Mar­itimes need Fundy power

A mean­ing­ful in­fra­struc­ture pro­ject that would ben­e­fit en­tire re­gion

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Alan Hol­man Alan Hol­man is a free­lance jour­nal­ist liv­ing in Char­lot­te­town. He can be reached at: achol­man@pei.eastlink.ca

Last fall, shortly af­ter the elec­tion, Amar­jeet Sohi, the new min­is­ter for In­fra­struc­ture and Com­mu­ni­ties, told a Toronto con­fer­ence that “we need to ex­pand how we think about in­fra­struc­ture.”

About that same time, Jef­fery Simp­son, the Globe and Mail colum­nist, noted that since the Oc­to­ber elec­tion, the fed­eral, all At­lantic pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments, and all 32 At­lantic MPs are now Lib­eral. He sug­gests this could be an op­por­tu­nity to pe­ti­tion the fed­eral govern­ment for a mean­ing­ful pro­ject, or projects, that would ben­e­fit all of the re­gion.

Mr. Simp­son en­cour­aged At­lantic politi­cians to try and think big­ger than the tra­di­tional, sewer sys­tems, paving projects, com­mu­nity rinks and halls that so of­ten have con­sti­tuted ‘in­fra­struc­ture’ spend­ing in the past.

The pre­miers should think big­ger and take Mr. Sohi at his word and ex­pand on what is presently con­strued as ‘in­fra­struc­ture.’ They should try and parse more clearly what the feds mean when they’re tak­ing about ‘in­fra­struc­ture.’ There’s a risk that the new Lib­eral regime is more ur­ban-cen­tric than is healthy for the East­ern provinces. An area sorely lack­ing in sig­nif­i­cant ur­ban cen­tres.

In the last elec­tion, the Lib­er­als scored very well in the coun­try’s ma­jor cities. Largely be­cause the term ‘in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing’ was in­ter­preted to mean the Lib­er­als were ready to spend fed­eral funds on im­prov­ing tran­sit sys­tems and ur­ban roads in an ef­fort to over­come in­creas­ing traf­fic grid-lock and ris­ing com­mute times. Prob­lems the At­lantic provinces know lit­tle or noth­ing about.

We, in the east, should show some em­pa­thy and en­cour­age the feds to bend the rules and get in­volved in fund­ing that to date they have avoided. But, we should also be cre­ative in what we might pro­pose for our own re­gion in the guise of in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing.

Firstly, we should rid our­selves of the la­bel ‘At­lantic Provinces.’ It’s an Ottawa con­struct cre­ated af­ter New­found­land joined Con­fed­er­a­tion. It re­flects the view that all the east­ern provinces are sim­i­lar, when in fact there is lit­tle com­mon ground be­tween New­found­land and the Mar­itime provinces.

Then we need to iden­tify one or two projects that would ben­e­fit the re­gion that would be wor­thy of a ‘trans­for­ma­tive in­vest­ment’ from the na­tional govern­ment.

The En­ergy East Pipe­line pro­ject pre-dates the Lib­er­als and should pro­ceed on its own mer­its. It will be good for both Al­berta, and the re­finer­ies in Saint John and Que­bec. But, the ben­e­fits to the rest of the Mar­itimes are in­cre­men­tal at best.

How­ever, the Mar­itimes would ben­e­fit from a sub­stan­tial in­crease in elec­tri­cal gen­er­a­tion. In New Brunswick the Mac­taquac Hy­dro Dam is slowly dis­in­te­grat­ing and has to be re­placed or dis­man­tled. Nova Sco­tia is spend­ing many mil­lions for a un­der­sea ca­ble con­nect­ing to hy­dro from Labrador, and on the Is­land, Mar­itime Elec­tric is on the cusp of build­ing a new gen­er­at­ing plant be­cause of the ever in­creas­ing de­mand.

For decades, ef­forts to har­ness the enor­mous po­ten­tial of tidal power in the Bay of Fundy have pid­dled along, with­out any sub­stan­tive in­vest­ment. It has not been to­tally ig­nored, the fed­eral govern­ment has thrown in a few mil­lion here and a few mil­lion there. Enough to say they’ve con­trib­uted, but never enough to get Fundy power on stream.

As Don­ald Savoie, the Univer­sity of Monc­ton prof, who’s an ex­pert on govern­ment, noted re­cently, “if the same po­ten­tial ex­isted in On­tario it would be up and run­ning by now.”

A va­ri­ety of sys­tems are be­ing tested, most of them were de­vel­oped in Europe where the tides are not nearly as strong as the Bay of Fundy. Suc­cess­fully de­vel­oped, Fundy could sup­ply most of if not all of the elec­tri­cal needs of the Mar­itimes, with lots left over to ex­port to New Eng­land.

But, to do so will re­quire mas­sive amounts of cap­i­tal and only the fed­eral govern­ment has the re­sources to pro­vide the trans­for­ma­tive in­vest­ment it re­quires. Tidal power is a pro­ject worth fight­ing for.

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