“ There has been no open dis­cus­sions on these boats,” Hunt said. She also crit­i­cized the “ high ferry rates” for such a crit­i­cal link to the rest of Canada.

Hunt was among about 25 peo­ple from the neigh­bour­ing towns in­vited to take part in the pre-bud­get con­sul­ta­tion.

Har­bour Grace mayor Don Coombs re­minded the min­is­ter that when stormy weather played havoc with the ferry ser­vice re­cently, “ we were three days with­out any­thing com­ing in or go­ing off the is­land. There is a cost fac­tor there that af­fects each and ev­ery one of us in this prov­ince.”

Ad­mit­ting the At­lantic Vi­sion wasn’t such a good fit for the Port aux Basques run, Mer­ri­field said the Vi­sion will be “a per­fect match for the Ar­gen­tia run. I have no hes­i­ta­tion in say­ing they’ll work and work very well,” the min­is­ter said, re­fer­ring to the new ves­sels.

He said the new ves­sels will mean “over 50 per cent more ca­pac­ity” for Ma­rine At­lantic in this prov­ince, which should pro­vide a big boost for tourism.

De­scrib­ing the ferry ser­vice as this prov­ince’s “ um­bil­i­cal cord” to the main­land, Mer­ri­field said, “ we put a bil­lion dol­lars into Ma­rine At­lantic, al­most $ 100 mil­lion of which was spent in on­shore retrofitting.

“ We’re re­do­ing Ma­rine At­lantic right from the ground up ... to make cer­tain Ma­rine At­lantic pro­vides ser­vices needed for New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans.

Con­ser­va­tive Sen­a­tor Fabian Man­ning, who ac­com­pa­nied the min­is­ter, added, “the only new money spent in last year’s bud­get was for new ves­sels for Ma­rine At­lantic.”

Dis­as­ter re­lief

Car­bon­ear mayor Sam Slade raised the need for fed­eral as­sis­tance for dam­age caused by sea storms.

While his town did suf­fer some dam­age from Hur­ri­cane Igor last fall, Slade told the min­is­ter a far worst storm in terms of dam­age took place in De­cem­ber when the water­front and break­wa­ter were pounded for sev­eral days by heavy seas, dam­ag­ing pub­lic and pri­vate prop­erty.

Fed­eral fund­ing is al­ready avail­able un­der a Dis­as­ter As­sis­tance pro­gram to cover dam­ages caused by wind and rain storms like Igor, but noth­ing for dam­age caused by heavy seas.

Slade asked the min­is­ter if that pro­gram could be ex­tended to cover such dam­age.

Har­bour dredg­ing

Coombs told the min­is­ter his town is go­ing to sur­vive on two things — “our har­bour and tourism.”

The town has been un­suc­cess­ful in its bid for fund­ing to do some dredg­ing to re­move a sand­bar across the bot­tom of the har­bour that would al­low larger ships to en­ter port. Fish­eries re­search Ste­niar Inge­set of Har­bour Grace CS en­cour­aged the fed­eral govern­ment to in­vest more money in fish­eries re­search.

Re­fer­ring to his own na­tive Scan­di­navia as an ex­am­ple of what other coun­tries have done, Inge­set said they can fetch $3,000 a tonne for species like mack­erel and her­ring. In Canada you would be lucky to get $200 or $300 a tonne for the same species.

“And we have some of the rich­est fish­ing grounds in the world here,” he told the min­is­ter.

Ad­mit­ting to not hav­ing all the de­tails of the var­i­ous pro­grams that may be avail­able to ad­dress the con­cerns raised dur­ing last week’s round ta­ble, Mer­ri­field en­cour­aged all the speak­ers to put their con­cerns in writ­ing to the min­is­ters of the de­part­ments which deal di­rectly with them.

He also said he would take their com­ments back to his col­league, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Jim Fla­herty.

On the fish­eries and har­bour is­sues, Man­ning told the group he plans to in­vite Fish­eries and Oceans Min­is­ter Gail Shea to visit the area some­time this spring.

Mer­ri­field felt the Har­bour Grace ses­sion was a good ex­am­ple of “ bring­ing govern­ment as close to you as we can get it and cap­tur­ing the pulse of the nation.”

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