Note: El Jones is at an undisclosed location doing undisclosed things that interfere with writing Morning File today, so you’re stuck with me, Tim, again. Normal El Jones Morning Filing will resume next Saturday.
1. Cyber-safety Act
Lawyer David Fraser is preparing to take on the Cyber-safety Act, reports the Chronicle Herald’s Michael Gorman:
Cyberbullying is a real problem, said Fraser, but his argument goes beyond that.
“The issue is, how do you define it and how do you define it in a way that takes into account the fact that people should have freedom of expression to, particularly, speak about matters of public interest?” said the partner with McInnes Cooper.
Laws need to be more nuanced when they approach values protected by the charter, said Fraser. It’s why injecting more context is so important, he said. The legislation doesn’t take into account, for example, the difference between criticism of a public official and hurtful comments directed at a young or vulnerable person, said Fraser.
“I should be able to go on social media and, let’s say, call the premier of a province a liar for not keeping a campaign promise. Now, that may hurt his feelings, may harm his self-esteem, and so that would be cyberbullying. We need to have a way of taking those sort of things into account.”
2. Mother Canada™
Mayann Francis, Nova Scotia’s former Lieutenant General, has removed herself as an honorary patron of the Mother Canada™ proposal. She joins Liberal MP Scott Brison, Inuk musician Susan Aglukark, and journalists Peter Mansbridge, Lisa LaFlamme, and Lloyd Robertson, who had previously asked that their names be removed from the honorary patron list.
One person who remains on the patron list who might still be open to persuasion is MP Peter Stoffer. It’s at least worth asking him about it on the campaign trail.
3. Techlink Entertainment
Leonard Shaw of BDO Sydney has been appointed receiver of Techlink Entertainment and has taken possession of all the firm’s assets, reports the Cape Breton Post.
Techlink owes Nova Scotia Business, Inc. $8 million and ACOA $3.2 million.
4. Erik the Red
Erik the Red, the “rodent control officer” on the CSS Acadia, is retiring.
1. Dartmouth ferry
I missed it, but a few days ago Meghan Richard wrote a nice piece about the Dartmouth ferry.
2. The last Orangedale whistle
The owners of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway have been shifting rolling stock south in expectation of abandoning the Point Tupper-to-Sydney end of the line, says Parker Donham: “About two p.m. today, what’s rumoured to be the last of those evacuees passed through Orangedale, sounding its evocative whistle for the last time.” Donham’s son took a video of the event, available at the link. Here’s the Rankin Family song about the whistle:
2. Cranky letter of the day
There was a time when Yarmouth was connected to the rest of Nova Scotia and New England with two train lines, two bus lines, two airlines and two shipping lines. Thanks to powerful politicians and greedy folks from Halifax who want everything for everyone in metro, we were cut off with no more bus lines, no more trains, no more airlines, a sinking ferry service, and no 100-series finished highways.
So when I read letters to the editor touting a Halifax-Boston ferry connection, like those from Joyce Valleau (Aug. 8) and Mark Krause (Aug. 6), it makes what hair I have left stand on end.
Doug Crosby, Yarmouth
The Yarmouth Vanguard periodically reprints news stories from its vaults. This week, the paper noted that in 1970 it had reported on the then-new Yarmouth ferry:
The Prince of Fundy, the new ferry that recently had begun sailing between Yarmouth and Portland, had carried 21,000 passengers in the month of July and the figures for August looked very promising, said an official with Lion Ferry, the company that operated the service.
I wondered how much ridership increased from that starting point, and the best I can do on one cup of coffee this morning is from the 2012 report commissioned by the provincial government that examined restoring the ferry service. That report found that in ferry ridership peaked in 2002, with “about 330,000 passengers used the two Yarmouth- Maine ferries then operating.”
After 2002 there was a rapid drop-off in passenger numbers, represented by this chart:
The report noted:
In 2002, more than 95,000 visitors to Nova Scotia entered the province via the Yarmouth-Maine ferry connections. By 2005, after the Scotia Prince service between Portland and Yarmouth ceased operation, the number had fallen to under 55,000. The decline continued and by 2009 only 26,000 visitors arrived in Nova Scotia via Yarmouth—73% fewer than in the 2002 heyday when two ferries operated.
The decline in visitation through Yarmouth has severely affected many businesses in southwestern Nova Scotia that rely heavily on a short seasonal influx of tourists, primarily from the northeastern United States. Nevertheless, restoration of a ferry cannot, by itself, be seen as a panacea since tourist visitation through Yarmouth was already declining steadily between 2002 and 2009 despite the availability of ferry service. In fact, US tourism to the rest of Nova Scotia, and to Canada as a whole, has been on a downtrend for the past decade.
The question is best addressed in two stages: (1) Why has US tourism to Nova Scotia, and to Canada generally, declined since 2002? (2) Why did US visitation via Yarmouth fall even more steeply?
Regarding the first—between 2002 and 2010, overnight visits to Canada by US “leisure” travellers declined 14%, and to Nova Scotia by 36%. The factors principally responsible are familiar—the appreciating Canadian dollar; fuel prices (which discourage all discretionary travel); confusion over US passport requirements between 2004 and 2009; and since 2007, the weakened state of the US economy.
Overarching these has been the growing global competition for the tourist dollar—cheap airfares, exotic destinations, tourism facilities development, new experiences like the mass-market cruise vacation. Competition has been amplified by the empowerment of travellers by the Internet and social media. It’s a new world and the traditional destinations, Nova Scotia very much included, will have to raise their game.
This still leaves the question as to why the decline of US overnight visitation via the Yarmouth gateway was so much steeper—down 74% between 2002 and 2009—than via either Amherst or Digby (see chart). The steeper decline was occurring despite ferry service still being in operation.
