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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  

 

 

 

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