Atlantic Gateway concept holds key to Island’s revitalization
Rail is the lost infrastructure in Cape Breton
In a column I wrote two months ago ("Is it time to unite as a single provincial government," Dec. 26), I noted that the eastern part of this country runs 7,000 kilometres headland to headland, longer than is found in most any other country in the world.
While most Canadians think of us simply as the "east", "the Maritimes" or "Atlantic Canada", very few of us think of where we live as an economic gateway to the world. The "the Atlantic gateway."
For an island in search of a comprehensive policy of economic development, the idea of a gateway cannot be left unattended. We should prepare to build a functional infrastructure to service an Atlantic Gateway with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) as the ground zero and the launching point to the world.
Adding to the mystery of why we keep overlooking this asset is the fact that the so-called east coast of Canada is over-governed, hosting five of what some call "have-not provinces", each with limited jurisdiction over only a part of the whole region.
No province develops economic policy beyond its borders. So, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador don’t perceive themselves as comprising an Atlantic Gateway with a unique economic role to play facing east towards the world.
In spite of its abundant geographical and natural resources, our east coast remains a largely underdeveloped region of the country. The federal government, which has the resources to make the gateway a functional reality, remains reluctant to disturb provincial jurisdictions when it comes to a regional vision for eastern Canada.
Yet, the assets in this region are massive. The entire east coast of Canada runs from the northern tip of Ellesmere Island near the North Pole around the jagged length of Baffin Island and the Labrador coast, past Newfoundland, the shores of Cape Breton and Nova Scotia into the Bay of Funday.
The east coast provides a lucrative travel route to Europe, Iceland, Greenland and access to the United States. It offers significant geo-political security as a region within NATO and NORAD. Yet it remains an afterthought in the media and as a focus for academic analysis.
Frequently, there is talk of greater regional integration and outright political union.
But observers are divided on the merits of even referring to Atlantic Canada as a "region."
In glaring contrast to an Atlantic Gateway is the Pacific Gateway, which is undergoing record-breaking growth. It should be the model for economic development in Atlantic Canada.
One of the first actions taken with the Pacific Gateway was to add shipping and rail capacity to match the growing market demand in Asia. Thus, re-establishing and modernizing Cape Breton's rail spur is pivotal to the economic recovery of this island.
Rail is the lost infrastructure on the island. It is necessary for the success of Sydney’s port development and will be just as necessary for the larger vision of a gateway. The business case for economic recovery will inevitably include a functional rail service to match marine services that can service water traffic.
By example, a functional rail service is currently at the centre of 'all' growing economies across Canada. It’s a constant feature that can't be overlooked. A rail strategy will link the economic development of the province with the CBRM, the Mi'kmaq and the federal government.
Three prominent organizations have strongly supported moving forward on "rail': They are Transport Action Atlantic, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Transport Canada. They see the connection link for rail to both receive imports and deliver exports as a strategic component of the Port of Sydney. They know that this transshipment strategy will make the CBRM a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ). This is a major component of desired economic growth for the island - short-term and long-term.
For our new members of Parliament as well as our MLAs, we need to consult forcefully with government ministers at both levels of government. The government that will benefit the most by getting behind the idea of a gateway is the CBRM. Hopefully the council will give this matter high priority.
Yet, the assets in this region are massive.
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