Nfld. & Labrador

Newfoundland-Labrador transportation link? Conservatives, NDP are skeptical

A long-debated fixed link from Newfoundland to Labrador is supported by the federal Liberals in their election platform.

Liberals support for connecting Newfoundland with mainland Canada

St. John's East NDP candidate Jack Harris is wary of the language used by the federal Liberals in their platform announcing a potential transporation link between Newfoundland and Labrador. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

A long-debated fixed link from Newfoundland to Labrador is supported by the federal Liberals in their election platform.

The party's full platform, released on the weekend, pledges to create a national infrastructure fund to "seek out and support major nation-building projects that will benefit people across various regions, connect our country, and help improve the quality of life and standard of living of Canadians in significant and long-lasting ways." 

Among those projects: a Newfoundland-Labrador fixed transportation link, "which will give people living on the island of Newfoundland a permanent and secure way to travel to and from mainland Canada, while helping to make things like food and household goods more affordable," according to the platform.

Longtime link advocate Danny Dumaresque said it was satisfying to finally see the plan in writing from a federal party.

Conservative candidate Larry Flemming called the pledge an empty promise. (Conservative Party of Canada)

"They have concluded that indeed it is a nation-building project that can be funded and therefore make a fundamental change to the economic development of our province," said Dumaresque, a former Liberal MHA for Eagle River. 

A government study of the feasibility of a permanent link across the Strait of Belle Isle, released in April, suggested the construction of an undersea rail tunnel would cost $1.65 billion. 

Dumaresque said the way to proceed with the planned link is to first define the project. He doesn't agree it has to be a rail link, and suggests it should be similar to subsea road tunnels that connect fjords and islands in Norway. The most recently built one of those is 28.6 kilometres long, 300 metres below sea level, and cost lest than $500 million, he said.

'Credit card campaign'

The federal Conservative Party candidate for Labrador, Larry Flemming, said the pledge is a desperate, empty, last-ditch effort by his opposition to secure votes in Labrador.

He called the idea "part of Justin Trudeau's credit card campaign."

"Taxpayers in Newfoundland and Labrador have to realize that those bills don't pay themselves and Justin is going to send us that bill, which is going to be higher taxes at the end of the day," Flemming said. 

Former Liberal MHA Danny Dumaresque says he's happy that a project he has long advocated for has the support of a federal party. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

But Flemming, who is critical of the province's current ferry services running the Strait of Belle Isle and northern Labrador, isn't saying the concept of a link is a bad idea.

He said he has been hearing about the concerns of shipping and transportation from his Labrador constituents during his time on the campaign trail.

St. John's East NDP candidate Jack Harris said the Liberal promise for the link isn't much of a promise at all. 

We should not be hesitating to link up the last part of country politically and physically.- Danny Dumaresque

Harris is taking issue with the wording of the promise in the Liberal platform, where the party says it will support projects "like" the Newfoundland-Labrador fixed transportation link. 

"If they were serious I guess we would have an announcement from Mr. Trudeau on this, and we certainly haven't had that," Harris said.

"This seems to be a bit of a throwaway line in a budget, perhaps designed to help their candidates in Labrador." 

Ferry funding

Dumaresque said ferries are no longer feasible, and added the link would save more money than it costs in the long run.

He estimates that over the next 30 to 40 years there will be over $2.4 billion of taxpayer's money spent on ferries, icebreakers, docks and repairs to the fleet.     

"This is archaic. This is back in the Stone Age. Canada is one of the G7. We should not be hesitating to link up the last part of country politically and physically," he said.   

"We should not be hesitating to provide 24/7/365 access for the trucking industry and the tourists who want to come here. One-point-five million people go to P.E.I. since the bridge was built, and they go there because they can go any time."

Ferries can have difficulty travelling through the Strait of Belle Isle when the ice packs thick. A tunnel linking Newfoundland to Labrador can fix that problem, Dumaresque said. (Submitted by Hedley Ryland)

Labrador Liberal candidate Yvonne Jones, the incumbent, said it's more than just an election promise, and the project is long overdue.

Jones, too, has been an advocate of the project, she said, adding that she met with Trudeau privately in the spring to discuss the issue and reinforce its importance to N.L.   

Jones said she views the potential Newfoundland-Labrador link as a way to unite and connect Canada, and that the subsequent boost to transportation would create more opportunities for the province. 

"I know that a fixed link between Labrador and the island portion of the province will make a huge difference for all of us," she said. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Cec Haire

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