Address to the
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Please Check Against Delivery
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to the Transportation Club for inviting me to speak with you today.
I am delighted to speak with you this afternoon on the accomplishments of the Williams government one year into our mandate, as well as the initiatives, programs and accomplishments of the Department of Transportation and Works.
Our government has been very busy over the last twelve months and we’ve made great progress on a number of fronts.
The financial state of the province when our government took office has been well documented. The highest area of concern was a very high level of debt for our province. At that time, we committed to a two pronged approach to first, regain control of our expenditures and second, to growing our economy by expanding our revenue base. This included working with the federal government to gain access to more of the capital being earned from development of our province’s many resources.
Today I would like to update you one some of the strides we’ve made toward achieving social and fiscal health on the road to rejuvenating our province.
At the First Minister’s Meeting on Health Care, additional funding for health care was secured to the tune of an extra $293 million, over the next six years, for our province.
Our government is also actively pursuing a strategy for developing the Lower Churchill. The potential in developing this project is enormous and our government will work with any interested party whose top priority is to see maximum benefits for the people of this province. For if we as a province are ever to truly achieve our financial independence, it is vitally important that we be the primary beneficiary of all our resource developments.
I am pleased to say that our government is still on target to balance the budget by 2008.
As you might have heard recently, our Premier has been actively working on the equalization and Atlantic Accord files. The Premier has vowed to never accept a deal promising anything less than every dollar of the province’s share of our offshore revenue.
As the Premier has said, there’s one thing that money can’t buy and that’s the pride we have in this province. We will not be made fools of.
While we’ve been busy in terms of federal-provincial relations and the development of our offshore resources, our government remains committed to the development of our rural communities.
We’ve been active in pursuing economic development opportunities for the province with the Premier and the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development visiting Ireland. The purpose of the visit was to learn more about the Irish model of successful economic development. We learned many lessons and continue to actively examine how these lessons can be applied for Newfoundland and Labrador.
Our government is also investing $7.3 million toward the provincial silviculture program. Responsible management of the forest resource through meaningful silviculture activity will ensure the forests of our province remain productive into the future.
In addition, such work provides a significant boost to the economy through the creation of valuable employment opportunities, throughout the province.
We’ve also announced a $66 million municipal capital works program. This program represent a strategic investment and is reflective of government’s bluebook commitments. This government strongly believes that we as a province need a strong and reliable infrastructure base to build a better economy.
The mention of infrastructure brings me, of course, to my role in the Williams government. As Minister of Transportation and Works, I was pleased to announce, this past June, a $30 million Provincial Roads Improvement Program.
This year’s program provided funding for upgrading and improving the provincial highway network, including major trunk roads, community access roads and local roads, as well as routine maintenance on the Trans Canada Highway. It provided funds for rehabilitation and replacement of bridges and culverts. As many of you are likely aware, culvert replacement is important in the prevention of washouts and flooding. This is key to preventative maintenance on our provincial road network.
This $30 million allocation represented a $7 million increase over and above the previous year.
This increase in funding for the roads program also demonstrates this Government’s commitment to providing a safe and reliable transportation network within our province.
It is also reflective of this Government’s commitment to preventative maintenance, as referenced in the 2004 Speech From the Throne. Preventative maintenance on existing infrastructure is far less costly than outright replacement or extensive repairs in the future. This position is supported by the National Research Council which has indicated that replacement costs are actually ten times greater than preventative maintenance costs.
Our government has awarded nearly 40 contracts for road work in 39 electoral districts under this program. This has brought many benefits to both rural and urban districts in terms of making improvements to our roads and bridge infrastructure, ensuring employment opportunities, as well as providing prospects for the local construction industry. This is part of government’s ongoing plan to rejuvenate Newfoundland and Labrador. Statistics Canada estimates that for every million dollars spent on road work, 12 direct and eight indirect jobs are created. Job creation throughout the province is a key component of this government’s strategy to revitalize our provincial economy.
Among the commitments included in this year’s program was a $1.5 million contribution for the completion of the Bifurcation Road, linking Kenmount Road to the Outer Ring Road, in the City of St. John’s.
One contract for the Bifurcation Road has been awarded to Municipal Construction Limited of Paradise and a second tender is due to close next week.
Our government is committed to the completion of the Trans Labrador Highway over the next six to seven years, a $104 million project. Our government announced the awarding of three contracts for the Trans Labrador Highway, valued at over $35 million, in September. The awarding of these contracts will provide much needed employment opportunities for local residents as well as economic opportunities for local businesses and surrounding communities.
