LONDON, Ont. – Developing Halifax as the main port on the eastern seaboard, with the help of massive federal spending, would help economic growth in the Maritimes, says a possible federal Liberal leadership contender.

“Bet the store on Halifax as a deepwater port,” Michael Ignatieff told a group of young Liberals at the University of Western Ontario.

“The fact that Halifax has the best deepwater facilities from here down to Miami (means) that we need to think very seriously about Halifax as an Atlantic gateway in the same way that we think of Vancouver as a gateway,” said Mr. Ignatieff.

“(We should) put federal money there, massive federal infrastructure in improving the capacity of Halifax to become the key eastern port for the whole eastern seaboard.

“I think Halifax has global potential. I just want to create opportunity there.”

Mr. Ignatieff, newly elected MP for Toronto, is being touted as a potential successor to Paul Martin.

The world renowned intellectual, author and former Harvard University professor acknowledged Monday he was considering running for the job.

Mr. Ignatieff’s vision for Halifax was prompted by a question concerning economic development in the Maritimes, and he said the proposed endeavour would come with a hefty price tag.

“It’s a billion-billion-dollar thing. But if you’re thinking big about the country, that’s where you have to start.”

Officials from the Halifax Port Authority were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

The port’s website says nearly 2,000 cargo vessels will enter Halifax Harbour this year.

Over the next five years, $100 million will be invested in port improvements aimed at “solidifying our position as one of the world’s deepest ports,” it says.

Brian Lee Crowley, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said he agrees with the idea of massive federal spending on the port and has consulted with Mr. Ignatieff on the idea.

“It’s an alternative to the politically driven regional economic development spending we’ve seen in the past,” Mr. Crowley said.

“If you want to do something different you have to get the politics out of regional economic development. You have to focus on real, genuine economic possibilities.

“Halifax as an Asian gateway to North America is one of those genuine opportunities and it would be perfectly legitimate for the federal government to help make that happen.”

Mr. Crowley said the project would not need as much money as people think.

He noted there would be enormous economic implications for the three Maritime provinces as well as the New England states and Upstate New York.

He said the biggest need now is for political capital to get the project moving forward.

“I think there would be a lot of people across the country that would be very excited to hear about a genuine economic development opportunity that wasn’t politically driven, but was actually based on shifting technology and new trade opportunities,” Mr. Crowley said.

“One that would give Atlantic Canada the chance to shine based on its own strengths, rather than on taxpayer money spread around the region.

“We have an opportunity to make the whole region a key corridor in the world trade system,” he said.