If you buy into a dream, a vision, great things may transpire. On the other hand, old, staid ways of thought may contribute to your demise.

This is one of the messages Brian Lee Crowley of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies brought to a transportation conference in Truro this week.

Growing the Atlantic Economy: the Transportation Factor, was a perfect venue to pitch his “revolution in mental geography” so stakeholders could imagine the mythical world of Atlantica that stretches from the salty shores of Newfoundland, through the Northeastern United States to the fresh water of the Great Lakes.

Is it fantasy thinking? Perhaps. Is it possible? Well, anything’s possible if you put your mind to it.

The whole premise of this new economic entity is based on trade. In global trade patterns, one can prosper if positioned at a destination but also if located at an important link on the route to that destination.

Crowley is certain Halifax can be that link between the burgeoning Asian market and the insatiable American market.

Crowley used his version of a “Tale of Two Cities” to illustrate visionary thinking versus the status quo.

In the United States when rail lines started crisscrossing the continent, it was decided that a central hub was needed to connect all the lines.

St. Louis, Missouri was the obvious choice as it was already a bustling centre of commerce on the Mississippi River. But the “wise” businessmen wanted to protect their ferry services and refused to allow a rail bridge to be built across the river. Well, they saved the ferry jobs for a few short years but in Chicago, which to that point had been a backwater, had agreed to be the rail hub of America and the city prospered. St. Louis never recovered economically.

There is a point in time when opportunity knocks and we can choose to open the door or not. In Chicago’s case, it was the rail lines that did the knocking. In our case, it’s the new freighters – post-panamax ships – that are too big to get into many ports because of their draft, and too large to squeeze through the Panama Canal.

Atlantic Canada can choose to open the door, or remain an economic backwater. What it’s going to take is a lot of political arm twisting, lobbying, financial investment and determination.

It took 10 years for the Pacific Gateway bill to be passed in the House of Commons and the port of Vancouver has benefited greatly. It’s time federal politicians considered the east with renewed vigour, and invest in the ice-free, deepwater ports that give us a natural advantage over so many other destinations.

What we need is a concerted investment in post-panamax cranes at Halifax and Port Hawkesbury and also financing for reliable, modern rail and road connections with our trading partners in the United States

We don’t have the luxury of wasting time, however.

Right now the Mexican government – having seized upon a vision – has invested $1 billion for a deepwater port on the North American Pacific coast with direct links to the American mid-west. It’s time our members of Parliament and legislative assembly members earned their paychecks by ignoring partisan politics and getting down to business – the business of building a strong economy in Atlantic Canada through our historic position as an important port of call.

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