Politics: ‘I don’t see a delay in the flow of funding,’ Keith Ashfield says

Fredericton MP Keith Ashfield says his appointment as the new minister for the Atlantic Gateway will not further delay the roll-out of funds from that department. Ashfield got a substantial promotion in Tuesday’s federal cabinet shuffle and will now control the region’s major federal funding accounts.

He was named the minister of national revenue, minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and minister for the Atlantic Gateway. Previously, Ashfield was the minister of state for ACOA. The former New Brunswick MLA took the Atlantic Gateway file from Nova Scotia MP and Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

In an interview, Ashfield said the transition between ministers will not further delay gateway funding.

“I don’t see a delay in the flow of funding,” he said. “A lot of the finding has already come through for highways, bridges and ports. There has been a lot of money flow into gateway projects.”

Yet the lion’s share of gateway funding has yet to be unlocked. At issue is a $2.1-billion pot of federal funding that was designated for so-called gateway projects more than two years ago. On the East Coast, those funds would go toward developing the so-called Atlantic Gateway.

The idea is to position the region as an entry and exit point for international commerce. According to Atlantic Gateway proponents, port, rail and highway upgrades will increase the amount of goods that enter the region and then travel by rail and road to North American markets.

The goal is to make the Atlantic provinces the key eastern entry point for goods coming through the Suez Canal from emerging economies in Asia, such as India and Vietnam. In November, MacKay said he still wasn’t sure when the federal government will unlock the bulk of the $2.1-billion fund. At the time, he said he was still waiting for gateway funding requests and recommendations.

As of November, the federal government had only doled out $200 million of the $2.1 billion.

“We’ll assess each project as it comes forward and if it’s a good project, we’ll push for it,” Ashfield said Tuesday.

Charles Cirtwill, of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said he doesn’t expect the change in ministers to affect progress on gateway funding. Cirtwill, president of the Halifax-based think-tank, also said Ashfield’s appointment shouldn’t be viewed as a knock on MacKay. Instead, the Harper government had to promote a New Brunswicker after the cabinet departure of Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson, also a New Brunswick MP.

Ashfield was elected to the House of Commons in 2008. A longtime New Brunswick MLA, he served as the provincial minister of natural resources from 2003 to 2006 in the Bernard Lord government.

– with files from Chris Morris