I think that’s right: there are many and varied reasons for the decline in ferry traffic after 2002.
Still, I think we’ve overlooked one very important contributing factor: the Atlantic Gateway. Recall that for the past 15 years the rhetoric of “gateway” dominated capital funding debates in the Maritimes. The idea was that Halifax would become the primary “gateway” for goods from Europe, India and China making their way to the lucrative American market, and the Maritimes could profit from this — and I’m not making this up — if we built a super highway connecting Halifax to Buffalo, New York, and if we made border crossing easier, and if we hired thousands of Mexican truck drivers at sub-market wages… if we did all this, then a gazillion widgets from India would travel through Halifax on their way to Chicago, and as a result, we’d experience prosperity forever, amen.
The idea was preposterous from the start. First, as I’ve explained repeatedly, with some very specialized exceptions, shippers aren’t looking for the North American port closest to Europe, but rather the port closest to their goods’ final destination. Halifax’s proximity to Europe is a disadvantage, not an advantage. Second, even if we could somehow vastly increase port traffic, beyond a few longshoreman jobs, the increased traffic wouldn’t have much economic impact locally. Shipping is mechanized now, and so far as the labour-intensive component, truck driving, goes, the bulk of drivers’ pay would return to Mexico as remittances. Third, come on.
But our mucky mucks grabbed onto the absurd “gateway” logic all the same, and used it to justify spending more money on transportation projects all over the Maritimes. Some of these projects could be justified on their own terms, without bringing “gateways” into it. And “gateway” talk warped our understandings of transportation needs and resulted in money wasted on some projects that could have been better spent on other projects.
In terms of the Yarmouth ferry, consider the twinning of Highway 1 through New Brunswick, which was justified as a gateway project. Because it’s early, the coffee isn’t flowing quickly enough, and Saturday’s supposed to be my day off, I will lazily quote from Wikipedia. Please don’t revoke my press pass:
The provincial government changed in 1987 with the election of Premier Frank McKenna who was focused on improving the province’s business climate. One of the government’s major tasks was to revamp provincial transportation infrastructure and McKenna entered into aggressive negotiations with the federal government of prime minister Brian Mulroney to secure federal funding of new highway projects. McKenna viewed the Trans-Canada and Route 1 in New Brunswick as being partially a federal responsibility since they funnelled the majority of Atlantic Canada’s highway traffic to the U.S. and central Canada. The signing of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1989, coupled with federal approval for numerous railway line abandonments in the Maritimes during the 1980s, led to predictions of further highway traffic growth on New Brunswick highways in the 1990s.
Under the remainder of the McKenna administration’s years of power (until 1997), Route 1 saw 4-lane expansion and upgrading between Lorneville to Lepreau in the west and between Coldbrook and Apohaqui (near Sussex) in the east. A small 4-lane re-alignment was also built between St. George and Pennfield. The Trans-Canada Highway (Route 2) was also upgraded to 4-lanes between Penobsquis and Petitcodiac.
Upgrades to Route 1 continued in the late 2000s, with a 4-lane section between St. Stephen and the Route 127 junction at Waweig opening to traffic in December 2008. The St. Stephen Bypass, which had been partially open since 1993 as a 2-lane controlled access route to siphon traffic to the Milltown border crossing, was also upgraded and officially became part of Route 1 at this time. The bypass was completed in November 2009 with the opening of the International Avenue Bridge to Calais, Maine.
It was announced on September 5, 2008 that the remaining stretch of Route 1 that connects to the United States will be twinned. The estimated cost would be $1.2 Billion (including maintenance and not accounting for inflation) with PPP Canada contributing half the cost of construction for an amount estimated to be about $290 million. Work was completed in October 2012.The project was completed in much the same manner as the upgrade and realignment of the Trans-Canada Highway. A private consortium was chosen through a tendering process, and was responsible for the design, and construction for the sections not yet upgraded to 4-lane status. After construction was completed the company formed by the consortium will be responsible for the maintenance of the highway from the US-Canada border crossing, to the interchange with Route 2 at River Glade, 15 km west of Moncton until the year 2040.
On October 25, 2012, the final 8 kilometers of 4-lane highway were opened, completing the project.
These are complex issues. The drop in total tourism to Nova Scotia involves the then-increasing value of the Canadian dollar, among other issues. But I think the twinning of Highway 1 helps explain the near-collapse in Yarmouth ferry traffic relative to all means of travel for tourists visiting Nova Scotia. Why take the ferry when you can zip down a four-lane highway all the way to Halifax?
I don’t think the four-laning of Highway 1 has even served New Brunswick well. This is totally anecdotal, but when I drove to and from the States, I made a point of stopping at the delightful Ossie’s Lunch near St. Andrews. It was a perfect stop after four hours of travel, and really great fish and chips besides. Now that the highway’s twinned and rerouted around St. Andrews, however, I can’t find the place, and it’s just too much trouble to figure it out — that four-lane highway beckons, and I just keep going. Maybe I stop in Calais.
In any event, the 2012 ferry report thought a renewed ferry service could generate 95,000 annual passengers. The real number will be maybe half that this year.
Our mucky mucks think now that we put the golf guy in charge of tourism promotion, the drop in the numbers of tourists coming to Nova Scotia will reverse and we’ll double the number by 2024. Yea, well, maybe. Now that the loonie has collapsed again, Americans might find this place a desirable vacation destination again. Break out your kilts to wow them with our quaintness, and order some more Made in China trinkets to sell as authentic Nova Scotian souvenirs. Prosperity, forever, amen!
But even if tourism does rebound, I doubt many of them will take the ferry. And for that, you can partly thank the gateway people.
In the harbour
Examineradio producer Russell Gragg has a real job now, so we didn’t actually publish episode #23 of Examineradio yesterday. Probably today!