HALIFAX, N. S. - Too much reliance on government and too many chefs in the kitchen. In a nutshell, those are two of the reasons behind Atlantic Canada's inability to put together a cohesive gateway st...
HALIFAX, N. S. –Too much reliance on government and too many chefs in the kitchen. In a nutshell, those are two of the reasons behind Atlantic Canada’s inability to put together a cohesive gateway strategy, according to speakers at the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association’s International Transportation Summit.
Charles Cirtwill, executive vice-president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) and Rob Robichaud, president and CEO of the Greater Moncton International Airport Authority agreed that a gateway initiative must be driven by the private sector and represented by a single, unified voice.
“How many gateway councils are there anyway in Atlantic Canada? I can count at least four,” said Cirtwill.
Robichaud, who incidentally is an active member of the Southern New Brunswick Gateway Council, agreed.
“We have too many gateway councils, all saying virtually the same thing but all appearing to work towards their own purposes,” he said, noting it has made it more difficult to tap into federal funding for gateway-related infrastructure projects. “The people in Ottawa love us, because they say they’ve got all this money ready to go…I’m sure some bureaucrat up there is chuckling because they know we’ll never get our hands on the money because we’ll never get our act together.”
While the feds have some $2.1 billion set aside for gateway-related projects, Cirtwill warned against leaning too heavily on government funding. He noted government is not in the business of operating trucks or railways and shouldn’t be counted on for leadership when developing an Atlantic Gateway.
“They don’t have any skin in the game, so they should not be the people we look to for leadership on the gateway project,” Cirtwill said. Instead, he said government should be called upon to assist in other ways, such as by harmonizing regulations, reducing tax loads and encouraging free trade.
“Politicians are very good at creating policy, regulations and enacting international agreements,” agreed Robichaud. “They are lousy at putting together business cases and business plans -that’s the role of the private sector and that’s what we need: private sector leadership.”
He said a single gateway council should be formed with equal representation from all four Atlantic provinces and that each member should set aside its own regional interests and focus on Atlantic Canada as a single territory. That group must then develop one list of strategic infrastructure projects deserving funding, with a B and C list to follow. It’s a model that was used successfully by the Asia- Pacific Gateway Council, which he said funded its entire A list in just 10 years.
“We need one organization, we need equal representation and we need to speak with one voice,” he said.
Cirtwill said that too often, stakeholders become fixated on getting “their fair share” of any investments, and that there’s a push to spread the wealth evenly across all the stakeholders.
“If we’re going to invest in Moncton then we need to invest in Halifax, if we’re going to have a cold storage facility in Halifax, then we need to find something else to give to Moncton,” chided Cirtwill. “That doesn’t make sense -it’s a waste of our resources. We need to learn that differential benefits are still benefits. We can’t all benefit equally from a gateway.”
Robichaud said any gateway developments would create a ripple effect that would be enjoyed by communities not directly receiving funding. For instance, while he is in charge of the Moncton Airport Authority, Robichaud feels a four-lane highway through Maine connecting the Maritimes to Southern Quebec and Ontario should be the number one project to receive attention.
“I know my airport is important, I know everybody who runs an airport thinks their airport is important, but we need to take off those hats,” he said.
Whether or not all the stakeholders in the Atlantic Gateway concept can put aside their biases and work together towards a common goal remains to be seen. But for his part, Robichaud said the Southern New Brunswick Gateway Council will soon be approaching the Halifax Gateway Council to “start the ball rolling.”
Bill Graves, former Kansas governor and current CEO of the American Trucking Associations, was also at the event, and offered some reason for optimism when recounting how his state secured the necessary funding and brought its infrastructure up to standards.
When he was governor of Kansas, Graves said he held a yearlong series of town hall meetings all across the state to find out where the public wanted to see infrastructure upgrades.
“We basically said ‘Tell us what it is you want to see.’ We thought it was appropriate for the people to present a list of things they wanted to see us accomplish on their behalf,” he said.
The end result was a list that totaled some US$46 billion in projects. The list was pared down and prioritized and the state then instituted a plan to raise the required funds through a two cent-per-litre fuel tax and a portion of the sales tax.
“I was quite shocked at the end of the day how easy it was to pass,” said Graves. “There were very few dissenting votes. People applauded it and it was a great thing for our state.” •