Let’s ignore the fact that a Yarmouth ferry link would connect this province to one of the wealthiest markets on Earth with a population somewhere in the neighbourhood of 70 million.
And let’s also put aside the fact that the cancelled ferry subsidy resulted in a bleed of millions of dollars in business, jobs and tax revenues from the south-west region of this province.
And while we’re at it, let’s try not to think about the fact that the government of Premier Darrell Dexter allowed this hemorrhage to continue for three years before a panel was finally struck in April to assess the viability of re-establishing the sea link.
No, let’s go back to Square 1 and talk about what it is that governments are supposed to do.
They allocate tax revenues to pay for public services like health care, education, community services and infrastructure like transportation.
Those are the fundamentals.
Except for the Isthmus of Chignecto, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia is an island. That 24 miles of isthmus is the only thing connecting our finger-shaped peninsula to continental North America.
We love our coasts and our short drive to any given shoreline, but we don’t tend to think of ourselves as an island. Yet in so many ways, we are an island.
And for an island, water transportation is basic infrastructure.
Would Nova Scotia cut funding of a major piece of road infrastructure to a wealthy and populous market like New England because the highway wasn’t making enough money?
No. Highways are basic infrastructure that enable those key movements of people and goods.
This a starting point for a sea link between Nova Scotia and the northeastern U.S.
Tourism is a major part of the Nova Scotia economy. In 2008, it generated $1.82-billion in the Nova Scotia economy and contributed more than 20,000 direct jobs and $126 million in tax revenues.
Tourism may be changing, but it’s far from a dead-end industry in this province.
What is galling for the people of Yarmouth is the fact that the economic decline suffered by their tourism sector was prompted by an act of government when it cancelled the ferry subsidy in 2009.
And that decline was allowed to continue while Dexter was handing over hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars to private corporations in a pulp and paper industry that is in a state of decline.
The pleas from businesses, tourism operators and municipalities in the Yarmouth area fell on deaf ears while failing mills were bailed out.
That’s not to say the gas-guzzling CAT passenger ferry was the right model for that link. You wouldn’t send children to school in Hummers either, but that doesn’t discount the value of getting the kids to school.
It doesn’t even mean that the Nicholson report recommending the re-establishment of ferry link between Yarmouth and Maine is the last word on the matter.
But it is a starting point. If the federal government supports the ferry, the public support will add up to $35 million over seven years.
That is a pittance next to the $124 million in provincial funding given to the former NewPage mill in Point Tupper. And that mill isn’t exactly the definition of public infrastructure that government is mandated to support.
Yes, there are challenges. Old tourism models are under pressure from competition, rising gasoline prices and cheaper airfares. Nova Scotia’s tourism sector might need some updating and tidying up to attract new market segments. The U.S. economy is not exactly on fire at the moment.
Funding for a new ferry link and a new private partner does not mean the problems are solved.
But southwest Nova Scotia, and indeed the entire province, still has much to offer and gain from tourism. The people and businesses of Yarmouth have fought hard for this chance.
They deserve this opportunity to make the ferry link work.