In the interest of ensuring federal support for our provincial transportation priorities, I have also met with the federal Transport Minister, my Atlantic Transportation counterparts, my colleagues from across the country and Minister Efford as the province’s representative in the federal cabinet.
The Honourable Jean-C Lapierre, Federal Transport Minister and myself had our first face-to-face meeting in early September and we had an open and frank discussion regarding the transportation issues that are important to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
The federal minister and I talked about the necessity for upgrades to Newfoundland and Labrador’s highways and secondary roads. We believe that greater flexibility is needed in federal funding agreements for transportation infrastructure with the provinces and territories. I will say more about this later.
We also had discussions about federal-provincial highway funding agreements. There are currently only two sources of federal funding available for highway construction; the Strategic Highway Improvement Program (SHIP), and the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund (CSIF). It is vitally important to the future of the roads infrastructure in this province that we have new federal-provincial agreements for the maintenance of our provincial highway network.
Marine Atlantic was another topic of discussion. I reiterated our belief that the Gulf Ferry Service is our marine highway and link to mainland Canada, and any increase in rates would be a detriment to the residents of the province, as well as local industries.
Also in September, in Prince Edward Island, I met with my Atlantic counterparts to discuss issues relating to transportation including; the national highway system and flexibility in federal funding programs, small airport viability, the Canada Marine Act, and Marine Atlantic.
At that time I asked my provincial counterparts to put Marine Atlantic rates on the agenda for our next meeting, at which time I will be seeking their support to bring forward rates charged as an Atlantic regional issue.
This meeting was an excellent opportunity to communicate the transportation challenges that exist within our province, to my Atlantic counterparts.
I also had the opportunity in September to meet with the federal minister and my counterparts across the country in Quebec City at the recent Transportation Association of Canada meetings.
At these meetings, we agreed that the nation’s transportation system was essential both in providing access for users but also in terms of economic benefits.
As I said earlier, flexibility is needed in federal funding agreements for the rehabilitation of our roads networks. A major achievement for this province came when the Transportation Ministers committed to a review of the National Highway System, including the addition of a Tier 2 system of roads.
Currently the only highways in Newfoundland included under the National Highway System are the Trans Canada Highway and the Argentia Access Road.
Transportation and Works is currently working on developing proposed criteria for Tier 2 roads in conjunction with our provincial and territorial counterparts. This report is to be submitted to the National Council of Transportation Minsters at the end of the fiscal year for their consideration.
Any criteria that would include some of our major trunk roads would be of great benefit to the province.
As I alluded to earlier, when you live on an island, transportation is not just by road, it is also by sea.
In April, my department announced the reconfiguration of the Labrador Marine Service. This has brought more stability for the service and those who depend on it. The service has been running well. People have the option of traveling to Labrador either via the Northern Peninsula and on the MV Apollo or through Lewisporte on the MV Sir Robert Bond.
In recognition of the unique challenges facing our residents on the north coast of Labrador, government announced the addition of a refrigeration unit to the MV Northern Ranger in July. This improves the overall level of service and provides ample capacity for carrying fresh produce and milk to local businesses on the north coast of Labrador. We have received many positive comments for this initiative from businesses on the north coast of Labrador.
As I stated previously, government recognizes that a reliable infrastructure is critical for the future of this province. We are developing an infrastructure strategy to guide investment in a manner that promotes growth.
This infrastructure strategy will be evidence based, with the goal of providing quality infrastructure to all the people of the province.
Allocating resources for transportation needs is not just limited to my department.
The Department of Natural Resources committed $3.5 million toward the construction of resource roads to ensure access to the timber supply.
In addition, government has successfully partnered with ACOA to fund a pre-feasability of a fixed link across the Strait of Belle Isle. We expect to receive the report in the near future.
Our government has planned a busy future as we move forward to launch our rural strategy, move even further ahead with the new Department of Business and proceed more formally with development options for the Lower Churchill. We also plan to sign the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement and proceed with Phase III of the Trans Labrador Highway. There are many good things ahead for this province and our people.
We are moving forward with program renewal in the 2005-06 Provincial Budget with a view of strengthening and modernizing those services most valued by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Above all else, our government is committed to the people of the province, particularly ensuring their everyday lives are meaningful, healthy and safe. We remain committed to growing our economy in a way that generates more jobs, investment, diversification and revenue here in our own communities, in concrete ways that bring real benefits to the people, economy and treasury of Newfoundland and Labrador.
In closing I thank you for inviting me to address your membership this afternoon and I wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors.
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