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Transportation Forum Outlines the Infrastructure Challenge

“Some of the challenges undermining the strength of our rural communities flow from deliberate interventions in the economy over the years by governments at all levels. If governments have created many of the conditions that damage rural sustainability and viability, they also have the power and the obligation to intervene in ways that strengthen these communities and enable them to survive and thrive in the modern world. This article argues that rural communities have an indispensable role to play in the economy, and there is nothing natural about letting them die” (Roger Fitzgerald, MHA, Autumn 2005/ Canadian Parliamentary Review).  
 
With the Ferry terminal situated in the backdrop, the venue was the upper room of the Straits Arena, St. Barbe. Approximately 70 people from across the peninsula, the province and beyond came together to discuss and identify new business opportunities  that correlate with the opening of the Trans Labrador Highway in December 2009. This event hosted by the Nordic Economic Development Board and Red Ochre Regional Board brought politicians from all stripes and levels, business owners, organizations, community groups and the public at large.
 
Mr. Wallace Young, MHA for the District of St. Barbe called this transportation link a “milestone” which will bring opportunities. 
 
Mr. Marshall Dean, MHA for the District of Straits-White Bay North projected the importance of transportation connections. He noted that we must meet challenges and seek new opportunities. 
 
Mr. Gerry Byrne, MP for Humber-St. Barbe -Baie Verte daringly noted that transportation is the cornerstone, the life blood of all economic and other activity. There are issues when it comes to access to markets, goods & services, Marine Atlantic and others; the challenges are HUGE…but so are the opportunities. 
 
There were diverse and dynamic speakers representing water, air and road transportation. However, the message was clear that we need an advanced transportation & communication network to be competitive in a global marketplace, which was re-iterated during a presentation given by the Northern Peninsula Business Network. The role of Government includes investing in infrastructure in both urban and rural regions, primarily education, healthcare, highway improvements/ maintenance, human resources and various other government services. There is a need for improved infrastructure across the country, especially in rural regions. This infrastructure is more than just a bit of pavement, it includes communications – power wires, telephone wires, fiber optic cables, various wireless technologies and everything need to make these utilities functional. 
 
Many communities in Economic Zone 7 is yet to experience high-speed internet access and 11 communities in Zone 6 still does not have such an access. I work in an office building that does not have high-speed service. Can you imagine the challenges and inefficiencies? I contacted Bell Aliant today asking about their free upgrade to high-speed ultra for my residence. The response, “sorry you are not in a region in which we offer such a service”. The implications on our current small business operators and attracting new investments can be devastating. For instance, point of sale purchases (POS), answering emails, placing on-line orders, uploading video and even hosting a website becomes a daunting chore.  Canada may be a very rich country and Newfoundland & Labrador may be a “have province”, but we have a lot of catching up to do. If we are to prosper in the future we must invest heavily in our current communications and transportation shortfalls.   
 
Challenges Facing Rural Communities: A Newfoundland & Labrador Perspective by MHA Fitzgerald was quite an interesting read. It stated, In Newfoundland & Labrador, as in some other areas, transportation is a key infrastructure challenge. Sir John A. Macdonald recognized that constructing a rail line from west of the Rockies to eastern Canada was an investment in Canada’s viability and sustainability as a nation. It was enormously expensive, but far cheaper than the alternative of letting the idea of Canada disintegrate into a collection of remote, disconnected states. 
 
 The transportation aspect of the article illustrated how the initiative “opened up”, therefore creating opportunities for rural communities. It is difficult to compare with the opening of the Trans-Labrador Highway to the completion of the rail line connecting all of Canada, but for the residents who live near these regions or will use this new route, certainly  feel the impacts. More trade can now occur, whether it be agriculture, fish products, timber products, value-added products or small-scale manufacturers. 
 
“Over 95% of Canada’s natural and environmental resources are located in rural Canada. Many of Canada’s major industries – agriculture, fishing, forestry, mining and energy – rely on rural communities,” Fitzgerald’s article notes. When we look at Newfoundland & Labrador, populations may be moving towards the Avalon Peninsula. However, the city is a service center, made possible by the resources that exists from the rural economies.   

Therefore, if our transportation networks are not up to par, we will lose our ability to be competitive in the global marketplace. It is evident that our transportation networks are failing us, especially in the rural regions. We can not continue with such neglect, as rural Canada’s infrastructure needs are continuosly eroded or the needed investments never made. Rural areas are the regions that feel the most pain because of this neglect.

MHA Fitzgerald states, “I believe as a nation we need t revisit the thinking of Canada’s first Prime Minister and share the burden of bringing the country’s transportation network into the 21st century”. I agree with the Honourable Member.

Rural regions need an advanced transportation and communications network. We must lobby governments on all levels to make such investments in the appropriate infrastructure. “Infrastructure is essential to economic diversification. and diversification is integral to sustainability. A region is best-position for survival if it has many oars in the water at once.”  This is a very logical argument. Newfoundland & Labrador’s rural economies have been typically built around natural resources and one-industry towns. We have certainly experienced the devastation of boom and bust when an industry shuts down or fails us. The Cod Moratorium of 1992, Abitibi Bowater closing its Mill in Stephenville, and later Grand Falls – Windsor to name a few.

