OTTAWA — Peter MacKay will be in Halifax on Friday to release a new study on the viability of federal investment in an Atlantic Gateway.

Mr. MacKay, the ACOA minister and defence minister, will give a speech at the Westin hotel at noon.

The Atlantic Gateway Business Case Study was commissioned by ACOA to determine whether the federal government should invest in transportation infrastructure on the East Coast, as it has on the Pacific coast.

Ottawa has spent about $1 billion on West Coast infrastructure to take advantage of rapidly increasing trade between Asia and North America. In the March federal budget, Ottawa announced $2.1 billion for infrastructure projects across Canada.

Gateway boosters in Nova Scotia hope that Halifax and perhaps the Strait of Canso area can take advantage of increasing exports, because massive new container ships are able to quickly travel to North America from East Asia through the Suez Canal.

Vancouver firm InterVistas won the contract to do the study in January to see whether Ottawa ought to invest in this region.

“The idea was to take a look at whether or not there was a business case for proceeding with an Atlantic Gateway,” ACOA spokesman David Harrigan said Monday.

“I think it was one of the things that was asked for by the federal cabinet,” he said. “They wanted to see a business case.”

Nova Scotia businesses will be hoping that the report makes the case for new federal investment.

Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald has made the development of an Atlantic trade gateway one of his top priorities in federal-provincial relations, repeatedly pushing the issue in meetings with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

That has so far produced no concrete results, although Ontario and Quebec managed to sign memorandums of understanding to develop similar gateway projects in July without any similar public lobbying effort. At the time, Independent MP Bill Casey complained that that was hard to take.

“I’ve never heard of any initiative by Ontario and Quebec to become a gateway, and all of a sudden they are the central gateway corridor for Canada,” he said. “The Pacific Gateway makes sense and is appropriate, but the next one should be the Atlantic Gateway.”

At the time, a spokeswoman for Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon said that because East Coast ports have unused capacity now, the department was considering how to better market them.

That may be wise, says Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

“The simple fact is they don’t have to invest in East Coast ports,” he said Monday.

The Port of Halifax is only operating at 50 per cent capacity now, he said, and the rail line to Central Canada is only functioning at 30 per cent capacity.

“Maybe there’s some road construction that’s arguably justifiable if we want to increase the reach of trucks, but most of that is two interchanges, one in Burnside, one in Truro,” said Mr. Cirtwill. “The major road construction would be in Riviere-du-Loup in Quebec.

“I think that what we’re going to see is a case study pulled together to basically justify some portion of the $2-billion fund that was set up in the federal budget,” he said.

Mr. Cirtwill said there may be a need for more federal money for marketing and co-ordination, but he’s suspicious that politicians will use this as an excuse to lay down tar in their ridings.

“I’m increasingly coming to the view that a win for the gateway file, at least for the province of Nova Scotia, represents a twinning of the highway from New Glasgow to the Strait,” he said. “While I can see the political benefits of that, I’m not entirely sure what the trade benefits are.”