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Presentation
to
Northwest Corridor Development Corporation’s annual convention

by
Ernie McLean
Minister of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs

Dawson Creek, British Columbia
September 17, 2002

Introduction

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you in such a beautiful setting as Dawson Creek. We have travelled far and wide to be here today. I would venture to guess that we have travelled further than any other delegation. It’s a pleasure to be here.

The Big Land

As many of you know, Labrador is the mainland portion of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is often referred to as "The Big Land", covering an area of almost 300,000 square kilometres. To put that into perspective, that’s larger than all of the Maritime provinces and the Island of Newfoundland combined.

With a population of less than 27,000 people scattered throughout the region, one can appreciate the difficult challenges we face, particularly when it comes to transportation.

Transportation Systems

I would like to take a few moments to give you a brief overview of Labrador’s transportation systems.

Many of Labrador’s 30-odd communities are serviced by air, with the main airports being in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Central Labrador, Wabush in Western Labrador and Churchill Falls in the heart of the territory.

The Goose Bay Airbase has one of the largest runways in North America, spanning 3,367 metres. It’s one of our greatest assets which will undoubtedly continue to play a major role in the future development of air services within the region.

Labrador is currently serviced by three main airlines: Air Labrador, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, airline companies in the country; Provincial Airlines; and Air Canada Jazz. That is slated to change in the new year, as Air Canada has recently announced that it plans to eliminate its service to the Island of Newfoundland. While we are concerned about this move, we are confident the other two airlines will fill the void created by the departure. We plan to keep a close eye on this situation in the coming months.

Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway

  • Labrador West has the distinction of having the only rail service in the province. The Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway, as Mr. Goudie pointed out, carries freight and passengers, but its primary function is the transport of iron ore to Sept. Isles on Quebec’s North Shore.

Marine Services

As you can appreciate, being on the Atlantic coast, Labrador is heavily dependent on marine services.

With the exception of Labrador West and the central, interior community of Churchill Falls, the sea provided the only mode of transportation to the outside world, other than by air.

By the end of this year, only the north coast of Labrador will be dependent on marine services.

Land Routes

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has accomplished a great deal in improving Labrador’s transportation services in recent years, particularly with respect to the Trans-Labrador Highway.

As a Province, we are committed to completing the Trans-Labrador Highway, which will virtually link all communities of the region, with the exception of those in the more northern, remote areas, as well as some isolated communities along the south coast.

The Trans-Labrador Highway, as it now stands, is comprised of two sections. The first section, or Phase I, runs from Western Labrador to Happy Valley-Goose Bay through nearly 600 kilometres of untamed wilderness. That section has been completed.

I recall 10 years ago when driving over this section of road was a day-long adventure over narrow, winding and treacherous terrain. If memory serves me correctly, it would take as much as 14 hours to travel the route. Today, it can be done in six to seven hours.

This section of the highway is also connected to Route 389, which runs from Baie Comeau on Quebec’s north shore to western Labrador.

Work on Phase II, which will run from Cartwright to Red Bay on Labrador’s south coast, is expected to be completed later this fall, at a cost of some $130 million. The completion of this section of the highway will open up new opportunities in the region, by diversifying an economy that has predominately been dependent on the fishery.

The funds to complete these first two phases of the highway came from the federal-provincial Labrador Transportation Initiative, a $340 million agreement that saw the Province assume control of the federally-operated marine services along the Labrador coast, as well as two vessels that had previously been operated by the Crown Corporation, Marine Atlantic.

When we announced the Labrador Transportation Initiative in April of 1997, we realized that we would still have to find a way to link Central Labrador to the coast, a distance of nearly 300 kilometres.

We had lobbied Ottawa to help us complete the link, but our efforts, thus far, have not yielded any results.

But we had made a commitment to the people of Labrador, and this past Spring, without Ottawa’s assistance, announced that work would begin on this important link. Our thinking is that the true benefits of the Trans-Labrador Highway would not be fully realized until this third phase is completed.

In this year’s Provincial budget, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced that it would invest some $100 million, or $17 million a year, over a six-year period to build Phase III. Work will begin on the route following the completion of an environmental assessment, which we expect will be done before the start of next year’s construction season.

How were we able to find the financial resources? What we did was to recognize some $97.4 million from the Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund as general revenue this year.

We consider this to be prudent management, since government’s cost of borrowing that kind of money will exceed the interest being earned on the fund. This arrangement, we believe, is in the best interest of the entire region.

Winter Trails

I should also note that Labrador has a newly completed 1,500-kilometre long, groomed snowmobile trail system.

This trail not only serves as a winter highway for many of Labrador’s residents, but it will also put Labrador on the snowmobiling map. In fact, we have already witnessed an increase in winter tourism because of this trail system, with snowmobilers coming into the region from other parts of the country and the United States.

