The Newfoundland and Labrador government's decision to spend $750,000 on a study to look at the feasibility of a tunnel connecting Newfoundland to Labrador may seem like bad timing given the current fiscal situation, however a long-time advocate says such a project could actually solve many of the province's persisting problems.
Premier Dwight Ball defended the feasibility study last week by telling reporters a link between the island and mainland would create new sources of revenue and help diversify the economy — something many say is badly needed to break the province from its cycle of booms and busts.
"$750,000 to update study on fixed link between Labrador and Newfoundland— @ENV_GovNL
Businessman and former N.L. Liberal Party president Danny Dumaresque has been trying to drum up support for a tunnel under the Strait of Belle Isle for years, especially after visiting Norway and seeing how similar projects have been completed there with great success.
"It is, in my view, the number one diversification project we could do in this province," he told CBC News. "It will bring hundreds of high paying construction jobs and bring hundreds of thousands of new tourists here, with money to spend."
"That's the kind of province building and nation building that we must undertake in order to be able to change the fundamentals of our economy."
Little to no cost to taxpayers
While the government is spending $750,000 on the feasibility study in the middle of a financial crisis, Dumaresque feels it's important to get the project going as soon as possible.
With regards to the cost of actually building an underwater tunnel, he says it could be completely paid for by private investors — just like the Confederation Bridge between PEI and New Brunswick was funded in the 90s.
"I was really stimulated to try and pursue this kind of a project because of the PEI bridge, which was built by 100 per cent private money in 1997," he said.
"That $1.3 billion project never cost the taxpayers of the country one extra cent, and has in turn brought billions of new dollars to the economy of PEI and thousands of new jobs."
In addition, he says the timing is perfect because there is money to be leveraged through the Trudeau government, which has expressed an interest in investing in infrastructure and projects that reduce carbon emissions.
Dumaresque says with the current technologies developed by the Norwegians, a tunnel could be built faster and more efficiently than many people realize.
As well, he said such a link would lower food prices in the province and bring tens of thousands of more tourists in each year.
With the possibility of private partners funding the whole project, and the provincial/Marine Atlantic ferries not providing what he feels is an adequate service, he thinks the government is wise to move ahead with a fixed link.
"We're going to spend something like $2.4 billion over the next 40 years just on the Strait of Belle Isle ferry service alone. So it's time for us to wake up and spend our money more wisely — and certainly that's the conclusion that the government of Norway reached some 50 years ago," he said.
"It's the way you build an economy. We should never think of going forward one more day and be isolated as an island like we are when we have the option, we have the technology and we have the financial framework to be able to get it done."