HALIFAX – Proponents of the so-called Atlantic Gateway find themselves part of a growing choir. But is each member singing a different tune?
Recent sniping between some of the many gateway groups leaves that impression.
The Nova Scotia government, for example, is dismissing criticism of its most recent gateway efforts.
Darrell Dexter’s NDP government recently launched a Gateway Secretariat – a departmental wing within the Nova Scotia government. As well, the Dexter government announced the creation of the Nova Scotia Gateway Advisory Council to guide the province in promoting the gateway concept, which centres on pulling international cargo bound for North America through East Coast ports.
Nova Scotia’s efforts, however, quickly drew criticism from the head of the New Brunswick Gateway Council.
Capt. Al Soppitt said the Bluenose initiative could simply add to the bureaucratic layers that are already preventing movement on the gateway file. He said another gateway group could lead to division among the provinces, as opposed to much-needed co-operation.
“The concern is whether this is another layer we have to work through to get a consensus on the Atlantic Gateway,” said Soppitt, who also heads the Saint John Port Authority. “We’re looking for a consensus from Atlantic Canada on what is required to advance this region as a gateway for trade in North America.”
But David Darrow, Nova Scotia’s deputy minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, said those concerns are unfounded.
According to Darrow, Nova Scotia’s recent moves won’t diminish the province’s commitment to Atlantic co-operation.
“Nova Scotia has been committed to the regional effort from day one,” he said.
The new Gateway Secretariat, he said, simply involves an overhaul of the government’s approach to the gateway file.
“I have to take issue with anyone who is saying this is just another gateway body. It’s not another body,” he said. “It’s really just us re-profiling an existing group within the government and beefing it up with additional resources and a CEO.”
The Nova Scotia Gateway Advisory Council, meanwhile, will help the government get private sector guidance on how to push the issue forward, he said.
Darrow also said the Advisory Council might help eliminate the need for smaller gateway groups that are sprouting up or being considered – from Halifax to Yarmouth and Canso.
Those gateway booster groups are in addition to New Brunswick’s gateway proponents, as well as the Atlantic Gateway Advisory Council, which consists of private sector representatives from all four Atlantic provinces.
But as more gateway groups are created, some worry the concept is being pulled in too many different directions.
“There’s a lot of energy and passion for the gateway,” Darrow said. “I think it’s going to be important in the years to come that we get focused and get aligned, so we’re all heading in the same direction.”
Charles Cirtwill, of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, says gateway quibbling is inevitable when large amounts of government cash are at stake.
“So let me get this straight, the New Brunswick Gateway Council has a problem that there is a Nova Scotia Gateway Advisory Council? Doesn’t that seem a little (hypocritical)?” said the president of the Halifax-based think-tank.
“When you set up a pot of money like this, everybody is going to want their fair share. And so you end up with gateway councils all over creation,” Cirtwill continued, referring to $2.1 billion in federal funding pledged for gateway projects.
According to Cirtwill, the gateway movement must move past the individual desires of provinces and cities.
“Otherwise you end up with everyone wanting a little bit and no one getting enough to make a difference,” he said.
“All we’re going to end up with are pretty facades on a lot of our buildings and no real improvement to our infrastructure.”
The Atlantic Gateway idea essentially centres on boosting the flow of trade through the Atlantic provinces. Proponents argue that increased funding will help the region increase its trade with Europe and Asia.
A federal government study said the Gateway concept could create 61,000 new jobs by 2025, and result in $2.1 billion in wages and $3.4 billion in economic growth.