To build stronger communities, a stronger Canada – a greater focus must be placed on rural regions despite our increasingly urbanized world. If we do not focus on investing in the rural economies, as Canadians we will all suffer if we just ignore the current infrastructure challenge that is only getting worse as the days go by… 

Live Rural NL – CCM  

 

 

 

New Opportunities for Northern Peninsula, Labrador & the World….Sept. 8,2010

Canadian Geographic Magazine ran a feature on the Northern Peninsula in its October 2009 issue under the headline, “Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula is a region of depleting human and natural resources. Just the sort of place for a fisherman to be reborn as Bjorn the Beautiful.” (For the article visit: http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/magazine/oct09/northern_peninsula4.asp).

It is certainly true, the Northern Peninsula’s population has been reduced drastically since the closure of its primary industry; the cod fishery in 1992. The statistics speak for themselves as a number of communities and towns saw sharp declines as the world attempts to become more urban. However, our population decrease has slowed with signs of greater stability as more younger families build homes and lives around rural economies. I am proof of another young person that chooses to live rural Newfoundland & Labrador. Although the economy has yet to rebound to levels prior to 1992, I disagree with the author that the region has depleting natural resources. 

Nearly 20 years later, the fishery still remains the backbone of the rural economies, with the forestry a close second. Moreover, today, the rural economy has diversified – the Northern Peninsula is engaged in various sectors, including secondary-food processing, value-added manufacturing, biomass fuels, oil & gas exploration, agriculture, aquaculture, manufacturing, construction, tourism, services, retail/wholesale, craft/gift/apparel, information technology, healthcare, education and transportation.

The article states, “An optimist will say that, through all the ups and downs, residents of the Northern Peninsula have always looked after themselves. After all, their connection to the rest of Newfoundland did not come until 1962, the year Route 430 opened, so they have a long history of living in isolation” (Russell Wangersky).

Imagine, it was not until 1962 in a country as rich as Canada that we as Canadians were isolated from the rest of the country. Yet, we overcame these obstacles and our communities adapted to change. Can you imagine that it took nearly 50 more years before the Trans-Labrador Highway was open!!! This highway now connects Red Bay to Goose Bay eliminating a long ferry run. Now visitors can drive from Montreal, QC - Labrador City, NL - Goose Bay, NL - Blanc Sablon, QC and take a 1 hour 30 minute ferry ride to St. Barbe on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland and drive Route 430 to Deer Lake, NL and then take the Trans Canada Highway to the Capital, St. Johns, NL or to Port Aux Basque to take Marine Atlantic to Nova Scotia. This is an incredible achievement that presents a number of opportunities for not only residents, organizations and business owners of the Northern Peninsula and Labrador, but the entire world!

The recent completion of the Trans-Labrador Highway has already had a significant impact on business on both sides of the Strait of Belle Isle. The M.V. Apollo has adjusted to increased demand to ferry traffic by adding an additional run on Friday and Sunday during peak tourist season. There has been large increases in commercial traffic using both the service and the highway. The opening of Hotel North (former Vinland, St. Anthony) on September 1, 2010 which will include a Jungle Jim’s adds much-needed accommodations to the region. Although, not all businesses are ready for the spike in demand. For instance, if you wish to rent a car, make sure you book well in advance, or you may find yourself in a crunch when it comes to transportation.

On September 8, 2010 the Nordic Economic Development Board and Red Ochre Regional Board, among with its many partners are hosting a Transportation Forum at the St. Barbe Arena to reveal key findings of a study completed as a result of this new transportation link. The impacts it has had on road, marine and air transportation routes and what this has meant for business will be discussed. There are new business opportunities and areas of improvement that we all have a stake. If you are interested in attending please contact Mr. Andre Myers, Economic Development Officer at Nordic Economic Development Corporation via email at amyers@nf.aibn.com as soon as possible as space is limited, registration is free.

We no longer live in isolation and we are open to the world to see what we have to offer! We have in my view the best concentrated and diverse group of cultural assets that can rival any region. This includes two WORLD UNESCO Heritage Sites- L’Anse aux Meadows (First known Europeans to re-discover North America more than 1,000 years ago) & the Tablelands), Gros Morne National Park, archaeological finds and discoveries noting Maritime Archaic Indians, Paleo-Eskimo, Groswater Eskimo, Recent Indians (Beothuk, Innu, Inuit, Metis), Basque, Portuguese, French, British and others, a number of provincial and national historic sites, ecological reserves, abundance of natural resources, wildlife and natural beauty, high-speed internet access (in most regions), airports, ferry services, shipping/trucking, low business tax and low-cost of living. These highlights complimented by the Northern Peninsula’s strategic location to enter markets of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, New England States and Europe presents excellent opportunities for a company to export.

I will dismiss Wangersky’s Canadian Geographic article written just 2 months prior to this road opening, as the highway simply does not end at Route 430, The Viking Trail – but begins. We are now a pathway to the rest of North America.

Don’t miss out, as this could be the best investment you ever make.

Live Rural Newfoundland – CCM

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