Maritimes need Fundy power

Alan Holman
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A meaningful infrastructure project that would benefit entire region

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.

Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at:

Organizations: Globe and Mail, Maritime Electric, University of Moncton

Geographic location: Toronto, Newfoundland, Bay of Fundy Atlantic Provinces Ottawa Alberta Saint John Quebec New Brunswick Nova Scotia Ontario Europe New England Charlottetown

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