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Rail infrastructure funding exists

Province must support the request but local cabinet ministers ‘have been as quiet as mice’ on the issue

CB 15062018 Railway CS largeShown above in this file photo is a view toward the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia's rail operations off Ferry Street in Sydney’s north end. - Chris Shannon (Image © Cape Breton Post)

By Daniel Doucet

The recent controversy over the proposed transportation of Donkin coal by barge raises the question once again of why the use of rail transportation is not being taken more seriously by government.

When the new owners recently announced their plan to proceed with seismic testing, area fishermen were alarmed, but were quieted temporarily by the coal company’s construction of the make-shift highway. Although they had expressed a preference for rail transportation, they had at least, for the time being, warded off the coal company from their fishing grounds.

 The provincial government, represented by two cabinet ministers here in eastern Cape Breton, is apparently satisfied that the temporary accommodation seems to take the spotlight off the public pressure to use the railway for the transportation of coal. Both ministers have been as quiet as mice with regard to the question of the use of rail.

The ministers are apparently pleased with themselves that the province of Nova Scotia has avoided the lot of other provinces being clamped down on by the federal government with an imposed carbon tax. They no doubt feel that the Nova Scotia public is not going to make any further demands on them in terms of combatting climate change. A bit of pollution in Cape Breton is not going to frighten Haligonians into worrying that this will sully the Public Gardens. And if Cape Bretoners make any fuss about it, they can, like the citizens of North Sydney fighting for better healthcare, be dismissed as noisy.

Meanwhile, to my knowledge, a claim made by Scotia Rail Development Society in the Cape Breton Post (“Rail Best Option for Donkin,” June 1, 2018) has not been addressed by the province. The Society made the claim that short-line infrastructure projects are eligible for funding under the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Component of the New Building Fund. The Government of Canada has invested more than $180 billion over 12 years in infrastructure which includes rail. The bulk of these dollars has been allocated in response to Canada’s commitment to the Paris Climate Change Accord (signed Dec. 4, 2015). The priority of this fund is to promote infrastructure that will contribute to long-term economic growth, build inclusive communities and support a low-carbon, green economy.

Another qualifier, and here’s the rub, the province must support the request for short-line funding. As stated by Railway Association of Canada, “one of the shortfalls of the program is that short-line railways cannot access funding directly while provincial and municipal governments elect to secure funding from the program for public assets and not economic-generating assets such as short-line railways.” If the province does not request this money, it has to spend its own money (ours) on additional expensive road construction and maintenance required by heavy trucks. The other option, barging, is to the detriment of the environment and the livelihood of our fishermen.

I expect that the federal minister of infrastructure and communities would welcome such a request. It would assist the federal government in moving its climate change agenda forward. So why is the province of Nova Scotia not asking? Why are our Cape Breton cabinet ministers not demanding?

I am reminded of a situation that took place in the community of D’Escousse. When I was a parish priest there some 40 years ago, members of the village formed a Civic Improvement Society. They operated a large and successful community hall. But the society had set up a legal boundary which excluded the neighboring village of Rocky Bay which belonged to the same parish. The Rocky Bayers could participate and help out, but they could not be members or vote. Each year, they asked to have the boundaries extended, and each year the society president, who was possessed of a deep voice and tremendously bushy eyebrows, would patiently explain that it was not possible to include Rocky Bay, as that would require an official act of the Nova Scotia legislature.

He neglected to add that this was a simple formality and that it was just a matter of requesting the change. Each year, Rocky Bayers went home disappointed. Eventually, they tired of this exercise and built their own hall. It has been thriving ever since.
Perhaps, if our Cape Breton cabinet ministers cannot make a simple request for some of the federal infrastructure money for our railways, we may have to take up Senator Dan Christmas’s suggestion that we form a province of Cape Breton, a province whose interest it would be to have rail service. Either that or elect politicians without sonorous voices and bushy eyebrows who intimidate us.

Daniel Doucet is a retired Catholic priest and author living in Sydne. His keen interest in Cape Breton's rail is one that he shared with Fr. Greg MacLeod.

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