Cost-sharing

As I have already mentioned, we have tried to enter into a cost-shared funding agreement with the federal government to complete Phase III of the Trans-Labrador Highway, but we have not been successful.

We have gone on record as saying that the Trans-Labrador Highway is the Province’s number one priority, and we made a commitment to the people of Labrador that we would find a way to complete Phase III.

I should note that our commitment to Phase III is not contingent on federal funding. Having said that, however, the opportunity for federal participation still exists.

The completion of Phase III will forever change the way we do business along the coast of Labrador. To reflect our government’s policy of providing marine service only to communities that are not connected by road, we have decided to reconfigure the Labrador coastal marine service, beginning in the 2003 season.

This will ensure a better marine service for those who will not be connected by the Trans-Labrador Highway.

A regional airport will also be established in southern Labrador, once Phase II is completed, thus eliminating the need for other airports in the region.

The changes and upgrades planned reflect the importance of having an integrated transportation system in Labrador - designed so that, where possible, marine, air and highway routes will complement each other.

Prime Minister’s Legacy

The Trans-Labrador Highway is our most important transportation link. It is vital to the economic and social growth of Labrador. And now that we’ve reached the stage where funding has been committed to complete Phase III, we believe it is imperative for Ottawa to enter into a funding arrangement that will result in enhanced improvements to the highway.

Several months ago, The National Post carried a story indicating that there were several Members of Parliament who were pushing the Prime Minister to expand the Trans-Canada Highway to four lanes. Doing so, they say, would give the PM a lasting ‘legacy’, as well as promote national unity.

It is my belief, and I am sure many of you would agree, that any plan to expand and improve the Trans-Canada Highway system should also include upgrading and completing other important northern routes in the country, like the Trans-Labrador Highway.

Completing these routes to national standards, in my opinion, would do more to promote national unity than just simply expanding the Trans-Canada Highway.

Improved highway systems in Northern Canada would help foster social and economic growth, resulting in huge benefits for the entire country.

These routes are vital to the economic and social growth of northern communities, much the same as the Trans-Canada Highway does for Southern parts of the country.

A plan that includes expanding the Trans-Canada Highway and improving and enhancing Northern routes would create an even more lasting legacy for the Prime Minister, and would do more to promote national unity.

I think it is very important to stress that Northern routes, like the Trans-Labrador Highway, hold the key to future prosperity for the people living in Northern regions of the country.

They will open doors to development, and allow for increased trade with other regions of the country. They will also enhance our tourism industries, and bring us all closer.

Once I leave Dawson Creek, I will head to Peace River to take part in the Northern Development Ministers Forum, where I will be pushing the same message.

The Northern Ministers Development Forum is an opportunity for ministers responsible for Northern development to discuss opportunities for advancing social and economic development in Northern Canada.

The first such conference was held in Labrador, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, three years ago. During that event, which I hosted, Northern ministers agreed to consider establishing a permanent Northern Development Ministers’ Council to facilitate greater inter-governmental cooperation. A proposal to create the council was revealed during last year’s conference in La Ronge, Saskatchewan.

It is my hope that groups such as the Northern Ministers Council, as well as the Northwest Corridor Development Corporation, will work collectively to send a strong voice to Ottawa that Northern regions of the country need significant infrastructure improvements if we are to grow our economies.

If we are not successful in making our voice heard, then Southern regions of the country will continue to reap the majority of the benefits from federal infrastructure and other programs.

Northern Vision

A famous Prime Minister had a great vision for the North. John Diefenbaker’s national development policy was aimed at creating a new sense of national purpose and national destiny.

During one of his speeches, he said, and I quote: "I see a new Canada - a Canada of the North. What are these new principles? What are our objectives? What do we propose? We propose to assist the provinces, with their co-operation, in the financing and construction of job-creating projects necessary for the new development, where such projects are beyond the resources of the provinces.

"We will assist the provinces with their cooperation in the conservation of the renewable natural resources. We will aid in projects which are self-liquidating. We will aid in projects which, while not self-liquidating will lead to the development of the national resources for the opening of Canada's northland. We will open that northland for development by improving transportation and communication and by the development of power, by the building of access roads. We will make an inventory of our hydroelectric potential."

Yes, indeed, Diefenbaker had great vision. We need that same vision today. We need a vision that includes the North, where Aboriginal people are given the opportunity to become partners in resource developments, so that they are able to realize the full economic and social benefits associated with being Canadian.

"We are one Canada", as Diefenbaker professed many times during this political life. That Canada included the North.

We have to make sure Ottawa does not forget us when it comes to investing in the country’s future. We have to make sure our voices are heard loud and clear. If not, then the whole of Canada loses.

Thank you, once again, for inviting me to speak to you.


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