Councils give cabinet ministers an earful
Plenty of needs laid out in two-hour meeting with Hawkins, Joyce
There was no shortage of issues to bring to the table during a lengthy Conception Bay North Joint Council meeting with two provincial cabinet ministers in attendance.
Transportation and Works Minister Al Hawkins and Municipal Affairs Minister Eddie Joyce didn’t shy away from answering questions on a multitude of topics, some of which didn’t fall under their respective portfolios.
Multiple council members at the meeting last Wednesday in North River brought up the state of roads in their towns. Coun. Pat Mackey of North River said his town has been waiting years for upgrades to the main road. He said there’s a feeling in community not much gets done because North River is always on the edge of the MHA’s district.
“One of the last meetings we were to, they were talking about putting in speed bumps in com- munities,” he said. “We don’t need to do that, because all of our culverts are collapsing. It’s an issue. I invite you to drive up the road while you’re here.”
Harbour Grace Mayor Terry Barnes also brought up the need for road improvements on Harvey Street, and Cupids Coun. Kevin Connolly, who has professional experience dealing with roadwork, questioned whether provincial inspectors are adequately assessing the quality of work completed.
Connolly also worries con- tractors are skimping on the amount of tar used for road construction, given the cost of tar has increased considerably over the years.
According to Hawkins, his department is dealing with 1,500 requests for roadwork, and that alone would cost government approximately $1 billion. As it stands, his department has $62 million to spend this year on roads. That comes from $570 million budgeted for all infrastructure projects.
“One of the first things I did when I became minister in December (2015), I sat down with my staff and said, ‘ One of the things I want to do is to take politics out of this role, because we all know the history.’ And I’m going to be blunt on this. A lot of the times, you get a kilometre of road done in this particular district, you get a kilometre done in this one, a kilometre done in this one, a kilometre done in that one over there. So you get four kilometres done, and then everything else in between should have been done.”
Hawkins said his department has worked with regional directors to identify the roads most in need of work. From there, government is focusing on a five-year plan that Hawkins emphasizes will be “evidence-based.”
“There will be consultations with municipality’s input,” he said. “Your regional directors, it’s very, very important. You need to get in contact with your regional director and make sure they’re fully aware.”
Hawkins is hopeful the provincial-federal Building Canada Fund might also help rural communities more with respect to roads than in years past.
Previously, most roads in Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t qualify for funding under the program. That’s because funding criteria required qualifying roads to handle at least 10,000 vehicles daily. With some lobbying, that figure was reduced to 1,000 vehicles a day.
“What we have to do now, with some of the criteria changes, we’re making an application plus a business case for some of the roads to fit into the Building Canada Fund,” said Hawkins, adding it’s unlikely those efforts will bear fruit in time for the current construction season.
Elsewhere, concerns about library closures, water and sewer services and wastewater treatment were brought up. Mention was made of local service districts needing to pay their fair share of taxes to help all municipalities. Joyce said government is currently undertaking a review of that issue, with regionalization also being included in the discussion.
Towards the end of the meeting, Coun. Gord Stone of Harbour Grace highlighted the need for government not to overlook the value of investing in projects with a potential to create economic opportunities during uncertain times. He made those comments with respect to the town’s marine industrial park proposal, though he also talked about projects happening elsewhere in Conception Bay North.
“What we need to recognize and get support from you and government tonight is you have to look at the Conception Bay North pearl, as I call it. About 40,000 people live out here. We have a lot of seniors homes being built, residential areas being developed, we’ve got the harbour in Bay Roberts, the harbour in Harbour Grace, and all the other potentials.
“What we need from government is to look at our proposals from the different towns and recognize the potential for jobs, longterm jobs and development in rough times.”
Transportation and Works Minister Al Hawkins, centre, chats with Brigus Coun. Lorne Youden and Spaniard’s Bay Coun. Brenda Seymour following last Wednesday’s Conception Bay North Joint Council meeting in North River.